Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding£50, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting, Propaganda and Censorship, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1945, namely:
|Class X., Vote 8, Ministry of Information||£10|
|Class IV., Vote 12, Broadcasting||£10|
|Class X., Vote 10, Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department||£10|
|Class II., Vote 1, Foreign Office||£10|
|Class II., Vote 2, Diplomatic and Consular Establishments, &c.||£10|
The Ministry of Information has been sadly neglected by this House. I think two years have gone by since its Estimates were discussed here, and I feel like a wakeful Rip Van Winkle. I hope to give the House a rather short account of the work of three large organisations for which I am responsible to Parliament. The largest of these organisations, the Postal and Telegraph Censorship, which employs four times the staff of the Ministry of Information, will be dealt with by my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary. I shall hope to say something about the home and overseas divisions of the Ministry of Information, and, subject to security considerations, I shall have something to say about the Political Warfare Executive. Admirers of the B.S.C. will not forgive me if I fail to give some account of that august corporation.
I begin by dealing with some of the home duties of the Ministry of Information, of which I can only pick out a few. Let me once again explain that, at home, the Ministry of Information is the servant of all Government Departments. Nearly all Government Departments have to use publicity campaigns to tell the public what they would like them to do and why; for the Government have a good deal of explaining, appealing and persuading to do in wartime. Obviously it would be wrong if there were "free-for-all" competition between Government Departments 'for the attention of the public, and for the very limited advertising space available in the Press. What the Ministry of Information does besides executing the greater part of these campaigns is to co-ordinate the Government's publicity as a whole and to give priority to the most urgent campaigns. Our object is to make the best use of the restricted means of advertisement, to keep the various campaigns running at the right temperature, and to make sure that the public is not confused by too much exhortation. All this work is done in close co-operation with the Public Relations Officers of the various Ministries and with the advice of the experts of the advertising profession. I do not intend to say much about the Ministry's regional organisation, because hon. Members are familiar with its work in their constituencies. All I wish to say is that in these home front campaigns we rely largely on our regional offices to carry the campaign message into every home in the country.
I turn to the pleasant subject of books. The Ministry of Information has invented a new technique in publishing, and when our bodies lie mouldering in the grave I hope that fact will not he forgotten. Our official war books are a new kind of book. Like documentary films, they present in print and in picture a conspectus of the many sides of Britain's war achievement. The home sales of these books exceed 23,000,000 copies. Overseas these books have also had their successes. There is time for only one instance. Our book on Combined Operations sold 350,000 copies in the United States in the last year, and it is being translated into twelve languages. The work of producing these books is vast and complicated. The texts are written, checked and re-checked in collaboration with the Government Departments concerned, sometimes twice, and with several Government Departments and with several branches of them, and with an infinitude of security and similar authorities. I want to make it clear that we do not neglect the opportunities that private publishers offer. We have published many books of our own, but we have also, since the war began, placed twice as many books with private publishers. Among the many forms of private enterprise to which the Ministry is indebted I wish to put on record that publishers have been our faithful friends and allies.
Let me turn to the subject of films. During the past year the Ministry's Film Division has arranged for the production of no fewer than 160 films for English-Speaking audiences. The public reception for most of those films belies their dreary designation—"documentaries." It is worth while recording that the so-called documentary film is a peculiarly British development. Years before the war, a few far-seeing Government Departments encouraged the work of a handful of pioneers in the making of documentaries. The Ministry of Information took over their work in 1939, and nowadays we are beginning to see how important a contribution their work has been to the conceptions and technique of commercial film production. I think that many people in the British film industry would agree that in the past four and a half years the Crown Film Unit has played an essential part in the development of a recognisably nation-style of film-making. No fewer than 338 foreign language versions have been made in the past year out of 96 films. These versions have amounted to a total length of over 50,000,000 feet. The Ministry of Information Central Film Library has lent more than 100,000 films to borrowers at home and abroad during the last year.
I am going to say a word about that small development, which I hope will grow. A small staff comprises the Colonial Film Unit, which has produced in the past year 28 one-reel films and 20 news-reels. With the help of the Colonial Office this Unit has taken on the task of training resident officers to add filmmaking to their multifarious labours. They have been supplied with cinecameras and with quantities of 16 millimetre raw stock. So long as the war lasts we have to look to these part-time film makers to provide films with an African background, but I believe that when the war is over this Unit will, under the benevolent eye of the Colonial Office, greatly increase its activities. It is highly desirable that the British Empire should be given more news of what is happening.
Finally, a brief word about the preparation of films for liberated Europe. The Ministry is ready to provide each country, as it is liberated, first with films which will show the part played by Britain in the war since Goebbels' blanket of darkness spread over their heads. Secondly, we shall supply them with their own versions of a large number of British entertainment and feature films. The first batch of French films has already been sent into France, and films in fifteen other languages are awaiting distribution. I do not wish to give the House the impression that the Ministry's film-making activities have been carried on in competition with the industry. That would be entirely wrong. On the contrary, with great good will the British film industry have in the past year made four full-length films at our instigation. In return, we have done our best to help them in one way or another with the production of 38 commercial films.
I should like to spend a great deal of time in discussing other home activities of the Ministry of Information. Were there no other speakers to-day I could go on for quite a long time, but, as I believe the B.B.C. and many other aspects of my Department are to be discussed, I must leave the home side and turn to a bigger part of the Ministry's work. I refer now to our foreign activities. The Ministry has altogether some 120 outposts overseas, including 49 established missions, and there are about go other centres, mainly in the Dominions and Colonies, to which the Ministry regularly send publicity material. Through newspapers, broadcasts, films, books, photographs and exhibitions our staffs abroad have secured in most countries adequate publicity for Britain's war effort. London has, of course, to supply them with a vast amount of material, and to provide immediate answers to their incessant inquiries about every development in the war or in home, imperial or foreign affairs. I am often staggered by the variety of the needs of our servants serving overseas. For instance, a Ministry of Information representative in a country that has many newspapers may wire for photographs of the latest Spitfire or the latest big gun or tank; but from a representative in a primitive country, or, I might say, a country not yet contaminated by mechanioal knowledge, we are asked not to send photographs of aeroplanes or guns. They say: "Send us some photographs of big British horses and big British cattle."
We are coming to that later. The hon. Member has no monopoly. The people in those countries say they want to see big animals because it strengthens their feeling that a country which produces such fine beasts must win the war soon. Our overseas representatives need no reminding of the wisdom of Lecky's remark that facts and arguments, however true, which are not suited to the "climate of opinion" in which they are produced may have no influence on the course of events or ideas. That is the motto written over the humble offices of all gentlemen connected with foreign publicity in the Ministry of Information. They take the mass of background facts and stories with which we provide them and, through their many contacts, this mass is given the right shapes and right colours which the local Press and radio require.
It is wrong to imagine that our posts abroad are engaged in distributing news red hot from the battlefields. That is done by the great news agencies and by the Press and radio of the world. It would be equally wrong to think of our representatives as doling out the raw meat of propaganda. It is their job to present a steady picture of British life and British achievements. They provide the British background to the news, the British comments and the British angle on every event of importance in the war. The life of a British Press attach— in a foreign capital is a hard one. He is a man of all work. He keeps in contact with local editors and broadcasters; and anyone who has had any experience of keeping in contact with editors and broadcasters knows that that is a pretty exacting occupation. He sees that British news gets a fair showing; he arranges the distribution of feature articles, of photographs and of films; he supervises the work of sections and outposts under him which are often scattered over hundreds of miles of territory; he keeps in constant touch with the British Ambassador or Minister and with the local British community, whose cooperation is of the greatest value to him.
I would say a word about British communities in connection with this war. In the darkest days of the war, when, first of all, the battle was going badly and the Ministry of Information was being much criticised—I cannot say which tragedy was the worse—British communities in various parts of the world put up large sums of money to enable us to do our work properly. Just as Parliament was stingy our patriotic overseas communities were generous, and that has been a great advantage to us.
Later on. All this is done according to pattern. It is based upon a long-term publicity plan for each foreign country drawn up in London in co-operation with the Foreign Office. The Press attach—'s many activities amid the hurly-burly of his foreign capital always carefully follow this broad detailed plan prepared in conjunction with the Foreign Office. In the days of Germany's succession of tremendous victories our representatives abroad had the hardest of tasks in persuading people dazed by German triumphs that Britain would stand fast against the greatest military machine in history In those days German propaganda was formidable. It had the agreeable ingredient of victory, garnished, of course, by lies and boasts. Our representatives abroad now dwell in the sunlight of Britain's victories, but their work is still exacting. Britain's bearing under terrible blows, her successes against apparently hopeless odds, have evoked such an interest in our people and our institutions that it is often beyond the power of Ministry of Information representatives abroad to satisfy the demand for English books, films, newspapers and journals. I wish that I could give the Committee a full account of the work of each of our branches abroad, but that task would occupy too much of the time of the Committee.
As I have been told that many Members are very interested in the doings of our staff in the United States of America and in Russia, I shall begin by dealing with the work of the British Information Service in New York and in Washington and in the often lonely outposts where our people work. Britons often solemnly lament the American ignorance of our Constitution, institutions, and way of life. Most of those worthy lamenters are equally ignorant of American affairs, and though I think this mutual ignorance is deporable, I do not see how the small staff of the British Information Service in the United States can ever redeem the failures of more than a century of neglectful or biased historical teaching on both sides of the Atlantic. I am often told by people who pride themselves on being publicity experts that we should buy a lot of time on the American radio and have a lot of advertising space in American newspapers in order, to use their own verbiage, "to keep putting it across."
These advocates of high-pressure salesmanship know very little about the United States. The American radio, Press and public are allergic to crude foreign propaganda, indeed, I think to all foreign propaganda. It has been suggested to me that the British Information Service should prepare a weekly "write-up" of Britain, for circulation to the American Press. I know what would be the fate of such a "write-up." American editors have outsize waste-paper baskets. The British Information Service is more of a reference office than a propaganda machine. Its New York office alone answers hundreds of questions every week from journalists, broadcasters, university professors, and clubs and societies. These inquirers can do more with the answers they get than thousands of official British propagandists in the United States could do. Notes and papers and other printed material about Britain's war effort are now supplied on request by the British Information Service at the rate of 4,000,000 copies a year. I have read criticisms of the American Press that they give little space to Britain's affairs. All I can say in answer to that criticism is, that for many years before the war I have been a careful reader of the American Press, and in those days, when newsprint abounded, it was quite clear that the American Press gave far more news about Britain, than British newspapers gave about the United States.
American newspapers have always maintained a large number of correspondents in London, and these journalists, who are trusted by their readers, are able to present a far more effective picture of Britain than the whole race of propagandists put together. When people indulge in large generalisations about American newspapers and magazines they are, obviously, unaware of the fact that there are more than 25,00o newspapers and perioicals of one sort or another in the United States. A great number of these papers publish little about foreign affairs, and neither the British Information Service nor any other institution can persuade them to do so. But the American magazines and newspapers which do give up a fair part of their space to foreign affairs give a fair, and, I might say, a generous, share of it to publicity to Britain.
There are 925 licensed radio stations in the United States—remember those figures. Thank goodness there is only one B.B.C.; if I had to answer in this House for the doings of 925 radio stations, I should long since have gone to another and a better world. Of those 925 licensed radio stations, to which some 90,000,000 people listen regularly, material provided by the British Information Service is regularly used by over 700. The most gratifying feature of the British Information Service work is that an ever-increasing number of editors, journalists and radio commentators ask for information. The best way in which the British story can be told in the United States is through these friends, who are practical men and know what their public wants. And finally, I wish, once again, to pay the best possible tribute to the splendid work of the British Information Service in America. When this war is over, and people have an opportunity to examine their work in the light of history, they will give them, tremendous praise. Not a single one has made an indiscretion in the United States, and remember, publicity people are supposed to be indiscreet. On the contrary, they have set themselves out to tell the story to the United States and they are most respected by every element that is worthy in journalism, in the radio industry, and in the film industry.
Having finished with the United States, let me turn to Russia. The Ministry's work in the immense territories of our other great Ally, Russia, has presented us with an entirely different set of tasks. It would be platitudinous to recount the differences of language, of custom, of forms of government and—what affects our work most of all—of news and information arrangements. I am not making an exaggerated claim when I describe the Ministry's staff in Russia as real pioneers. No body, private or official, has ever before had this chance of telling the people of Russia about life in Britain and about British achievements. Our Press Depart- ment has been greatly encouraged by the intense Soviet interest, I might call it curiosity, about Britain. Our weekly paper, "The British Ally," grows in popularity and it is estimated that it has 12 readers for each copy. It is "the most dog-eared paper in the world." Its editor receives a large and appreciative postbag, which would rejoice the heart of many an editor in England. By a new agreement with the Soviet Government, we have recently doubled the number of copies printed. They allowed us to print up to 25,000, and we asked for 10 or 15 times that number, and the Soviet Government have said that we can double that number. Now we have 50,000, which is believed to be a small circulation but which, if you know how it is read in Russia, is a very creditable achievement. It is only at the beginning of its development. Our people have only recently got away from the atmosphere of Kuibishev to the business atmosphere of Moscow.
The Committee will not wish to be burdened with details of the newspapers, feature articles, books, photographs and films which we make available for distribution in Russia. I will mention only that our Russian versions of the films "Desert Victory" and "In Which We Serve" have been received with applause by an immense number of cinema audiences throughout the Soviet Union, and that our recent publication, "The British Chronicle," which is a sort of digest of speeches, official documents, and articles printed in the British Press, has been warmly welcomed. We -take the trouble to include a number of speeches by Members of Parliament, for which we do not pay, and that greatly interests Russians, who are far more serious than any people of whom I have ever heard in the history of mankind. It would be foolhardy to claim that our small staff in Moscow, in the course of three years' work, has succeeded in undoing the misunderstandings of a generation, but this I will say; In arduous conditions and in surroundings entirely new to it, our Press Department has made a highly praiseworthy beginning in telling our Russian Ally the facts about Britain and Britain's war achievements.
I think that all the photographs we have sent out to Russia have been very well received.
Now I turn to the non-controversial topic of the B.B.C. The B.B.C. reached the age of discretion—or at any rate celebrated its 21st birthday—this year. Friends and critics, for the B.B.C. has an embarrassment of both, have agreed on one thing. The accident of scientific invention has laid on the B.B.C. the responsibility of carrying the British idea of things into the homes of a large part of the world. That is why any British Government must watch the B.B.C., but not all its doings should be watched. One large part of the B.B.C.'s business is to provide entertainment, and that is not my business as a Minister of Information. Supervising entertainment, from grand opera to crooning—the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) is interested in that subject—is not a matter of State, and whether the B.B.C. does it well or badly, I think nobody will dispute that its entertainment programmes are better left to the ordinary give-and-take public criticism. News and views are another matter. About them the Committee has a right to know that the B.B.C. is running on right lines. I maintain that those lines are being followed. They are common-sense ones. The B.B.C. has its own correspondents; it has the same access as does the Press to official reports and so on, and its bulletins are prepared from these sources by journalists without axe to grind. The best way of making sure that the truth is told in a newspaper or in a broadcast news bulletin is to leave the job to experienced journalists, whose sole duty is to see that the public get the facts. Any attempt to suppress or distort the truth would, in the long run, simply discredit the B.B.C. The one brake that obviously has had to be put on it is that of security, which, of course, applies equally to the Press. What the Censors believe would help the enemy cannot be said.
The importance of this way of handling broadcast news is best brought out by remembering how completely the B.B.C. is a world service. At home we naturally tend to think largely in terms of the nine o'clock news bulletin. We are apt to forget that after "God save the King" at the end of the midnight bulletin the B.B.C. is very far from going to bed.
Within half-an-hour of the close-down at home, another bulletin is on the air to America, and so on, at close intervals, all through the 24 hours. Every part of the English-Speaking world hears bulletins from the B.B.C. in the same way as we do at home. And those bulletins reach audiences who are under no obligation whatsoever to listen to a British presentation of the news. They have only to switch their sets in order to hear half-adozen rival presentations. All the evidence shows, however, that the B.B.C. is heard with belief and is, without exaggeration, regarded as the most truthful news broadcasting service all over the world. Since D-Day there has been a widely favourable reaction to this service from all parts of the world. The B.B.C., in fact, began planning its system of war reports more than a year ago, and I suggest that its arrangements have more than justified themselves.
Now I come to that very mysterious organisation called the British Political Warfare Executive. Every day that takes us nearer victory has shown an increase in British political warfare activity, both on the radio and in leaflets. One of the chief developments of the past year has been a very close co-operation with the United States. An American broadcasting station in Europe has been set working closely with the B.B.C., but expressing American policy. Our American Allies have been given greater opportunities for relaying their programmes on British wavelengths, and they, for their part, give us facilities on their station here. Our combined efforts have overcome Dr. Goebbels' attempts to stop the ears of the peoples of Europe by jamming our broadcasts. The European service of the B.B.C. to-day transmits 179 programmes a day in 24 languages. Against this barrage, the Germans have been forced to extreme measures. Not only do they inflict savage penalties on listeners in Europe, but they also confiscate radio-sets, and in some areas cut off the whole supply of electricity. In spite of their efforts, the Voice of London is still eagerly listened to. When sets were seized, listening groups were formed which listen in with secret receiving sets and pass the word round. The underground movement everywhere is dependent for its information and for the news which it prints in its clandestine Press on what it gets from here—and I think the Committee will agree with me that the underground Press in Europe is a heroic and splendid thing.
Broadcasting has been supplemented by an ever-increasing number of leaflets and some of these leaflets are like miniature newspapers. A year ago the dropping of leaflets was done entirely by the Royal Air Force. It amounted to 54,250,000 leaflets a month including those which we dropped for our American Allies. To-day the Royal Air Force in conjunction with the United States Air Force drop 73,500,000 leaflets a month. These leaflets are dropped over France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway and, of course, over Germany itself. During D-Day and the night before over 12,000,000 leaflets were dropped. All these leaflets are produced in this country and are printed on British presses. The resources of our broadcasting and leaflet organisations are at the complete disposal of General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander. He has made liberal use of them, and the highest tribute I can pay to the staff of the Political Warfare Executive and of the B.B.C. is to say that the Supreme Commander has every reason so far to be pleased with their zealous work.
I have already told the Committee that the Ministry of Information has enough work to do; in fact, I think we have far too many responsibilities. When, a few weeks before the first convoy of American troops came to this country, the Ministry of Information was asked to become responsible for arranging hospitality for them, I knew we had neither the time nor the man-power to undertake such an important task. I also knew that we had no accommodation for a vast new bureaucracy to undertake this work, nor had we any desire to add to our staff, but the task was forced upon us. How did we set about it? We asked the help of all the great voluntary societies in this country who have branches in all our towns and in many of our villages. And here is something that will shock our hon. Friends opposite. We sought the help of the City because, as the Committee knows, the big banks have branches in every town and village in the country and our bankers responded with alacrity.
I will make another confession to the Committee. We then sought the aid of the Brewers' Society for, as the Committee will understand, they maintain far more establishments throughout the country than even the banks do, and they are even more popular.
They, too, showed the greatest zeal and generosity. All these organisations, working through their representatives in all parts of the country, were able to see that out of the limited hospitality resources in Britain the Americans were treated as they deserved to be treated—as honoured guests. I need hardly say that, from the earliest days, the American Red Cross was at work in this country providing the fine clubs which you see everywhere for American officers and men. Our work supplements theirs, and in every aspect of it we enjoy their co-operation.
Now, regular meetings of all the voluntary societies, to which the American Red Cross and the British Army Welfare Department send representatives, are held in the Ministry of Information in order to ensure that all offers of hospitality are co-ordinated and that cases of neglect are remedied. The Ministry of Information staff for this tremendous job of work consists of exactly seven persons. Our experience in this matter of arranging hospitality for the Americans is one that I commend to the Committee. It proves that if the British public are asked to do a job in the national interest, they can do it better than a new recruitment of thousands of State employees. Through the Council of Voluntary Societies and the other organisations which have been set up, the Ministry is better qualified than any other body to answer a small number of vocal and unjust criticisms of the conduct of American troops in this country. There was, of course, a very small proportion of misconduct, but if we were to send hundreds of thousands of British troops to the United States I doubt not that there would be some criticism of the behaviour of a small proportion of them. Speaking with the fullest information provided for me by the voluntary societies I can say that the United States Army has made a splendid impression on our people. Their gaiety and kindliness will never be forgotten by the millions in Britain who have had the honour of meeting them.
