I am very glad that a Debate about Government publicity services is taking place, with special reference to the Central Office of Information, the Economic Information Unit and certain other related aspects of the matter. It is a good thing and a matter of public interest that this discussion should take place. There has been a good deal of comment in speeches outside, and at times inside, the House, and in the Press, with regard to the Government information services. We welcome the fact that a Debate is taking place. We hope that it will be of value. I will begin with some of the points which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan). He became very critical. He said that the cost of the services was high, but he got his figures wrong. Up to the point which he reached, he made the cost of the whole information services somewhere about, or rather more than, £7 million. My information is that the cost of the home information services is not in the region of £7 million, but round about £4,600,000.
I think that possibly the confusion in the right hon. Gentleman's mind may be caused by the fact that a good deal of the cost of the Central Office of Information is in respect of overseas services. It is not wholly a home service organisation. I thought that I had better clear up that point straightaway. It is true that a great deal of the cost of the information services goes in newspaper advertising and posters upon hoardings. Both are pretty expensive forms of publicity. Nevertheless, I personally think that they are necessary and desirable.
The right hon. Gentleman started well. He said, I think very fairly and properly, that we must all recognise that the giving of Government information on various subjects had become a proper and legitimate ancillary activity—indeed, I think that it is a necessity—if democratic government. He said we were living in totally different times from Victorian times, when these things were not proper or even necessary. I thought that was a very fair start to his speech, and indeed I should like to say a few words about it.
The times now are totally different from Victorian times. They are even materially different from what they were in the early days of the Liberal Government of 1906. We are faced with great economic complexities and difficulties which, in the public interest, should be explained to the people. We have a large body of social services in regard to which it is necessary that the public should know their rights and should know the facilities which are available to them. Moreover, unless the public are advised on how to go about such things as enrolling, becoming registered, or getting their rights, not only will the public not be assisted to the extent that they ought to be assisted, but also the administrative machine will be clogged, because there will not be the necessary degree of co-operation on the part of the general population.
There are many other services where publicity is necessary. Road accidents, to which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be pretty indifferent, are a legitimate sphere of publicity; and, indeed, we are being pressed from all parts of the House and from outside to make every effort to get the accident rates down. The right hon. Gentleman may take that lightheartedly, but every time a person is needlessly killed in a street accident, there is the loss, not merely of one life, but also of a capital asset to the community. I think the right hon. Gentleman's flippancy and the light-heartedness about that was rather misplaced. Indeed, this speech, that started so well, got worse and more irresponsible the longer the right hon. Gentleman went on.
I must say that his examples were pretty bad. For instance, the Government had no responsibility, so far as I know, for the production of the pamphlet to which he referred. It certainly was not a production of the C.O.I. nor of Departmental publicity. I mean the one about the street accidents, the one issued with the driving licence, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and from which he quoted something about a particular insurance company. The right hon. Gentleman either did not study the pamphlet at all, or he knew perfectly well that it was published by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. [Interruption.] Never mind what it is doing there. The right hon. Gentleman referred to it, but he did not say it was published by them. I am sure that, if this is reported to the country in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman referred to it, the reader will be led to believe that it was issued by the C.O.I. or by the Ministry of Transport. The right hon. Gentleman ought, in fairness, to have said that it was published by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents—[Interruption.] I am on the first point; I will come to the second in a minute. He should have said that, and I think he was grossly unfair in suppressing the fact that this was not a Government publication, because the whole tenor of his remarks left the impression that it was. That was why I asked him to be good enough to lend it to me.
It was not issued by the Government or posted by the Government, but it was a unilateral action on the part of the local authorities which are the licensing authorities, which the right hon. Gentleman may not know. It is surprising that he does not know that the Government is not the authority which licenses motorcars. The authorities which issue these licences are the county and county borough councils. I am sorry, to have to teach the right hon. Gentleman this elementary lesson in local government. The local taxation authorities issue the licences, and, therefore, they issued this publication. If this is typical of the case that the right hon. Gentleman put to the Committee, I am bound to say that his case is even thinner than it sounded to a complete stranger.
He went on to comment about "Something Done," which is not a book about the achievements of the Government at all. From my recollection, I do not believe that the Government are mentioned in the book. It is the story of British achievements from 1945 to 1947. It is a story of the work and achievements of the British people in the economic field, which is perfectly proper, and it is published for two reasons. One was to show our people what they had done and give them a pat on the back. Of course, the Opposition do not like the people to be patted on the back. They like the people to be told that everything is awful, that we are in a complete mess and that the Government are making a mess of everything. That does not seem to me to be a particularly useful purpose for the expenditure of public funds.
These hon. Gentlemen have said, but not proved, that the Government information services are engaged in party political propaganda. What is it that they themselves are asking? What is it that the right hon. Gentleman asked and which other hon. Gentlemen have asked? They have asked and have said that, if we put out these advertisements about the economic situation—which I claim to be absolutely objective, impartial and clear —we should also say that all this trouble is caused by the Government, that we wasted the dollar loan, that we did this, that and the other wrong, and that, if that was done, it would be a fair presentation of the case. What are they asking for? The Opposition are asking for political propaganda in their favour out of public funds and, of course, it is typical of their complete incapacity to have an objective, impartial and fair mind about anything connected with public affairs. Their minds are taken up with partisan considerations all the time.
In the publication "Something Done," there is a story which sets out to praise the achievements of the British film industry. I should have thought that that would have been welcome to any reasonable person, but apparently it is not. I should say that, when the world takes notice of British films, when it comments upon them, it is interested in them and they thereby acquire a status that gives rise to comment and ideas. In the course of that publication, there is a page of pasted-up cuttings from various newspapers, foreign, American and continental newspapers, containing reviews of British films. That is a demonstration of the theme that British films are being taken notice of in the foreign Press. But the right hon. Gentleman finds a German quotation, or something in a German publication, which he has had translated or which he translates himself, and which is critical of some British films. These films which we boast, about in "Something Done" are not all C.O.I. films. They are commercial films as well, the ordinary products of capitalist industry in the film world, which shows how impartial the Socialist Government really are.
Let me finish this argument about the quotation from the German paper. It is critical of one or two British films. The right hon. Gentleman said that this criticism was given publicity, and he asked why. Does he want us to say that if anybody says anything critical about British films, we should suppress or eliminate it? The Government say that this is sound comment from a foreign source, showing that notice is taken of our films; and that in the second place, even if it is critical, the authors have got a right to their opinions. This is an impartial, fair-minded Government, and it is perfectly entitled to make that answer. There is a story of John Burns which is relevant to this point. Somebody said to him "Do you not get tired of the way the Conservative Press attacks you day after day?" John said, "No, not me; I do not mind what they say about me, as long as they say something." This bears upon the point which I am making. The whole point of this page is that the British films are being noticed. That is the best the right hon. Gentleman could find, having set out to assert that this was a party political publication.
Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously think that the staff which quoted that particular German criticism understood the quotation? Does he really think that the Government would publish a comment saying that a certain British film stinks?
I should have thought that they had almost certainly got a translation of this. Why should it not be put in? Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting to me—and he is a newspaper man; I am amazed at him—that we, the Government, should eliminate something because we do not agree with it? This is the Government—not Fleet Street.
Both, in both cases. All four. The right hon. Gentleman argued —and here he got into a little trouble with you, Major Milner, and I will not develop the point at all—that these things would be far better dealt with departmentally than through the Central Office of Information, and they would thus be dealt with more economically. With great respect, I do not altogether agree with him, but I will come to that when I explain the set-up, and I think it would be useful to the Committee if I gave a description of the set-up. Incidentally, had the Opposition taken the right course they could have had this Debate as wide as they liked. I have offered to assist the Opposition before in these matters, and I think they had only to put down the Vote containing my own salary, because the Prime Minister has announced that I have some sort of general responsibility over the general field of publicity. I think that would have covered it.
I am glad to have that information stored for future use. I think, however, it is not so. In order to debate the work of public relations officers of all Departments both at home and Foreign Service, it would be necessary to put down all the Votes, and we did not think we ought to trouble the House by putting down the Vote of every single Minister.
I am subject to correction, but I throw this out as a suggestion, because I do not want the Debate to be unduly confined; but the Chairman must take account of what is before the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman poured scorn on many posters, and referred to Government publicity as "general ballyhoo." He referred to a health poster—no doubt he means the one about the handkerchief—but he was remarkably brief in his references to these posters and he might have been more explicit in his argument. It would have been fairer.
The poster about the handkerchief is, I assume, the one dealing with the common cold. The common cold at this time, or indeed at any time, and particularly in this time of economic difficulty, is one of the major factors in involuntary industrial absenteeism. If the handkerchief, or the Medical Research Council, could only eliminate the common cold, not only would they have done something for the health of the people but they would also have done something for the economic life of the country. But, of course, that had to be laughed at.
The hon. Gentleman made a reference to the poster, "Don't buy white elephants." He thought it was a great joke. Nobody enjoyed it more than he did. The white elephant argument was that of the National Savings Committee, which is not the Central Office of Information. It runs its own publicity, and has its own Vote. The argument of the National Savings Committee was, no doubt, "Don't spend your money on things which are unnecessary or not reasonably useful; that is a waste of money, that is white elephant expenditure. Instead of that, put your money in National Savings."
What is wrong with that, except for this growing bias of the Conservative Party and the increasing number of Members opposite—it was started by the noble Lord the Member for Southern Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)—who, with a number of Tory leaders, including an ex-Minister of Cabinet rank, have said that the people should not invest in National Savings and have positively discouraged them? I think the Financial Secretary was entitled to describe that as sabotage, as he did a little while ago. It is time the Conservative Front Bench made up their minds whether they are supporters of National Savings or not. I spoke on many National Savings platforms when the Chamberlain Government were in power, and I was glad to do it, whatever the politics of the Government were, because I believed it was in the national interest. And I say the Conservative Party should at least be as patriotic as Labour leaders were then. These gentlemen who are trying to cause the money spent on National Savings publicity to be wasted—these Tory Members of Parliament and others—have never been repudiated by the leaders of the Conservative Party; and it is time they were.
These are the sort of examples that the right hon. Gentleman gave, and he started by denouncing this service as engaging in party political propaganda. By his courtesy I got in to ask him to give instances. He never gave one instance—not one; all he did was to complain that the Government had not spent the taxpayers' money to conduct political propaganda against themselves, which is itself a plea for the Government to be partisan and also a plea for the Government to be superhuman. The right hon. Gentleman asked, why not go in for free news? We do, and we are exceedingly grateful to many organs of the Press—daily, weekly and monthly classes of publications—for the fair space they give to many Government announcements of public interest. I do not want to condemn the Press on that ground at all. Taking them by and large—but there are exceptions which do not always come up to scratch—they have been helpful in making known matters of public interest. But with all the goodwill in the world, we cannot expect the Press to carry all the messages and all the arguments which it is necessary the public should understand; and, therefore, it is necessary to spend additional money on newspaper advertising.
The right hon. Gentleman, incidentally, referred to temporary civil servants in a certain tone of voice. As a matter of fact, a large proportion of the staff of the Central Office of Information are permanent civil servants. He said that national appeals were best made by national governments. They are very well made by national governments, but I think it is silly to suggest that a party Government is not entitled to appeal to the nation, whatever the colour of that party may be. He said that the newspaper advertisements, "Report to the Nation," were obscure, tendentious and absurd, and he proceeded to make some mocking imitations of the verses which were published in one of the advertisements. He did not prove anything in the way of tendentiousness; he did not prove the obscurity, and he did not prove the absurdity. My own feeling is that the "Report to the Nation" advertisements are very well done and they have indeed earned favourable comment in many technical and advertising circles.
That is another story. I am dealing with newspaper advertisements. I should like to say a few words in addition about the purpose of the Government publicity. I have dealt with the consideration of the economic complexities and problems with which we are dealing. At the end of the war we came to the problem of balance of payments, the problem of the world shortage of dollars, the problem of the export trade, which had to be given a high degree of preference over internal consumption. These expressions "balance of trade," "terms of trade," "dollar currency," "sterling currency," and so on were not fully understood by all the people, not even all fully understood by Members of Parliament—although I am making no complaint or critical comment about that at all.
It was vital that the people should understand the economic situation of the country and the problems with which we were faced. It was vital that they should be convinced of what was needed from their work, and of how they could be of assistance, in the difficult circumstances. So this type of publicity—explanatory, objective, factual—was undertaken so that the people might understand. For, if people understand, they usually give of their best. This really was in the interests of the nation, just as much as was the publicity of another kind which was undertaken in the war, in order that the people might understand the needs of the nation during the struggle! It was then undertaken on a heavy and elaborate scale. It has to be engaged in very heavily now, though the cost is materially lower at the present time than it was then.
I would say that, had it not been for the work of the Economic Information Unit, the Central Office of Information, and the general information organisation of the Government, if we had not taken all this trouble to warn the people of the economic facts of life, the national morale would have been in a dangerous state through sheer ignorance. The reason for that is that if the people do not understand, the people will become irritated; if the people do not understand, we can not expect them to give of their best. Everybody has said, in all quarters, "Tell the people. Take them into your confidence. Explain the situation." Now that we have done it—and done it with success, not for any political party, but with success for the nation: it has been a great asset to the nation, all this economic publicity—now that we have done it, the right hon. Gentleman comes along and pours scorn upon it. He says, "Why do you want to engage in this kind of activity?" The truth is that the Opposition do not know where they stand from one week to another. What else is the explanation of their comedian activities elsewhere on a certain Bill? Perhaps they are not too clear in their minds at the present time.
With regard to the production of official films, I should like to say—as I think it is perfectly right that I should—that we are indebted to the Cinema Exhibitors' Association and their members for a good deal of co-operation in the showing of certain films. I have met them from time to time. We have freely talked about it, and I must say that, although one could argue for more, I think the cinema exhibitors have been very public-spirited and co-operative in the showing of films in the interests of the nation. Each month the Central Office of Information distributes to the cinemas one one-reel film that plays for 10 minutes, and they have been—many of them—very good films. These 12 films a year are distributed by agreement between the C.E.A. and the Central Office of Information. The films are provided free, and are shown free. They are shown in, perhaps, 3,000 out of the 5,000 or so cinemas of the country. No other films, commercial or official, attain anything like a similar distribution. The agreement with the C.E.A. covers also, on the same terms, the distribution every year of about 30 trailers which run for less than one minute.
In addition to that, this agreed distribution does not exhaust the theatrical showing of official films. Over and above the agreement, the Central Office is all the time, through the ordinary trade channels, placing films for which payments are made. These films earn revenue in that way. In addition to the 16 films taken under the agreement by the C.E.A., from January, 1947, to April, 1948, inclusive, the Central Office placed commercially another 30 films. The number of bookings varies greatly, as with all films, but usually a film plays in something like 100 —and, if it secures a circuit booking, 1,000—cinemas. I think that that is a considerable achievement on the part of the films department of the Central Office of Information.
My right hon. Friend said that of 5,000 cinemas 3,000 show these C.O.I. films once a month. Does that figure include the 1,000 cinemas owned by the three major circuits?