As many hon. Members obviously wish to speak in this Debate, I must not take up much more time. I shall have to answer, I suppose, a sizeable measure of criticism. But before I sit down I think the Ministry's staff deserves a word of acknowledgement. They have worked long hours without. thought of official time-keeping, and they have done it with enthusiasm and a toleration even for each other's shortcomings that, frankly, has surprised me. There is combustible material about, when a large force of professional publicists is banded together in one Department—for I am afraid that I must be so unfair to our critics in this Committee, as to admit that the Ministry of Information is not any longer a nest of amateur singing-birds. Moreover, even when, by chance, they agree among themselves as to what ought to be done, they are little likely to be able to carry it out without a harassing course of discordant instructions from those more directly inspired in other Government Departments or the public outside. I do not think that our staff would have held together and done good work under such conditions if they had not been animated by a real belief in the value of the work they are doing for the country, and, as I see it, they have been justified in that belief. We need not argue whether the evasive word "propaganda" is a proper description of what we have been trying to do, but those who have honestly devoted their energies and their talents to the task of illuminating, by all modern devices of publicity, the majestic panorama of the British at war, the British at home, and the British overseas, have no reason to be anything but proud of their own work and service.
I am sure the whole Committee will feel that the Minister has made a substantial contribution to the war effort by his speech to-day. Surely, we shall all be agreed that the story of achievement, in making known to the world Britain's part in the war, to which the Minister has called attention, has been well worth hearing. I hope that the Committee will share the view of my hon. Friends that it has been both useful and convenient that this Vote should have been put down to-day, and perhaps the Committee will feel that that is especially so, in view of the number of Votes that have been put down so that the discussion may be as general as possible. I shall, if I may, call attention to several specific matters. I have had the advantage recently of travelling widely on the American Continent. I shall be able to pay my personal tribute to a number of those to whom the Minister has himself paid tribute, and I wish to tell the Committee what it means to live in a country controlled by military dictatorship, where there is complete and absolute censorship over the spoken and the written word. Almost all the Republics of Latin America are complete instances of Nazi or Fascist control——
—or the rights of the Press. If the noble Lord will allow me to make my speech in my own way, I will deal with Brazil when I come to it. I have used the expression "almost" and I have a knowledge of geography.
The Minister showed by his reports the immense width of the work of his Department, and he rightly judged the tone and temper of the Committee by giving many facts on that side of the Ministry's work, which is concerned with informing the world what happens. I understand that another Minister is to deal with that work on the side of restrictions and of censorship. I propose, with the approval of the Committee I hope, to speak for a few minutes on the elementary rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the Press, rights hardly won on the Floor of this House, and in the law courts, for the last 300 years, and rights of such value that the British public is determined to cause them to be restored just as soon as that can possibly be done. The first part of my remarks—in part historical, in part analytical—will therefore be devoted to the need, as I see it, for the restoration of the freedom of the Press and the abolition of censorship at the earliest possible moment.
Many glorious pages of history are being written to-day, but I venture to think none is more glorious than that which depicts the daily doings of the ordinary member of the British public, man, woman and child alike. What a splendid contribution is made by those setters of public opinion, the office-cleaner, the milkman, the postman, drivers and conductors of public service vehicles, and people behind bookstalls. What a wonderful part is being played by the women of Britain, of all classes, and throughout the whole country. What are the features of the life of the average British to-day in our midst? What would impress an ordinary impartial visitor? There is a certain quiet pursuit of a dogged purpose; there is a robust common sense, a healthy trust in the leader of the Armed Forces, and in the leaders of the nation; a trust in the common sense and the normal reaction of their neighbours; and a quiet confidence in the righteousness of their cause. On all sides there is a determination on the part of the average man and woman to see this thing through to the end once and for all. May I paraphrase Shelley:
People of Britain, heirs of glory,
Heroes of unwritten story,
Nurslings of one mighty Mother,
Hopes of her, and one another.
How rare are the instances of bad behaviour on the part of the average member of the public. How rarely do you hear any unfortunate, and still more rarely any reprehensible, comment in a bus, or train, or street. Is it not the experience of most of us that when any such thing occurs the other people in the train or bus or street can safely be left to put the wrongdoer right? No advice is needed in these things. The heart of the British public is sound, is politically well-informed, and asks only to be given the truth and the reason. It may then safely be left to conjugate the verb of how to live soundly and sanely, and how to go about its daily task.
Where else in the world can the people be taken into confidence to the extent that is our daily experience in the United Kingdom? Where else are the lives of those in authority so perfectly preserved by the populace itself? Where else are the police less armed and more understanding? Where else is there anything like the same confidence in the sanity and the sensible behaviour of the crowd? But these attributes, to us who know, are no accident; they are effects, the causes of which were hammered out in Parliament and the law courts three centuries ago. The British public requires no Ministerial advice, nor any other instruction, to tell them what is good for them to know or hear or learn or read or discuss. The British public requires no education as to the horrors of censorship, or as to the value of the freedom of the Press and freedom of speech. The British public knows the importance of the inlet valve of information being open and free, and knows how to dispose of such useless elements as hot air. The British public is not in the infant class of constitutional law and reform; they are post-graduates in the liberties—of some of which they are now temporarily deprived, as they are persuaded, for a good reason—which they have enjoyed uninterruptedly for 300 years, since the time of the Stuarts, and the quarrel of King and Parliament. Let us see the matter in its right proportions. For five years of war we have been deprived of liberties which were enjoyed for 300 years. The proportion is one in 6o—deprivation for one minute, and enjoyment for 59 minutes of every hour. It is vital for us to-day to bear that thought in mind and to realise how much we are trustees of these hard-won liberties of the past, and how much the world looks to us to preserve and maintain intact those liberties for future generations.
I make these opening comments as a prelude to the examination of the question of the future of the Ministry, once the emergency has passed. In the last war, as the historian puts it, the march of events slowly forced the Government to appreciate the efficacy of propaganda and some serious effort was begun at a late stage on the British side. For far too long, says the historian, the British Government neglected propaganda, both as a defensive and offensive weapon, gravely under-estimating its effect. The first approach in the last war was the Department known as Wellington House, under the late Mr. C. F. G. Masterman, a Member of this House. Then a Department of Information was set up in the Foreign Office with Sir Edward Carson (later Lord Carson) as Minister, and Mr. John Buchan, as he then was, as head of the Department, and, later still, Crewe House, with Lord Northcliffe, to deal with propaganda in enemy countries.
It was only in February, 1918, nine months before the end of the first world war, before the Armistice of 1918, that a Ministry of Information, so-called, was set up under the present Lord Beaver-brook. Hon. Members will forgive me if f remind them, for political memories are proverbially short, of how the matter developed in the present war. After the occupation of Prague by Hitler in the spring of 1939, preparations on all sides were very accelerated, and, on 15th June, 1939, as reported in HANSARD, questions were answered by the then Prime Minister as to the Ministry of Information. The right hon. Gentelman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) asked what was intended, and the information was given by the Prime Minister that a Department of the Foreign Office was being set up, and that if this country were engaged in a war, a full Ministry of Information would at once be established. There were interesting questions and answers as to the duration of the Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield asked:
Will the Prime Minister see that the activities will be confined in peace time pur6.y to foreign information; then there will be no attempt, in time of peace, to interrupt the work of the Press or any legitimate activities in this country.
The Prime Minister replied:
With regard to peace, this would be concerned solely with overseas publicity. There will be no interference with the Press of this country by the Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th June, 1939, Vol. 349, c. 1499.]
It is interesting to recall that that series of questions was answered practically three months prior to the outbreak of the present war.
Apart from these early indications, the Ministry of Information, as we now know it, derives its legal existence from the Ministry of Information Statutory Rule and Order, 1939, No. 1189, and that Order, in turn, derives its validity from the Ministers of the Crown Emergency Appointments Act, 1939. The interesting thing for the Committee to realise is that the Ministers of the Crown Act is a permanent Act, which does not come to an end with the emergency, but the Ministers
to whom power is given under that Act are dealt with by Orders in Council. I remind the Committee that the Act says:
His Majesty may, by Order in Council, direct that this Act shall apply to any Minister of the Crown appointed for the purpose of exercising functions connected with the prosecution of any war in which His Majesty may be engaged.
You have a permanent Act to give the power, and the power springs into existence during, and only during, the continuation of a war, and it is under that Section of that Act that the Statutory Rule and Order, bringing the Ministry of Information into existence, was made.
It is wise to begin at the beginning. Almost every matter that comes within the range of the Minister's restrictive powers involves this question of constitutional law, and I thought it worth while to recall this matter to the memory of the Committee. There is no constitutional right, as we understand it in this democratic Britain, of greater importance than the freedom of speech. The regulations, of which there are so many and with which this Committee is so familiar, are all made under another Act of Parliament, the Emergency Powers Defence Act, 1939. That is an Act which endures only until the emergency is determined by Order in Council. The curious thing about that second Act is that it is extra-territorial. It applies to British ships, aircraft, and so on, wherever they may be, instead of, as is usual with an Act of Parliament, applying only to the territorial limits of the country in which the law is passed. Are there, then, any functions of the Ministry of Information, as we understand it, which ought to extend beyond the lifetime of the emergency? Censorship? Certainly not. Control of the Press? Certainly not.
I am grateful to the Minister for his observation. It was a careless remark of mine, and what I should have said was the control of the material reaching the Press. It was merely elliptical and I am sure we are entirely at one on this matter. I have made a slip and I have made a correction. Ought there to be reasonable regional organisation after the war? I should have thought not. Ought there to be committees for the collection of information, snoopers for the Ministry? I should have thought not. Ought there to be a headquarters administration? I should have thought not.
I am giving my own opinion, but, with the preliminary history of the Ministry being based upon questions and answers to the effect that there should be no censorship in time of peace, a case is made out for the greater part, if not the whole, of the activities of the Ministry of Information coming to an end with the emergency itself. There are some hon. Members in this Committee who attach very great value to the Propaganda Department of the Foreign Office, and I want to make clear at once that no one who is jealous of the reputation of Great Britain, in the vanguard of democratic countries, can fail to estimate the enormous importance of the story of Britain's achievements always being told. But the point that I am trying to make is that that does not come, as I understand it, under the functions of the Ministry of Information in time of peace, but is an adjunct of foreign policy and ought to be dealt with, in my respectful submission, by a Department of the Foreign Office in the way which has been done hitherto. I want the Committee to hear my point of view that, when the safety of the State is at stake, the robust politically-minded citizens of Britain are prepared to forgo many of their peace-time liberties in the interests of a still greater freedom, the freedom of their country from defeat. But, once the safety of the State is assured—and to that safety it is the common people, the robust politically-minded citizens, who make the greatest contribution —there is no reason why those peace-time freedoms should not again be placed in the people's hands. There will be an immediate demand after the war for a restoration of as many of the peace-time freedoms as possible, and to as great an extent as possible. As I see it, in the fifth year of the war, the three Ministries which come nearest the home and heart of every citizen are the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of Information. To be comfortably fed and reasonably warm is the right way in which to receive good news, because then it seems even better and also to receive bad news, because then it does not seem so bad.
What I should like to do now would be to prepare some sort of balance sheet of the Ministry of Information's activities. In my judgment, encouragement to well-doing in any walk of life is more effective than criticism of shortcomings, so I would like to start on the credit side. I think the Ministry must be credited—besides much else that other speakers will bring out—at least with certain practical achievements. It has achieved an immense performance of which the country knows nothing, and suspects less, a performance which, one day, when it is capable of being disclosed, will reaffirm the confidence the British public has in the way the nation's affairs are conducted. For reasons of security there are many things which the Minister has been unable to tell the Committee. I suspect their existence and I give credit in advance for all that volume of necessary work which, for security reasons, cannot be disclosed, but of the existence of which I am profoundly assured.
In the second place there has been a prodigious amount of thoughtful and well-planned hospitality shown to visitors, to Members of both Houses, to countless deputations, missions and similar travelling bodies, which has contributed to the better understanding and knowledge of Britain in the front line. One of the first sub-divisions of the Ministry of Information set up in the last war, in February, 1918, was the hospitality section. The Government of the day realised the enormous importance of giving access to distinguished visitors to our armament works, our aeroplane factories, our ports and harbours and our normal method of carrying on the State's life. In this war there has been an immense volume of that Government hospitality extended through the Minister of Information. No doubt a great many Members of the Committee have enjoyed visits to factories and other places by invitation of the Minister.
Thirdly, there is the matter to which the Minister himself called attention, the publication of certain books. I think that the great number and variety of these excellent descriptive booklets of Britain's contribution to the war, wonderfully illustrated and superbly produced, has made an incalculable effect. It has reinforced the world's opinion of Britain as a country of quality. Time and time again, from the tip of Canada to the South of Brazil, I was asked, "Where do you get the paper? Where do you get the technical information? Where do you get the photographic material? Why have you kept this in the background for so long? Why are we not getting more of these marvellously produced booklets which are such a great delight to receive?" I think that in some of these booklets there is something even more than technical superiority; there is the actual touch of vision, for the story is told in the medium of the cold and printed word, in a way which has excited the admiration of the world.
As number four, I would put the making known in a vast number of languages, over a well-integrated and boldly-conceived wireless programme, not only Britain's case but the Allies' performances. As the Minister will realise, it is by no means only Britain's case which is put forward over the B.B.C. network; it is the Allied case and that has a great impression on the minds of countless millions of people. In drawing up the balance sheet of the Ministry, we should pay the Ministry a tribute for the stimulating effect on production caused in workshops by the simple expedient of bringing the armaments-worker in the factory, and the user of that armament in the field, into contact. Such visits have been organised on an immense scale by the Ministry's officials. I have found myself, and no doubt Members of the Committee have, too, in going to explosives factories to see what the Minister of Labour has called "the back-room boys," or women, that a great deal of encouragement could be given by letting these people know that they were as essential to those in the firing line, as the firing line was essential to their own protection. I think a definite tribute ought to be paid to the Ministry as a means of stimulating and increasing production in the armament workshops of our country.
On the debit side I would say to the Committee that there are two fields of knowledge which, in my judgment, are imperfectly developed. When so much has been achieved, it seems almost ungenerous to suggest that there are sonic fields which are not fully developed, but I think there are two great chapters to which the Minister and the thoughtful heads of the Department might give more attention. I refer to knowledge of our enemies, and knowledge of our friends. I think there is abysmal ignorance on the part of the average Britisher, about the real character of Germany and the Germans, and Japan and the Japanese. Whether you call it "the evil we fight," or "our enemies," I think there is need for education of our people in the Machiavellian designs which are still held by the German and Japanese leaders. If things go against these two countries, as they are so obviously going against them at the moment, I think you will find longer-range plans and longer-range schemes in progress and it is essential that some organ of instruction to the British public should be actively at work to counter-balance the study of future possibilities, which we know to be going on.
In one of the comments made by a B.B.C. speaker from Normandy in the last day or two, there was a reference to the instruction of 10,000,000 of the youth of Germany in Nazi doctrines, and, in the speaker's view—and he was a prisoner—they would make better soldiers, even than Germany's present Army. A whole chapter awaits the Minister's attention as regards the instruction of the people of this land in the real German and Germany and in the real Japanese and Japan. Much requires to be done in getting this over to our population, partially tired, partially indifferent, partially separated by the accident of geography. Many of them are not keen readers or students and most of them are rather inclined to believe that mankind cannot sink to the depths, to which we know the leaders of Germany and Japan are capable of sinking.
Yes, and I thank the Noble Lord for that intervention. It is surprising how quickly the lessons of the last war have been forgotten.
The Minister dealt at some length with the position between the United Kingdom and the United States of America and said, with great force, that for many years the Press of the two countries had failed to enlighten their peoples upon the habits and peculiarities of the companion race on the other side of the Atlantic. I am shocked at the lack of knowledge in our own country, about the workings of the United States Constitution. I find very few people who are aware that the members of the Cabinet of Mr. Roosevelt's Administration are not members of either House, are not responsible to anybody other than the President himself, are not liable to be called upon to account for anything they do or spend, or for any advice they give, or for any executive action which they take. It is an astonishing conception to British Parliamentarians, when Speaking on the American Continent, to find that the words they use in reference to a democratic institution have not only dangerous implications but are completely out of place in reference to the Government of the United States. So I say, contenting myself with it as a chapter heading for the Ministry, that I hope that, besides knowledge of our enemies, we may open up a big chapter of instruction in the knowledge of our friends.
I tried to explain just now that the interpretation of the British case to the world, which is so essential a part of our national prestige and of our export trade—for trade and public opinion follow the flag—ought to be done by the Foreign Office, and not by the Ministry of Information, which, as I understand it, is, on the books of the Constitution, regarded as a war-time expedient and a war-time Ministry.
I endorse the Minister's tribute to the British Information Services in the United States of America. There is no one who goes to the United States in any capacity, however humble, who does not, at once, come into contact with Mr. Aubrey Morgan and thousands of willing people whom he can, in some measure, control and cause to spring into activity. We all know that New York is not the centre of the United States but it is the home of most of the big industries and Mr. Morgan, travelling between New York and Washington, seems to have his finger on the pulse of the two great cities—Washington as centre of the Government, but otherwise an almost provincial city, and New York, not the home of the Government, but, admittedly, the home of most of the big industries. Not only does one receive the greatest courtesy but the greatest ability is shown and the best possible contacts are arranged by Mr. Morgan, who is the centre from which similar facilities are accorded in Canada. The Minister paid another tribute to the British Attaches attached to the Diplomatic Embassies. I would like to say that in many of the Latin-American Republics the Press Attach— to the Embassy has a very difficult time. The conception of Press Attach— does not go with a controlled economy and a controlled State, and in many of those countries the. Press Attach— is under a necessity to constitute some company in accordance with the laws of the local country, because the Press Attach— would not be regarded with approval by the Government of the day.
These Attaches, for the most part connected with publicity in their own civil lives, are doing most valuable work. They seem to succeed in selling the stories which they receive from the United Kingdom—"selling" only in the sense of people wishing to take them, and not of receiving payment—so that immense repetition of the message appears all over the country to which they are accredited. We here, with our large daily newspapers which are country-wide, have something in the nature of a national Press but in those countries the conception of a national Press does not exist. The Press is a local, regional and a parochial organ and it is of the greatest importance not only that the information should appear in the best-known newspaper but that it should be widely distributed, and appear in the columns of newspapers all over the place. I would like to pay that tribute very widely.
With regard to propaganda the Minister mentioned the Political Warfare Section of his Department's activities and sketched out a very interesting account of what was being done. I do not think that any student of British affairs would be inclined to give us very high marks for propaganda, as the meaning of that word is generally understood. We are not good at shop-window dressing; we do not display our goods very well. We are masters of under-statement and sometimes, that habit is not understood by countries which are flamboyant and prefer to exaggerate. I am sure that no well-wisher of our country would desire that our habit of under-statement should be suddenly reversed overnight—I think that would be disadvantageous—but there is a middle line, and we ought to see that Great Britain, as part of her foreign policy, should definitely attach more value to seeing that her case does not go so frequently by default, and is better put with a greater expenditure of money. The Minister knows from communications I have had with him that in many parts of the world our own people are not housed in the best offices, in the right street or the right building and that we seem to have rather a flair for choosing places which, in election terms, would not be selected for committee rooms. All these things are features which can, with advantage, no doubt be improved.
I would conclude with a personal reference to the Minister. In my judgment the great features in the present holder of the office of the Minister of Information for which we are indebted are his commercial experience, his contacts with life in Fleet Street and the breeziness and friendliness with which he addresses us from time to time. It is very refreshing to find that a number of words in our own language which are short and simple, are so explosively used by the Minister rather than some of their longer synonyms, winch do not always have the same effect on the people to whom they are addressed. When these short words, with plenty of punch and explosive power, are used frequently in their right place, the effect is all to the good. I hope the Minister will feel that the putting down of this Vote has given him an opportunity of telling the Committee, and the world, many important facts concerning matters for which in the office that he holds he is responsible.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will pardon my reference to one remark that he made. I think it is necessary that that reference should be made at once. I think he will see, on reflection, that it was rather unwise, and perhaps in its effects mischievous, to say that all the South American Republics were Nazi.