I think so. I think it would be useful to the Committee if I now describe the organisation of Government publicity, because there is some misunderstanding about it, and I know hon. Members feel a bit baffled by the number of Ministers from whom they get Parliamentary answers. I think that matter was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I quite understand that there should be some curiosity as to who is responsible. If I may describe the structure, it is this. The fundamental point of operation is the Departmental information division. That is the fundamental element. The officers of these Departmental information divisions are responsible, of course, to their own Departmental Ministers. That is without prejudice to the inter-Departmental meetings and discussions both on the official level and on the Ministerial level. At this point it has to be considered whether it would be wise— and this is the case for the Central Office of Information—for each of the Departments to do its own book production, its own poster printing and exhibiting, its own newspaper advertising, its own films, and so on. The conclusion we came to was that, just as His Majesty's Stationery Office exists as a common service Department in respect of Government printing, it was right that the Central Office of Information should be created as a common service instrument at the service of the respective Departments.
Therefore, when there was a Question asked about a pamphlet used by the Minister of National Insurance for certain purposes, that was for the Minister of National Insurance to answer, because that was his direct Departmental responsibility. Questions have been put to me as having a general responsibility in these matters in cases where the Central Office of Information was acting as an instrument of a Department; and, of course, it acts as an instrument of-all the Departments both at home and overseas. But, the Minister responsible for the policy in that case is the Departmental Minister, and it is right, from the point of view of Parliamentary accountability, that, as he is responsible for the policy and argument set out in the C.O.I. publication, the Departmental Minister must answer. If it is a matter of establishment, finance or ordinary staffing, or the ordinary running of the place, the Treasury comes in as the Department dealing with common service finance and establishment matters. If it is a matter of publicity policy of a general character, then it is dealt with by me. As the House knows, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, by arrangement between the Prime Minister and him and me, is good enough to assist me in connection with that work.
That is the general structure of that part of the organisation, and it must be accepted and recognised that the C.O.I. is a common service institution serving the Departments. When it is serving the Departments as such, the responsibility is upon the Departments rather than upon anybody else, and it is the Departmental Minister who should receive the questions. The Central Office of Information is, therefore, not a department that materially deals with the policy aspects of publicity. The policy it receives from the Departments, although there is consultation, and there may be argument, and advice may be given. It has very little contact with the Press. That also is a departmental matter in the main. The Central Office is, in short, a production department for the various departments of State on a fairly big scale, both for home and overseas; and while I do not claim that the Central Office of Information is necessarily absolutely perfect, I do say that I think it has been very successful and that it deserves the confidence of Parliament and of the country.
Many of the members of the staff are permanent civil servants—not all of them, but quite a number, I shall not complain about criticism or about the Government being knocked about—in fact, I enjoy the fun as much as anybody else—but these staffs of the publicity divisions and of the C.O.I. are only like the rest of us; they have their sensitiveness, and it is not good for them that they should constantly be accused of being political stooges of the Government or of engaging in party political propaganda. I want to assure the Committee of this—and I do so with absolute sincerity—I ask the Committee to accept it from me that if any evidence is forthcoming that the Central Office of Information, or any other publicity organ of the Government, are engaging in party political propaganda or activity, I should take the complaint with the utmost seriousness, and if it were proved to be right, I promise the Committee that action would certainly be taken. Of course, if it were a departmental matter, I should take it up with the departmental Minister concerned.
I definitely assure the Committee that it is not the wish of myself or of the Government that these activities should be party political in character. The staffs know that. I am sure that they do their very best to avoid anything of that character, and it would be a pity if they felt that they personally were under suspicion by the House of Commons of drawing upon public funds for some party political purpose. I naturally want to keep up their morale, and I have told them through their appropriate officers that I expect them to be impartial. I have now told them through the House of Commons, and I assure the Committee that if a Member believes that there are any cases in which the tendency of the expression of this organisation is party political in character, I will certainly take it up with all proper energy. I think I have now broadly explained the work and the functions of the Central Office of Information, although I could say more.
Is it correct that the set-up over the machinery which the right hon. Gentleman has described—I cannot call it a department, but the functioning body—is this: First that there is a ministerial committee of which the right hon. Gentleman is chairman, and under that there is an official committee which deals with home services; that similarly there is a ministerial committee, of which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is chairman, which deals with overseas services; and under that also there is an official committee? Then I would like the right hon. Gentleman to deal with this point, because I want him to know that we are interested in it; that is, the position of the Economic Information Committee, because it is difficult for those outside the Government to appreciate the position. The Economic Information Committee, as I understand it, is a sub-committee of the Home Information Services official committee, but the gentleman who is the chairman of the Home Information Services Official Committee is a member of the Economic Information Committee which is under the chairmanship of somebody else. As I understand it, the chairman of the parent committee is a member of the sub-committee which has a different chairman. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I do not wish to mention names; indeed I am being circuitous in mentioning this in order to avoid giving any names. The right hon. Gentleman appreciates that I have the names, but I am anxious not to reveal them.
If that last point be so, there would be nothing wrong in it. It is commonly known, for example, that the chairman of the main committee of the London County Council is not the chairman of sub-committees, although he attends sub-committees. There is nothing necessarily wrong about that. I am in this difficulty. In another Government the right hon. and learned Gentleman used to serve with me on a certain committee which shall be nameless, and we then agreed that the proper doctrine about Cabinet committees was that they should not be revealed.
Oh, yes; I am referring to committees of the Cabinet organisation. It was agreed that we should not reveal them, nor their chairmanships. In fairness, it should be stated that in the case of the Information Services set up the Prime Minister said in Parliament publicly—he thought it was right in that case, and I think he was right—that there was to be an interdepartmental committee organisation on the ministerial level, of which I should be the chairman; and that, therefore, I had a responsibility for the broad and general activities of the Central Information Office. That was made public. He did not deal with the sub-committee organisation on the official level, and I do not think that I ought to do so, although I have seen something about it. How these things get out I do not know. Generally speaking, it is right that Cabinet committee organisations should be regarded as a matter which is private within the Government itself. Otherwise one might tend to destroy collective Cabinet responsibility. I ought to add, in order to bring the matter up to date, that we have recently merged into one the ministerial Home Information Committee and the Overseas Information Committee—I was chairman of both—because we found it more convenient to have one ministerial information committee.
I would like to give the right hon. Gentleman notice that this question of the set-up is one of the matters on which I should like to hold myself free to develop some criticism later on. I wanted to make it clear; otherwise I would not have interrupted the right hon. Gentleman.
I am obliged. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for intervening, because I was nearly forgetting the inter-departmental ministerial organisation which it is right to bring to the notice of the Committee in order to complete the picture.
Now I come to the Economic Information Unit. At the time when I was responsible for general economic coordination functions within the Cabinet, before they were taken over by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, I came to the conclusion very early on that here we must have not so much an interdepartmental body as a publicity unit covering the whole field of economic problems and difficulties, in addition to the departmental publicity and information arrangements of the economic departments of State. The Economic Information Unit is not analogous to the Central Office of Information. It is an information office to give information on the broad facts of the economic state of the nation and the economic problems of the world in relation to us. Its staff is not very considerable, although it is pretty high-powered; as it needs to be.
It is a valuable and competent staff. I think the staff of the Central Office of Information is also valuable and competent. The unit covers a considerable field of economic policy and exposition. They work with the chief planning officers, with the Central Statistical Office and with the Economic Section of the Cabinet Office. They work with all the Economic Departments of State. The result is that the Economic Information Unit acquires a great body of economic knowledge. It becomes knowledgeable and well-informed. Its function is to collect the economic information and to disperse it to the best national advantage, and it has done a good job of work. Otherwise, in this field of economics, trade, industry and oversea affairs, we should never have got the story over. It was impossible for a whole series of individual State Departments to do it among themselves.
I think that completes the general picture of the publicity organisation of the Government. One could go into further detail, but I do not think that that is necessary. I would only say in conclusion that this matter of Government information services has steadily grown over a period which began in the last stages of the Liberal Government—well, anyhow, in the Coalition Government of the first world war in Which the Liberals had a prominent part, if indeed it had not started before the first world war. It was a modest affair. It may be said to have begun under Liberal auspices. It developed very much between the wars. When we got near to the second world war it developed considerably under Governments of predominantly Conservative character.
I had a humble Press officer at the Ministry of Transport in 1929–31. There was only one, or perhaps two, on the job at all. There was a great deal of interest in our work and a great deal was published about us. I was succeeded later on, with some interruption, by Mr. Hore-Belisha, who rapidly developed the publicity service—to a point that I confess I might have jibbed at if I had still been there. I was always a most economical Minister. Mr. Hore-Belisha can be regarded as the most vigorous practitioner of Government publicity. He is not now a member and it would not be fair to go further into the matter. Certainly he can be taken as a vigorous pioneer in this field.
The war came, and these services were developed still higher, with great advantage to the nation. I have no doubt that some money was wasted in the publicity services during the war. A lot of other money was wasted as well. The Treasury are apt to go out of business during wars and it is sometimes quite a job to get them back into business when a war is finished. There may have been some heavy going, but I still say that the publicity services during the war did great work to the advantage of the nation. Under this Labour Government, the amount spent is less than it was during the war, but it is substantial. We have to keep an eye on this expenditure to see that it does not run away with itself, but I think it is right, and I shall not complain if the House carefully scrutinises and examines the expenditure to see that we are not wasteful.
I am not promising the Committee anything, but I will do my best, within the limits of my responsibility, in the appointment and control of the officers engaged in the Information Services. This is a relatively new thing, in its present scale. I believe it has a definite function to discharge for Democracy. It is important that our people should have information about this, that, and the other. If is important that the Press should be able to get information from Government Departments in the easiest possible way. The Press are sometimes critical of some of the information services of the Government. On the other hand, I would say this to the Press: I know how sticky it was in earlier years for newspaper people to get information from Government Departments. The truth is that the older and more conventional type of civil servant in those days was reluctant to give information, not so much because he was frightened of newspaper men, but, I think, in case he put his foot into it and got into a row. As a consequence, the information available to the Press was not as good as it is today. It is a welcome development.
I am anxious that these services should be impartial. They acquire in a short time and in a substantial degree the best Civil Service traditions of impartiality. If this Government did go out—I hope it will not and I have no reason to think that it will —and another Government came in, I believe that these people would be as faithful servants of the new Government as they are of this. I want that to be so. I assure the Committee, therefore, that we are seeking to build up a good service with the highest traditions. I would earnestly appeal to the Committee to take these factors into account and to give these men sympathetic understanding and, I would hope, support. If anybody is to be knocked about, let it be Ministers. That is partly what we are paid for. We must answer for the people who work under us. I believe these services are good and I believe they are of value. I hope that the information I have given to the Committee has been of interest, and I trust that we shall have a useful and constructive Debate, which I welcome. It will be all to the good.
In the concluding passages of his speech the right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that the Central Office of Information was something in the nature of a secondary organisation for the dissemination of the more reputable platitudes. If that is so, it is performed somewhat expensively. I believe that in the closing passages the Lord President was not inclined to argue against that proposition with undue force.
Before proceeding to the more controversial aspects of the matter I think it is fair to remind the Committee of the very substantial scale of these operations. The gross Vote on the current Estimate of £4,500,000, itself marking an impressive advance of £871,000 compared with the Estimates in the previous year on a staff of some 2,000 persons, of whom more than 400 are on the £650 a year scale and upwards, is a somewhat expensive affair. I could follow the Lord President's argument, but this is a very elaborate affair merely for the putting out of routine information to the public. No one will waste any time on discussing whether it is right to organise road safety campaigns or to issue statements about public health. The only possible controversy that would arise is that one would have thought those functions much more properly belonged to the responsible Departments and that those Departments should be responsible for putting cut the information about those matters.
The major complaint is at the maintenance in time of peace of an organisation which, whatever the Lord President may say, issues statements on major matters of public policy which are inevitably controversial and which, as I shall hope to show, inevitably become a vehicle for the propaganda of the Government of the day. This matter was debated somewhat briefly in the House on 19th March. On that occasion, the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations who replied to that Debate—I understand that he is to reply to this Debate—said:
Whether or not the Government have the right and the duty to make and to spread information in this way is, I think, the principle which really divides us on this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c 2547.]
I would say in parenthesis that there was nothing in the Lord President's speech which sought to justify the making, as opposed to the dissemination, of information. I do not want to labour that point too heavily, but it seems to carry the matter of the intentions of the Government a good deal further than the Lord President of the Council saw fit to suggest.
The real difficulty is this: The Lord President talked of factual statements. I am not going to suggest that, on the whole, these statements are not factual, but the question is which facts. No information service in the world can disseminate all the facts about the situation in the world today. Even the Government's present lavish expenditure of paper cannot carry that. So we are driven to the conviction that the officials of this Department have to select between one fact and another. It is a platitude of propaganda that it is the selection of facts that is the true art of propaganda. May I give a personal example? When I was in the United States of America during their slump, and in the State of Arkansas I was informed that the State was showing greatly improved economic conditions, because in the year that I was there only four banks had failed, whereas in the previous year 36 banks had failed. These were both statements of fact, but the misleading nature of the selection becomes apparent when I tell the House that at the beginning of the period there were only 40 banks in all in that State. That illustrates the fact that statements of fact cannot but involve the putting of one point of view against another.
The Lord President sought to defend his officials, and I am not seeking, so far as this respect of the matter is concerned, to attack them. All I am suggesting is that to put upon them the function of issuing statements and making announcements on matters of public affairs puts them in an impossible position, however impartial they may desire to be. Let us assume as an hypothesis that the Government have been a ghastly failure. What are these officials. to say? They are asked to issue a factual statement. Are they to say that their masters are wholly incompetent for their jobs and that the difficulties in which the country is involved are directly due to the mishandling of its affairs by their official chiefs? I am not concerned at the moment whether that is the state of affairs or not. I am putting it as an hypothesis, and it is a possibility.
Then the Lord President says that certain statements irritate the public, and that it is the object of certain statements to give the public a pat on the back. Assume that the facts of the economic situation of this country are grim. Assume that what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said on this subject is true. Is it suggested that these public officials in putting out these factual statements, in order, as the Lord President says, not to irritate the public, must gloss over these inconvenient facts and suggest that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds? Does not the Lord President see how completely inconsistent that kind of policy must be with the attempt of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to awaken the country to the gravity of the position, and does he not also see that inevitably these officials find themselves involved in controversy?
Am I to understand that part of the argument of the hon. Gentleman is that these officials should concern themselves with disputable political matters, and that part of their statements should be to expose the imperfections of the Government? If that is so, he must admit that they have also the. right to praise the successes of the Government. We do not expect the officials to say anything about the merits or demerits of the Government. They deal with facts and objective matters.