I hope I did not say that. What I endeavoured to say was that almost all the Latin Republics in South America were militarily controlled, on Nazi or Fascist lines, that in, those countries there was complete censorship, com- plete control of the Press, and absence of freedom of speech and freedom of the Press. I meant neither more nor less.
I do not want to press the point except that we must remember Brazil and Chile.
We have had a speech from the Minister of Information characteristically buoyant, and such as we might expect from him, and I hope he will not mind if I take a tone of sobriety about the matters he has raised. I do not follow all that he says with quite the same amount of enthusiasm as he has shown, although, assuming that the Ministry of Information is really necessary and that British morale, and the good opinion of other nations, 15 to 20 of them, might have of us requires to be stimulated constantly by official dope, I do not think anyone would dispute that the Department has done an exceedingly good job of work under its present Ministerial head. I pay that tribute at the beginning but should like to make one or two criticisms, not so much of the work as of the attitude of mind which seems to be behind the Minister's statement and its reception by the majority of Members. Whether it is necessary or desirable as a propaganda machine may be doubtful even in time of war—propaganda and announcement; they are two different things—but certainly to carry on the Ministry of Information as a propaganda machine in peace-time, seems to me a humiliating proposition. The "Daily Telegraph" referred the other day to the Minister of Information as a cock that would not fight, because it is understood that the Minister wishes to wind it up at the end of the war. I believe he has expressed that point of view on more than one occasion.
There is a great amount of activity behind the scenes with the object of continuing the foreign publicity side in an extended news service under the Foreign Office, or to divide overseas publicity between the Foreign Office and a reorganised British Council. Perhaps a little more might be said about that when the Minister replies if that is the idea, as indeed I hope it is. While there might be a case for the perpetuation of the commercial side under the Department of Overseas Trade, or even an extension of its activity, there is no doubt that we are going to become a competitive world. The first
test has been civil aviation, and I think we know now where we stand in respect to the great principles of the Atlantic Charter and the development of private enterprise in civil aviation. If we are to become a competitive world we shall have to do what the Gilbert and Sullivan hero did:
Stir it and stump it.
And blow our own trumpet.
Or, trust me, we have not a chance.
But there is little justification for the continuation of what might be strictly called propaganda. The Minister has said there are 180 outposts of the Ministry of Information in foreign countries. That is a kind of thing that might work both ways. I do not know what would be said if other countries, at any rate in time of peace, had i8o outposts in this country for purposes of pure propaganda. I have an objection to propaganda both in politics and in advertising. My objection is based upon the view that I think people do not, or ought not to, exist for their minds to be played upon by others. I would rather encourage people to use their own minds and judgment. Let us have facts. Let us disseminate facts. On 10th May the Minister answered a Question about British Information Services in New York and he said our representative there issued an enormous amount of material, so much that to bring samples of it over to this country would overburden our Library at the House of Commons, and transatlantic transport aeroplanes and shipping would be overburdened, if samples of each publication issued on behalf of this country in the United States were brought over for the information of Members. I am sure that statement must have been an exaggeration. It is extraordinary, anyhow, in view of the fact that there are only fifteen officials at the Ministry required to handle publicity to the whole of the Dominions. He has referred to the Colonial Empire but he told us nothing at all about the Dominions.
It is interesting that I have been able to bring out that remark- able fact. In any event I should imagine that the Dominions would be served better than foreign countries if not in respect of propaganda, in respect of well put-out information about British activity, and it would not be open to the misunderstanding and misrepresentation to which, possibly, propaganda to foreign countries might lead. The Minister turned down the word "propaganda" but the right hon. Gentleman who followed him referred to it as legitimate enterprise on the part of this country. If that is so, ought we not to know what it is that we find it necessary to say to the United States and how we say it? For, if the publication of literature in the United States is so enormous that we cannot spare the shipping, or room in the Library for samples of it, is there not the possibility that we protest too much? It might be necessary at times to correct distortion of fact, but channels which are less open to the charge of special pleading should be chosen. The word "sell" has been used. We do not want to "sell" the British Empire, like a box of pills or a bar of soap. I feel a prejudice against that whole attitude of mind, and that is why I object to the idea of propaganda being carried on after the war is over.
I should like to ask a question with reference to the Press attaches connected with British Embassies abroad. What method of distributing films to foreign countries is now adopted, and what are our relations to the Press attachés? The question was dealt with in extenso in the Eleventh Report of the Select Committee. Do they report regularly about the use of British films, and their success or non-success individually? Further, are the services of the British Film Institute now utilised according to the recommendation of the Report to which I have referred?
I come to one more reason why we should look at this question of propaganda a little more closely and in relation to fundamentals. The Minister told us that, as far as the B.B.C. was concerned, he did not want to deal with entertainment at all. It had nothing to do with the Government, he said. That does not seem to be true, if we look at the Report, because it expresses the view that entertainment-cum-propaganda films are of doubtful advantage in war-time, but must have their place in a long-term policy. I should like to know what that means.
From the Eleventh Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, which dealt fully with the question of films to foreign countries. We want to know pretty closely what aspects of national life would be selected after the war, with what object, and by whom directed. The Report goes on to say:
The aim should be not only to enhance the patriotic spirit but to direct it so as to break down psychological barriers to the ful-filment of particular national requirements.
I do not know that I am aware what that means. It sounds rather like Goebbels. The meaning is obscure, but if there is to be any breaking down of psychological barriers on the part of the Government —and we are talking about Government activities—there will be Labour Governments in the future which might have some psychological barriers of their own that would require to be broken down. I imagine that hon. Members opposite are not very friendly to the idea of ideological politics, but if they go in for it by means of the Ministry of Information, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Labour Party will have to have a hand in it. With regard to the B.B.C.,the Minister toned down a good deal any reference to the question of entertainment. The Minister has the souls of millions of people of this country in his hand——
—when he answers for the B.B.C. in this House, and we are entitled to discuss it even on the entertainment side. So far as the B.B.C. is able to mould the character, intelligence and soul of the general public, he said that it had reached years of discretion and that entertainment was not a matter for the State. As a matter of fact, it is. In answer to a Question on 17th May, the Minister said he had no intention of putting pressure to enable various political parties to explain their post-war policies on party lines. I do not know what other lines than party lines could be adopted to explain a party's post-war policy. He said that there was an Advisory Council on which all parties were represented, and to which questions about political speeches could be referred. There is a Talks Advisory Committee consisting of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery), the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert), and the hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs). The Minister said a week after that it had not been found necessary to call upon its services during the war, partly because there had been no talks on party lines. In answer to a supplementary, the Minister said that if those who took a minority view were anxious to impede the war effort, the B.B.C. would not give them any time whatever. That was one of the bright young answers that we expect from the Minister of Information and for which he is famous. I suggest, however, that it is rather disingenuous for him to refer the House to a committee one day and a week later blandly admit that the committee had ceased to function.
I was not disingenuous at all. I said that the committee existed, and it is solely a matter for the B.B.C. whether they decide to use it. I am not concerned with their advisory committees.
All the same, the House was led to believe that there was a Committee to which questions referring to political speeches could be referred. As the Minister has admitted the case for more lively controversy, what does he mean by party lines? I am not afraid of discussion on party lines. Who are going to impede the war effort? The Minister, after all, virtually licenses 22 Czech newspapers in Britain, 18 Polish, eight Belgian, five Austrian, two Chinese, two Danish, seven Dutch, II French, six German, seven Norwegian, four Soviet and four Spanish. Is it argued that political differences do not exist among the countries of the peoples represented by these newspapers in this country? Of course they do, and we know that they have been expressed. Can it be argued that only British people cannot be trusted to express different shades of opinion without impeding the war effort? No one wants to impede the war effort. After all we, in this House, are passing legislation and discussing White Papers and the future of the country. We are discussing what is to be done with the people after the war and with institutions, economic and otherwise, when the war is finished and we have to lay down the foundations for the post-war world. I suggest that these things cannot be discussed except on party lines by Members representing parties in the House, together with full expression of views through the newspapers, the B.B.C. and other means of reaching the public.
The B.B.C. succeeds in giving an objective character to its news, but "The Week in Westminster" is not always so objective. It varies a great deal. Very often we feel a measure of complaint and grievance when we find that some Members of the House take advantage of "The Week in Westminster" in order to press home some of their particular points of view about which we would have other things to say. That is unfortunate, because "The Week in Westminster" could be a valuable thing and useful to the cause of democracy. It is about time that people outside learned more about the way they are governed and the way this House is conducted. They have hitherto been misinformed to a great extent, to the discredit of democratic principles.
The hon. Member complains that some Members press their points of view, but is it not openly known to their hearers that they are Members of the House and members of parties? To make them completely neutral, stating no point of view at all, would make "The Week in Westminster" even duller than it is now.
If that was understood to everyone there might be something to be said for enriching "The Week in Westminster." My hon. Friend is a professional journalist and he knows that we could get sufficient colour and liveliness into a descriptive account of what happens in this House without any particular political colour.
I will leave the matter for hon. Members to decide. I have expressed my opinion that some of us on this side think there is often undue bias on one side without an opportunity of replying upon the issues referred to. It would be useful for the Minister to tell the House exactly how the speakers are selected.
I have told the House many times that I have such complete confidence in the Governors of the B.B.C. that I am willing to take the heroic line that whatever they do I shall defend them in the House.
I am asking the Minister to explain certain aspects of the B.B.C. and I do not know what he is objecting to.
I want now to raise the subject of the Brains Trust. A lot of people think that the Brains Trust is wearing rather thin. I am sure that there are not 50 per cent. of people who tune into it now as compared with a year or two back. The liveliness of it has gone, and I think I know the reason. It is less stimulating than it was, and that is due, in my view, to the desperate anxiety of the directors of the B.B.C. to woo the lowest common denominator. The lowest common denominator is entitled to its say on the B.B.C. because the B.B.C. is an institution that caters for everybody and there must not be too much high-brow, medium-brow or even low-brow. That is, however, the tendency in the case of the Brains Trust. After all, it is a Brains Trust and there is plenty of the other stuff on the B.B.C. The idea is that some of the best brains of the country shall be got together to answer questions that members of the public put. Much depends on the kind of questions that are selected. I have frequently sent questions that I consider have been intelligent and useful, but they have not been taken any notice of. The questions are tending to the level of the Sunday newspaper "Quiz." That is not good enough. They waste the time of men like Joad, Huxley and the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), who could use their brains to better advantage than answering some of the questions that are now asked. I wonder whether the B.B.C. agree with Schopenhoner:
A man must still be a greenhorn in the ways of the world if he imagines that he can make himself popular in society by exhibiting intelligence and discernment. With the immense majority of people, such qualities excite hatred and resentment, which are rendered all the harder to bear by the fact that people are obliged to suppress—even from themselves —the real reason for their anger.
I do not think that that is as true as it was when it was written, but, if it is true, I suggest that the Brains Trust exists to improve the situation. It is the purpose of the Brains Trust to deal intelligently and vitally with intelligent questions. Sometimes we get very good questions and good answers. I heard Joad answer a question the other day in which he put the whole philosophy of Plato in two sentences. It was really very wonderful.
It is good to hear that the Forces enjoy the programmes that are dished up for them. I hope they do, but I would like to know how the opinion of the Forces or of anybody else is obtained as to what they want and do not want. Is there a questionnaire, or a report from battalions, or something in the nature of a Gallup poll, which so misinterprets democracy in this country and America in a way that is dangerous to the cause of democracy? It has been said, for instance, that soldiers are showing a partiality for classical music. I hope they are, but how is it known? One remembers the history of the music halls in this country. The commercial impresario used to think that all the public wanted was vulgarity and plenty of it. Some enlightened people thought that perhaps the public could stand a little less vulgarity and a little more art in the music halls. That policy was adopted generally and very suddenly in my own recollection, and the people responded to it. I am sure that the lowest common denominator is not altogether a measure of what ought to be done. I hope it is so, although one sometimes thinks that the Directors take lessons from the Refreshment Department of the House of Commons in the preparation of curried tripe.
To come back to the Brains Trust for a moment, Joad's "bladders of philosophy"—that is really a quotation from the 18th century—enable us all to float upon the surface of deep waters. Still, there are many of us like the young man in "Patience," who traded on the fact that people would say:
If this young man expresses himself
In terms too deep for me,
Why, what a most particularly deep young man
This deep young man must be.
Joad's own opinion about the B.B.C., when not
Getting up the germs
Of the transcendental terms,
is a rather interesting pointer for the B.B.C. itself. He has said:
We have forgotten how to talk. We put on the radio, enjoying the cheap, standardised pleasures which are provided for everybody, instead of providing individual pleasure for ourselves. Science has multipled our wants and increased the complexity of our lives. Increasingly we demand that everything should be done for us. Increasingly we live a press-the-button existence. A drastic simplification of life would improve our health, our minds and our characters.
Finally, there is a matter which is not usually dealt with in discussions of this character but which seems really important to a large number of people. I refer to the question of religious broadcasts. I have to make a rather cautious approach to this subject, so as not to offend anybody, and I put a point of view which is perhaps not usual but which is worth putting and should be considered. I remember my first introduction to an officers' mess. I was the only "ranker" in the battalion. It was carefully hinted to me that it would be bad form to introduce politics or religion into the mess; although they are the two most interesting subjects in the world, they were barred. I found, as a matter of experience, that the assumptions behind the question of what was controversial or not, were all the time highly controversial. Hardly anything was said that I did not find to be matter for controversy and I had to keep my mouth shut.
I will give an illustration of what I mean. I remember there was a question being discussed in the mess after dinner one night of some slight alteration in the time of dinner. The colonel made a remark that everybody back in England—we were in Egypt then—dined at eight o'clock. I could not for the life of me refrain from suggesting to the colonel that perhaps quite a number of people dined at one. You could have cut the silence with a knife. What the colonel meant was that all the people who mattered in England dined at eight. That was an assumption about the structure of society, which is always made by people who talk about non-controversial discussion.
It applies to religion as well and to much of the religious broadcasting that is being done. I am not condemning it as a whole, because some of it is very good. There have been Debates recently between Dean Grinstead and Dr. Evans that have been admirable of their kind, although they do not go the whole way. George Bernard Shaw's "Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God" was radioed recently. The B.B.C. were immediately criticised for being out of touch with the mood of the country, as that was religious controversy and was out of place and offensive, while millions of people wanted not controversy but religious consolation. That statement and others of a similar character were made in various newspapers in the country. Is Christianity such a fragile thing as all that? I do not think it is. Vulgar attacks on cherished beliefs are one thing, but sincere discussions about religious beliefs are another. These are aspects of religion which millions of people know about and to have them properly and sincerely discussed would do true religion no harm.
What do we get instead? Very often some hand-picked parson is told off to deal with the religious difficulties of an equally hand-picked group of young men. Assumptions are always there on both sides. I recognise that there are plenty of young men and young women in this country who could put the parson through his paces when it came to a question of religious difficulties, but you never get anything of that kind. I am suggesting that this could be done respectfully and sincerely, without vulgarity or offence to anyone. Let us remember that there are more than 1,000,000 people—never mind about those who are rationalists—who belong to the spiritualist churches. There are probably another 2,000,000 who belong to organisations of Christian Scientists. There are all sorts of people who resent the thrusting of this formal, cotton wool religion down their throats at every opportunity. At any rate, if they do not resent the services being broadcast, as they should be, the proportion being right, do resent that it is always a coward's castle; no one has an opportunity of putting the other point of view. Higher or lower criticism is never allowed to be handled by unorthodox authorities.
There is always plenty of broadcasting of religious services, to which I do not personally object, but I plead for a really grown-up and intelligent attitude of mind to questions of this kind. Why should not the fine intellects of Chapman Cohen or Professor Hogben be called upon to contribute, as well as that of the Bishop of Lichfield—and a fine intellect, too? We get the bishops and the parsons, but people are aware that there are other points of view which can be put, in as reverent a fashion as may be required. I am sure that if Bradlaugh were living to-day he would be thrown out of Broadcasting House just as he was thrown out of the House of Commons. That justifies my saying that there is not a grown-up attitude of mind, and that there should be a more intelligent approach to religious broadcasting. Some people would object to real discussion of religious problems. You can always find people who object to any discussion on any subject. The B.B.C. would receive thousands of complaints. Of course they would, but they get thousands of complaints now. There are societies all over this country who pass resolutions deploring the surrender of the B.B.C. to the Scarlet Woman, because they broadcast Roman Catholic services. What of it? You will always get that kind of thing, but there is no reason why something a little more intelligent should not be adopted in this matter.
It is much the same in politics. I do not know whether I look at this matter from a party point of view. I suppose I do. I have lived with a party for the whole of my life and perhaps that does make a difference to one's outlook. After all, there is a lot of generalisation and commonplace blah-blah on political questions. The soldiers are to vote by proxy. Now it seems that they are to think by proxy; but they will not. The soldiers are thinking far in advance of the public upon political questions, believe me. We are supposed to agree upon fundamentals. We are all at war, we are told, and we must not have controversy. We must not express disagreement about political questions, yet we have disagreements. Disagreements are there and they ought to be there. Disagreement is the spice of life. I disagree with my wife. Of course, I do not tell her. Why should slight differences make any difference to the morale of the British nation, simply because we are at war? We shall not be at war when the Ministry of Information comes to be discussed in this Committee again. I suggest that, in both politics and religion, health means opening windows.
I congratulate the Minister upon his record of work and upon his zeal in performing it. He has presented a very fine picture of work, on the whole necessary work, although I do enter a caveat about so much propaganda. It is undesirable that we should stress the idea of propaganding ourselves so much to other nations. In war-time, however, all the world should know of the things we do. Let the propaganda be as objective as possible. I hope also that the Minister will appreciate the fact that large numbers of people in this land are jealous of their freedom, and that includes intellectual freedom. They are anxious that the human soul, which I have said is so much in the hands of the Minister and in the Minister's keeping, shall be safe, as much from the deadly effects of dominant nit-wittery as from the assaults of those who would drag it down to perdition.
The speeches that we have heard to-day have reached a very high level of erudition. I particularly congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken upon his very scholarly and broad-viewed contemplation of the B.B.C. But it shows how difficult a task the B.B.C. is, and that the more you start to criticise it the more bewildering the subject becomes. At one moment the hon. Member was denouncing controversy in "The Week in Westminster" and in the next moment he was pleading for controversy in the realm of religion.
Controversy starts with one side saying what they have to say. This is a strange Debate. In fact, the Ministry of Information from its beginning has been a strange institution. We have heard already something of its origin, but not all about the founding of this dynasty. The first Minister of Information was Lord Beaverbrook. Why was he appointed? Because, in the early years of the last war, he took on the task of publicising the Canadian war effort. He was the official Canadian "Eye-witness" and representative of the Canadian Government. He mobilised artists, sculptors, poets, journalists and a battalion of photographers. He did his job so well that he almost convinced the world that the Canadians were fighting the entire war, with some odd assistance from the British here and there. I myself came over to serve with the Canadian Army and when I got to France I was astonished and a little hurt to find that we were not holding the entire line and that there were British Divisions, quite a number of them, on either of our flanks. Gradually we got a sense of proportion about the matter, but there is no question that Lord Beaver-brook did his job thoroughly and that it did raise the morale of the Canadian Forces. We read so much about ourselves that we thought we were good.
After he had done that, Mr. Lloyd George realised that the balance had to be redressed, so he called in the same man to put the British war effort on the map, which Lord Beaverbrook did. When the war ended, the Ministry was disbanded, and Lord Beaverbrook retired to the more peaceful pursuit of being a newspaper proprietor. I think hon. Members will agree that the Ministry, from its beginning, was born in sin. What subsequently happened is an odd story. At the time of Munich, when it looked as if there might be war, a shadow Ministry was created, a shadow Minister was secretly warned to be ready. And who was the Minister chosen for this complex task? Lord Stanhope. Why Lord Stanhope? The only explanation that I can offer is that in this great and lovable country there is a reverence of inexperience which is a little beyond belief. We love the amateur, and in appointing men to high place very often the first thing looked for is inexperience, and is often successfully found. Only the other day a prominent Member of this House said to me, "The first qualification of a Secretary of State for War is that he should be a gentleman." I may say that we were not discussing the present incumbent. It was a purely personal and philosophical discussion. I said to him, "I see no reason why the Secretary of State should not be a gentleman, but I do not quite think that I would put that first. There was the case of Napoleon, who was not exactly a gentleman. In fact, at times he was quite a cad."