I did not say that these officials should blame or praise the Government who employs them. I say it is no part of their functions to do so. But I say that if you carry as far as the right hon. Gentleman has done the issuing of these statements on broad general matters of importance to the public, these officials cannot conduct their affairs without giving to the public an impression either favourable or adverse to the Government. The Lord President said that my right hon. Friend was asking these officials to denounce the Government; I think the Lord President said to "put out Opposition propaganda." That is not the point. The case is that they should not indulge in political propaganda either way and not argue the case on controversial matters. That is the duty of the Ministers of the Crown. They speak, when they do speak, admittedly as partisans. The public can judge of their statements as statements of partisans whose own political careers and futures are involved.
When an official puts out a statement, it has an appearance of impartiality, and that is the vice of this particular method of dealing with public affairs. When it comes to putting out statements of a kind designed to prevent the people becoming irritated, surely there we are necessarily involved in political propaganda. Assume the handling of our affairs has been such that the people should become irritated, are we not involving our system in political propaganda if we put out statements deliberately designed to prevent the public being irritated?
The Lord President referred to the publication "Something Done" as being a
pat on the back for the people. May I examine that? The Lord President discussed in this "pat on the back" the German quotation to which my right hon. Friend referred. He has heard the words in German "blutigster Kitsch" as comment on a British product. Is that a pat on the back for the British people? I should have thought that the linguistic capacity of the Lord President would have carried him to the conclusion that that was not wholly an accurate statement. The Lord President went on to say that the fact that this bitter and somewhat obscence comment on British production has appeared in a British subsidised publication was an indication of the breadth of vision, tolerance and humanity of those who conduct these affairs. I do not think that the Lord President would have said that if he had seen the comment at the bottom of the publication:
When a British film is shown abroad, two things happen. A fresh image of Britain and the British infiltrates the minds of Czechs or Dutch or Americans or Argentines or Australians; and crowns or guilders or dollars or pesos come rolling home.
Are dollars and pesos to come rolling home from people who ought, it is suggested, to see British films when the propaganda put out is, in the elegant phraseology of this publication to describe them, "blutigster Kitsch."
It is a German publication which the British Information Service thought it would help British interests to reproduce at the expense of the British taxpayer, and which they thought would bring in dollars and pesos.
That is not the suggestion. The suggestion is that it is an example of a blunder. The Lord President knows perfectly well that it is a blunder and not a display of the tolerance and humanity of the Lord President, as is borne out by the comment at the bottom which is sufficiently obvious to make it clear that those who put out this publication thought that they were puting out something which reflected favourably on a British product.
At several stages the right hon. Gentleman demanded to have examples of the political propaganda which had emanated from this office. Let me give him one which comes from a source which I think even he will respect, and which hon. Members behind him will respect if they do not wholly love—Mr. Morgan Phillips. Mr. Morgan Phillips has put out a document headed—if I may say so in somewhat aggressive type—"The Labour Party," in connection with the Labour Party's May Day "Forward Britain" campaign. It contains these words:
Literature will be provided from head office for the campaign, starting with a broad sheet for May Day (see attached Order Form) and followed by posters and leaflets.
Then a little later.
Effective use can also be made of the excellent Government publication 'Something Done'.
I was about to suggest, before the hon. Member intervened, two things: first, that Mr. Morgan Phillips knows his job; and secondly, that when he puts forward a certain document as effective propaganda for the use of the Labour Party, then that document is effective propaganda for the Labour Party.
It may be useful to tell the hon. Member that on my instructions the Central Office of Information wrote to the headquarters of all the great political parties, sent them a specimen copy of "Something Done," pointed out that this was the story of the British people's achievement, and asked them whether they could do anything for the purpose of assisting its general circulation among the public. All the political parties were treated in exactly the same way. I am not in a position to say what the response of all the parties was.
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has not quite appreciated the point. I am not suggesting that this document was not available to anybody who could afford is. 6d. for it. I am suggesting that the secretary of the Labour Party thinks fit to recommend it to his members for use in a party campaign; and I suggest, therefore, that that is some evidence for the view that it is Labour Party propaganda. Is the Lord President really suggesting that Mr. Morgan Phillips would put forward in this way suggestions for the use of something that was not Labour Party propaganda? Is he suggesting that this, no doubt highly paid, functionary is so incompetent in his office that he puts forward material which would be harmful to the prospects of the Labour Party? Is it not abundantly clear that the fact that the secretary of the Labour Party regards this as Labour Party propaganda, to be used in furtherance of the Labour Party campaign, is some evidence that perhaps it is a publication which is of some party value to the Labour Party? At any rate, the Lord President so manifestly dislikes this particular example that perhaps I can find others which will gratify him.
As the Under-Secretary will recollect, on a previous occasion I mentioned the briefing of speakers by the Central Office of Information. It so happens that a number of these interesting briefs are in my possession at the moment. Before giving the Lord President the advantage of one or two of them, let me tell him about one of these briefing parties. In connection with the schemes for National Insurance a briefing party was held early this year—I think in March—at which the material used consisted of 10 White Papers, three Labour Party pamphlets and, I should add in fairness, a "News Chronicle" production. Is not that again some indication of the use of public funds—for these speakers are not only briefed but paid from public funds—for the putting forward, indirectly, of Labour Party propaganda?
We are faced with this dilemma. Either these Labour Party pamphlets which are used to brief these speakers are good Labour Party propaganda—which in my own view they are—or they are not. If they are good Labour Party propaganda, they must have an effect on the speakers. If they are not good Labour Party propaganda I shall be interested to hear the Lord President say so, and I shall expect to see certain rapid changes at Transport House.
Would the hon. Member be impressed in the same way if he learned—as I can assure him was the case—that in some of these publications Mr. Morgan Phillips directed the attention of Labour Party propagandists to the Economic Survey, a Government White Paper? Would he argue that because Mr. Morgan Phillips recommended that White Paper for the use of Labour Party propagandists that it was, therefore, Labour Party propaganda?
At this moment I am not prepared to defend the Economic Survey as a miracle of Governmental impartiality. I do not know the circumstances to which the hon. Member, no doubt accurately, refers. The example I gave in connection with "Something Done" is directly connected with the Labour Party campaign which is—although, of course, legitimately—direct party activity. What Mr. Morgan Phillips was suggesting was that this would assist the direct Labour Party campaign. That, surely, is the point.
I invite the attention of the Lord President to some of these briefs. Here is one:
That is why the Control of Engagement Order was made in October, 1947. This ensures that everyone seeking a new job has a choice of really vital jobs to go into. This is not the same thing as direction, which is used only in very few cases where a worker, apparently without any good reason, persistently refuses to take a job of essential work or any job at all.
I am not concerned for the moment whether hon. Members opposite think that is accurate or not. The fact remains that a large section of our fellow countrymen regards both the control of engagement and the direction of labour as morally indefensible and morally wrong. They are entitled to that opinion, and there is no reason why the contrary opinion should be put out at the public expense.
Let me give another example, on food this time:
At the present time we are living on a calorie level of about 2,870 a day, on the average"—
that is before the White Paper—
compared with 3,000 before the war. Averages are always deceptive, especially when distribution has become so much fairer, as it has since pre-war days.
The very fact that hon. Members opposite think that is so is some evidence in support of my view that it is their point of view which is being put forward. But they must face the fact that there are in this country people, equally entitled to their opinion, who think that that is poisonous nonsense. One would have thought that those who wished to avoid controversial subjects would have trodden warily on that of petrol; but a brief was issued on the subject of basic petrol. Surely the Lord President will agree that these impartial people, putting out factual statements, might have proceeded a little delicately when discussing that subject, with all the effect it had on public opinion. They say:
Moreover, we have not got enough tankers of our own. Some petrol has to be imported in American tankers, for which we pay dollar freight.
There again, so far as it goes, a perfectly accurate statement, but, of course, it might well be objected that if all the facts were to be given there might have been some observations on the subject of the American tankers which were available in 1945, and which, had there been a little foresight on the part of the Government, would still have been available to carry our petrol.
That is only an example of the theme on which I began: all of the facts cannot be supplied; some of them must be selected; and the way in which they are selected inevitably and inescapably has a political propaganda effect. That is no attack on the officials concerned. It is an attack on their political masters for imposing upon them the task of impartiality in these matters which is beyond human wisdom and competence. I agree with all that my right hon. Friend said on the value of the minor Information Services of the Government, but when we come to these great matters of public policy and public controversy, upon which great masses of our fellow countrymen feel deeply one way or another, we cannot indulge through the machinery of a Government Department, and at the expense of the taxpayer, in statements of fact which are so unbiased, so comprehensive, that they will be accepted by all our fellow countrymen as a proper use of their money. That is why it seems to me, particularly in view of what was said by the Lord President of the extension of the work of this office, that, in immortal words slightly adapted, the Central Office of Information has increased, is increasing and should be diminished.
We have had from the Opposition two of the most remarkable speeches that I have heard in Parliament. This is a great subject, vital to the whole of our democracy and our future survival, but what do we get? The Opposition have given us facetious statements, little trivial, stupid examples and a big discussion on whether one little mistake may or may not have been made in a German quotation in a publication from the Central Office of Information. Their facts are totally inadequate and their examples are quite wrong. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) listed a series of things which have nothing to do with the Central Office of Information and were not even produced by them. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) then told us that it is quite impossible to deliver facts impartially. He knows he cannot do so himself and, therefore, presumes that everybody else cannot do so. According to him it is impossible to do the job at all and, therefore, instead of having facts disseminated by the Government, we should cut out the whole thing.
The real purpose of today's Debate is an attempt by the Opposition to abolish the Central Office of Information. The Tories hate it. Their motto has always been, "Let there be darkness, and there will be a Tory Government." Their whole aim is to try to prevent the people from getting to know the facts in any reasonable or objective way. That is why we have heard this totally petty-minded approach. I wonder whether they realise how hopelessly inconsistent they are? Even their own Industrial Charter agrees that a large amount of planning is essential in a modern democratic society such as ours. There is no dispute about that. How do they suppose we can carry through plans voluntarily unless the people who are to carry them out know what they are all about?
The only alternative to planning voluntarily, on the basis of the people knowing what they have to do within the framework of the plan, is to plan by dictatorship. Do the Tories want that? They are trying to get rid of the instrument of machinery which can explain to the people the nature of the plans in which they are asked to co-operate.
I have not overlooked that. Part of the function of the Central Office of Information is to arrange for the release to the Press of statements made by Ministers at Press conferences and elsewhere and to make sure that these things get down to the lowest level, to the workers in the factories and into the humblest homes, in simple, clear language. I do not want to be offensive to ex-Ministers on the Front Bench opposite, but it is regrettable that facts which are amply and abundantly clear to them and to their immediate colleagues are not so demonstrably clear to the people outside, who do not follow with such clarity of mind the argument which has developed.
This question is of fundamental importance if we are to survive as a nation. The lesson was learned thoroughly and completely during the war. What was the policy of Field-Marshal Montgomery? Before carrying out an intricate operation he saw that it was broken down so that even the lowest rank soldier knew exactly what part he had to play. As a result, the soldier took more interest in the plan and played his part better. Hon. Members opposite will know that the same thing has been discovered from the experience of enlightened management in industry. If an enlightened management brings its workers fully into the picture so that they know the whys and the wherefores of the business, they do their job much more efficiently and keenly than before.
The war analogy is used constantly in this connection. How does the hon. Member think that the economy of the country can be compared to a military campaign?
One cannot make an exact parallel and analogy between the two. That is why I went on to say that efficient managements find that, the more they put their workers into the picture, the better the team spirit and the greater the cooperation. I do not propose to rest entirely on the military analogy, although it is a useful one.
In this age we are dealing with situations more complex and more difficult than ever before. Each of these situations demands more from ordinary people. Our democracy will not work unless we take them into our confidence and tell them exactly what is required from them. It was pitiful that both hon. Members opposite devoted so much of their, time to trying to smear the Central Office of Information, as an organ of party propaganda. Theirs was nothing more than a vicious, irresponsible and malicious "smear campaign" of the very worst type.
These people are civil servants, not partisans. I thought it was a great Tory tradition not to attack civil servants who could not defend themselves, but to attack the Minister of the appropriate Department. The new tradition of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames is to go scrambling around back rooms trying to dig out notes of past conferences. He then comes here with details of the documents which were used for briefing the parties in a particular operation. I may make a speech myself or write an article outside this House. Perhaps I have a Labour Party pamphlet and a Government White Paper to help me. Sometimes I even look at the Tory Industrial Charter. I wish to get information from as many sources as possible. There is no harm in that and no particular crime committed in trying to get what information I can. It is only fiddling with the problem to raise examples of the kind which have been put forward, in a serious Debate such as this.
The very fact that this is not a partisan organisation can be shown by the evidence of all the unpalatable truths which the C.O.I. has, in fact, produced during the last two years. If hon. Members opposite were to make a serious study of the problem they would see that the C.O.I. have brought out every single adverse' fact, every disappointment and setback which this country has suffered since the end of the war. Hon. Members should really be very glad of that because, once an adverse fact is brought out by a Government Department, the public will surely say to themselves, "Well, that is not Tory propaganda; it must be true." They should be thankful that the Central Office of Information is doing that. Anyone with an instinctive 'determination to strive or the truth, wherever it appears, will welcome the operations of the C.O.I
My criticism of the C.O.I., particularly on the home front, is not that its activities are spread too far or that too much money is being spent, but that not sufficient is being spent; it is weak rather than strong and lacks sufficient co-ordination and drive. The first and foremost complaint from which it suffers is that it has no Minister in charge. At present, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury answers routine questions on its behalf. The Lord President exercises a distant supervisory watch over the organisation, and now the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations will be winding up this Debate, as he has wound up previous debates on this subject. The Government are clearly not satisfied themselves with the strength of this instrument; otherwise they would not have added the Economic Information Unit to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and later transferred it to the Treasury. There is a great danger in having this diffusion of control.
The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) wants us to stop the C.O.I. altogether and to develop the public relations officers in the various Departments, but that is what is happening at the moment, and most of the examples of things which ought not to have happened, have come from their work. The great danger is that we shall muddle the public if we divorce ourselves from the central theme and allow public relations officers to develop their little policies in each Department. It was a tragic mistake, I think, to do away with the Minister of Information at the end of the war, because the lack of having a personality to represent them has meant that the C.O.I. have been treated, as I have no doubt hon. Members opposite would like them to be treated, as a sort of poor relation. At conferences at which public relation matters are discussed, they have no initiative at all, but have to wait for instructions from the Departments. I am rather surprised that the Lord President made a great point about the C.O.I. having no responsibility and each Department concerned having the responsibility when the C.O.I. does a particular job. That is weakness and not strength. It means that the' C.O.I. cannot take the initiative, but have to wait endlessly while other Departments make up their minds. Obviously every Department has to be consulted, but the C.O.I. must be given a stronger emphasis and removed from this office-boy status.