Until he lost the war he did make a pretty successful war effort, and contrived to show some capacity for it. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) must not talk too much about the end of things, because Napoleon—I do not suppose he needs any justification from me—did show considerable aptitude for making war, at any rate, up to a point.
When Munich did not result in war Lord Stanhope was at that time assigned to other duties, for which he probably had special qualifications. But when the war came there was again a search for distinguished inexperience, and it was found in Lord Macmillan, a learned judge. It was a strange appointment in many ways; this man of cloistered knowledge, splendid record and fine character was placed in charge of the brass band of propaganda. That did not last very long. We then had Lord Reith, an engineer and something of a Czar. No doubt there was a lot to be said for appointing a Czar as Minister of Information, but it was not a job for an engineer. He in turn was followed by my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Duff Cooper). He had some qualifications; he was a man of letters, and did not do so badly until unfortunately one night he read a poem in place of the nine o'clock news. That poem was his epilogue because in this country poetry is rightly looked upon with suspicion —[Interruption]. My right hon. Friend says it is not looked upon with suspicion so I shall leave it as a fact that he read a poem, that that was his epilogue, and he went out on that performance.
After these appointments, a new Government was formed in 1940. And who was appointed to succeed the right hon. and gallant Member for St. George's? The present Minister was chosen, not at all on the basis of inefficiency but on his extraordinary capacity. He has shown showmanship, arrogance, ability, eloquence, humour and industry. The cult of the amateur was at an end. He has been a tremendous success in the newspaper world. He has managed to be blunt and tactful at the same time, and for a man of strong character we have the spectacle of a Minister who speaks his mind, takes strong decisions and has practically no enemies. That is a great tribute to my right hon. Friend. The only thing is that he has done his job so well that we must see to it that this Ministry does not survive one day longer than we can help when the war is over. If anything he has done his job too well.
What is the real essence of the Ministry of Information? It is censorship. That is the great task that Ministry has. What is censorship? It means the concealing of inconvenient truth. The Ministry is not to be blamed; it is a war-time necessity, but it does become ingrained into the life of the people finally that it is not getting the truth. The public realise they are not getting all the truth, and after a while the appetite for truth itself lessens. That is one thing we have to be afraid of, that the people are already becoming accustomed to their thoughts being dominated and their emotions dragooned and regimented——
I think that under our system of a free Press, in which cases can be argued, and a free Parliament and free debates in the public houses and parks, and everywhere else, truth will out, maybe a day or two late after publication sometimes, but truth will out. As long as there is censorship at work——
The suppression of truth is an insidious thing. The very fact that truth does not come out is what I object to, and the people are becoming intellectually less responsible because of that.
I turn for a moment to the question of publicity for the nation, national publicity or national propaganda, whichever you like. There are those who believe that when the war is over we should still proclaim to the world our virtues. I think that virtue that requires a Press agent does not go very deep. This whole business of publicity at this moment has got out of hand. I remember a few years ago in this House some trouble that occurred when the late Six Laming Worthington-Evans was going to bring in his War Office Estimates. On that day the Lobby correspondents found a neatly typewritten page dealing with the record of the Minister, where he had gone to school, and other important items of that character and all of a favourable nature to the Minister. There was a great outcry about it. The House was angry, and Sir Laming, as my memory goes, apologised to the House for it. What a falling off there is now. In Whitehall at this moment there are massed battalions of public relations officers whose duty is not merely to publicise the Ministries for which they work but the Ministers for whom they work. I rejoice, as every one does, to see in the newspapers a Minister tasting a new pie, or congratulating an ancient farmer on a turnip, or doing all the things Ministers do. We see the photographs of them. It is agreeable and pleasant but the organisation behind it—the photographers, the write-up men, employed by the Government and paid for by the State, all to popularise and make popular the Ministers—that is not a good thing.
Their responsibility in the matter does not come into the question at all. They publish what they think would be of interest to their readers. It is not for then to say "Has this been engineered or not?" If it is of public interest it is acceptable to them. I am going to the source of the crime, not to those who take the results of it. [Interruption.] I think it is a crime for any Minister to use State funds to popularise himself, and I think this matter should be taken seriously by the whole Committee. The only popularity that a Minister should have is from the good deeds which he does, and he should not employ men either to publicise those good deeds or to shelter him from the bad deeds which are committed by him. I think that that system of public relations officers is a very bad one. I hope among the things that will disappear after the war will be, not the legitimate publicity of Departments, which we recognize——
I have listened to this for rather a long while, and I must point out that we are dealing only with a limited number of Departments to-day. We must not deal with departmental publicity as a whole, extending to every Department.
I had thought this came under the general policy of propaganda, but I will not press it any further.
As a matter of fact I have now only a last word or two to say because there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak. We in this House acknowledge the splendid work the Minister and his staff have done in propaganda directed against the enemy, and in occupied territories of Europe. Propaganda is a necessary weapon and one of the curses of war. I do not think we need it after the war. I think that the Ministry should be wound up as soon as possible, and when the emergency is ended we should give back to the University of London the building the Ministry occupies. We might even write over its doors "Here dwelt the harlot propaganda. Now there dwell knowledge and the eternal truths."
The Minister has given us a very full and convincing account of the work of his Ministry in the immediate present and during the past year. I feel that that account is to be looked at, not only as an account of work done but also in relation to the prestige which that Ministry enjoyed at the beginning of the war. I suppose few Ministries have started under worse auspices than the Ministry of Information. I say that advisedly because I myself spent the first year of the war in the Ministry of Information. Its functions were certainly ill defined and its staff was not perhaps as well chosen as it might have been. I always remember that one of the most prominent civil servants came from the Lunacy Commission, and he often doubted in which Department he was. It is an historical fact that many of the messengers in the early days of the Ministry of Information were spare keepers from the Zoo. A few months ago, when I was going round the Zoo with a small niece of mine, a man rushed out of the parrot house—I thought very appropriately—and reminded me that he used to be a Minister's messenger at the Ministry of Information. He told me that he was looking after the hippopotamus, and that he found the hippopotamus less temperamental than the Minister.
I was very glad that my right hon. Friend made such a spirited defence of the British Information Service in the United States. I have had the good fortune to see something of that service, on more than one occasion since the war started, and I think that many of the criticisms which have been levelled against the size of the staff in Washington, New York and other centres, and pf the work that they are doing, are very unfair. I do not think that the staff is large enough to do the work which it has to do. The staff of the British Information Service for the whole of the United States is less than the crew of a sloop in the Royal Navy. My right hon. Friend pointed out, very truly, that it is not the slightest good our trying to do crude propaganda in the United States. That would certainly defeat its own ends. The job of the British Information Service is to supply facts. We might remember that the Information Service do not invent facts: all that they have to do is to pass on the facts supplied to them by the Service Departments. The British Information Service is primarily a pipe-line.
I was especially interested with what my right hon. Friend said about the work of his Ministry in Russia. I feel, as I imagine most hon. Members feel, that one cannot exaggerate the importance of our understanding the Russians, and of the Russians under-standing us. To-day that may be a little one-sided, because there are in this country many organisations, some frankly propagandist and some which purport to be non-political, which aim at presenting to us a more or less accurate account of the position in Russia. We have Anglo-Soviet friendship societies and many organisations of that sort, and we have the Communist Party, which does not merely advocate a totalitarian form of government, but presents us with a picture of Russia. Our handicap surely is that there is no comparable organisation in Russia to the Communist Party here. I imagine that the Russians would not welcome a political party which was advocating Parliamentary democracy. Therefore, a special burden rests upon the Ministry of Information, to see that, within the powers which they are granted by the Russians, they give us as full a picture as they can. The Russians are broadcasting in English from Moscow. I wonder whether we have been able to secure reciprocity to broadcast in Russian from London. The Minister, on more than one occasion, has made it clear that, as soon as the war ends, he proposes to commit honourable hara-kiri. I do not know that anyone proposes to prevent his doing so, but I hope that all the work and all the experience which has been gained by this Ministry during the war will not be entirely lost.
There are some functions which certainly ought to end after the war. One is crude propaganda, in the ordinary sense, either to Europe or in this country. Certainly the whole of that home division of the Ministry will fade away when peace comes. But there is another job which somebody has to do. As the Minister, I suppose, is now considering these matters, I wonder whether he could tell us of any conclusion that he has reached. It is what I would call, for want of a better term, the presentation to the world of the British way of life. I have been very struck, as I suppose most hon. Members have been, with the attitude of the average American soldier who has come to this country and has had an opportunity of seeing something of our family life. He came over with many prejudices. He was brought up on a distorted history book. He thought of this country as being class-ridden to a very great degree. He had no idea of our range of social services and of our ideals. He has a very different picture to-day. That, surely, is an indictment of our inability to present to the world our views on life and our ideals. It is all the more important when it comes to the British Empire, because the Colonial Empire to-day is no longer something around which we can put a ring fence. The whole world is going to take an interest in the Colonial Empire of this country—and I hope in the Colonial Empires of other countries as well. It is very distressing to realise that not one American in 10,000 has ever heard of the Statute of Westminster. Every American believes that our Colonies pay tribute to us, in some mysterious way. They do not realise that the Statute of Westminster not only defines the status of the Dominions, but is the goal to which all our Colonial territories are aspiring, and which they will reach.
I do. My whole point is that, although the Statute of Westminster legalistically refers only to the Dominions, it is the ideal to which this House hopes that the Colonies will attain. Therefore, it seems to me essential that, if we are to carry the United States with us on Imperial affairs, they should understand what our hopes are, and what ideals are behind them. We are an Imperial Power, and we mast remain so.
I will not argue with my hon. Friend on his rather narrow interpretation of the word "Imperial.'' Unless we are going to have misunderstandings in future, it is surely the job of some Department to present a wider aspect of our ideals and aspirations. Whose job is it? Is it the job of the British Council? I feel that it is not. They are doing a very useful job of work, but in a rather more limited sphere than that which I am trying to outline. I hope, therefore, that, before my right hon. Friend burns himself up on the funeral pyre at the peace celebrations, he will give some indication of how that important work will be carried on.
I would like to say a word about the B.B.C. I imagine that it must be the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, in the light of all the experience he has had in the past two Or three years, to indicate to the Government what is to be the future of broadcasting in this country. The present position, I suggest, is an almost impossible one, because, if you tackle my right hon. Friend in this House about the deeds or the misdeeds of the B.B.C., all he does is, like Pontius Pilate, to send for a basin of water and wash his hands, and then dry them in the Charter of the B.B.C. I am not blaming the directors or the staff of the B.B.C. Under the Charter, they are a monopoly. My hon. Friends opposite often say hard things about monopolies in commerce and in trade. I would join them. I detest monopolies in every shape and form. But I go a little wider. I equally dislike monopolies in trade unionism, and in public utility corporations. We have an idea to-day that all you have to do is to turn some trade into a public utility corporation, and automatically all its problems are solved. But are they? Straightaway you have this very difficult and interesting constitutional point, as to who in this House is responsible for a monopoly of that sort. In the case of the B.B.C. or of the London Passenger Transport Board, you cannot discuss their operations, or even policy, except in the most remote fashion. There is a responsibility on my right hon. Friend to sort the thing out in some way or another.
I am quite frank about my views. I hope that after the war we shall not restrict broadcasting in this country to the B.B.C. I do not want to do away with the B.B.C., but I want to see some form of commercial broadcasting in this country as well. [An HON. MEMBER: "For whom is the hon. and gallant Member Speaking now?"] I am Speaking for myself. I know that it is a popular view in this country that American broadcasting is very inferior to our own. I do not know whether people who hold that view have any experience of American broadcasting. I have found American broadcasting extremely good. One of the methods worth considering is that of Canada, where there is a mixture of the two systems: one is equivalent to the B.B.C., and has a charter and draws licence fees exactly as the B.B.C. does here; and in addition there is a commercial broadcasting system, which gives the element of competition that my hon. Friends opposite always want to see in other directions. Without some form of competition you are not going to use broadcasting to the utmost effect and with the efficiency which it merits. Take the point of my hon. Friend's interjection just now. We are going to get commercial broadcasting in any case. You cannot put a tariff against the waves of the air. We had broadcasting of that sort before the war from Normandy and Luxembourg, and what is to prevent it after the war? With the improvements resulting from the war, the number of stations on the Continent, and perhaps in America, which can be heard here, are going to increase rather than to decrease.
Does my hon. and gallant Friend mean by competition something similar to that which obtains in Holland, by which the Catholics would have a broadcasting system, the Protestants would have a broadcasting system, the Nonconformists would have a broadcasting system, and the Conservatives and Liberals would each have a broadcasting system?
No, I do not suggest that Transport House should have its own system, or that the Conservative Central Office should have one. I suggest that, before Members lightly condemn the method of the United States, they should study it, and they should understand the very strict conditions under which commercial broadcasting is allowed there. I believe that, if they did study it and had an opportunity of listening to it, many of the objections which they have in their minds to-day would, in fact, disappear and they would see the great advantage which results from having something more than a mere monopoly in this important service.
Has the hon. and gallant Member not met his own case? He has told the House that, from other countries, there will be commercial broadcasting competing with us here, so that his conditions will be satisfied without any exertions on our part at all.
I do not regard that as a solution at all. I think it is far better for us to allow commercial broadcasting, not for the reason my hon. Friend suggests, that he objects to someone making money out of it, but for the reason that you will get that element of competition in broadcasting which, in my opinion, is essential. I want to finish on this point. I feel that, when we come to review the work of this Ministry in its wider sense, more credit should be given to my right hon. Friend than, perhaps, has been given him. I believe we started this war by talking a lot of nonsense about propaganda. A lot of people suggested that all you had to do was to mutter some magic formula over the air, and Germany would at once collapse. That is simply not true.
The Germans are a resolute people and they went into this war with their eyes open, and they are not likely to be deterred from that purpose by some "Open Sesame" from Broadcasting House. The only thing which, in the long run, can make propaganda successful is success in war, and only so far as you have got victories to back you up, is your propaganda likely to be worth while. There is one test against which we can measure the work of the B.B.C. and the Ministry of Information. My right hon. Friend, all through this war, has stuck to one cardinal principle and that is that, whatever comes from this country, whether in the form of a leaflet or pamphlet, or from the B.B.C., it must be the truth, and I think that it is in achieving the result, that the world has learned to rely upon the accuracy of the information coming from this country, that the efforts of the Minister have been so successful.
There are several reasons why I wish to raise a voice against the point of view that, as soon as the war is over—and exactly what is meant by that is never very clear —this Ministry of Information should be wiped clean off the slate. I am in agreement that certain aspects of its work, described under the heading of "Censorship," should stop, although I think there is some misunderstanding of what the censorship arrangements are. The facts are that any newspaper may print anything it likes, irrespective of what it is told by the Ministry of Information, and it takes the risk of prosecution in law if it does. The Ministry advises newspapers that, in its judgment, such a thing should not be printed. There are, I believe, cases where newspapers have not accepted the judgment of the Ministry, and there have not been prosecutions afterwards. I do not think it should go out that there is a censorship by the Ministry, in the ordinary strict legal sense. It is rather a triumph for us that we have succeeded in getting through this war without that kind of thing. I would ask the Committee to be rather careful about sweeping statements on abolishing the Ministry at the end of the war.
I would like to refer to what the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) said about the Brains Trust. I noticed that he had the assent of the House when he said that the Brains Trust had got less interesting and less controversial, and I think the Minister himself, in his speech the other day, encouraged or told the Governors of the B.B.C. not to be frightened but to go out and be controversial. The fact is that the people of whom the B.B.C. are frightened are hon. Members of this House. I have been invited to speak on the Brains Trust from time to time. Before Speaking one is given a free lunch by the B.B.C.—I hope that acceptance of this meal does not infringe any rule of proper conduct of an M.P.—and at that lunch I was asked to make a few suggestions about questions for the Brains Trust. I will mention two I suggested. The first was that there should be a discussion in the Brains Trust of the future of the Charter of the B.B.C. Their reply to that was "That will be very tricky." Clearly, from the speech we have just heard it does arouse strong feeling, and l feel pretty sure that the Minister would have to take very strong evasive action from the deluge of Questions if the Brains Trust had a discussion on the future of the B.B.C. I am convinced that the Governors would be delighted to have it, if it could be made clear to them that the House will not get too upset about it. My second suggestion was a discussion on what to do with Germany after the war, and that was ruled out because it is not yet a subject, apparently, which we are able to discuss in this House.
I will now give my reasons why we must not talk in a sweeping way about doing away with this Ministry. One reason which made me rather suspicious was that I noticed the Beaverbrook Press howling for its closing down. It was that Press which, in 1938 and 1939, was telling us, "There will be no war this year, or next year, or any year," and its judgment on these matters always leads me to suspect it. It is not that I have any personal feelings against it; in fact, it once did me the great service of starting one of its leading articles in the "Daily Express" by saying that the whole energy of that paper would be directed to preventing me getting a seat in this House. I need hardly say that it was a very valuable statement from my point of view. I only wish they would say it again. When, therefore, I see the Beaverbrook Press howling for this Ministry to be wound up, lock, stock and barrel, it makes me suspicious, and I think we must be rather careful of accepting such advice. I think we use the phrase that the Ministry must disappear as soon as the war is over rather loosely and carelessly in this House.
Apart from the obvious legal difficulties in determining when the war is over, I am one of those who feel that the war began a long time before 1939 and will go on in its widest sense long after the actual shooting stops in Europe, and, therefore, I think that we have adopted many measures in the conduct of this war—and, to me, it is still an ideological war, and I am sorry the Prime Minister referred to it as becoming less ideological—and we have done many things which we shall not be able to stop doing when the war has stopped. It is a continuous process, this fight against evil, and, even when the fighting is over in Europe, there will be political confusion and economic confusion all over Europe. I think there is growing agreement in this House that, after this war, we have got to make certain that peace is going to be preserved by the use of strength on the part of the United Nations. If we have not learned that lesson, we are fighting the war in vain, and all I would like to submit to the Committee is that I think that we should not lose sight of the conception that, in total war, strength does not consist solely in the use of the weapons of the Armed Forces of the Crown.
I have studied war for a good many years at staff colleges and other places, and I am convinced that we must recognise that total war is not only material but psychological in its actions, and we make a profound mistake if we think that peace is only to be preserved by being surrounded with tanks and planes and guns. The Committee should recognise that the roots of all wars lie in psychological situations. All wars are rooted in ideas. Nothing was more deplorable in 1936–39 than the absolute inability of democracies to defend themselves in the psychological field against the dictators. The most disgusting insults were hurled by the dictators about the decadence of democracy, and Goebbels himself, in 1938, was spending£20,000,000 a year on this propaganda. The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down made the remark that the Germans went into this war with their eyes open. I do not wish to say anything to detract from the fundamental responsibility of the German people for the actions of their leaders but I do say that Goebbels was wise in 1936, when he had control of the German Press and broadcasting, and he pumped his stuff into Germany. He was not wasting his time.
We have heard a bit from various speakers to-day on the early history of this Ministry, and perhaps I may be permitted to add a little footnote. When I came back from Poland and Berlin in 1939 I was very much depressed by the fact that certain Germans, who I believed were fundamentally anti-Nazi, had got it into their heads that Hitler was doing something desirable in going into Czechoslovakia, because he was preventing Germany from being encircled. A young German whom I once held in respect—he was educated in this country—tried to defend Hitler going into Czechoslovakia by saying that he had done, without a war, what they did in 1914, when they were encircled and broke into Belgium. I returned to the Foreign Office and reported that a very big effort ought to be made to put counter-propaganda into Germany, because the people there were absolutely being led up the garden path. At that time there was a shadow organisation in existence, with Lord Perth as Director. A few friends, whose names I should not, perhaps, mention, helped me to get together the sum of£4,000, with which we sent letters into Germany, in German, and the first letter was based on the speeches of the Foreign Secretary of those days.
I thought it right to tell the Foreign Office before those letters were sent out, and I said I hoped to send them to Nazi addresses and prominent people in Germany. I was told by the Foreign Office, by Lord Perth, "Of course, it is a great waste of money, and nothing will happen." Within a week I was asked not to go anywhere near the Foreign Office because there was a first-class uproar going on in Germany, but I got details to show that I had disturbed the Nazis very much. Extraordinary efforts were made to prevent the letters getting into Germany and suggestions were made to me that these things should be stopped. I said that if the Prime Minister of that time would write to me a letter I could publish, telling me that it was not in the public interest to send letters to Germany, based on our public statements of policy and exposing Hitler's lies, I would desist. That little effort was much too late, and we should have done it much earlier. They simply did not believe that we had a story to tell them.
Something might have been done about it. I suggest that the lesson should not be forgotten. It should not be done in a cheap sort of way after this war, but we cannot take it for granted that the Continent of Europe has that inborn feeling, which we have, that democracy can deliver the goods and is the only really possible way of life. I realise that I am getting on to rather controversial ground here, and I shall leave this point simply with the remark that I hope some Department, or some agency, in this country will have as its function the preaching of the gospel of democracy outside this country and, especially, of counteracting the attacks which, undoubtedly, we shall live to see made on our democracy.
In conclusion, it seems to me that there are three functions at present being carried out by this Ministry which, as matters of practical politics, will have to go on. It may be arguable that they can be carried out by existing Departments, farmed out among them, or that some smaller, more compact and less diffused Ministry such as the Ministry of Information now is, should be set up to do it. On the domestic side there is the difficult question of the Public Relations Officer. I agree that it is not the business of the Public Relations Officer to act as a private Press advertising adviser to his Ministry, and I think most Ministers would deprecate that. No doubt the Public Relations Officer sometimes does things which his Minister does not want him to do.
The hon. Gentleman who made that statement to the House did not produce any evidence in support of the statement he made that Public Relations Officers had been doing anything of that kind.
It is a difficult thing to prove and, as was pointed out, the Press are not obliged to publish these stories of Ministers eating cakes and so forth, and the fundamental responsibility lies with the Press. What we cannot get away from is that the complications of modern life are such that the more factual information which the different Ministries hand out to the public the better——
The lion. and gallant Member will appreciate that Public Relations Officers and the propaganda of individual Ministries is not a matter for the Ministry of Information, but for the particular Ministry concerned.
With respect, Major Milner, I will put it this way. From my own experience in the Ministry of Fuel and Power, it is the business of the Public Relations department there to prepare the material and send it to the Ministry of Information, which puts it out. However, I will leave that point. All I will say is that I believe we should look into the possibility of centralising the publicity which Government Departments wish to do, and when it is a question of getting out facts this should not be left to the particular Ministry, the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Agriculture and so forth. There is a great deal of overlapping at present.
The second point I wish to make is that of giving information of our way of life to the United States of America and the Dominions. I agree with every word spoken by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) and my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down, on the need of a better understanding between Americans and ourselves about our respective countries. When I was over in the United States the other day I was taken out to dinner by 78 anti-British Americans and they asked me a great many questions. The first one was "Well, Commander, whose stooge are you?" I was able to answer that I believed I was one of the few Englishmen that night on American soil who had paid his own fare to get there, and that made a great difference. We have to be very careful in our dealings with Americans. We must convince them that we are not putting over a propaganda story, but that we are simply supplying the facts which they want to know, and that is what our Ministry of Information is doing over there notwithstanding what is said to the contrary. It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman who followed the Minister that this job should be done by the Foreign Office. I very much doubt whether that is going to be possible. It is equally important that we should understand the American way of life.
According to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, it would seem that the only country in the world which should understand us and which it is necessary for us to understand is the United States of America. I think it is equally important that Russia should understand us and that we should understand Russia.
I think I can answer the Noble Lord. I said, having dealt with the domestic side, the next point was the making known of the British way of life to the United States of America and the Dominions. The third point is the making known of the British way of life to foreign countries.
Unfortunately, we cannot all get across the Atlantic, and I think it is desirable that in this country and over there, there should be centres where facts about the British way of life and the American way of life can be obtained. Finally, there is the point that I have already dealt with, the question of getting information about the facts of the British way of life and, particularly, what is meant by the free and democratic way of life, into foreign countries. That cannot be neglected, but I doubt whether these things can be carried out by the Foreign Office. There may be occasions when the Foreign Office would say that they cannot do a certain thing because delicate negotiations were going on in a particular country.
Why is it necessary to have a certain method of approaching America and the Dominions and another method for dealing with foreign countries? Americans have always objected to the attitude adopted by Britons in America that everybody in America is a foreigner except them.
I am all in favour of finding out all we can about the facts of life in Russia, and I hope the Russians want to know about our way of life. Both these things seem to be desirable and, therefore, I conclude by pointing out to this Committee that this phrase "The end of the war" is a very nebulous one and not to be regarded as the end of hostilities. At the end of hostilities, these activities which have been so ably and practically described to us to-day by the Minister, must be carried on by some body or agency, but the only suggestion I have heard so far is that they should be transferred to the Foreign Office. I do not think that would be useful.
My hon. and gallant Friend insists that this ought not to be done by the Foreign Office. May I ask whether he does not think that if we are, in fact, going to maintain a centralised propaganda department after the war, there will be very great distrust among all the foreign journalists trying to cover this country? I think he wilt agree that the ordinary foreign correspondent who works in this country would rather deal with the Foreign Office News Department than with the Ministry of Information, although I do not in any way want to cast aspersions on the work of that Ministry in general, which I think is admirable. On that particular point you would have great distrust among foreign correspondents if you took that matter out of the hands of the Foreign Office and put it under the control of a centralised committee.
I think that there really are two functions there. I am suggesting that there will have to be, after the war, a way of providing factual information about the ways of life of this country and a publicity of policy, and naturally I would expect the Foreign Office to interpret the British policy to foreign Governments.
I was proposing to say a word about the British Council, although I have been interrupted several times, which has made me take more time than I meant to do. I know the work the British Council is doing. I do not think that the Foreign Office, as at present constituted, is quite the nest where I should lay this egg of interpreting the British way of life, and perhaps the British Council would be a more suitable place, but not as it is constituted at present.
The different aspects of the Ministry of Information are being very freely dealt with, and there is only one matter I wish to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information. I want to congratulate him; he has done his work well since his appointment to the Ministry. Like a true Celt, he is kind and approachable and ready to respond to every, reasonable request. My right hon. Friend does not set himself up as infallible. He knows that to err is human. He has made a few mistakes, as have other Ministers in this House. He has done his work wisely and well and he deserves the thanks of the whole country. I want to bring to his notice a letter which I received a few days ago. It is a letter which he and I, and, in fact, all of us, should lay to heart. This constituent of mine writes:
About a fortnight ago, two amorous, inane actors gave a show on the B.B.C. and every few minutes one or other used, in a flippant and irreverent manner, expressions like 'good Lord,''good God,''by God,''for God's sake' and so on. I think it's monstrous that the national radio permits the Holy Name of God to be introduced into passionate, stupid, voluptuous scenes. How can we expect the blessing of God when this blasphemy is permitted?
This was written by a man who is well known in my constituency and does a good deal for the Press. He is not alone in being offended by this sort of thing. He and a great many others in the country have expressed to me their deep regret that in this Christian country the name of God should be used in such a light, flippant and irreverent way. In this country the name of God is honoured. The Jews would not use even the name "Jehovah"; it was so sacred to them. They used another Hdbrew word. We in this country should protest very strongly against any dishonour of the name of God or against using it in this flippant way in any act on
the B.B.C. This has given great offence to hosts of our people, and I make a strong appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information to use his influence with the B.B.C. to have such uncalled-for expressions put out of the programme. They should never be allowed in a Christian country. There is no need for such use of the holy name of God in any programme of the B.B.C. The name of God is very precious to me, and, I believe, to every Member of this Committee. The more we honour God, the more He will honour us, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will make such a protest to the B.B.C. that all this sort of thing will end and that we shall have our programmes freed from the use of the holy name of God in any irreverent way.
The Committee will be aware that my right hon. Friend is going to deal with the various points that have been raised in this discussion, but, as he indicated, he wanted me to tell the Committee something about the operation of the Postal and Telegraph Censorship, which is the largest department under the control of the Ministry. I propose to do that now, but I would like to permit myself the luxury of making one reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Luton (Mr. Burgin). I was struck by the sympathetic and understanding way in which he suggested that the Ministry of Information should go out of business, at the end of the war. I could not help feeling that there was a reason for that. He was a member of the Liberal Party, and it must be within his knowledge, as it is within my own, that many callous-hearted people have from time to time applied this doctrine of out-lived usefulness to that once great Liberal Party.
As from April last the Postal and Telegraph Censorship was entirely separated from the Ministry of Information. Since then it has worked as a separate organisation under a separate director-general. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend has responsibility for that work and for that reason, because of its very wide activities, and because of the fact that it employs some 12,000 staff and has a budget of nearly£3,5400,000, he thinks the Committee is entitled to some information about its work, and I propose to give that information now. The censorship started at the beginning of the war under the control of the War Office, and early in 1940 it was handed over to the Ministry of Information. But even then it was never part and parcel of the real Ministry but worked as a separate organisation. In the end that diversion of function was recognised, and last year it was formally separated from the Ministry and became, as I said, a separate organisation.
The censorship of letters and telegrams is one of the unpleasant necessities of war. Nobody likes it, least of all the British citizen, because it means the intrusion of the official prying eye into his private affairs, and in ordinary times there is no doubt at all that this would most properly be very strongly resented. However, in the essential interests of the war our British people have suffered all sorts of disagreeable things in order that the war might be effectively pursued, and, for the same good reason, they have agreed to acquiesce in the censorship of letters although it is naturally repugnant to them.
I want to tell the Committee something about the achievements of this Department. Unfortunately, even now it is not possible to tell the whole story, because the enemy is listening and we should be giving him some useful tips, but it is a fact that this censorship system has increased the effective prosecution of the war and has saved many thousands of lives of British and Allied seamen. I think I can say enough to show that it has produced much more good than the evil we have suffered as a result of it. Let me add that there is full recognition in the Ministry of Information that the operation of this letter censorship would not be justifiable in peace time, and there is every intention of bringing it to an end at the earliest possible time.
Now the post and telegraph censorship has two main objectives. The first is to secure that no information of value goes out to the enemy. A very recent illustration of the importance of this work is to be found in the part which the censorship Department had to play in protecting the secret of the Normandy invasion. A vast amount of detail and carefully considered work was undertaken in this respect, and there can be no doubt that that work contributed substantially to the measure of surprise achieved. In this connection the Department has received the thanks of the Vice-Chief of General Staff, General Eisenhower's Staff and the American Navy. The second objective of the Department is not so obvious to the public. It consists of frustrating the enemy's attempts at communication with the outside world, and might be described as a communication blockade. Very naturally, the enemy has throughout the war consistently attempted to use the mail and cable facilities for the purpose of his war effort and, just as consistently, we have contrived—with success, I hope—to frustrate his knavish tricks. Activities which he has sought to carry out by that means include propaganda, espionage and evasion of economic controls, such as the Navicert system. There is also smuggling, and turning into foreign exchange assets looted from occupied Europe.
All these activities are conducted by our enemies by means of a centrally-controlled system. We found that the only effective counter to this enemy activity was a centrally-controlled communication blockade. This has been achieved by an Allied controlled network of censorship throughout the world. The component parts of this network consist of stations established by the Department in many places overseas, of censorships operating in the great Dominions and in the Colonies, of censorships established by the United States of America and by the French authorities. It has been built up steadily as an effective check against operations of the enemy in this field. There is, in fact, a perpetual battle going on between the enemy and the censorship organisation. I think it is not overstating the case to say that we are getting the better of that battle. The Committee might like to know that in conjunction with the British and American security authorities, the British censorship has been instrumental in bringing to light the activities of most of the spy rings in the United States and Central America. It has also played a large part in the uncovering of the enemy network of espionage in South America. The extreme measures taken by the enemy to conceal their communications is the measure of respect in which he holds the British censorship organisation.
Prior to the entry of the United States into war, one of the main enemy activities was his attempt to turn into dollars various forms of property used by him in Europe. These included not only money but also bonds of various descriptions, diamonds and other forms of property in conjunction with the American Foreign Funds Control. The censorship has been instrumental in largely preventing the success of these German efforts to obtain badly-needed foreign exchange with which to pay for their urgently needed war material. In particular, the work of the censorship in unravelling the activities in neutral countries of such organisations as the I.G. Farben industry—the great aniline dye trust—has been favourably noted by our American colleagues. The tracking down of all these enemy commercial transactions has been a particularly delicate piece of work.
This part of censorship activity is, of course, closely linked with the Ministry of Economic Warfare. The blockade, as the Minister of Economic Warfare pointed out recently, is largely operated by means of the Navicert system. For this reason we find the enemy is constantly making arrangements whereby apparently innocent transactions to neutral countries are submitted in order that Navicerts may be granted to cover the transaction. It is the censorship which is largely reponsible for finding out the true nature of these transactions and thereby preventing the enemy from achieving success.
On a point of Order. What the Minister is saying is very interesting, but he is reading it out from a document and is not making a speech at all. I submit, Major Milner, that there has been an increasing anxiety in the House recently that we should have less read documents and more speeches.
—and I think on matters of this sort, where it is essential one should be quite accurate, it is desirable to have a very full note. I am sorry that my hon. Friend should find it necessaiy——
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he will turn round to this side and put a little life and spirit into it, instead of confining himself to the text before him. Why does he not make his speech loudly and brilliantly to the Committee?
I must say I am getting a good deal of encouragement. There are what we call cloak transactions, that is, transactions which are, in fact, different from what they purport to be. This is a common device of the enemy in order to obtain essential materials. In hundreds of these cases we have turned the cloak absolutely inside out. With regard to the smuggling of diamonds, to which I have already referred, many of the arrangements for this purpose have been detected by the censorship. In addition, the censorship itself has intercepted very large quantities of diamonds——
I have not seen any of them yet; anyhow, one can always hope. So far as transactions in looted pictures are concerned, it is censorship which, in the main, has been responsible for detecting these—and it is a very difficult business. Perhaps the most striking assistance censorship has been able to render to the Ministry of Economic Warfare is in regard to a fiendish scheme to get dollar exchange, which was devised by the Nazi Government. This scheme was to arrest wealthy Jews in Holland and elsewhere in occupied Europe and hold them to ransom by their rich friends in America. This scheme failed, and the policy pursued by the Government in defeating it was largely based upon information supplied by the Censorship Department.
I am sorry that I have had such a frosty reception in presenting the little story which I have to tell. There is much else that could be told about the work of the Postal and Telegraph Censorship; it is a remarkably interesting story, but it cannot all be told now because it would give great advantage to the enemy. When the full story is told, as no doubt it will be at the end of the war, it will make good reading for the British public. In the meantime, I hope that in spite of certain observations which have been made the Committee will be content with what I have told them, and will feel that the letter censorship, dislike it though we may, deserves well of the country.
I make no apology for wishing to take part in this Debate, because I spent three out of five of these long years of war at the Ministry of Information. I first went there at a time which Evelyn Waugh described extremely well in his book "Put Out More Flags," during which archimandrites used to wander in marble halls not quite knowing who they were looking for or what they would say when they got there. I remember one occasion when a civil servant called a conference of American correspondents in order that he might tell them how to be good, if careful, correspondents. I saw Ministers come and go, and I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the reputation he has made in that unenvious post. As the close of the war draws near my right hon. Friend must feel not unlike Catherine Parr when she saw Henry VIII gradually sinking away into oblivion. The other Ministers I served under certainly disappeared with their reputations a little more threadbare than when they arrived, and I think hon. Members will remember the time when Adjournment Debates on the Ministry of Information were the principal sport of those who had nothing else particularly to do, and when we were very lucky if we escaped with one a week.
Despite all that, I watched at the same time a 'body of devoted men and women, working unbelievably long hours, with very little to gain and much in reputation to lose, gradually building up a network of world-wide publicity, very often with inadequate directives and at a time when British arms were suffering a series of shattering defeats. Let us be under no misapprehension. Publicity is far easier to deal with when you are victorious than when you are militarily being defeated. But, finally, the Overseas Section of the Ministry established itself as an efficient and well organised piece of machinery, doing an extremely good job in many parts of the world. If I refer specifically to the Overseas Section of the Ministry, I do so not because I think the Home Divisions are doing any less good work, but because I wish to confine my remarks to the overseas publicity of His Majesty's Government in the post-war era. I am in complete agreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Burgin) and many other Members in saying that the Home Divisions of the Ministry should be wound up as soon as possible when the war is over. With this I include censorship. The work they are now doing should be left to the efficient British Press, but I am equally certain—and I am in complete agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans) and the hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall)—that some form or another of overseas publicity must be maintained in very much its present form when the war ends.
It is clear that we must have a policy of national publicity, and that it must be based on truth in peace, just as it has been based on truth in war. In the days of high pressure salesmanship in which we live, if confidence is to be maintained in Britain and in our economic and political policies, then the peoples of the world must be kept informed as to what those policies are. The system which prevailed up to the beginning of the war, in which the whole of the foreign publicity of this country rested with the News Department of the Foreign Office, a Division of eight officers, a few clerks and a certain number of scattered Press attachés—it was not until -the summer of 1940 that we sent a Press attaché to Washington—is clearly inefficient and out of date. After the war we shall have a story to tell the world, a story that will be just as exciting and interesting as the story of the war, a story of people united to eliminate unemployment, disease and poverty, a story of improvement of the lot of the peoples living under our flag.
It is a story that we should not be ashamed to tell, a story which the world would be extremely interested to hear. But we must be quite sure that we tell it in the best possible way.
What is the best method? It seems to me that there are four possible alternatives. I should like to enumerate them and then put my own interpretation upon each. The first is that the overseas sections of the Ministry of Information, with the addition of all Dominion publicity—because in the terms of reference of the original setting up of the Ministry of Information Dominions affairs were specifically excluded from it—should be reconstituted in a separate Ministry of Information with its own Minister in charge of it. The second alternative is that it should be handed back to the Foreign Office. Thirdly, that a sort of equivalent to the Department of Overseas Trade should be set up under an Under-Secretary of State, whose function it would be to service the various Departments which needed publicity abroad. Fourthly, that it should be taken under the Cabinet Secretariat. As I understand it, at present the Cabinet Secretariat has no executive functions. There would have to be some sort of reorganisation in order that they might take publicity under their wing. As far as the Foreign Office is concerned, undoubtedly very strong arguments have been advanced to show why they should have it returned to them at the end of the war. It will be said that foreign policy must be the root and branch of all our publicity and that, therefore, they must be responsible for it; that the Foreign Secretary and his Ambassadors abroad cannot be subject to irresponsible people over whom they have no control, making statements which may endanger our relations with those foreign countries. But, with due deference to the Foreign Secretary, I do not agree with that argument. The training of diplomats—nearly all the diplomats I have ever come across—certainly does not include publicity in its curriculum. Not only do they dislike it intensely but most of them have a very supreme contempt for it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It is part of their training to dislike it.
It was an extraordinarily small department. I have had 25 years' experience of the Department and I should have thought, considering the meanness of the Treasury towards it, and the attitude of the diplomats towards it, it had done an amazingly good job of work. Perhaps the hon. Member will bear in mind this very small staff.
I have no doubt that that small section did an extremely good job of work, but it seems to me that it was confined to the diplomatic correspondents in this country and a small section of the foreign Press. It did not give an over-all picture of Britain, and one only had to go to the United States in the years before the war, to see the woeful amount of misapprehension that existed about the institutions and the policies of this country. Moreover, future British publicity has got to include a far wider field than that covered by foreign affairs. It has to cover the Dominions and our relationship with them. As someone said earlier, there is in the United States a complete misapprehension of the meaning of the Statute of Westminster. It has to give a true picture of our Colonial development, which has also been woefully misrepresented abroad, and it has to give, in the years immediately after the war a true picture of our relations with India, which may well be a cause of acute misunderstanding with foreign countries. It must further cover the vast new field of economic policy which is now entrusted to the Board of Trade. I agree that the Foreign Office is deeply interested in these matters, but equally so are these other Departments which I have enumerated.
For these reasons I do not believe that overseas publicity should reside exclusively with the Foreign Office. For other reasons I reject the idea of setting up an equivalent to the Department of Overseas Trade. My own experience in the early days at the Ministry of Information was that one of the chief difficulties that it encountered was that the Minister did not attend Cabinet meetings himself and was unable to give sufficient directive to his staff. I can remember well in the early days of the Ministry a War Cabinet Minister holding a conference of representatives of the Press, and, as far as I can remember, the then Minister of Information was not even asked to take the chair. He was an extremely angry man. The success of our publicity depends largely on the man who will be placed in charge of it and the closeness of the touch that he has with the fountain-head, the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet. That could not happen if you merely had an Under-Secretary in charge of it.