It has been urged that we should again have a Minister of Information, but if the Government will not have a full-time Minister, cannot there be a junior Minister to co-ordinate the activities of the C.O.I., the P.R.Os., the Economic Information Unit and the contacts the C.O.I. have with the B.B.C. and the Foreign Office? Let that junior Minister work whole-time under the Lord President, and not merely part-time as is the case of the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, because then he will be able to give the C.O.I. more status and more authority in their dealings with other Departments. It is essential to remember that the C.O.I. can never be a Civil Service Department. It cannot work to Civil Service routine; because creative work is being done there. They should be made to work far more like a private enterprise publicity agency in similar circumstances.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, it seems to have been forgotten by Members opposite that the presentation of the state of affairs in this country and of the way we are trying to meet our present crisis, is a most vital thing for our survival. It is also extremely important for us that this should be known abroad as well as at home. It is a mistake to divorce the home dissemination of information from our dissemination of information abroad, because they must both spring from the same plant. The quality of the information propagated abroad must be dependent on what we are doing at home. It is a mistake to try to divide them. The Minister of Information had both during the war, and the organisation worked very well. I cannot believe that the Foreign Office, which has taken over the highly efficient units in the foreign embassies, have made a good job of it. These units ought to have been put under the C.O.I., and they ought to be given back to the C.O.I. now. Excellent work is being done with magazines like the "Echo" which sell millions of copies. It is very disappointing to see that last year's vote of £50,000 in connection with the B.B.C. has gone from this year's Estimates. The C.O.I. and not the Foreign Office should be re-responsible for the co-ordination of the information given by the Government in the B.B.C. overseas and European broadcasts.
This really ought to appeal to the Opposition. Hon. Members opposite will agree in this particular instance with the "Daily Express" when it publishes these long lists of C.O.I. staff and want them done away with. The "Daily Express" slipped up on Monday. They carried an article by Sefton Delmer, in which he complained bitterly that the Czech Communists were using in Czechoslovakia, in order to convince their own people that the political purges they were carrying out were all right, the argument that the British people, this great and famous democracy, were themselves having a similar political purge in their Civil Service. Sefton Delmer, who is the chief feature-writer in the "Daily Express," asked why nothing had been done by the Government in their propaganda services to convince the Czechs that there was nothing in it and that there was an answer to it. Yet, the "Daily Express" and Members opposite have been spending all their time in trying to cut down this overseas expenditure on information Services. I am afraid that they are beginning to have an effect on the Government, and that the Government are becoming too timid to use these information services as effectively as they should be used.
I am discussing the article written on Czechoslovakia, which appeared in the newspaper with which I know the hon. Member is connected—it is therefore a reliable one—and in which the paper complains that nothing has been done abqut this matter. The reason is that not long ago there was a 10 per cent. cut in the information services at this stage of our history, no doubt in response to the demands of hon. Members opposite. There is war on today. There can be no possible doubt about that. It is a war of nerves, and we are allowing the Communists to win it all over the world through our failure to project what is going on in this country.
What is going on in this country is of value to the whole world. It is undoubtedly something which can work in the world. It does not require a police State; it is an ideal which can be attained by every State in the world. That is the message we ought to be getting through to Eastern Europe and to other countries in Europe which have not at present got democracy. Patriotic Members opposite should not be coming here wasting the time of the Committee with silly little examples culled from funny little briefs, and bits of information they have got as to whether or not a person in the C.O.I. has made a mistake or whether another is showing a little partisanship in his attitude, but should be coming here to urge the Government to do all they can in the fight against the Communists throughout the world.
The only way that that can be done at the moment—unless we are to have a fight with guns, battleships and atomic bombs—is by means of the dissemination of news. Members opposite should spend their time urging that more money should be spent on this service. I myself would feel much happier if I knew that the Government had decided, instead of building a battleship, to build 10 radio stations for overseas propaganda. It would cost only the same amount of money. The surest weapon in our defensive security is to preach our life abroad. All Europe wants to know and be convinced of its permanence, and chances of success. The Cominform is like the reactionary Tories opposite: there is very little difference now between a reactionary Tory and a member of the Communist Party. They have very many similarities, and one of them is that they both hate the truth and the spread of truth. They would both rather keep it dark, because only the darkness and ignorance of the people can maintain them in power.
It would be tempting to follow the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) into his investigations, in the latter part of his speech, into our overseas information services, but they are not, of course, carried on this Vote—
The hon. Gentleman must not confuse the sending of information to branches overseas with the dissemination of news to foreign countries. The hon. Gentleman referred particularly to a recent newspaper article on this subject. We all agree that the Government would be right to disseminate news to foreign countries, so that the point of view of this country might be properly understood, but that is not what we are discussing today. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Vote he will find that this is so, and that there is a special Vote for the Foreign Office to cover overseas news services. Also, there is the British Council, on which very large sums of money are spent.
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to get on with my speech. The hon. Member for Aston entirely begged the question when he said that we must have information services of this kind, or the alternative would be dictatorship. I would remind him that the original dictatorship of Europe was founded upon the use of the propaganda machine. The question is whether there is an information service which is genuinely impartial, or one which more and more tends to become a Government propaganda machine. In the latter case, so far from being divorced from a dictatorship there is more likelihood of coming closer to a dictatorship. I have not yet heard from the Government that they will undertake the onus of proving that such an institution as the C.O.I. is necessary. I do not believe it is. I believe, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) said, that the work which must be done in this field can be adequately done by public relations officers. A large amount of money is spent on these officers, and if they are incompetent to put across the work and views of their Ministries, why are they employed? If they are competent then why do we have this Central Office of Information as well? It is an expensive luxury, and we are entitled to see whether we are getting value for money.
In spite of its name, the one thing I am sure about is that at the Central Office of Information very little information can be obtained about the Office itself. Those who are concerned with this matter have had great difficulty in getting any. It is clear, however, that we have here an organisation which is spreading its tentacles around the Press, radio, exhibitions, pamphlets, posters and films. That is a dangerous tendency, and, unless we are vigilant, can lead to what I would call "Goebbelsisation"—which means to centre all sources of news and views in one place. It is one of the great features of the dissemination of news and views in this country that it is spread over such a large number of people, in so many hands, and among so many attitudes of mind. If all this is centralised there is the danger of a propaganda machine being created
I want to ask a question about the Office itself. I understand that about 2,000 people are employed there, of whom about 600 are known as higher executives. Experts, people accustomed to advertising and publicity, believe that if the work of the Office is to be done at all—and I do not think it ought—it could be undertaken easily by 80 to 100 higher executives If between 500 and 600 such people are employed, then the Under-Secretary is called upon to justify that number. The Lord President of the Council suggested that there was nothing that could be called partial in any of the material put out by this Office, and challenged us to produce anything that could be so described.
I wish to refer to a document which has been sent to me—I did not ask for it—from the C.O.I. It is not the kind of document referred to by the hon. Member for Aston—a little piece of paper. It is a series of pamphlets entitled, "How Are We Doing?" It runs into 36 pages, and I cannot imagine anyone wanting to take up 36 pages to answer that question. The answer is that we are not doing very well. First, the pamphlet deals with what is called "The Gap" and then asks, "What made the Gap?" It gives the reasons:
The huge damage done to production in Europe and Asia by the physical destruction of the war, and by its attendant economic and social dislocation.…Add to this the calamities of the weather in many parts of the world.…
There are many people who do not accept the view that the weather is responsible for everything, although it will be found that that is the motif of this document. Everything that has to be explained is explained by the twin causes of the war and the weather. Apparently nothing happened in between the war and last winter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, a true picture of this kind cannot be presented unless all the facts are given and unless that is done it is far better not to attempt the task. There are a lot of people who do not agree that the cause of the gap was the war and the weather. They believe that the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer and his rash convertibility in June and July of last year were very substantial causes. How it can be said that this is an impartial presentation of affairs when it is stated that the gap was caused by the war and the weather is very hard to see, and seems to us to be quite unjustified.
In this document they are very much concerned with the weather. Pamphlet No. 2 of the same series "How are we doing?" deals with Britain's food. First, there is the background and having said that the position is very bad—that "it does not present a cheerful picture"—it adds:
To the physical devastation and distorted economies resulting from six years of war have been added calamities of drought and flood.
The war and the weather are the causes apparently of our food situation. There is one pamphlet later which deals with fuel and again the fuel crisis, through which we passed in the Winter before last, was entirely caused by the weather. Referring to this absorbing topic of the weather, this pamphlet again explains the food shortage by saying:
In Europe the only areas which did not suffer heavily from the disastrous weather conditions of last spring and summer were the Soviet Union and the Danube countries.
I was under the impression that we had a good Summer last year; but all is due to the weather. There are a lot of people who take the view that the food situation might to some extent be attributable to the operations of the Minister of Food in his bulk purchasing. However, this impartial document tells us that it is due to the weather.
While we are on this subject of the expenditure of this Department, we are entitled to know whether we are to be called upon to spend something like £4 million on productions of the kind from which I have quoted. This document goes on to deal with expenditure, and. it arrives at this startling conclusion:
The first and most important way of cutting down expenditure is to buy less.
Then, in order that the livestock situation may be overcome, it says:
An increase in livestock calls for a corresponding increase in foodstuffs.
Again, that is a brilliant deduction. The document goes straight on to say:
The adverse weather of the past year has resulted in a reduction.
There are many of these obvious truisms which do not justify me taking up a lot of time. I feel I ought to draw the attention of the Committee, however, to the third pamphlet in the series which deals with the problem of inflation, and begins with this hypothesis:
Half a crown will not buy now what it would in 1938.
That is a fact already known to a large number of people. There are, of course, many such quotations which one could place before the Committee. Here is another:
How long will austerity last? There is no straight answer to this question in terms of days, months and years. There is another kind of answer. When we have made the export targets what is left over is for the home market.
That, again, will bring much consolation to many people. Sometimes the truth comes out in these documents, because in dealing with inflation and saving I find this:
The natural way to cut inflation is by voluntary saving.
Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations will help me with this next one, because it requires some explanation and I think he will agree with me that it was never intended that it should be here.
There is no reason why we should let the Chancellor of the Exchequer have our money
Hon. Gentlemen opposite accuse Members on this side of the Committee of being saboteurs of the Savings Movement. I hardly think that that can be thrown at us when the Government publish documents of this kind.
The Lord President of the Council said we could never find anything in the way of political Government propaganda in these pamphlets. What do hon. Members on this side of the Committee think of this one which deals with manpower?—
The armed services are being run down to the lowest figure consistent with safety and working efficiency.
With that I agree, but the next sentence says:
So is the Civil Service.
Do hon. Gentlemen really claim that the Government are running down the Civil Service to the lowest figure consistent with safety and working efficiency? Many other people take a different view. Again, on this question of Government propaganda, perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations will look at the last of the series of these pamphlets. It is a disgraceful bit of party pleading. It is nothing from start to finish —there are some eight or nine pages of it —but praise of nationalisation of coal. The first paragraph has a heading "British mining industry." Having said how bad all English mines were, it goes on to say this of the time that these mines were being developed:
Meanwhile, competition developed on the Continent where many of the mines were State-owned from the outset.
That, of course, made them much better mines.
These were able to afford more systematic layout and working and to develop highly organised amalgamations and selling schemes
At the very start the idea is planted tat the State-owned mines are best. The pamphlet goes on to misrepresent the Reid Report and then it gets down to the real business under the heading "Action and Progress," which is nothing but a blurb for the National Coal Board and the great success that it is achieving. If the Under-Secretary would look at these pamphlets, he would not dream of saying that there is nothing partisan about them.
There is just one further point to which I wish to turn for a moment, and that is the question of films, upon which vast sums have been spent by this organisation. It is quite obvious at once that the Central Office of Information are not making films with anything like the success of the wartime Ministry of Information. There are no films of the ability and capacity of "Desert Victory" or "The Western Approaches."
That is just the trouble. The films made by this organisation are very seldom seen by the people, although they cost a vast amount of money. During the next few months the Central Office of Information proposes to spend something like £30,000 on a series of six films dealing, I suggest, entirely with Government propaganda. These are films of the animated cartoon type.
For this purpose they have created a character drawn in the Walt Disney fashion, named "Charley." I have not seen him, but I understand that this character is a sort of dumb individual to whom the Government official can explain all the advantages which he is getting under socialisation. I am looking forward to seeing this individual, because it is obvious that he will be very interesting. The artist who created this gentleman—who is to be the recipient of Government propaganda if nobody else is—said of him, "I tried to create a character essentially simple but able to grasp things intelligibly when properly explained and then willing to get on with the job." The artist explained how he came to achieve this masterpiece. He said he listened to Tommy Handley and Arthur Askey on the wireless, and as a result, created what he described as "a middle-aged bloke, going bald, with a streak of optimism."
I do not know which of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench was the model for this caricature. The films have apparently been seen by the Lord President of the Council, and no one can deny that he has a streak of optimism. Obviously, anybody who is going to see and listen to these films will want a streak of optimism. There will be a film on "New Towns," which is merely an advertisement for the work of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. That is why it is so absurd to say that there is no Government propaganda in this. There will be one called, "Your Very Good Health" dealing with the health services. Anybody who knows the present situation and is willing to have explained to him how the health services will work, will, whether he is bald or not, certainly want a streak of optimism.
There is one other matter. Will the Central Office of Information be one of the parties brought before the Press Commission? Quite clearly, there is a very good case for doing so. The case of those who had the Press Commission set up was that it was necessary to investigate monopoly in the propaganda and publicity fields. Here is something which, unless steps are taken shortly, will tend to become the biggest monopoly of all. To let this matter be ventilated before the Press Commission would do that body a very good service. They have had a very thin time so far. All the cupboards have been opened, but not a single skeleton has yet come out. If they will spend a few days investigating the activities of the Central Office of Information their time and expenditure will not have been all in vain.
I feel sure that I have caught the Chairman's eye not because he took me for "a middle-aged bloke, going bald, with a streak of optimism" but rather because it is desirable that there should be a contribution to this Debate, modest though it may bd—and mine will be—from somebody who has no connection with the publishing trade and is not a journalist either on weekdays or on Sundays. The only comment I would make on the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) is that if that is the sort of speech which he goes about the country making, I am all the more convinced of the necessity for some organ which will disseminate facts and truth.
This is a serious subject and I want to treat it seriously. I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) say that, with the State coming in closer partnership every day with the citizen, the necessity for the citizen to be kept fully informed of facts affecting the national life and his part in it is greater than ever before. Not only is there a need for this information but I find that there is a positive thirst for it. When I go to my constituency and make a speech, I do not spend very much time talking about the Tories because time is limited on those occasions and one has to concentrate on important matters. When I give a meeting the facts about such things as food, clothing, housing, legal reform, the death penalty and so on, the way in which the information is received makes it quite clear that it is greatly appreciated and that giving it fulfils an obvious need. For that purpose, I find the information given by the Central Office most valuable.
As to form, I hope that the Government will not be influenced by the sneers of the right hon. Member for Bromley. If the Central Office decides to cencentrate on simplicity of presentation, with clear and homely illustrations, it is quite right to do so. It has, after all, to meet the need of hard-working men and women who have not a great deal of time for reading and who want things clearly and simply explained. The Central Office is not catering solely for people of high intellectual attainments who have plenty of time to spare to read everything they want to. That policy pays, and I should like to pay my tribute to the patient understanding of the British people who, whenever the necessity for any unpalatable or unpleasant measure is explained to them, accept it and co-operate fully to overcome the difficulties of the time.