We come, therefore, by a process of elimination to the two other alternatives, either of retaining the Ministry of Information on a reorganised basis or of putting it under the Cabinet Secretariat. It does not greatly matter to me which one is chosen, because I believe either will be capable of doing a good job; personally I favour the retention of the overseas section of the Ministry with a Minister responsible to the House and able to answer for it. I think it would be a neater kind of job. But, if it is considered in the public interest, and if the House wants to see all war-time Ministries, no matter how important, abolished at the end of the war, I should be quite content to see it go to the Cabinet Secretariat.
Some hon. Members have questioned what should be the role of the British Council in future British publicity and what part it is to play in giving a picture of Britain to the world. I believe the British Council has a very considerable role to play but that it should be limited to those countries where culture and art are the main objects of our publicity in countries where we already have an Institute, like, for instance, Portugal, or Italy as it was before the war. I believe that the Council has a considerable role to play throughout the Middle East and in certain countries in South America. But in countries like the United States and the U.S.S.R., where a positive interpretation of all aspects of our life must be attempted and facts given, as well as the countering of actual misrepresentation which is always being made by our enemies, the British Council should be definitely excluded. It should act in the closest touch with the publicity department that was chosen, but it would be highly dangerous if we had two branches of publicity working in the same country, and it would make that country legitimately ask questions as to what was being done.
I would like to say a word about the future of the B.B.C. If I make any criticisms of that body I hope they will be taken in the spirit in which they are meant, a desire to be constructive. I recognise the fine work that the B.B.C. have done throughout the war, sometimes in difficult circumstances. I always found during the three years I was at the Ministry of Information that they gave me every co-operation and help. Nor do I intend to discuss the overseas programmes because I believe that, with the exception of the Empire programmes, they should become part of the functions of the publicity board about which we have been talking. I believe that they have a large part to play in painting a picture of Britain to the world. I shall confine what I have to say to the home programmes. I think that it was the general opinion of most people that before the war the home programmes were not up to standard. During the war the news bulletins have been extremely good, but there has been little improvement on the entertainments and other sides. The question is, therefore, what can be done to bring them up to the highest possible degree of excellence so that audiences are not forced through sheer boredom to turn on to foreign wavelengths and listen to gramophone records relaying from foreign stations. I think that this is an opportune time to discuss this matter because I understand that the Charter of the B.B.C. comes to an end in 18 months. Therefore, I hope that the Governors are giving this matter their earnest consideration and that they will take cognisance of what is being said in this Debate.
There is one recommendation that can be made now. That is that the charge for licences should be raised from 10s. to£1. One of the greatest difficulties that the B.B.C. has been under during past years has been the inability to pay for the best.
One of the difficulties of the B.B.C. has been to pay for the best, whether script writers, artistes or orchestras. We all remember how, in the years before the war, the best people one by one slipped away and got employed elsewhere. Unless the B.B.C. pay the best and highest prices they will not be able to get the best people. In the United States the radio chains derive their income from advertising. Consequently they get very large sums and they hire the very best. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans) when he said that the average programmes in the United States are on a very high level. They most certainly are. I believe however that this country and this House would be against the use of advertising in broadcasting. Therefore, the B.B.C. have to look to other directions for increasing their revenue.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that for many years, and possibly at the present time, the licence revenue produced far more than was needed by the B.B.C. and that large sums were paid to the Treasury?
And also for technical research, and I am sure that there will have to be more research at the end of the war. I am certainly against the Treasury receiving any of that money. I am trying to show means whereby the standards of the B.B.C. can be raised. If they need more funds they have no alternative but to raise the price of the licence and then they could spend money more generously than they have in the past on those they employ.
With regard to the general set up, too much attention has been paid in the past to the national programmes and not enough to the regional programmes. If you turned on your radio and you did not like the national programme, the chances were that if you turned on to a regional programme it was a very trashy one. The first thing to be done is to raise the general standard of all programmes to the same level of excellence so that there should be no difference no matter what wavelength you tuned in to. There are two ways of achieving this. One is by sticking to the present system of national and regional programmes and, by effecting the greatest measure of decentralisation possible and appointing directors who should be charged with improving the regional programmes, and giving them adequate grants, to bring their programmes up to the same level as the national programme.
The other alternative is that there should be four or five wavelengths each devoted to a particular field of endeavour. For instance, that one should be responsible for culture, music, talks and so on; another for light entertainment; another for adult and youth education; another for Empire talks; and so on. I believe that either of the two suggestions I have made is feasible, and that they should be considered by the Governors of the B.B.C. The people of this country after the war will demand, and they will deserve, the best that can be given. I am certain that unless the B.B.C. give them the best, they will turn for their entertainment to broadcasts from other countries, which will be, to say the least, a most unfortunate development.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman in discussing the future of the Ministry, of Information. I intend to stick to one short point with reference to the B.B.C. which was raised so admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). That is the question of the intellectual freedom of the B.B.C. I fully agree with everything he had to say about the religious programmes of the B.B.C. The point I want to make concerns the necessity for having party politics on the air to-day. I believe that the Minister also stands with us on this question, because on two occasions he has gone out of his way publicly to give the B.B.C.
what I consider really sound advice about how they should conduct their politics on the air. Last December he said:
The charge was constantly being made that the B.B.C. was being timid, and this failing was ascribed to Government influence. Knowing that democracy thrived on argument, the B.B.C. should encourage discussion on all vital issues. Calling impartially on all sides, it should be a great public forum.
He repeated this advice at the beginning of this month. Although the Minister, has, on several occasions, and again today, offered to take all the kicks for the B.B.C. if only they will show a certain amount of originality, the B.B.C. still suffer from sheer downright timidity. They are afraid of what I call real, honest-to-goodness controversial politics on the air.
Unless politics are controversial, they are dead, they cease to exist. It is very important that we should have red-hot politics on the air. Otherwise our Parliamentary democracy is in the greatest danger of extinction. Our pre-war practice of ventilating our politics and our points of view in the Press has been somewhat curtailed because of shortage of paper, and also because the Press to-day is in so few hands and our political organisations are so thoroughly dis-organised. It is impossible to get vital points of view adequately ventilated before the electors of this country, and therefore I believe that the B.B.C. has a great responsibility in this matter at the present time. When we get among the people in the country, in the factories and in the Services we find that they are absolutely cynical about politicians of all political complexions. They do not believe that any party or politician is out to look after the interests of the common people. I believe that the only way to put that right is to allow politicians to show what they stand for by talking freely on the air on B.B.C. programmes. The B.B.C. should be impartial, but it does not show its but partiality by emasculating politics, as it does at the present time.
Politics is not a matter for experts. Far too many learned professors talk politics on the radio to-day. They talk about the technical aspects of political programmes. Surely politics, if they mean anything at all, are a question of ultimate aims. The only people who are capable of dealing with ultimate aims are the politicians who are fighting about those ultimate aims in this House and in the country. Those are the people who should be talking and expressing their opinions fully and openly on the air. The B.B.C. has what it calls political programmes, but whenever I have listened to them I have found that they were politics in the abstract. People talk learnedly about Socialism, Liberalism, or Toryism in a way that does not mean anything to the people at all and does not touch their lives in any shape or form.
I beg the Minister to get the B.B.C. to take the advice that he has given them at least twice during the last six months. It is ro years since we have had a General Election in this country. For five years there has been no real political controversy outside the House, and even that in the House has necessarily been suppressed due to shortage of paper and other causes. A new generation of electors is coming along to take part in the next General Election, and they know very little about the political questions with which they will be faced. Before very long we shall have a General Election in this country, and young people in the Services or in the factories, who have never seen a General Election before and who have been reading newspapers in which political controversy has been largely suppressed, will have to exercise their political judgment. How can they exercise it soundly if the B.B.C. does what it has done in the past, allow political controversy for just three weeks before the election?
I am pleading at the present time, when we are getting down to post-war reconstruction, for Heaven's sake let the people of this country learn what their political leaders on all sides of the House are fighting for. Let them get some understanding of the problems as we see them in this House. I admit that if we have political controversy on the air the Government will be involved, but I would give the Government exactly the same privilege on the air as they have in this House. I would like them to reply to any Debate that they want to, on the one condition that all vital points of view are expressed as fairly on the air, with adequate time for doing so, as they are in this House.
We should be able to get all the music and all the entertainment that we wanted. More than that, I think we should find that the people of this country would listen far more to the B.B.C. if politics were given an air of living reality, instead of being turned, as they are to-day on the B.B.C., into a corpse that is being dissected by a lot of learned professors who look at the matter from a scientific and not from a humanitarian point of view.
I do not wish to follow the general argument of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin), but I feel constrained to suggest to him that an examination of the B.B.C. programmes would not bear out his contention that its politics lack liveliness. Look at the list of hon. Members who have spoken in recent weeks—the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). They are some Members of Parliament who have spoken in recent weeks and—
Is is quite true that my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) and other Members of this House report the proceedings of Parliament on the B.B.C., but I quarrel with that very much. What they are doing is to report, and they have to attempt to be neutral instead of doing what I want, which is to express the views for which they stand. They are not expressing their party point of view. I am appealing that the B.B.C. should no longer just give us this kind of neutral and colourless politics but that we should get the real blood and bones of politics.
The hon. Member was so anxious to refute my argument that he did not allow me to complete the list, which I would have done by the addition of the name of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). These are the hon. Members who have spoken on the B.B.C. in recent weeks, and they are among the most controversial Members in this House. The hon. Member for Sea-ham spoke in the Brains Trust and therefore with every latitude. I did not rise, however, with the object of Speaking about the B.B.C. I want to speak more particularly about the Ministry of Information and oversea propaganda.
I am not certain whether we have come to bury Cæsar or to praise him to-day. For my own part I want to do both. I will praise him first and bury him after. I think the right hon. Gentleman who spoke second in the Debate was somewhat in the same frame of mind. I saw him likened in last night's "Evening Standard" to Balaam's ass. It seemed to me that he was more like the rider than the mount. Like Balaam he was called to curse but remained to bless. There has undoubtedly been a great improvement in the Ministry of Information since those early days of which the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) has spoken, when:
There were ninety-and-nine who safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
I served in the Ministry of information myself for some time in 1940, and can confirm what he said. My own impression can be judged from the fact that after a few weeks I asked to be returned to my regiment. I served afterwards in the Political Warfare Department. In the past I have criticised both Departments, but I think an extraordinary transformation has come over them. It is almost unbelievable, even when one allows for the fact that propaganda is much easier in days of victory than in days of defeat. I think a great tribute is due to those who have brought this situation about, not least the present Minister of Information. It is the duty of a Minister of Information to be shot at. We can give this comfort to our own Minister of information that, unlike the Vichy Minister of Information, the bullets will in his case be metaphorical only; and, as his bright and breezy speech to-day has shown, when shot at he will not be in bed to receive the bullets.
Let us look at the work of the Ministry of Information in its various sections, because I do not think we can settle this question by saying that the Ministry of Information as a whole ought to remain or be abolished. There are many different types of work done by it. Clearly when the war comes to an end much of the home work will disappear. There is its admirable Public Meetings Section, one of the sections not referred to by the Minister. The Ministry of Information meetings in the early days were a joke—there is no other word for it—but the Ministry officials have now developed a technique that is really magnificent. I hope that in the political parties we shall learn something from it. When the war comes to an end we shall wish to resume our own political meetings, and clearly that side of the Ministry's work must disappear.
There is the admirable work being done on films by the Ministry of Information. I do not think that praise can be too high for the level now reached by the Films Section of the Ministry, but clearly that is another aspect of its work which we hope will come to an end. I say that with some reservation, because if the British film industry turns out the rank rubbish we have had from it almost since its inception, there would be a strong case for continuing the Films Division of the Ministry of Information. That will remain to be seen. It may be that we shall have to take a similar line with films as we have done with the radio. I assume that aspect of the Ministry's work will disappear when the war comes to an end. Then there is the Press and Censorship Bureau, the largest part of the Ministry's domestic work. Clearly that must come to an end. No one agrees more heartily with that than the Minister himself, as we know from his public utterances. I want to add, as an old member of the Press, that that throws a great responsibility on the Press.
I do not feel as happy about the Press as does the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter). If the freedom of the Press means the freedom of Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Kemsley to put out what views they please, I do not feel so satisfied with it, nor can I feel very happy about the reporting from overseas by our newspapers before the war. Too often an editor sent abroad persons quite unfitted for the work. They had no knowledge of the country's language, customs or institutions, and very often they sent back, not the truth about the country to which they were accredited, but what they thought the editor wanted, and the editor put in what he thought his readers would like to read. I suggest that this throws a great responsibility on the Press when the war comes to an end. I take the liberty of saying that as an old member of the profession who loves it still.
These are some of the main aspects of the domestic work of the Ministry. I must mention one other, because it involves a problem, and that is Government publicity as a whole. I have never been very happy about the relations between the Ministry of Information and the Public Relations Officers of the various Departments. The Public Relations Officers came first in point of time, and it seems to me that they are the proper persons to do the publicity of their own Department. No one else can, in fact, do it, and in practice the Ministry of Information to-day is a bill-posting agency for those Departments. Obviously the publicity of a great Department must be done in that Department itself. No one else can possibly do it. I do not think we should be put off with such words as "co-ordination"; they mean very little in practice. I would like to say in passing, again referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Wood Green, that I thought it very unfair both to Public Relations Officers and to Ministers, when he suggested that one of their main objects was to boost their Minister. I think he would find in practice that it is very often the Public Relations Officer who urges the Minister to take part in some public function and the Minister rather reluctantly agrees. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had an unfortunate experience of publicity of this nature. He will remember the unfortunate episode about the two cottages. That is the kind of thing into which a Minister may be pushed by a too zealous Public Relations Officer.
I have only mentioned the subject in so far as there is overlapping with the Ministry of Information. I realise I would be out of Order in going further than that. The B.B.C. might be counted as one of the domestic activities of the Ministry of information. Clearly there must be someone in the House responsible for the activities of the B.B.C. I do not think it would be suggested that we should set up a Minister solely for that purpose. The work could be done, if necessary, by the Lord President of the Council or the Lord Privy Seal, or one of the Governors who is a Member of this House could answer on its behalf, as in the case of the Forestry Commission. That does not establish a case for retaining the Ministry of Information when the war is over.
Having touched on the main domestic activities of the Ministry, let me turn to its oversea activities and to our oversea propaganda generally. It seems to me as clear as daylight that the national interpretation of Great Britain, to use a phrase of the British Council, is so dependent on policy that it must in any circumstances come under the control of the Foreign Office.
Even if a Ministry of Information were retained, the Foreign Secretary must still have the general oversight of that Department. I can see that, if the Haldane reforms were carried out and we had a group of Ministries under the Foreign Office, there might be a case for retaining a Ministry of Information, but my own predilection would be in favour of creating a powerful section inside the Foreign Office, and probably having a special Under-Secretary in charge of it, just as there is an Under-Secretary in charge of Overseas Trade. That appears to me the obvious machinery for carrying out this work.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) in the high tribute he has paid to the News Department of the Foreign Office. The work that Mr. Rex Leeper and his successors have done there is very good indeed. If necessary, the Foreign Office could take on to its establishment journalists and publicity officers, just as well as the Ministry of Information. I do not think there is any evidence of inhibition in this matter on the part of the Foreign Office, and I speak not without some knowledge of the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater has a great deal more knowledge than I have. There is the theoretical case for it. Clearly propaganda is so closely bound up with policy that the Foreign Office must have the last word on it.
Propaganda is so important that it must become a direct responsibility of the Foreign Office. What is the reason for it? In old days Governments negotiated with Governments, and the peoples of the respective countries took no notice of foreign policies, until they became involved in war. That is so no longer. Peoples speak to peoples, and it is absolutely essential that the British case should be put before the peoples of other countries, and not simply before the Governments. I think that the conduct of foreign affairs has changed its nature, as a result of compulsory education, almost the whole world over. That is why diplomatists must acquire this technique of propaganda—a word that nobody likes, but that we are all forced to use. I have completed the summary of the main activities of the Ministry of Information, and it appears to me inevitable that the Ministry must come to an end with the war, or at a reasonable time afterwards.
There are certain other activities which might be carried on by being assigned to different Government Departments. One, which has not been mentioned by the Minister—possibly for reasons of discretion—is the War-time Social Survey. I believe that that is an investigation of great value. It is the application of a new technique in finding out the opinions of the people, and there may well be a strong case for retaining that activity. It might be desirable that it should be made available not only to the Government but to Members of Parliament as well. That could be debated. But at any rate it should be continued, possibly under the Cabinet Secretariat. It came under a cloud in the early days, because a journalist could not resist the headline "Cooper's snoopers." I understand that temptation fully, but, if one examines it coolly, one is bound to realise the great value of this technique, and it should continue as a peace-time survey.
Then there is the Reference Division of the Ministry, which is acting at present as a general library for a large number of Government Departments, and which might also continue, possibly, under the Cabinet Secretariat. Whatever the machinery, this work of national interpretation is of the utmost importance to the country. We cannot in the future, as in the past, allow the British case to go by default. That was recognised with the setting up of the British Council. That Council had not long enough to find its feet before the war came. When the war ends, that work of national interpretation, whatever the machinery adopted, will be one of the most important aspects of the work of the Government.
As the first Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Department whose Vote we are discussing I should like, enviously, to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the halcyon Parliamentary weather which the Ministry now enjoys. I remember very well when the late Prime Minister, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, sent for me, and told me that it was my duty to undertake that task. I undertook it with the greatest reluctance, feeling that I was going to face very dirty weather—and I certainly got it. At that time whatever the Ministry did was wrong. It had to encounter not only dirty weather, but mines, torpedoes, gunfire, air attack, everything which can be used in a hostile way against a ship on the ocean. But all that time I felt conscious that, while the case which I was trying to make to this House did not receive undue approbation—although the House was very kind to me personally—the Ministry had a real job to do, and that there were men and women in it who were capable of doing that job admirably.
Inasmuch as I have been associated with the Department, I should like to say how glad I am that that excellent staff has come into its own, that the ship has found itself, and that under the guidance of my right hon. Friend it is receiving its reward in due recognition. That I think is partly due to the qualities of the staff, and also to the qualities of my right hon. Friend. He has got the common touch.
He has brought the Ministry into much closer relation to the whole world, which is its business. I should like to thank him for another thing. That was his speech today, which was a model of directness and compression. I hope that the Front Bench will give us many more speeches of that character. He told us the things which we really wanted to know, simply and most effectively. There was an absence of the Front Bench verbiage to which, unfortunately, we are very much accustomed.
I do not want to enter into the thorny general question of the B.B.C., but the Committee, and the House generally, are apt, I think, to be a little unreasonable on this question of the control of the B.B.C. When was at the Department the Minister was supposed to be directly responsible for the B.B.C.; and Parliament complained bitterly of that arrangement, and said, "Why do you not once more appoint an independent board of directors? It is quite wrong that the Government should have anything to do with the control of the B.B.C." The Government gave way, and a board of directors was appointed; and the House now says, "Why is it that the Minister does not control the B.B.C.?" There is no satisfying this House in certain matters.
Although I have great sympathy with my right hon. Friend opposite in his desire that there should be red-hot politics on the B.B.C., I think, as a matter of fact, it is better to leave all these questions to the Directors of the B.B.C. themselves. After all, statements about what this House of Commons wants are read by the Directors; if we keep on saying those things I think we shall probably get what we want and I think that is the best way. Quite definitely, I think the House was right when it said that no Government Department should have direct control over the B.B.C. I hope it will stick to that contention.
There is the question, raised in many speeches, of what is called propaganda—I agree with the dislike of the word which has been expressed, so let us say the presentation of facts—about this country in other countries and how that is to be carried on, more particularly in the United States. I think that the present arrangement is admirable, and I should not like to see it altered. The Information Office in the United States seems to me to be carrying out exactly the function which is desirable, that is to say, it gives information to everybody who wants it, about anything connected with this country, but does not try to force anything down anybody's throat. I am sure that if we want the Americans, who are deeply suspicious of propaganda and particularly suspicious of British propaganda, to understand this country rightly, it is much better to leave the presentation of facts about this country and of the achievements of this country to the admirable American correspondents and broadcasters, who are, as a matter of fact, doing very great service to Anglo-American relations in that respect.