I quite understand, and do not complain in the least about it, why the Opposition should be suspicious and alert in this matter. If by one of those political disasters which all men would have to accept but which no man could explain, the party opposite were returned to power at the next General Election and they continued the Central Office of Information, as I believe they would, we should be suspicious and alert to see that it was not made the vehicle of political propaganda. We understand quite well that the value of this effort lies in keeping it free from such propaganda, and I think we do it, but if a plain, factual statement of what has been achieved since 1945 is a testimonial to this party, we cannot help that.
I should like to see the work of the Central Office extended in another Hon. The success of the social services, which we go to so much trouble to expand, depends primarily on the maintenance of peace, and peace depends largely on the successful conduct of foreign affairs. I have 60,000 constituents whose lives are intimately and fundamentally affected by foreign affairs. Yet how difficult it is for them to obtain reliable information to enable them to form a reliable opinion.
I will give an example by way of illustration. In the last few days there have been a large number of executions in Greece. In reply to criticism, the Greek Government have said that these persons who were executed committed murders before and during the civil war, have been tried by judicial process to which no objection can be taken, have been found guilty, and that the delay is on account of appeals and so on, and what is wrong with that? Nothing is wrong with that, if that is all one knows, but suppose one knows that in Greece there is such a thing as "moral responsibility for murder," and that moral responsibility carries a death sentence. It is a term which is capable of, and given, a very elastic interpretation. Suppose one knows that hearsay evidence is admitted in Greece. One can say in the witness box, "X told me that the prisoner committed the murder." [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, one can say that in Greece. That is their law. And if one knows this further fact, that many of the people executed may have been kept in prison in violation of the Varkiza agreement and Law 119 of 1945 passed to implement it, which said that all people should be let out of prison if they had been detained there for more than six months without trial—if one knew those things, when someone said, "These executions have taken place in due process of law," a different picture would emerge.
I have given that by way of illustration, not as criticism, but simply to show that in the field of foreign affairs there is a wide opportunity for the extension of the work of the Central Office. I do not know whether it could be done in conjunction with the Foreign Office, but I should like it to be said that the matter will be considered. In any event, I wish the Central Office of Information well. It is doing an excellent and a much-needed job. I regard it as a valuable and essential democratic activity, which is more than can be said of the activities of every Central Office.
With regard to this subject, I have tried to ascertain from Fleet Street, what is their view of the Central Office of Information, and I gather that they regard it as a highly valuable institution. But it suffers from the defects of not being central and not producing much information. It makes up for that by being an office, in fact a very large office, but just what all the staff in it are engaged in doing, nobody really knows. My comments on this matter fall under two heads: firstly, under policy, and secondly, under cost. As far as one can judge, much of the Government advertising seems to be designed to slay initiative. Does anyone believe that the stupid "Work or Want" poster, now happily dead, or its successor "Progress Report" in the newspapers—
Does anybody believe that these types of advertising have supplied the necessary incentives to increase production? I believe that the result has been negligible and almost as fruitless as the continuous exhortations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or other Ministers. They have had little effect on the coal miner and, obviously, the steel worker did not need them. In my view, the reason lies in the natural resistance to advertising as such, and even greater resistance to Government propaganda from a Government source, and of the dislike of ordinary commonsense people for being "got at."
The reaction of the average person to publicity concerning road safety and immunisation against diphtheria—matters which are to my mind above party and above politics—is quite different from that which results from publicity urging harder work and greater sacrifices. This kind of exhortation has lost much of its appeal. How many of the first ten people, when asked, could give the wording draped around the belching chimneys on the latest Government poster? I think few would be able to do so. Regarding the design of this particular poster, it is unfortunate, when the strictest economy is needed, that the Government should suggest, in a cloud of black smoke emerging from these stacks, waste of valuable coal that an efficient stoker would have turned into heat and energy. I have discovered little enthusiasm for the food recipes in the newspaper advertisements. These are regarded as exhortations to make use of foods which, for some reason or other, are not moving perhaps as freely as the Minister would wish.
I contend that, on the evidence before us, with some personal experience of advertising campaigns to support my judgment, it seems to me that the Government's advertising campaign for greater production has failed completely. The colossal expenditure involved is no longer justified. The enthusiasm of the workers cannot be roused by advertising. It could be roused, at little or no cost, by the right leadership, by example, and by proper incentives. Having myself been responsible for the expenditure of many hundreds of thousands of pounds on publicity for which an adequate return in hard cash had to be the justification, I would em- phasise that no business concern could for long support the wasteful, extravagant and reckless expenditure which is being poured out by the C.O.I. A reference was made earlier to the Prime Minister's own statement before the C.O.I. came into being, that it would be run on an economical basis. The salient fact now is that although the Prime Minister then envisaged economy, this was not subsequently substantiated.
May I now refer to the staff employed by C.O.I.? Out of an expenditure of approximately £3,500,000, some 25 per cent. is taken up in the salaries of these 2,000 people. That is a considerable average per person on whatever scale they may be. Over and above this, there also would be a large number of people indirectly employed in the execution of this work. From a business point of view, one would feel that 10 per cent. of publicity expenditure is sufficient to cover the staff required to carry out such work. In my estimation the cost of the staff here involved is over double the reasonable requirement that this Office should expend. Accordingly, I suggest a detailed investigation by the Government of this staff question.
I would like to call the attention of the Committee to the colossal amount of taxpayers' money that is being so lavishly and prodigally poured out for so little purpose. From the "Statistical Review of Advertising" it would appear that the Government expenditure on newspaper space alone in the four quarters of last year, when month after month the threat of economic disaster became more black and menacing, followed a headlong course of blind extravagance. The cost of newspaper advertising in the quarter January to March, 1947, was estimated in round figures at £300,000.
I am reading statistics from the "Statistical Review of Advertising," which it is open to every Member of the Committee to obtain. The cost of newspaper advertising in the quarter January to March, 1947, was estimated at £300,000. In April to June, it was £350,000, in July to September, £300,000, and in October to December a quarter of a million pounds. That makes the staggering total of one and a quarter million pounds for the year 1947. I was anxious to see what happened in the first quarter of this year when industry, in order to help the Chancellor, had agreed to a voluntary reduction in publicity advertising of 15 per cent. I was shocked to find that once again the Government had made a careful distinction between precept and practice. In the months of January, February and March this year, they spent no less than approximately £350,000, a figure which was exceeded in only one quarter of 1947.
Nor was that all. To this figure must be added the cost of preparing the advertisements, the artists' work, and the blocks from which advertisements are printed. That would add many thousands of pounds. Nor do the figures I have quoted include all the media used by the Government. National Savings was the biggest spender, with an average of £22,000. Next came the Ministry of Food with £18,000 a month telling us what we could not have, and how to cook it. Hoardings and factory posters having failed to achieve appreciable results, the production drive appeared in the columns of newspapers in October to the tune of £4,000 a month. Some of this appeared to be switched from the Ministry of Labour who, according to the season, varied from £5,000 to £5,000 a month. The Ministry of Fuel also varied from £5,000 to £10,000 a month. These are only some ways in which the taxpayers' money was squandered on newspaper advertising at a moment when the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers were warning us of the narrow margin which lay between us and economic disaster. I say "squandered," not out of any disrespect for the newspapers, which have plenty of other advertising waiting for that space, but because the return for this vast outlay was negligible and it was an act of the grossest folly in times of some stringency.
To this fantastic extravagance must be added the cost of poster and cinema advertising, and the rentals of hoardings. The figures for these items are not so readily available, but to those with the slightest knowledge of such matters it would be apparent that the cost must be enormous. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to inform us what the figure was. I understand that there has been a slight recession in this kind of activity during 1948, and that commitments have been made only up to June of this year. If so, I have no hesitation in asking the Committee to make it plain beyond doubt that a very different state of things must obtain from June onwards.
Can there be any possible justification for such wanton extravagance as this? I think the Committee are entitled to learn from the Minister what is the net gain to the nation from this lavish outpouring of public money, of vast quantities of precious paper—they always get the best paper—and countless hours of human effort. I should be only too happy if I could be proved wrong. My view, and that of my hon. Friends, is that the result of so much effort is so pitifully small as to convict those responsible of gross misjudgment and misunderstanding. Unless such justification is forthcoming, we on this side and, I imagine, many hon. Members on the other side of the Committee, will feel it a most urgent public duty to demand a drastic curtailment of the functions of this Department.
After so much criticism I should like to make a constructive suggestion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Thank you very much. If as a business man I wished to convey some special message to the people, and had all the facilities available to the Government, I would relegate all the wasteful Press expenditure, poster advertising, etc., to secondary importance and replace it by a sensible non-party and constructive announcement on the B.B.C. If at a stated time a few minutes were set aside for any special messages, of an entirely non-political nature, which the Government felt should be put across to the public for their benefit, surely the allocation of such broadcasting time, at a nominal cost to the Government, would be an ideal method. The public are sick and tired of seeing evidence of inefficiency and waste in the form of unnecessary expenditure and the waste of valuable paper at such a time. It has reached a stage where it has become a cause of some ridicule and annoyance to the public. I advise the Government to bear in mind the feelings of the public in this matter. If we were spending this money from a business point of view, it would be essential to judge from various returns whether we were getting value for money. Yet, so far as I have been able to find through research, such results have been lacking. If expenditure were related to the results achieved, those concerned would be open to the severest criticism.
As chairman of that distinguished organ of the Provincial Press, the Birmingham "Town Crier," I deplore the onslaught made by the hon. Member for North Croydon (Mr. F. Harris) on newspaper advertising. In advising him to stick to "Now or Never," I shall watch with interest to see whether the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) follows that line.
I am sure the Committee were very glad to hear the Lord President of the Council in such good fettle. His remarkable recovery from illness is something on which we congratulate ourselves, and I think the country can do likewise. After the filibustering on the Gas Bill Committee, it was right and proper that we should have a little light entertainment, and I think the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) put on a first-class act, Danny Kaye at his best. He said one or two things which intrigued me. One was his reference to the white elephant which the British people were supposed to have bought in July, 1945. Of course, the British public did not buy a white elephant; they avoided one. The British public are very enlightened, and they recognised that the petrified dogma of Toryism, while a fit subject for study by political archæologists, has no contribution to make to the solution of Britain's post-war problems. That is why we have today the best Government which Britain has had at any rate since the great Liberal Administration of 1906.
The right hon. Member for Bromley went on to say that people yearned for the return of practical men. If my observation in this House goes for anything, the practical men are not very anxious to return. Indeed they seem to be quite conscious of the fact that the worst thing that could possibly happen to this country in present circumstances or at any time for the next five or ten years is the return of a Tory Administra- tion. That is why we see so much shadow boxing with eight-ounce gloves from the Tory Front Bench.
I strongly support this Vote. It is necessary for us all to keep in our minds at all times that we are operating under circumstances unprecedented in this country. We are living in a difficult transitional period of society in which the old incentives have gone and new incentives have not yet taken their place. It it the function of the Government, through the C.O.I., to explain the unprecedented nature of the situation in which we find ourselves. By and large the Government are doing that very well, and I cannot understand this fine distinction between national propaganda and party policy. The hopes and aspirations of the British people are inevitably bound up with the success or failure of the Government of the day, and as the basic problems of the British people do not change with every transference of political power, it seems to me that the Tory Party are barking up the wrong tree in this connection.
I have spoken of the old incentives having gone and new incentives not having yet taken their place. It has been truly said that at one time we lived in a stick-and-carrot economy. There was the carrot of employment for those who would have a go and the stick of unemployment for those who would not have a go. Today, through the policy of the present Labour Government, we are living in a period in which there are more jobs than people to fill them so that the cruel harsh system of the stick has gone. But it worked and nothing has yet completely taken its place.
Over the vast majority of our economic life I believe that the people in various industries understand the problems with which the Government are confronted, and are reacting accordingly. But it is a fact that a minority of our people are not yet fully alive to the reality of the situation, to the vast change that has taken place in Britain's economic and financial fortunes. Particularly is this so in the matter of invisible exports. I believe that the Central Office of Information has a most important task to fulfil in explaining the extent to which the living standards of all of us in the prewar period depended upon those invisible exports. Not enough folk appreciate that before the war one-third of what we wore and ate and of what it took to furnish British industry, came from those invisible exports. That income did not entail the outlay of physical energy on the part of the masses of the people, and it is to make good the loss of those invisible exports—income from investments, the depleted income now coming from shipping, the income from banking, marketing and insurance services—that we are today required to bend our backs as never before.
The Central Office of Information has a most important task to perform in explaining these things clearly and plainly to our people. Generally speaking, I think it is making a pretty good job of it. The principal and most difficult job of the Government at the moment is to break down these great national and international economic issues into proportions which fit the mind and stomach of the ordinary man in factory, field or mine. Not until we have done that shall we, in turn, break down that sense of collective responsibility which the British have always had, into one of keenly felt individual duty and determination.
This is the great task which confronts the Central Office of Information, and I make no complaint of the manner in which the job has been started. Some of the newspaper advertising is apt to be bogged down with too many statistics. It is all right for the person who is literate economically, but for the man who is not particularly literate economically a mass of statistics is highly indigestible. I remember that when during the war we had a poster "Hitler Hopes You Will Be Late in the Morning" everyone knew what that meant and reacted accordingly. I would suggest to the Lord President of the Council that something of that kind of psychological approach would help the Central Office of Information in its task.
We are handicapped by one thing more. I refer to the deficiencies which have obtained until now in the free education system. Throughout my life that system, of which I was a beneficiary, has really done nothing to inculcate into its recipients a sense of communal responsibility, a sense of the responsibility which is owing one to another. All that the free educational system did prior to the advent of this Government was to inculcate into its recipients such a smattering of know- ledge as would enable them to fit into the industrial life of the country with the least possible inconvenience to the employers. It is precisely because of that that the rôle of the Central Office of Information today is not only to provide information but also education.
One thing is apparent as the result of the experience of the last three years. It is that ideological incentives alone are insufficient. There has to be something else, and to this problem of British rehabilitation—the most important thing in the world at the moment—I wish we could bring some of the spirituality which animated the great Nonconformist movement of the r9th century. I do not use the word "spirituality" necessarily in a religious sense. I have had the good fortune to travel fairly extensively over the past three years and one thing that was clearly marked was that the great experiment going on in this country at the present time is better understood abroad than it is in certain quarters at home.
This country has always been a laboratory of social experiment. Today we are engaged in the greatest experiment of all time; one to abolish want without, at the same time, abolishing liberty. The importance and significance of this experiment is fully understood abroad even as far away as South America. It may be said that Britain today is a shop window into which scores of millions of people are anxiously peering for signs of the success of an experiment which may well provide the world with a blueprint for the next 5o years. It is in the service of this experiment that the Central Office of Information has a great part to play.
I also have done some travelling round the world. What the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) has said about Britain being a shop window is correct, but people are also looking in to see if this experiment is going to produce a failure. It is not the duty of the Central Office of Information to say that this experiment is succeeding unless it is succeeding; and the outside world does not believe that this Government is succeeding at all.