It is perfectly true that great ignorance prevails in this country regarding the institutions of the United States, and it is equally true that great ignorance prevails in the United States regarding the institutions of this country. But it is not the business of the B.B.C. or the Press, it seems to me, to conduct programmes of elementary education. That is the business of education. After all, if there is too much elementary education in a newspaper, people will not buy it. If there is too much elementary education in a broadcasting system, people will simply turn the switch. Broadcasting systems and newspapers, on the whole, will give people what they want to get, and, therefore, you must go behind them, to your educational system. It is really the system of education on which this depends—on whether or not you think it worth while to educate your people to understand foreign countries and the other nations of the British Commonwealth. I think that is vital. Our slackness about it and even antipathy to it has been a great flaw in our education, and I should like to see it corrected. I am sure it cannot be corrected at a later stage, because, when people have once grown up ignorant, they will refuse education at a penny a copy or in any other form in which it may be presented.
My only criticism in regard to Anglo-American relations is broader. I think we want plainer speaking, because I think the American people appreciate it. I would have no nonsense about the British point of view. I think we should speak out in the clearest possible terms and as forcibly as we can to the Americans, from whatever level or angle we present our views to them. After all, the Americans do it to us, and I think they would like us much better if we did it to them. I think we ought to be less mealy-mouthed in the way in which we state our point of view on certain difficult and controversial questions.
I think, on the other hand, that the B.B.C., the radio and the film can be of enormous importance, pictorially, to make people more familiar with the facts of the Colonial Empire. That, I think, is a very special role by which a great function of education can be carried on more easily than by any other method. My hon. Friend opposite, the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), said the presentation of facts about the Empire might be left to private enterprise. It was. It was, unfortunately, left very largely to people who thought it their conscientious duty to disparage the British Empire, and we have suffered quite terribly throughout the whole world by disparagment of our own work and our people and our predecessors. I think that deplorable, I think that, in future, people should become much more conscious——
I must correct my hon. Friend. I must not be misunderstood or misinterpreted. I regard private enterprise in the sense of an advertising agency doing things like boosting the British Empire as humiliating, as far as the nation is concerned, but low enough for private enterprise.
My hon. Friend said that boosting the British Empire was so low a business that it should be left to private enterprise. By using terms like "boosting" you can make anything sound revolting, but to speak the truth about the services of the British Empire is not to boost. It is due to ourselves, to our country and to our predecessors, who, after all, created this system in which we live, that that kind of enterprise——
I am fully conscious of differing views about the Empire and I was deploring them, but I suggest that the country is now turning very much more favourably to the ideas which my hon. Friends and I on this side represent. One more point. It is about the future of the Ministry of Information. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) made a powerful argument against leaving it to the Foreign Office, and he suggested, as an alternative, that it should be left to the Cabinet Secretariat. I was once remotely connected with the Cabinet Secretariat and I very much doubt whether that body should be made an executive body of any kind. It is a recording body. If you are going to give it executive functions, you will change its whole character. Quite apart from that, it is clear to me that our external policy, as a whole, has been suffering for decades past from undue fragmentation. It is true that our diplomatists have been at times rather slow to realize that the world has changed, but that does not alter the fact that diplomacy now depends, not only on the relations between Governments and Governments, and on the personal relations between Ambassadors and Secretaries of State, but on the understanding of peoples by peoples. The atmosphere in which foreign policy is conducted is surely the business of the Minister responsible for our external relations, and if you divide those responsibilities you will immensely weaken the influence and understanding behind those responsible for your foreign policy. I hold very strongly that the external activities of the Ministry of Information should, at the earliest possible moment, be transferred to the Foreign Office, because that is the right Department to control them.
With regard to internal activities, I am sure the Minister will agree that the sooner they cease the better. This country does not want people perpetually taking its temperature or reporting to Ministers how it feels about things. Many activities which are recommended to us in war-time are regarded as insulting by the people of this country, and quite rightly. A great deal of the idea that this country requires all kinds of moral stimulus to keep it doing its job and realising the grim character of the necessities which face it may be left to its leaders. Fortunately it has had great leadership in this war, and does not require an army of paid Government representatives going about trying to make the people feel better about themselves. They are quite capable of doing their duty, and of doing it valiantly, without official assistance of that kind, and I am sure they will welcome an end of it with many other war activities.
We heard a very clear and detailed rendering by the Minister of Information of the work of his Department, and I would naturally like to touch on many of the points which he has raised, among which are films, publications, our Washington office as well as propaganda abroad, but I think it would be unfair for me to detain the Committee for that length of time as so many other hon. Members wish to speak. I will therefore limit myself to some wide considerations of the B.B.C. and future policy the country may adopt in the field of broadcasting as a result of the Charter coming up for review within the next year. Before passing on to that point, however, I ought, I believe, to make a disclaimer and remind the Committee that I was founder and am chairman of the International Broadcasting Company, the only other British Broadcasting Company in England who with the B.B.C. shared the task of entertaining the great British public. I have consequently had, in the past, an interest in this field. The International Broadcasting Company, as it could not use the wavelengths allotted to Great Britain, utilised facilities, quite legally afforded, in other countries where those facilities were provided and available. There has never been any question of using pirate- stations or pirate wave-lengths, because all the I.B.C. transmissions took place on wavelengths legally granted at international conferences at which the Governments concerned as well as our Government gave their sanction.
In reviewing over a wide aspect what might be the future of the B.B.C. and of broadcasting generally in this country, we might analyse five different aspects—the aspect of monopoly, that of control, which my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) touched upon, the question of expansion, the aspect of revenue and also the consideration of the position of broadcasting in this country within the framework of broadcasting as a whole throughout the world. Monopoly carries certain advantages but also certain disadvantages. A monopoly in the field of broadcasting might have been a very good thing at the beginning of a big change of outlook like the advent of radio where the country no doubt wanted to feel that a certain amount of control was necessary over a medium which could and would greatly influence public opinion. I do not want in anything that I say to-day to appear to be a harsh critic of the B.B.C., I would in fact like to say that the B.B.C., within its framework and within its limitations, has done very good work. It had to start at the very beginning. It was entering a new field, and to be a pioneer is no easy task. In that respect, the B.B.C. was up against great difficulties and at the beginning, and subsequently, the B.B.C. overcame a good many of them. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the B.B.C. for taking up television, as it did, when there was no revenue in sight. Before the war, we were well ahead of other countries, and this including the United States of America. The coming of war has been a great setback, for us, and I would like to see to it that we should rapidly regain our lead the moment hostilities cease.
The B.B.C. has certainly established a standard for news throughout the world which is quite unequalled when compared with the news of broadcasting systems of other countries throughout the world. But, none the less, news is a very small point indeed in broadcasting when viewed on the large scale it occupies. We have heard that news is such that everybody chooses to tune into the news regularly. That may be a point of view, but to radio as a world instrument, the news is as much an important item as newspaper headlines are to the printing press. Newspaper headlines are certainly a very small percentage of what the printing press does. I give this as a comparison of what radio news means within the great field of radio. If we grant monopoly we have to have a certain measure of control, and I am not quite sure that such a control is still necessary. If you do not have a certain amount of control, when a monopoly exists, then the public, who after all pay for the service, have no occasion whatever of making their desires felt. Take a recent example. The B.B.C. stopped the Forces Programme and substituted their General Forces Programme. The Minister told us at the time that this was done without consultation with him whatever. I am shocked to hear this. To put it mildly, a veritable deception was perpetrated on the British paying public, when suddenly the ordin- ary Forces Programme was substituted by a General Forces Programme when this should have been for the past four years an additional programme on one of the available medium waves. For four years they had paid for that programme and were not allowed to hear it if they wished.
The third point is that of expansion. Our broadcasting system is extremely small. The Minister mentioned some 900 broadcasting stations in America. We have, compared with the United States, in effect two stations as against their 900.
My hon. Friend is correct. They are linked up, but in a very special and limited way. Certain of them are linked up, but they have an independent status and for quite half of the time on the air they are transmitting independent local programmes. Companies like the Columbia Broadcasting System have some 15 to 25 stations actually belonging to them, but the remainder of their 100 strong chain are locally owned and operated stations working on an arrangement. There is great room for expansion in this county, and that is where the monopoly of the B.B.C. has utterly failed. The B.B.C. has utterly failed internationally. Before the war Germany had 36 medium wavelengths when we had 12, and France, not much larger than us either in the number of inhabitants or area, had 25 wavelengths. After this war we shall have to, acquire for our own use a good many of the wavelengths which the Germans have been having, and if we provide, as this will do, for greater expansion the B.B.C. will require more revenue, to give us at last a real broadcasting service, that is to say, one with a great number of alternatives.
I thus come to the question of advertising. The Committee, as always when any new subject is brought up to their notice, approached it with a very open mind. I would not like to think that the Committee would adopt the attitude of the Victorian father, who when his son made a suggestion, replied, "I will not hear of it," before he had heard any of the arguments for it. The very aged chairman of the North Eastern Railway, some 40 years ago, I am told, replied when a suggestion was made to him at a directors' board that the engines should be painted in brighter colours, "I do not care what colour the engines are painted so long as it is black." I want to think that the Committee will avoid that dogmatic attitude to a policy adopted in every part of the world. Suppose, for example, that the Cologne wavelengths were to become available for distribution, would hon. Members prefer German spoken all the time on that channel or an additional English alternative programme, with some advertising to pay for it? We must consider whether we should adopt the system practised in all our Dominions, in Canada, Australia and South Africa, of having two groups of distinct wavelengths, the one used by the chosen instrument, in our case the B.B.C., where there is no advertising, and another group of wavelengths on which advertising would be allowed. Those listeners who do not approve of advertising need never know of it.
On a point of Order, Mr. Williams. I would like to know what is in Order. I understand that the B.B.C. has a Charter which is in an Act of this House, and is it in Order to discuss a matter in regard to which fresh legislation would be required?
I think I had better add that the hon. and gallant Gentleman can give his ideas as to how the B.B.C. might be made better, but he ought not to discuss details of revising the Charter, as that would entail legislation.
That is exactly what I have said. We have had a full discussion. I have no objection to anyone saying how he thinks he can improve broadcasting but hon. Members cannot go into a discussion of future legislation or Royal Charters.
I thank you for that Ruling, Mr. Williams, and I will certainly do my very best to keep within the framework of what you have laid down. I pass on, therefore, to the fifth point, the position of broadcasting from this country within the world framework of radio. We must realise that broadcasting and radio are very different from anything else we have tackled before, because it is not limited to our country—it goes all round the world and it happens in every part of the world. If we restrict the activities of our national system we shall come to the same position as allowing a foreigner to open a shop in Piccadilly while forbidding an Englishman to do so. Our radio is not limited by the frontiers of our or any country. Therefore we must visualise the relationship of what is happening in other parts of the world, in terms of what is happening to ourselves. I am very fond of America and would not like in any way to criticise their activities, but I do not think we should admit of a home policy such as that while a large manufacturing country like America may allow its citizens to use radio in every part of the world to talk at large about their goods and the qualities of those goods and yet our citizens are not allowed to use that valuable medium. If we do, then all over the world consumers will know about American products only and not British. This is a matter for the Prime Minister and the Department of Overseas Trade. It is very much the same as if you said suddenly that no Englishman should be allowed to advertise in a newspaper when other countries do. Radio is world-wide and not limited by frontiers. Therefore, we must consider the relative position of broadcasting in a world framework as a whole and follow, if we wish to live, the practice adopted by the majorities and not deprive our nationals and hamper them in their struggle.
The war has provided very great opportunities. I do not suggest for a moment that America has taken undue advantage of these opportunities, but at the beginning of the war I urged most forcibly in this House the large expansion of our broadcasting and was not successful in persuading the Government to do so. We could have done it with ease then—no cost, no man-power, just foresight was required. In the meantime, America has taken advantage of our slackness and has built up world-wide chains which I wanted us to own in the first few years of the war. They have chains in Africa, in China, in Burma, and wherever their Armies are. They have an American Army Network where advertising of American products will be naturally and rightly carried on, on a large scale. Is the Minister going to adopt the policy that because we are British we must not utilise facilities granted to nationals of other countries? In our Colonies and in our very own country—radio penetrates everywhere. It would, I submit, be against the national policy of our country to prevent British subjects doing what other nationals are allowed to do in our countries and in other countries all over the world.
I am sure the Minister did not mean to say, as he said in reply to a question, that the stations utilised by the company which I direct were pirate stations, because if it were so, the American station over here would be one too. Like the American station, broadcasting was always carried out with the sanction of the country where the operation took place, and on wavelengths of their own. I wanted to make just a few general remarks in order to make the Committee realise that there is a lot more than they can possibly imagine in the world-wide field of radio. It is a very big change in our life and concept. It is much more than news and entertainment. We have the radio universities to consider. As I explained in another Debate, it is the transport of thought, of the soul, without the transport of the body around the world at the speed of light. There is a tremendous field of thought and progress for the next thousand years to come and we must not limit ourselves to this trifling annual turnover of£15,000,000—in, America the radio turnover is£150,000,000. Therefore, when the Charter comes up for review, I think a full Debate on that subject in this House would be useful, and I would like to ask the Minister to consider that when the time comes.
I am astonished at the extent to which hon. Members opposite have spent the day depreciating this country and deprecating our behaviour. I understand from them that there never were worse salesmen in this world than the British; that we have sold our case so badly in the past that we now have to make special efforts to put it right. I remember Speaking to a very eminent industrialist who was on a visit to this country some years ago. He said he thought that the British were the best salesmen the world had ever seen, and that though they had a dud case to sell they sold it. The idea that we ought to take special pains after the war to sell the British case to the world is the strongest sign of decadence that I have heard in this Chamber for many years. The hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) spent some time, as have many other hon. Members on that side of the Committee, asking for the continuation of the overseas section of the Ministry of Information, or some body connected with the Foreign Office, or a Cabinet Secretariat, or some such instrument, charged with the job of interpreting the British way of life to the rest of the world. That is the argument that has been put up from the other side of the Committee and I think that is an appalling point of view.
I believe that the most effective way of making our way of life known to the rest of the world is by establishing the easiest communications between the people of this country and the people of the rest of the world. In 1940 I paid a visit to the American section of the Ministry of Information and I suggested not that we should send a large number of lecturers and propagandists to America but that transport facilities should be made available for people of different professions to visit their opposite numbers in America, and to bring their opposite numbers in America here. The great failure during this war has been the fact that it is very difficult indeed for doctors, for educationists, for librarians and for politicians to cross the Atlantic and exchange views with their opposite numbers. Nothing could be worse than for large sums of public money to be spent on a self-conscious exertion to make the British views known to the rest of the world. Nothing would make us more suspect and nothing indeed would put the imprimatur of a small decaying country upon us than that self-conscious application.
I particularly said that I deprecated propaganda in foreign countries. I went at some length into that matter and said it was entirely the wrong attitude for this country to adopt. What I was Speaking about was education, about facts in regard to the British Empire, not to the education of foreign people, but to the education of our own people, which the hon. Member also seems to require.
I do not know what the hon. Member meant by his last sentence. When he talked about education, about facts, that was simply a bromide. Talking about education merely conceals a desire to put certain ideas across as facts. We have heard that nonsense from the other side before. The hon. Member went so far as to say, in reply to an interruption from this side, that he was very glad to find that large numbers of people were now beginning to accept our point of view about India. If he reads the American Press, he will realise that, so far from that being the case, our relations with India at the present moment are a great source of pain and anxiety to many of our friends in America.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) suggested that we ought to have very much more forthright political controversy on the B.B.C. I can see many difficulties. It is quite true that you can put party leaders on to speak, but there would not be much controversy now between the present party leaders. But there may be certain technical developments which will come to our rescue when the war is over. I understand that the development of shortwave radio may make it possible to provide a special wavelength for Parliament. I think that along those lines our salvation will lie. The House of Commons is not being properly interpreted by the newspapers to-day. As a matter of fact, British newspapers, since the war and immediately before the war began, have done more than any other British institution to undermine the prestige of Parliament. Indeed, some Parliamentary reports are disgraceful. Our Constitution depends upon three main supports—a free Press, a free Judiciary and a free Parliament. We have a free Judiciary, but we have not a free Press by any means, and some way will have to be found to enable Parliament to get across to the people. We must consider seriously the technical possibility of a wavelength for Parliament. I know there are objections to it, but I think they are far less great than they were, and in order that we might be able to appear as intimately to listeners as we appear together here there is no reason why we should not have television.
I admit that the editors of the B.B.C. have had a considerable task to do in trying to broadcast Parliamentary Debates. Anybody who has listened to those broadcasts knows how impossible it is to try to put five or six hours' Debate into five or six minutes on the radio. The B.B.C. cannot be expected to do it; they do not do it and they do not pretend to do it. What is the way out? To ask the Government to put robust political controversy on the radio? It would mean that they would select the speakers. I, as a critic, would never have a hope of broadcasting if the Government were allowed to select.
I said I would not speak long, and I must draw to a close. We must face the technical difficulties of broadcasting Parliamentary Debates on a special Parliamentary wavelength. When people read in the newspapers the matters that are coming before Parliament, they can then turn the wireless on when they like. If our Debates were listened to by large audiences outside, the reputation of Parliament would be enhanced. I think it is a great mistake for the B.B.C. to allow its activities to be confined by the revenue they obtain from the 10s. licences. It would be much better and more sensible if Parliament abolished the 10s. licence as a complete anachronism and made radio a free service to the British people.
I intervene for only a few moments to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on the successful activities of the Ministry of Information during the past year. I happen to be associated with various associations concerned with the expansion of British trade in various corners of the world, and I wish to express the indebtedness of the industrial and commercial community of this country to the Ministry for making the productive capacity and quality of our export trade known widely throughout the world. From time to time speeches are made in this House which may create very serious misunderstanding abroad. Hon. Members make speeches, with the best intentions in the world, in their anxiety to promote the interests of this ration and the Empire, but it must be remembered that there is a great variety of communities all over the world to which these speeches go by radio and Press. I am sorry I was not here to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Burgin) but I understand he made a statement about the Latin-American Republics. I am President of the British and Latin-American Chamber of Commerce; I am in constant association with the whole of the South American Republics and I would like the Committee to understand that we have had in this country, with one exception, the most complete sympathy and support from the South American peoples in this war. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Luton has been through the South American countries, and that he gave us a very interesting account recently of his experiences, and I am sure that he would be the last person in the world to say anything which might be misinterpreted or misunderstood in South America.
I would like to emphasise the fact that in all my associations with the South American Republics, through diplomatic channels and industrial and commercial organisations, we have had, with the exception I have referred to, generous and outstanding support from the whole of those Republics. If my right hon. Friend's speech is reported in the South American Press, and it will be, I hope it will be made perfectly plain that in the House of Commons there is the fullest appreciation of the services which the South American Republics have rendered to us during this war.
The other matter I want to refer to is in connection with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), for whom I have a touching affection. He said, or it was implied in his speech, that Ministers used their public relations committees to "boost" themselves. I use that vulgar expression with great diffidence. For example, the Minister of Information would use his Public Relations Officers to show what a beautiful, handsome, attractive personality he is and what a high level of intellectual vigour he brings to bear upon the administration of his high office. The subject ought not to be discussed in that way here. Foreign commentators will say, "Here is a Member of Parliament, a journalist of outstanding importance and vitality—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who is 'boosting' now?"] My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green, who has done work in Canada of immense service to this country——
We ought not to make speeches here which would lend themselves to misunderstanding in foreign countries, and some of the speeches might be interpreted in that way. I apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary for interrupting him when I said he ought to stand up and face us, and tell us, in his brilliant and bubbling way, the story that he had to convey to us. I am an old Member of the House—I have been here a quarter of a century—and I hope he will forgive me for having intervened.
The Minister indicated that he thought the Debate would revolve on three separate subjects, the B.B.C., propaganda abroad, and the censorship department at home. Anyone who has listened to the Debate can be certain that that is the line it has taken. I should like to make a few remarks on the subject of the censorship, particularly the Press censorship, of which I have some personal experience. In the first place, I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) that the censorship of the Press is a purely voluntary one. That is not altogether realised and I was glad to see it brought out so early in the Debate. Going back to the early days of the war, when the Ministry of Information first started, I think it could only be described as complete chaos. In those days it was quite a common occurrence for two editors to submit virtually the same story for censorship purposes and one would be rejected as unfit for publication and the other passed as quite in order. That was possibly because there was not the same control over the different censors and one took the line of least resistance and said, "I am not quite sure about this. I had better stop it," and the other, being more broadminded, said, "I do not see any harm in it," and let it go.