I do not accept for one moment what is said by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter). Undoubtedly there are people in the world who are very upset at the prospect of this British Labour Government succeeding. If we succeed—and I have no doubt that we shall—then the inhabitants of those countries where the people referred to by the hon. Member for Wood Green constitute themselves an affluent ruling class may well turn to Britain for an example of how they should order their affairs. The Central Office of Information, I am convinced, is doing a first-class job of work in educating the people of this country to the importance of the rôle for which history has cast them. Only by our own people acquiring a full sense of the importance of the great social and economic experiment upon which they are engaged, shall be get a result which will put this old country back on its feet at the earliest possible moment.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) has, as it happens, selected the same theme as that which I hope to develop for the next few minutes, namely, what is the best method of presenting to our people the facts of our present economic situation. As he neared his peroration, he, at one and the same time, disclosed his mind on the matter and endorsed to the full the action taken by the Opposition in putting down this Vote today. The hon. Member made it clear, beyond any peradventure, that he regarded the main function of the Central Office of Information to be to sell successfully to the world the conception of a Socialist Britain. That is our chief reason for initiating this Debate this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman compared my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) with Danny Kaye. If we are to have these theatrical comparisons inserted into our discussions, I would only say this, that should electoral misfortune at any time overtake the hon. Gentleman opposite, a fortune awaits him on the vaudeville stage of America in the role of the typical Englishman.
The hon. Member went on to add that the Lord President of the Council was in fine fettle. I do not quarrel with that, because I have never yet discovered exactly what is "fettle." If he meant that the right hon. Gentleman was in good debating form, well, that is generally the case. But when the Lord President in- formed the Committee that he enjoys what he called the knockabout of the House of Commons, it did occur to me that he enjoyed it a little less this afternoon than on some other occasions. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his speech, did show the danger to a Government of a publicity service, financed by the taxpayer. He was at pains to try to explain its benefits, but to me, at any rate, he emphasised its dangers.
Certain lessons are already emerging from our Debate. The first is that one of the main reasons for the continued function of a Government publicity service at all is the Government's success in reducing the powers of the Press by the cuts in newsprint. They themselves are expending newsprint, and therefore dollars, on a vast scale, and at one and the same time, they deny it to one of the main pieces of apparatus by which information should be disseminated. It is not surprising to me that no hon. Member opposite who has spoken has yet referred to the proper organ for that publicity work, which is, of course, the House of Commons. Ministers are detaching themselves more and more from the House of Commons. They are proceeding far more by the method of Press conferences, broadcasting, and now this Central Office of Information.
The Lord President said, and there is no doubt about it, that we are living in a time of great economic complexity and difficulty, and that it is important that this should be brought home to the people Of course it is; but, surely, everything depends upon the presentation of these matters. I remember an occasion when I was passing a place of worship, outside which are exhibited from time to time admirable slogans, under, I think, the heading "Wayside Pulpit." On the clay in question there was displayed outside this chapel this statement, "There is as much nutrition in one half pint of milk as in six half pints of beer." A couple of navvies happened to be passing, and one said to the other, "There is nothing for it, pal, we shall have to go and have half a dozen half pints." There is an example of how presentation may sometimes have the opposite effect to that which is intended.
I think the right hon. Gentleman, with all his knockabout experience is, for him, rather touchy this afternoon about the comments by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley regarding some of the Government propaganda. The right hon. Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend has spoken lightheartedly of road accidents. Of course, my right hon. Friend did nothing of the sort. He pointed the finger of ridicule at the manner in which this danger is presented to the people. The tragic widow—"Death on the road"—was removed some two years ago, which in itself is significant. Within three months of the exhibition of that poster it was known throughout the length of the country by the caption, "She voted Labour." There again is an example of the inverted effect of some of this propaganda. Then my right hon. Friend mentioned this interesting advertisement, "Have you got a handkerchief?" He was certainly not suggesting that the common cold should not he tackled, but that that was rather a crude method of putting the argument over. Far better, I think, are some of the other posters showing all sorts of people in tubes and cinemas catching microbes.
The right hon. Gentleman was susceptible on that point, and more so still about the white elephant and the Savings movement. I am sorry that the Lord President had to leave us for a time after his speech, though we know it was unavoidable. Had he heard my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) he would have heard him read from a pamphlet from the Central Office of Information these shocking words:
Why give your money to the Chancellor?
That, from the Central Office of Information, is surely sabotage of the most naked character. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to these benches and said that we were engaged in sabotaging the Savings Movement. I would say to him, in all fairness, that the only thing which can sabotage the Savings Movement in this or any other country is when the people of that country lose confidence in their directorate, their administration.
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is referring to literature published in favour of the National Savings Movement, I would point out that that is not from the Central Office of Information That would be the National Savings Movement's own pub- licity. Also, I would like the hon. and gallant Gentleman to tell the House whether he approves of the speeches of Members of the Conservative Party in this House and another place who advised the people to boycott National Savings?
The right hon. Gentleman would not have raised the first point had he been here when the hon. and learned Member for Brighton quoted from a whole series of pamphlets called, "How are we doing?" Those were issued by the Central Office of Information. I do not think that the second point arises when we are discussing this Vote. I can only say to the right hon. Gentleman that when a Savings Campaign in any country begins to wilt, it is because the people of that country are losing confidence in the financial integrity of the Government of the day. It is no good blaming people on this side of the House or anybody else. If we are looking for somebody to blame, I would recommend the Lord President to read the speech made on the Emergency Budget of last October by the hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Norman Smith), which was far more against the Savings Movement than anything said from this side of the House.
The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) made an interesting intervention. I am sorry that he is not present now. He said that the slogan of the Tory Party was, "Let there be darkness." That comes strangely from one sitting behind the late Minister of Fuel and Power, now Secretary of State for War, whose slogan it has been from the moment he joined the Government. Then the hon. Member said something which shocked me beyond all previous knowledge. He went to the length of saying that the Central Office of Information suffered from the fact that no great personality was connected with it.
Within a few minutes of the Lord President telling us that he was in charge of this Department, one of his supporters says, "Here is this unfortunate handicap —the lack of any great personality being connected with it." The hon. Member for Aston should attend Transport House or wherever it is that these gentlemen have to go when they commit an indiscretion. Surely, a purge is necessary.
The hon. Member for Aston also told us of events in Czechoslovakia and how they should be tackled. Surely, that is, and always has been, a Foreign Office matter. What we are discussing is the effect of this organisation on our own people. I pass lightly by the white elephant of the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan) who was ingenious enough to give us a speech on the internal situation in Greece.
The Central Office of Information is the offspring of the war-time Ministry of Information. I want to make one or two suggestions about their work, because that is what we are discussing. Whether or not it is a good thing to have them is a different question. First, is there not rather a lot of overlapping between the Central Office of Information and the public relations officers of Government Departments? Is there not only overlapping but, in some cases, contradiction. "Why give your money to the Chancellor?" comes from the Central Office of Information, while the Savings campaign is being urged on us by the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman might look at that point.
Then we come to the main theme of the speech of the hon. Member for Wednesbury which I should like to follow, because I agree with so much of what was said by the hon. Member about the education of our people upon the economic situation. As the Lord President said, it is the duty of the Government to tell the people what the situation is in the plainest language. What is this unfortunate Department to tell the people? Is it to tell them, in the words of the Lord President last August, that the clock is striking 12, a statement which alarmed a great many of my friends? I told them, "Do not worry. It will be striking 13 in a minute or two." Is the Central Office to tell the people that the clock is striking 12 or is it to tell them that we are now rounding recovery corner?
The right hon. Gentleman said that he deprecated any attack upon the staff of this Department. Of course, we do not attack the staff of the Department. We feel that they have an extremely difficult job not only in reconciling the speeches of various Ministers but in reconciling the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman himself. They are in a great difficulty. Far be it from us to attack them; they have our sympathy.
I suggest that we could have more homely language. We get the terms, "gold reserves," "dollar drain," "inflationary pressure," "invisible exports" —what a mumbo jumbo all that seems to the unfortunate man in the street. In this regard alone, the approach has been wrong. I do not know whether I shall carry the hon. Member for Wednesbury with me on this. I think that to describe the present situation as a crisis is a complete misnomer. A crisis is something which arrives and is resolved for good or ill with considerable rapidity. The crisis of an illness of some loved one usually comes and goes in 24 hours. For good or ill it is resolved. What we are faced with now is not a crisis at all but a situation in which, as a result of three years of Socialist Government, we are now faced with a hard uphill pull for at least six years if we are to get back to the situation we were in when the war ended in 1945. That could not well be put in these pamphlets.
I think that the Central Office might tell the people—I believe it profoundly myself —that it no country, in no walk of life is a man respected who is content to obtain the wherewithal of existence by sponging on his relations or living on his friends. That is precisely the situation in which this country finds itself today with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer hailing with delight the arrival of capitalist assistance from the other side of the Atlantic. That is a somewhat undignified state of affairs.
I remember meeting an old lady in my constituency when I was there in January, and she impressed me very much. We were talking about the Marshall Plan in ordinary language, and she said, "When I was a lass, we should have gone hungry sooner than live on somebody else." That is the position which a great many of our people feel and feel strongly. [Interruption.] I think that interruption of the hon. Gentleman, if it shows anything at all, shows us the advantage of a Debate to impart economic education. The Government have entirely failed to get across to the people the real meaning of the terms, "sellers' market" and "buyers' market." I have seen none of their literature which describes the situation They have not explained the sellers' market by such illustrations as, 'That is the price, and, if you do not want it, there are plenty of other people waiting to buy," or what we might have to switch across to the situation in which people are able to pick and choose and say to us, "You must cut your price," "Your quality is not good enough," or "We shall go elsewhere." These seem to me to be the fundamentals of the export situation.
I think the Central Office, if it is to hold the scales fairly, might tell the people that, among the vast number of countries which buy from us, each with its own system of Government and code of laws, there are none who are even interested in whether the goods they buy are produced under State control or under private enterprise. Whether our customers be black, white, brown or yellow, there are only two questions which they ask—"What is the price?" and "What is the quality of your goods?" They do not even ask whether we have a Socialist or a Tory Government, or whether the present Prime Minister is in office or my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). They are only interested in the price and quality of our goods and nothing else, so why not tell the people—
The hon. and gallant Gentleman should be aware that what he has just said is the complete opposite of what is continually said from his own Front Bench—that we are handicapped in our attempts at post-war recovery because people are not permitted to do business with State-owned trading organisations.
Unless the State-owned organisation is able to sell our goods at competitive prices, and sell them successfully, our export trade is doomed, and we take the view that State control is not capable of doing that. All that really matters is to present the facts to the people; we need not argue the merits one way or the other. All we have to do is to present the people with the crude economic facts.
There is something else I want to say, and this is my last point. Whether our industries are run by the State or under private enterprise, it is essential that they should be run profitably. If any man in this country has the misfortune to be unemployed tomorrow morning, and he is offered the choice of two jobs with identical wages and conditions, one with a firm which has made a steady profit for a number of years and the other with a firm operating under losses and going downhill, which would he choose? He would go for the one which shows the greatest security of employment, and that must be true of nations, too, whether run under a nationalised system or under private enterprise. We must modernise our plant, and be ready to switch over, as so often happens, from one form of production to another. We must have the reserves necessary to produce the new plant and make changes. All industries are born to die, except agriculture. That is even true of coal, which will go when atomic energy takes its place. We must have the reserves to switch to some other form of production. Nobody in this Committee today would apprentice his lad to a farrier or a cooper. Those trades have been superseded by other methods of doing the job.
In my view, it is impossible for the Central Office to be objective in these matters owing to Ministerial domination. They cannot criticise the Government. They have not even got the latitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War in these matters. They cannot, like the right hon. Gentleman, go out into the country and go up to Durham, when they ought to be attending to the serious military situation in Palestine, and talk about the failure of the National Coal Board; and that is just the gravamen of our accusation. We have already heard how the speakers of the Central Office are briefed from Socialist pamphlets, and we feel that the taxpayers should not be mulcted in that expense. On the wider issue, we think that we get poor value for the £4,500,000 which is extracted from them, even if we agree that the machinery is necessary. I would go further and say that, under Government organisation, the dissemination of information is a vicious system, and one which, fully developed, leads to the totalitarian road and the technique of the late, but not lamented, Dr. Goebbels.
We have listened to examples from the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) of the two fronts
which the Tory Party always present to the public on any great social matter of our day. First of all, because they are sometimes dealing with intelligent people, they endeavour to show how reasonable they are and support particular lines of action with which any reasonable person would agree, and so they say that there should be a Central Office of Information. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), in the initial part of his speech, gave a reasonable summary of the facts in evidence of this, and it is the same as in that remarkable document "The Industrial Charter" which, indeed, sanctifies the position of the Government in this matter far better than the Labour Party itself has been able to do. On page 10, it says:
We desire to confine the powers of Government to those major decisions which should be taken by the Central Administration. In economic matters the Government has very important functions. Foremost among these are its general powers to collect and distribute information to an extent beyond that of any private undertaking.
That is in the Tory "Industrial Charter," and the right hon. Gentleman opposite agreed with it this afternoon. But at the same time that hon. Gentlemen opposite have been doing that and paying lip service to the necessity for the people to know the facts, what else have they been doing? They have been conducting a "smear" campaign against the Central Office of Information organisation. We have been treated, in part, to some of that smearing this afternoon. I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe), who ridiculed some films which the Central Office proposed to put out publicly presently. It appears that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not seen the films himself, but, had he looked up his party whip this week, he would have found that three films were being shown on Tuesday in the Central Committee Room below the stairs just outside this Chamber. Yet the hon. and learned Member took it upon himself to ridicule a film he had not seen.
The whole tenor of the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite, while giving lip service to the necessity of such an organisation, has been to smear it from one end to the other. The fact is that the Conservative Opposition does not want any Central Office of Information at all. They did not find it politic to say so because of the views in the skilfully-drawn document from the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler)—the Industrial Charter. Even before the war the Conservative Party never wanted the people to know the facts. One of the greatest difficulties facing any person interested in social research before the war—any kind of sociologist—even though he may not have been a party politician—was to get at the facts, because the Government of the day always sought refuge behind the platitudes which the present Opposition persist in saying to the general public.
During the war the hostility of the members of the Conservative Party to the whole conception of A.B.C.A., often very ill-concealed, was because they did not want the people to know the economic facts of the country at that time. When he took over the chairmanship of the Conservative Party, Lord Woolton published a very interesting article in the Tory "Challenge" in which he pointed out that one of the reasons why the Conservative Party lost the General Election was because of A.B.C.A. The reason the Tories lost the General Election was exactly that the people of this country knew the facts. The reason why they stand in danger of losing the next one, again, is exactly because, by the time the election comes, the people will know all the facts again, and that is why the Opposition do not want the people to have them.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made some remarks about a publication of the Central Office of Information called "Something Done," a copy of which I hold in my hand and to which, since we are discussing the Central Office of Information Vote and its expenditure, I presume I may refer. I want to know from the Opposition what is wrong with some of the things set out here. On page four of "Something Done" it says, "Children first." Have the Tory Opposition any objection to that? It goes on to say:
Also, relatively fewer British mothers were dying as a result of childbirth than ever before in history, and there are some who assume that this decrease in the rate of maternal mortality is clue to improved prenatal care and facilities and to the widespread use of newly discovered drugs, such as those in the sulpha group and penicillin.