That was the position at the beginning of the war. I draw a veil over what happened after that. My personal experience is limited to that period, because I was subsequently engaged in military duties, and it was not until two years later that I came back to see what was going on. I found a completely different state of affairs. There had been a com- plete transformation. The octopus with its tentacles out, trying to grasp everything and control everything, had disappeared. The obstructionists who seemed only too anxious to prevent any enterprise of any kind had gone and that spirit of intolerance which seemed to discourage anyone trying to get on, had also disappeared. In its place was a businesslike organisation working precisely, efficiently, and effectively—perhaps not perfect but, compared with the previous state of affairs, very near perfection. The one person, to my mind, responsible for that transformation is my right hon. Friend the present Minister, and great credit is due to him, not only for effecting that change, but also for carrying throughout the whole of the Department the spirit which he instilled into it and which went right through the Ministry and right through the censorship department. I should like to pay a special tribute to the censors and particularly to the chief censor, Admiral Thomson, who has had a very difficult job to do, and I think I can speak on behalf of all newspaper people when I say we owe him a deep debt of gratitude.
There is one other point, the question of the Service Departments' Press Bureaux and their relationship with the Ministry of Information. There has been a certain confusion at times with different stories emanating from two sources, and as a result a rather more optimistic or more pessimistic view of a situation has been presented in the newspapers due to their information from the Army or Air Force Press Bureau. I think this was particularly so in the case of the Anzio beachhead. After these landings were first effected everyone got optimistic about it as a great achievement, as it undoubtedly was, and one assumed it as going to be full steam ahead, and the stories which emanated from various sources seemed to confirm that. Then there was a swing round and things did not go on fast, so the newspapers were blamed for having been too optimistic, and subsequently they were blamed for being too pessimistic when things started to go right again. I cannot imagine anyone better suited than my right hon. Friend to supervise those different sources of information and put out a considered statement so that there is no confusion at all. I should like to assure my right hon. Friend that I, for one, would not wish to join any party such as we saw in France yesterday had liquidated the gentleman who occupied the same position in that country.
I think this is one of the most interesting Debates we have had on the Ministry of Information Vote and in some respects it is rather a pity that it could not be broadcast, as has been suggested. I agree with the criticism that in the news bulletin the B.B.C. does not report a Debate as such and that what often happens is that the speech of the Minister opening the Debate or replying at the end is reported almost as a pronunciamento, and that all other speeches are taken in his stride in the Minister's speech. There is a good deal to be said for giving the House of Commons its own wavelength and broadcasting these Debates. We might start with a Ministry of Information Debate itself, which might give us an opportunity to criticise the B.B.C. to a wider audience. This has been tried in New Zealand with considerable success. If you do not want to listen you turn off the radio.
But I would like to pay my tribute to the Minister of Information. The right hon. Gentleman inherited a difficult position. He is one of the successes of this Government. His friendly critics are in Fleet Street and his relations with his House of Commons critics continue to be friendly. It is true that occasionally at public luncheons he pounces upon the critics, and sometimes he handles his facts a little flamboyantly, but he does it with a saving grace because he has flair. Not only has he flair, but he has power. He is fairly close to the top of the tree. He took the precaution to hitch his wagon to a star. He chose a pretty good star, and he is enjoying his stratosphere success. The whole House recognises that the right hon. Gentleman has made good on his own two feet. Because of that flair and the considerable power that he enjoys, he is in a democracy of to-day what we consider the white hope of the world of truth. I am not going to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman, in a very difficult office, is a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or that there is a kind of secret tunnel between the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting House in which no critic ever gets an illuminating light. However, I do not accept the point of view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Burgin) that the Ministry of Information should be abolished, for that would have nothing less than chaotic effect.
The Minister of Information has absolute wartime control of the B.B.C. He appoints the Governors. He has the Charter vested in his own name. He has control of the censorship, which was referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary in his interesting speech. He is the voice of national security. He is often the voice of the Prime Minister as well. It is said that he and the Lord Privy Seal are the Prime Minister's closest advisers. If that is not power in that responsible office, I would like to know what power is. A nod from the right hon. Gentleman to the B.B.C. is as good as a rocket on the studio. I submit that if some of these powers, which are bound to be associated with the tremendous development in the authority and influence which are exercised by broadcasting, were handed over to a monopoly we might set up something which in the world public opinion would be a rival to the Government Front Bench.
I do not think the House of Commons fully understands the tremendous power of radio in the world. A leader in "The Times" may upset foreign relations and may do similar things, politically; and it is probably read by 300,000 people. I am told that a nationwide or worldwide hook-up of the Prime Minister's Speech can be listened to by 20,000,000 or 30,000,000 people. If the B.B.C. is to remain a monopoly and a powerful engine of propaganda and education, we must keep the control of it in this House where at least we have the opportunity of criticising it in speeches and questioning the Minister. This tremendous power is something new in our public and political life, and it has created new problems in our democratic practice. The relations between the Government and monopoly broadcasting must be defined in the future either by a Royal Commission or by a Speaker's conference.
Meanwhile, we are approaching some time in the future a General Election. The Government's election policy is of course going on the air day by day. The Prime Minister has already broadcast his Four-year Plan. It will not be any good giving the usual 30 minutes during the election to each of the leaders, although I am told that Viscount Snowden's broadcast during the 1931 election did more to influence that result than anything else. It will not be any good giving the leaders of the Labour or Liberal Party 30 minutes to state their policy during the election. The whole of the Government's coalition policy will be put forward by then, and they know it. If we are to remain a democracy and not a single-party or coalition State, I would ask whether the time has not now come to open the doors of the B.B.C. to honest straightforward political talks and discussions. I regard the problem of monopoly broadcasting and the relationship of the Government to the control of that monopoly as one of the most important issues we shall have as a democracy to face in the future. I would like to see an all-party or representative Committee set up by the right hon. Gentleman to go into the question of how much time and opportunity should be given to the various parties in this House to put over to the British people who are fighting for democracy the various policies that are discussed in this House. This Committee could report to the House of Commons on the suggested arrangements for the immediate future.
We have certainly had a most interesting Debate. Let me begin by dealing with the various points which have been raised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Burgin) made some remarks about the censorship. I can give the Committee the assurance that the British censors, who are undoubtedly the most sensible, and at the same time the fairest, censors in the world, are like mules. The reason why they are like mules, is that they have no pride in their ancestry and they have no hope of posterity. Let me say in passing how pleased I was to hear the tribute paid to the censors by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Lionel Berry). It is the most harassing and dreadful life that ever could be taken on by human beings for their occupation. They are shot at by the security people and by the Press, and I consider that our Censorship Department, which I might point out was originally reformed and put into its present order by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the Director-General of the Ministry of Information, is doing exceptionally good work. It was later inherited by Mr. Francis Williams, a member of the party opposite, an extraordinarily wise and shrewd guardian in his capacity as Controller of the Press and Censorship. Then there is Admiral Thomson, who has been praised so highly. I have often said to the Admiral: "You spent the whole of your life in submarines; why didn't you stay there rather than take on the job you have now?"
My right hon. Friend the Member for Luton also referred to our tours. It is true that in a small way the Ministry of Information, as a sort of by-occupation, has set up this business, which is not as big as Thomas Cook's although it is certainly no less efficient. The gentleman who runs them is well known to hon. Members of this Committee. His name is Mr. Jobson. Many people who have experience of his efficiency have referred to him as a killer, and when I have asked them why they apply this uncharitable designation to him they have said: "He insists upon showing us every aspect of the war effort and when we go home we have to go to bed for a month to recover." I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for bringing his name before the Committee.
As to the suggestion that the Ministry of Information are lacking in eagerness to describe the German character to the British people, I can only say that I think my right hon. Friend ought to listen to Mr. Sefton Delmer and one or two other gentlemen employed to broadcast every night. He would then see that we are under no delusion whatsoever as to the German character or as to the intentions of the German General Staff when this war is over. No doubt, one of these days, when our victory has been won, the German General Staff will fish out Pastor Niemoller from his concentration camp and say: "Here is a great Liberal statesman who will lead the Germans." Lead them to do what? Those are the things which the British public should take great interest in. There is no reason why the British Ministry of Information should go about rubbing this matter in too often. We have far too much respect for the intelligence of the British public than to think that stress is necessary in this connection. I believe that the publication by the Foreign Secretary in the House last week of the facts about those 50 officers of the Royal Air Force who were murdered in cold blood is the best possible method of bringing home to the mass of the public the diabolical nature of the enemy whom we are fighting.
As to the Japanese, in my opinion, it is not necessary for the Ministry of Information or any other publicity institution to do anything but call them savages. They are savages, brutal savages. They are Eastern Prussians. They are worse than Prussians, and they will have to get the most exemplary punishment ever inflicted on a nation in history. When that has been done, the world will be a better place for us all to live in. But do not let me get too deeply involved in foreign policy lest the Foreign Secretary should feel that I am trespassing on his domain.
I was pleased with the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman about the quarters given to Ministry of Information representatives and to diplomats in various parts of the world. What has always struck me as a perfect example of ineptitude is the way in which we have handled the housing of lour diplomats abroad. Maybe the diplomat has been a poor man who has had to find his own furniture. If he has been a rich man he may have said: "This is pretty crude stuff, bought from Maples during the reign of Queen Victoria. I would rather have something different." That kind of thing is out of date. All our Embassies and our Legations abroad and Government offices should be properly furnished and this should be done with a certain amount of taste and judgment. Whoever is the occupier for the time being should be put to no expense whatsoever. That is one of the many good points raised by my right hon. Friend's tour overseas.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) certainly did make a tremendous speech to-day. When he gets to talking about stimulating British morale, let me tell him that the one thing for which the Ministry of Information is not particularly qualified is to stimulate British morale. It is no more qualified to stimulate British morale, than I am to take on, for the sake of argument, the duties of the Pope. Nor would we be so impudent. British morale wants no strengthening from any quarter of the world. The one thing which depresses the public is even to talk about British morale. My hon. Friend asked me a number of questions. He did not like the word "propaganda." Most people do not like it. Mr. Baldwin—Lord Baldwin, I beg his pardon—talked about the evil name of propaganda, but it is a perfectly respectable name, attached to one of the most profoundly religious institutions in the world. It is really too respectable a veneer to put upon a thing like the Ministry of Information. I do not mind the use of the word "propaganda." In fad, I welcome it. There is nothing wrong with the name except that it connotes to certain minds something they do not really quite understand.
Now as to "The Week in Westminster"; it is a good opportunity for Members of Parliament to broadcast. I think I am one of the few Members of this House who have never broadcast. So I can speak without fear. "The Week in Westminster" has been interesting. The Whips are no longer consulted on the choice of speakers. This is done entirely by the B.B.C. and if they liked to run the risk of asking the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) to broadcast, does the hon. Member think for one second that he would let the B.B.C. persuade him to put on a sort of innocuous bromide——
That was what I said, only the hon. Member has said it in longer words. If you want an impartial account of the week's work in Westminster, in my judgment a Lobby correspondent should be asked to do it. We should not expect Members who belong to a party, and hold very strong political views, to lose their reputations for political controversy when they approach the microphone. The hon. Member for West Islington also said that the Brains Trust was addled, and he then proceeded to give a long series of quotations from Dr. Joad, one of the principal contributors to the Brains Trust. I am not sure that when Dr. Joad reads HANSARD to-morrow he will feel very complimented. If the Brains Trust is addled, it is a matter for the Governors of the B.B.C. One of the most useful things they could do is to investigate this for themselves. I never listen to the Brains Trust.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) spoke, and I was sorry to miss his speech. It was certainly far too kind to me. He listed the names of my predecessors in their exact order—Lord Macmillan, Lord Reith and the right hon. Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper). Let me tell my hon. Friend two things. The first is that none of my predecessors had any victories to work on. It is very hard to be a Minister of Information, or of propaganda, if you do not have a victory. The second point is that all Ministries of Information in every country have begun badly, and in the case of one a quisling Minister has ended badly. It is crystal clear that every country that has started a Ministry of Information, an Office of War Information or whatever they call it, has looked for trouble and has found it.
Those points must be remembered. I say that Lord Macmillan, who is one of the greatest lawyers at the Bar, a public servant of great distinction, Lord Reith, a man of tremendous ability, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, now serving as our Ambassador in Algiers—these men were far superior in every way to your humble. The only reason the Ministry of Information has settled down to its present position is that the House of Commons as time passed has lost its curiosity and its original energy in chasing the Ministry of Information around. The hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans) asked me about Russian reciprocity. I must say they are showing extraordinary reciprocity. I am very grateful indeed to the authorities in Russia for helping us so much in doubling the circulation of the newspaper we publish there. He asked me if there would be an examination of the Charter of the B.B.C. I say, yes. I think there ought to be. I think that the time has come for an examination. As a matter of fact the Reconstruction Committee are having a preliminary look at what can best be done for the B.B.C.'s future.
The hon. and gallant Member far Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) said it was proposed that the B.B.C. should put their institution under the fiery trial of a Brains Trust. I think that is probably a good idea and I cannot understand why the Governors should refuse. He made some remark about the Beavenbrook Press not liking the Ministry of Information. I am bound to tell him that almost all the Press share the opinion of the Beaverbrook Press—[Interruption]—except the "Daily Worker." Newspapers do not like any institution which in their judgment can sift news or can prevent newspapers, through censorship, from dealing with the news. I do not blame newspapers at all. I was the only Member of the House of Commons who opposed setting up a Ministry of Information, so I speak with great authority on it. The newspapers do not like the Ministry of Information. I think if you went to the most respectable newspaper proprietor—[An HON. MEMBER: "Which one?"]—the hon. Member asks me to choose between so many—he would say the same thing, that they do not like the Ministry of Information. I do not object in any way. It is not my business to cultivate their favours or their thanks. I do not suppose that the House will be over-influenced by the Press, just as the Press is not over-influenced by the House.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned some of the things that happened before the war. I think he was quite right. There was that trashy man Ribbentrop, who sent an official protest to the Foreign Office because of an article in the "Strand Magazine" by the present Prime Minister. But the impudence of the Hun was tremendous then. I think that in future there will be greater toughness in foreign policy and that if an Ambassador goes again with such a complaint he will be told to go back and he will be warned not to disfigure Carlton House Terrace. When Ribbentrop was Ambassador here he removed all the amenities of two houses in Carlton House Terrace, thereby taking away a little of our architectural inheritance. [An HON. MEMBER: "He was well feted when he was here."] Not by me. [Interruption.] The so-called Cliveden which has so often been mentioned would need to be bigger than the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel ink New York to hold all the persons who are supposed to have crowded into the place.
Let us go on with the hon. Member for County Down (Dr. Little). I realise that he is a strong Evangelical churchman. I will bring his point of view to the attention of the B.B.C. I am not very much shocked by the language he quoted, but I know there are a great number of people who are, and I will bring it to the attention of the Governors of the B.B.C.
The right hon. Gentleman does raise rather an important point. The hon. Member does not object, for example, to plays where the name of the Deity is brought in—in so far as I could hear what he said. What I think he really objected to was to the use of the name of the Deity as a swear word. The right hon. Gentleman is surely not going to suggest that he will curtail entertainment activity, to please the hon. Member for Down (Dr. Little)?
I apologise very much. The hon. Member is medical adviser to a much tougher and stronger authority, the T.U.C. He has also the advantage of being one of my constituents.
The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) should really be called the Casablanca of the Ministry of Information, because I think he served all four Ministers as Parliamentary Private Secretary. He did much more than that. In the darkest days of the Ministry of Information the hon. Member for Harborough worked and kept the team together in the most splendid fashion. I cannot acknowledge sufficiently in this Committee the help I have had from my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough. He rendered the most splendid service to the Ministry of Information, and to its staff, in the darkest hours. I shall take a lot of notice of what he said to-day, and I think I may say that the Prime Minister will do likewise. He has great respect for my hon. Friend for the services he rendered to his country without any Ministerial ambition, and without any desire for any other recognition for doing his duty.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) made a very sweeping invitation to me. Let me begin by telling him that I am in favour of controversy on the B.B.C. Of course I am. Argu- ment is the basis of democracy. But controversy is much bigger than just political-party controversy. There are a great many other subjects just as interesting as politics. I do not think controversy stops with debates between Liberals and National Liberals, Tories and Tory Reformers or with debates between the two great B's of the Labour Party who add so much to the controversial life of this country. I wish to make it quite clear to the hon. Gentleman that I wish there should be violent political controversy, but not just that. I would like to see the B.B.C. become a forum, and that both sides should be allowed to state their case.
I am quite willing to refer to it. I have no intention, at any time, of asking the Governors of the B.B.C. what their policy is in allowing religious discussions. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) raised the point——
Perhaps the hon. Member will listen a moment. What qualifications has anyone who occupies the post of Minister of Information to ask the Governors of the B.B.C. to ask their religious advisers whether they are proceeding on the right lines? First, I have not the time to do it and, secondly, I have not the qualifications to do it; and, as I am a politician, it would be indecent if I attempted to do it. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. I. Thomas) has been engaged in dividing up the carcase of the Ministry of Information, and he has offered parts of it, for instance, to the Cabinet Secretariat. I happen to know the Cabinet Secretariat very well, and I can tell the hon. Member that they will look that gift horse in the mouth. The Cabinet Secretariat cannot adopt any executive function. I think that too much work has already been placed on their shoulders. In my judgment, it would be very foolish indeed to ask them to take over what the hon. Member described as a Gallup poll. I am not so very keen on Gallup polls. I think that they can be made to prove any proposition. Even if run by the respectable officers of the Cabinet Secre- tariat, I think that a Gallup poll would not carry very much of the hall-mark of truth.
On the contrary, you can have the assistance of those gentlemen provided that you do not take their conclusions as ranking with the Ten Commandments. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) is a pioneer of the Ministry of Information: he was the first Parliamentary Under-Secretary; and he gave us a lurid account of his experiences. I quite agree with what he said about the desirability of educating Britons to understand more about American history—though I think there ought to be some reciprocity—but that is a job for the President of the Board of Education, certainly not for the Minister of Information, especially in view of the fact that he is shortly going to be sent to the knacker. On one point I disagreed with my hon. Friend. He talked about the Ministry of Information's temperature-taking. We have steadily resisted at all times any attempt to take the temperature of the public. My view is that the British public are so fundamentally sensible that I shall not put my ear to the ground to find out what they are going to do—if I did, I should soon be deaf. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Captain Plugge) has made a number of technical suggestions, which will be carefully considered by the Committee which has been set up to consider the whole future of broadcasting. I have an open mind on the subject. I have no doubt that the Committee will examine the suggestions of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, because he knows a great deal about the subject; I do not. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was, indeed most unfair to the Press. I do not know what has become of that milk of human kindness which flowed from him so much in this House in the last few years. Now he gives the Press a good beating-up, and says that they do not give any report of what happens in the House of Commons. I am a reader of the "Tribune." It consists of 32 pages, and what does it give of Parliament? One small stick—just a couple of paragraphs.
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that; he must study his own paper. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) made an assertion that I appoint the Governors of the B.B.C. That is quite wrong. I do not. The Governors of the B.B.C. are appointed by the Prime Minister, not by the Minister of Information. He also made some remarks about hitching my wagon to a star. I remember that when the Prime Minister and I were a party of two, there was no stardom.
I should think so. I could not imagine a better description myself, but I am bound to tell the Committee that Lord Baldwin, in one of the few witty remarks he made in this House, gave an even better description, when he described your humble servant as "the faithful chela."
We have had a very interesting Debate, and I want to make a sort of summing up. The Ministry of Information has been much over-criticised in the past, and is much over-praised to-day. The future of the Ministry of Information will be, of course, decided by the Cabinet. But also the staff of the Ministry of Information are going to have a say about their future. They enlisted for a war job. They have done it very well indeed, but they are not seeking Government posts. I have had to borrow from their professions and businesses some of the ablest men in this country. I regard it as a piece of arrogance when people say, "These people must be dismissed after the war." But do not be so sure that the Ministry of Information has any desire to live for a long time. I imagine that they would agree with me when I say that I have not come to the House of Commons to bury the Ministry of Information: I have not even come to praise it. I have merely told the facts about the Ministry of Information; and I leave it to the historians, if they have a column or two to spare in their histories, to say whether the Ministry have done a good job in this war or not.