Do the Opposition object to that? They should be proud of it, as any man in Britain should be proud that our health services are developing so that fewer mothers are dying. The Tories are doing their best everywhere, even out of the country, to try to minimise it for their own party gains and are trying to drag their country down. In criticising the material which the Central Office of Information is putting out they think they are achieving their purpose. But these are the facts in which all our people, regardless of their politics, can take some credit.
On page 6 it says:
In fact it is true to say that, at a point in history when Britain needs mothers as never before, Britain is a safer place for motherhood than ever before. And, at a moment when decent-sized families are expensive, as well as precious things to have, the State, for the first time in the history of Britain, gives practical recognition to both those facts.
What is wrong with that? What is partisan about it? The whole trouble of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that they are so accustomed to the exercise of their own party spleen that they assume everyone is actuated by the same motives as they are. What do we find on page to of this pamphlet, which has been so heavily criticised from the Opposition benches today? Under the heading "The Development Areas," it says:
Today in those same areas, the heavy industries are providing plenty of employment.
Is that true or not? Can any right hon. Gentleman point out and say where it is not true? [Interruption.] Can you do that?
I can assure the noble Lord that, coming from him, I do not take that as a compliment. Turning to page 10, we find these words, referring to the Development Areas—[Interruption.] I am sorry for the noble Lord, but he must take his own medicine for a change.
That is a change for the noble Lord, who usually laughs at his own jokes. In page 10 it says that in the same areas the heavy industries are providing plenty of employment. Is that true or not? Where is the partisan statement in that? Where is the party political propaganda in it? Is it right or not? If hon. Members opposite could show where it is wrong, they have had plenty of opportunity to do so. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames came in and discoursed very generally on it for some long time. It Would have been quite easy for him to point to one thing and to say, "This is an example of party propaganda." All that the Opposition could find was some obscure portion of a German news-cutting relating to the value or otherwise of British films.
I would like to ask the Opposition whether they consider that these facts, which are set out in "Something Done," display any party spleen or any party propaganda. When it refers to new industries bringing a new security it says,
Of 3,421 new factories or extensions of 5,000 square feet and over, which have been approved in Great Britain between 31st July, 1945, and 3oth September, 1947, 1,076 are in the development areas.
Is that true or not? And if it is not true, it is the duty of the Opposition to bring these facts to our notice. In point of fact, one could go all the way through this excellently produced pamphlet and bring out matters time after time for the Opposition, but there would still be no reply. In page 22 it says:
Another year at school The raising of the leaving age is another milestone in educational history.
Is that or is that not in terms of an untrue and partisan nature? I thought hon. Members opposite were extremely proud of the Education Act, which they themselves actually helped to draft and bring into operation. Where is there a partisan statement in saying:
The raising of the leaving age is another milestone in educational history.
There is nothing partisan about it whatsoever.
I suggest that in a modern democratic society it is essential that the people should know the facts. I consider that the C.O.I. have made excellent progress in this. We have heard no criticism this afternoon of the pamphlet which is being put out on the Budget, showing how the Budget is divided. We have heard no criticism this afternoon of the short Economic Survey; in fact, one of the earliest comments of the Opposition about the short Economic Survey was that although it did not disclose a plan—and there are differences of opinion on this—it nevertheless told people the facts. That was said about a month ago. Why cannot they say it now? The answer is, of course, that the overwhelming purpose of the Conservative Party at the present time is to undermine public confidence in everything that the Central Office of Information produces.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well that as more and more people appreciate the real facts of our economic situation at any given time, the more that people really understand the processes which make our economy work, the less likelihood is there of their ever adorning this side of the Chamber again. So they must—although with a few honourable exceptions, I am pleased to say—have for their whole purpose the undermining of public confidence in this. There are dangers that any State machine, though it is under the control of a Government of this party, may take too much bias in its factual presentation to the people, and if I were in Opposition I should probe, and always be extremely vigilant, to make quite sure that the instrument financed out of the taxpayers' pockets was not being used for party ends. The trouble the Opposition are facing today is that the facts, as progressively revealed by the Central Office of Information, are all in favour of the line of action which the Government have found it necessary to undertake. That is the difficulty in which the Opposition are at the present time.
I think that the people of this country, whatever party they may belong to—and including the noble Lord the Member for Horsham—can have a mighty pride in the job that this country has done since the end of the war. The more people who are really Britons—there are many who pay only lip service to the country, and who never perform any valuable function for Britain—the more real Britons who go about the world saying how well we are doing, the better it will be for the country as a whole. But there is an even greater advantage than that, because as my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury pointed out, the dissemination of facts inside and outside of any country is one of the vital pillars on which the peace of the world rests.
I should have thought that the action of the Opposition in seeking this Debate on this Vote today would have been in itself a sufficient check to prevent this organisation we are discussing from becoming what has been described by some speakers in the Debate as a partisan or party controlled organisation. I have listened to most of the speeches in the Debate, including those of the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and the Lord President of the Council. I certainly got the impression that the Lord President today had a comparatively easy task in replying to the criticisms made by the right hon. Member for Bromley. I have heard the Lord President make many speeches over a number of years from that Box, and I think that today his task was one of the easiest he has had in this Chamber.
I thought from the earlier part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Bromley that he accepted the principle of some central agency for the dissemination of facts. I do not want to misinterpret the right hon. Gentleman, but the impression I got from his speech was that he recognised that that was necessary. I certainly did not hear him say, speaking on behalf of his party, that the Opposition Would favour abolishing the C.O.I if they ever occupied the Government benches again. I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) will make that quite clear when he speaks. There have been some expressions of opinion, certainly from the Opposition back benches, on this matter, and I should like to know the view of the Opposition, and whether in fact, if they were returned to office, they would disband the C.O.I. team and organisation as such.
The Lord President tried to lay the responsibility of the first conception of the C.O.I. on a Liberal Government, and I think he was right. It was about the time of the Lloyd George Budget. I think Lord Beaverbrook also had some hand in the idea of a C.O.I. when he was Minister of Information during the first world war. Then, of course, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) had a good deal to do with the Ministry of Information during the last world war. There was then a great deal of criticism that he was creating something in the nature of a precedent in regard to monopolistic practices, but he did say that when the war was over the Ministry of Information would be discontinued as such. Therefore, it becomes all the more important that we should tonight hear the official view of His Majesty's Opposition —whether they would or would not continue the C.O.I. if they were in office. So far we do not know.
I am always absolutely amazed at the individual post-war efforts of the people of this country. I often ask myself how much it is due to giving them the fullest information—how much the C.I.O. has or has not helped in sustaining those efforts. I think perhaps that this organisation has endeavoured to tell the people some of the facts. Perhaps it has not done so in a form some hon. Members would like. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan) that we ought to present to the people a simple picture of what is going on; but I wonder how much the people's effort nowadays is due to their being taken into the confidence of the Government. A great publicist, Lord Northcliffe, said many years ago:
If you give the British people the facts they will back you through anything.
I agree with the point made by the hon and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) and other speakers, that we live in a very difficult and complex conception of the democratic processes of Parliamentary Government. Many years ago democracy was a very simple thing to understand. But today the Government enters every crevice of our national life, and every home is affected, every individual is affected by Government action. Never before in the history of any democracy has the effect of Government legislation upon the people been so extensive as it is in the democratic process of the British parliamentary system today.
If we agree that the facts should be presented to the people, then we should decide how best they should be presented. There are three ways of doing it. One is Departmentally. The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations said in an Adjournment Debate, initiated by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that that method would cost more. I think that probably it would. It would mean that each Department would have to be given its head, and that the various Departments would be overlapping in their publicity with cross views and duplication. Then there is the existing method used at the present time, the central method through the C.I.O. The third method, referred to by several Opposition speakers, is through letting the Press, the cinema and the ordinary processes of publicity do the work for us. That method is to let the newspapers get their information as best they can, and to disseminate it in the ordinary methods of newspaper and periodical publication.
In the case of films which are referred to in the Estimate—I think it is the third biggest item in the Estimate—there has been a good deal of criticism of Mr. John Grierson and "shorts." But would ordinary business and commercial channels concerned with film production have taken the trouble to put over these factual films and news flashes unless they were sponsored or even subsidised in some form? We should bear in mind that these films are exhibited free by the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association in most of the cinemas in the country. If we left it to ordinary commercial channels producing short interest films to put these facts over, it would not be a commercial proposition without a subsidy from the Government. Therefore, in the end we come back to the same thing. I am not sure how C.O.I. film expenditure is administered. I should like to know whether for instance there is anything to stop the Rank organisation from tendering or quoting for a series of "shorts." Is there anything to stop the Conservative Central Office Film Section from tendering to make a series of "shorts" under sub-contract to put across the national point of view as expressed at the present time by the C.O.I.? Is this a complete monopoly? Could not an opportunity be given to commercial units such as Mr. Rank's organisation and others to make tenders for such films?
The hon. Member for Croydon (Mr. Harris) referred to the various publications which have been issued on the incentive for more production. I know there has been a good deal of criticism of these publications, and although some of them may not have had the right psychological approach, on the whole I think they have been worth while. Nothing matters to the material future of this country so much as getting the workers and producers to understand the argument as to why the production and output position in their own factory is absolutely vital to this country's future. I do not think we have yet fully got this over—not even the speakers who go round talking to the workers in the canteens and so on—although I think there has been a great improvement. I hope the C.O.I. will continue this practice, and I hope they will get the best brains and the greatest skill possible to enable them to put this information over to both management and workers so that they can understand the changing facts as it affects them personally, their job, and the necessities of this country.
Towards the end of his speech the Lord President described the machinery of this organisation. I was in agreement with the earlier part of the speech. I think there is considerable room for improvement with the C.O.I. and, while we should watch the expenditure involved and obtain some economy measures in its administration, at the same time, we must make this organisation into a most efficient streamlined unit. It has a long way to go, and it will have to make many changes as it benefits from experience. I do not think that there is really, any partisan tendency in these publications. Surely there is an effective check on such a tendency. We can always raise these matters in Debates and at Question time in the House. I do not think the Opposition were serious in that criticism. I do not think they were pulling out their big guns so to speak. If they were sitting on the Government benches they would be convinced by the events and the facts of the situation, and these publications and the work of a central agency would be continued in some form. I ask the Government to continue to improve these publications and the work of the C.O.I. and especially to simplify the Ministerial machinery and administration.
I am sure the Committee will agree that the speech of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) gives justification to the work of the Central Office of Information, especially as it comes from the cross-benches. We on the Government Benches feel that the charge of the Opposition, which we thought was going to be a charge of the heavy brigade, has become very much the charge of the light brigade; in fact, a very light brigade. Beyond bringing in a number of details about little mistakes, which of course are made in any big organisation such as this, the main work of the Central Office of Information stands absolutely unchallenged.
The Debate has revealed that the Opposition are afraid of the very objective work which is done by the Central Office of Information because, very largely, it makes nonsense of the kind of propaganda which the Central Conservative office turns out. To some extent our attitude towards the C.O.I. is a test of our ability as a free democracy to run our system in the modern world. Society is now so complex and industry so intricate that it is all the more necessary that the Government should take the public into their confidence. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) admitted that fact in his speech. I thought he began extremely well, and I only regret that he did not continue on the same high level. He said that one cannot do the same things now as one could do in Victorian times when society was so very different. In an educated democracy like ours, people must have the news explained to them and their co-operation must be sought.
Even in totalitarian States, governments to some extent try to get the public into their confidence. Russian newspapers are full of explanations of why the Russian people ought to do this, that and the other. The only difference, of course, is that in Russia the people have no answer, whereas the whole point in rebutting the suggestion that we are moving towards a totalitarian State in having State publicity is that we have a safety valve in the form of a free Press and a free Parliament to counteract or criticise any actions of the Central Office of Information.
May I divert to the work of the Central Office abroad? It appears from what has been said in the Debate hitherto that a considerable sum of money in this Estimate goes to that purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) suggested that the Central Office of Information ought to have the full control of all publicity abroad. I do not agree with him. It is very much better that it should remain under the Foreign Office. When I have been abroad, particularly in the Middle East, I have seen what excellent work is done by our public relation officers there, assisted by the work of the Central Office of Information, in supplying articles and information. Control ought to rest with the Foreign Office, however, the embassies know the facts, and they are the best judges of policy. Therefore they ought to have control.
A justification for the Central Office of Information and its work is that when the war ended the Government had a very distasteful task in putting unpalatable facts before the public. That is the best answer to hon. Members opposite who complain about party propaganda in this work. Very much of the work of the Central Office of Information consists in putting out the very opposite of party propaganda, very unpleasant facts about the situation, which the Government want the nation to understand. No doubt some of the reasons why the Central Office of Information have been in disfavour in some quarters, and why the general public, even, do not think so well of that organisation as they might is that the Central Office of Information are tellers of bad tidings. Was it Macbeth who said to an ambassador of bad news—in very unparliamentary language—
The devil damn thee black, thou cream-fac'd loon"?
That explains why the Central Office of Information is not quite so popular a body as it might otherwise be.
The Central Office of Information have had to push the export drive, in recent months. For that purpose they have had to co-ordinate the activities of various Government Departments. That again is a justification for having an office to co-ordinate the work of Departments which, by themselves, could not deal with problems of this kind. We must remember that the Board of Trade have to put the idea of increased production across in the factories. They have to tell the people why textiles, pottery and other industries must produce more and why recruiting must be accelerated in order to bring in extra workers. That aspect of the matter brings in the Ministry of Labour. In agriculture, there is pressure to get more food produced on our farms, and that involves recruitment of more agricultural labour, increasing the Women's Land Army, and creating holiday camps. Those matters bring in other Departments. Co-ordination of the work of Departments through the C.O.I. is obviously the only way in which this problem can be tackled.
No big industrial concern is without its publicity department to explain what the concern is doing. That is true also of Government concerns which have complex industrial problems to handle. Some hon. Members opposite have objected to the lecture and cinema work which the Central Office of Information does. From the experience I have had of this work I say that the mere fact that the exhibitions were well attended is the best justification for them. In regard to the Crown Film Unit and the work of other sections dealing with films, I think that not enough is being done in that respect. There are, of course, private film organisations doing part of the work, but the educational and documentary work is something with which the Crown Film Unit can push on.
In the Middle East during the last two years I did not see enough of British films. Why cannot we see such films out there as the one on the coal industry? It is vital to our prestige abroad that the public there be informed about us. I have had to be continually trying to explain to Arabs, Turks and Persians, and wherever I have been, the real situation here. The issue of one or two good documentaries by the Departments and by the Central Office of Information would go a very long way towards making our situation clear to people abroad. I would like the Minister who replies to deal with this point, and to say whether more can be done in that direction than is now being done. Another point made in, the Debate has been that the Central Office of Information are undermining Ministerial responsibility. The answer is that we must have a body to co-ordinate the activities of the Departments. Ministers are responsible to the House and can be questioned. I do not see why the two things should not go together. The Government could have a means of expression through the Central Office of Information, at the same time as being subject to pressure in the House.
There is no danger of our moving towards totalitarian conditions by having this important office. I see a much greater danger to a free democracy when its Government does not inform public opinion of what the Government is doing and what it has to do, and only has a private Press to rely upon, which is to a large extent hostile. In the fact that the Central Office of Information provides just the corrective which is required is to be found the fullest justification for its existence.
I beg the Committee to forgive me if my remarks seem a little disjointed. I shall make them rather in the accidental order of my notes on earlier speeches than in any logical sequence.
I should like to begin by saying a word about films. I was astonished at the speech of the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price), who appeared to think that our situation in the Near East can be put right by a few documentary films. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I said that he appeared to think so. [HON. MEMBERS: "No. Improved."] Very well, let us say "improved." I think that is a completely mistaken notion of the relation between character and prestige and between prestige and propaganda. Since pills were recommended for earthquakes there has hardly been a more patently futile prescription than that a few documentary films sent out to the Near East now could possibly do any perceptible good. There are situations in which there might conceivably be some such slight effect, but the situation in the Near East is certainly not one of them. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean said that nobody yet had appeared to object to the principle of the present Central Office of Information. I do not suppose that matters, but I wanted it to be clear that I do object as a matter of principle to the C.O.I. as I think it is.
My first connection with propaganda was in 1918 when I was responsible for advising the Army Council about Germany and what was going on in Germany. All that I saw then arid all that I have seen since has led me to believe propaganda a tool unworthy of a great State. Far more often than not it does more harm than good. Invariably it muddies the next stage in our development. There is in propaganda at any one stage something which is always misleading in the succeeding stage, and which often does far more harm than good. To announce the need for propaganda is a confession that the character of the State as such is not sufficient to carry its weight in world affairs. I believe that propaganda almost always does more harm than good.
There are one or two things which I have to say about films. It is hard on speakers from this side that whenever they mention individual films or posters they have been said to have been niggling about small matters of no great importance; whereas if specific instances have not been given, it has been said that all the objections are half-hearted and generalising. [An HON. MEMBER: "How true."] If it is said that both these lines of argument are to be cut off, there can be no argument by way of criticism at all. And when hon. Members opposite say, as three at least have said, to the applause of their friends that, of course everyone on this side of the Committee hates the C.O.I., because everyone on this side of the Committee knows that every fact, that every piece of truth issued, is helpful to their party and damaging to ours. Hon. Gentlemen who permit themselves to say that, or for party purposes to applaud that sort of thing, clearly show how almost impossible it is to preserve any capacity for intellectual criticism once a system of propaganda is adopted.
I want to refer to one or two particular films and posters. For instance, in a film called "Ours is the Glen," so far as I can make out the only fact that it could be said to be teaching the public which it might be supposed the public do not already know, was that the first step towards taking an active part in municipal politics was to get seven ratepayers to sign a nomination. Otherwise, there was a handsome hero with whom the local schoolmistress fell in love and whose slogan had a curious similarity to the slogan of the party opposite. It was verbally almost identical.[HON. MEMBERS: "What was it?"] "Andrews gets things done." I do not know whether that was tendentious or not. It requires no extreme malignancy on the part of the spectator to suspect that there may be a tendentious intention concealed there.
There has been mention of a poster in which the First Lord of the Treasury besought us to do a) per cent. more. I thought the heaviest charge against it was not launched. It is no use saying that is any small niggling mistake—[ Interruption..]—it is no use saying, as has been said from the opposite side about these instances, that it is a small mistake made by some minor civil servant and that it ought to be the Tory tradition not to criticise civil servants. One thing which one would think might be known to the Prime Minister of the island of Britain is that however much effort anyone makes, that does not turn+ tides. One thing that one cannot: do to tides is to turn them by any amount of effort more or less. It was a very fallacious piece of propaganda. I think that in this connection there is a proper place for pedantry, but I assure hon. Members opposite that they are not listening only to pedantry. The argument that I am making is not merely the pedantic argument. If hon. Members opposite have really followed any propaganda line very carefully they may know that one of the worst faults of all is misuse of technical language. In this island there are many technicians who have seen the sea and know that it goes in and out, who will say with indignant contempt: "Here we have the most important person in England telling us to make efforts to turn the tide." If one person in a hundred has that reaction it is doing more harm to your object than all the good that it is likely to do to the other ninety-nine by exhorting them in this very inefficient way.
Another poster, hateful for another reason, a classical example of hideous drawing, is the thing about the road code. A little brown and black code book drawn into a little man. I have often thought that it would be much better if we spent half what we do spend on art education and the other half on buying pictures and drawings, even if a year afterwards we decided that most of them were rubbish and better burnt. It really is odiously paradoxical to spend all the money we do on art education, and all the money that we do, and all the priggish outpourings of eloquence, on public taste, and art appreciation and all that, and then that we should be taxed in order that the Government can pay this sort of facetious drear-eyed draughtsman who thinks that by drawing ugly he can easily succeed in being funny.
The name of the film, "The World is Rich"—I do not know how far the Council is responsible for that, but I think wholly—is really hopelessly dishonest and tendentious, and I should have thought out of step and fashion even for the propaganda policy of the hon. Gentleman's party opposite. That was the nonsense talked in the 1930's about poverty in the midst of plenty, and the world full of enough for everyone if only we could push the bankers or somebody off it. I did not think that anyone believes that nonsense now. I should have thought that to have called by that name a Government-sponsored film now, unless it were in some spasm of very bitter irony, was quite unforgiveable.
We have had speaker after speaker who have said that our situation was ever so much more complex than it used to be in the time of their fathers. I do not ask hon. Gentlemen to believe that I understand the 2oth century any better than they do, nor very much better the 19th, the 18th or 17th century, or any other. I ask them to believe that it has been my professional business to give more attention to the earlier centuries than it has been the professional business of anyone else here. [ Interruption.] I think that is true. There may be others, but I think I am the only lifelong historian; I am not saying that I am a good one or a bad one. I am only giving my small qualifications for the next thing that I am about to say: the past looks easy only because it is not here, and because, comparatively speaking, we do not know anything about it. Our grandfather's problems look simple to us because our grandfather is dead and we know very little about him, or them.
This notion that things are infinitely more complex now than they used to be is an illusion. Further, I believe—and I admit this is more dubious and debatable—that if most of the best economists were cross-examined, it would be found that there is a weight of opinion for this proposition: that really the complications of economics were, so to speak, the luxuries of a fortunate epoch, which the 19th century was compared to its predecessors—and, Heaven knows may prove to be compared to its successors—and that it is the simplicities of economics which we now have to get back to, not the complexities.
This, at any rate, I am sure about, that it is not and cannot be the business of an administrative, a Civil Service, organisation to teach economics—and economics in connection with immediate facts—to the British public. That has been the main case put up from the other side, from the Lord President and many of his supporters. I say that must be a mistake. It must be the responsibility of Ministers. And, what is more, Ministers are qualified to do it much better. It is all very well to say, "We had to have somebody and we could not think of anybody better than these more or less eminent, and more or less permanent, and more or less conventional, civil servants to persuade the British people that exports were necessary if they wanted to fill their bellies." What is the good of saying that?
How far more effective would those persuasions have been had they come from gentlemen like the present Minister of Health or the Secretary of State for War? It is always more impressive when people come before one and say, " Mea maxima culpa. I have made a great mistake. I have been quite wrong. I see it now." People who begin like that are all the more likely to get their audiences on their side. And what a strong position many right hon. Gentlemen opposite are in for beginning like that. All those who used to tell us that exporting was a Tory ramp, and how this old mousetrap would be fetched out again to fool us as soon as the war was over—those are the chaps who could have put across the necessity for exports; those are the chaps who are great at propaganda. In the middle of the war the present Minister of Health was telling us—I have forgotten apropos what, but it was when he sat more or less where I sit now—that if the Government did not do what he wanted them to do, he would stump the minefields and have all the miners out. That was in the middle of the crisis of war. I do not know whether he could have done it; but I assume that if he could not have, he would not have said so; and 'now lately perhaps he might have got them or some other producers, to get more for export.
How much has the Central Office of Information done about persuading the textile workers of Lancashire to work longer hours? I believe there has been a propaganda effort in that direction. What has been its effect? I am not in the least criticising the textile workers of Lancashire; nor am I at all convinced whether or not it is right to ask them to work for longer hours, because I think the assumption that if there is so much production in five hours, then production will be twice as much in 10 hours, is not always a correct assumption. But recently there has been, I believe, a great deal of propaganda, most of it by the Central Office of Information to that end in South Lancashire. Can we have some sort of indication how much effect that kind of propaganda has had?
I come to the Lord President's remarks on the constitution of this thing. Incidentally, I thought he was very unfair to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), when he talked about his flippancy with regard to road accidents.
And if he does not mind not shaking his head, if he can keep it still for long enough to listen to the next two or three sentences, I will try to convince him that he is wrong. If he would read De Quincey's essay on "Murder Considered As A Fine Art"—perhaps I should say if he will read it again, because I feel quite sure that a man of his education has already read it—if he will read it again, as I did last night by a curious coincidence, he will there find the distinction very well made about being flippant about murder and being flippant about the art of murder. It really was not fair to suggest that my right hon. Friend was flippant about the appalling tragedy of road accidents. I am quite sure that-every hon. Member is very conscious of that tragedy.
What I wanted especially to refer to in the Lord President's speech was his description of what he called the "set-up" of this institution. It is not a Ministry; it is not a Department; I do not know what it is quite: an institution anyway. It must be admitted, even after his explanation, that it was not very simple to understand what it is. I did not understand his argument that what might be called the board of directors, the governing organ of it, was in some sense a Cabinet committee. It did not appear from the rest of what he said that it was a Cabinet committee in any sense such as had previously been familiar to me. On the other hand, the assumption that it was a Cabinet committee was his argument for not answering any of the questions which were put to him. He likened it especially to the Stationery Office. He was rather pleased with that analogy, and repeated it to us several times. His argument was that just as we have the Stationery Office because it would be very wasteful for each office to procure its own stationery, pens, and all the rest of it, so this institution is there to provide the service by way of printing, films, or whatever it is that any or all of the Departments may require. I think I am repeating him quite fairly.
The question I wish to put is this: does this institution have no more influence upon what is put in the newspapers, on to the posters, or into the films than the Stationery Office has upon what is put into the envelopes it supplies, or even what is put into the books which it prints? If that is so, I can see the analogy very clearly. But if not, then I take leave to say that that analogy, however well intended, was misleading. It is precisely the point at which propaganda and policy impinge upon each other, at which one decides one's policy, partly for the sake of its propaganda value; or agrees which way round the propaganda is directed, in order to keep open this or that possibility of policy for next day or next week —and I have been very familiar with the way those two sorts of considerations react sometimes—that is precisely the point we, or at any rate I want to know about. Is that bit really done by a Cabinet Committee, using that phrase in the ordinary sense in which the ordinary man would understand it? If so, which? —because we were told that the two committees which it had been thought were the two main committees are now no longer two committees, but only one. They are not—at least in the ordinary sense of the words understanding—a Cabinet committee. If it is now one committee, and that a Cabinet committee, which decides the questions I have indicated, I should like to be told. If it is not, I should like to be told how the thing is done.
I have nothing else very much to say, except that I am glad to see that the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan) has returned, because I wanted to make one slight comment on his speech. He gave us evidence about various subjects ranging from Leicester all the way to Athens, and even Sparta. The only thing upon which he could give us any direct evidence was his own speeches in his constituency. The evidence he gave us was that his speeches were extremely agreeable, and very useful. That I am well prepared to believe. But the evidence he gave us about Greece had not that direct value; incidentally, I thought he was a little less than generous, and that he might have reminded the House of what no doubt all the lawyers in the House know—though perhaps not all the others—that the laws of evidence —which he did not think worked very well in Greece, and especially the rules. against hearsay evidence—are among the "palladia"—if such a word be possible —of British liberty, which we owe to the Star Chamber via the, in some respects, excellent Tory, Bloody Jeffreys. I thought we might perhaps have been told that.
But could one imagine a more hopeless example of what the Central Office of Information ought to do than that suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman? According to him the people are muddled because they know this or that about Greece but do not know all that he knows about it. Therefore, he thought that the Central Office ought to have more money and ought to tell the Burgesses of Leicester the things about Greece for which at present they have to rely upon their Member. Nothing would be more unsuitable for the Central Office of Information. That is, almost above all, the sort of thing which comes within a Minister's duty and business. If this is a Government duty it should be done by Ministers, who can explain the facts to the people of England, of course not all of them directly—they could not buttonhole every housewife in Leicester for example, but Ministers have great national publicity. They have at their disposal the House of Commons and the public platform.
This job is the business of Ministers, not of Civil Servants or any kind of Departmental committee, however superior they may be in origin and previous education. It cannot be their business to come as far as that must mean into the controversial field, to try to tell the people of Leicester exactly what is happening in Greece, and how and why. It is precisely because this kind of propaganda is of that wedge-like tendency that everybody is apt to say, "Give them an extra £100,000 and let them do the sort of propaganda I like, and call it dissemination of fact."
It is not really very difficult to see what is the proper distinction. It is like the sort of distinction which the Chair continually makes for the benefit of all of us. It is fair to say that there is a certain sort of fact which it is right enough to issue from that level—dates on which we must get' our new ration books, the date on which we have to find out where the new health centre would be if there was a health centre, or particular matters of fact and statistics, facts about things which everybody admits should be publicly known. There are immense numbers of statistics and a good many things about which it is generally agreed everybody should know. There should be no objection to their being disseminated from an official level.
When matters arise which affect policy, or which are the results of policy, matters upon which electors are likely to judge whether they desire to see His Majesty's Government continue, formed by this or that or some other party—the moment those things become issues they are surely the concern of a Minister. He ought to have the capacity to do it. Any wedge-like tendency for anybody or any set of people other than Ministers to do that kind of work is to be deplored as expensive, inefficient, and dangerous to our liberties
The hon. Member the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said that in the House of Commons we always pay respect to experts in their own field, whether they be lawyers or historians like himself. I hope he will pay some respect next time he hears an hon. Member on this side assuring him from hitter personal experience that the legend of "Poverty in the midst of plenty" in the 1930's was not the nonsense that the hon. Gentleman supposed it to be.
I did not think poverty was nonsense. I am familiar with that. What I thought was nonsense was the assumption that there was plenty of plenty if only people could get at it.
Poverty in the midst of plenty was a familiar phenomenon of the top's. It was a disgrace to this country and to the Government then in power. Everybody knows what was meant by the phrase, which the hon. Member chose to deride. He began his speech with a familiar old dialectical trick—putting up a dummy and knocking it down—by saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price) had "appeared to think" something preposterous, which he had not appeared to any of the rest of us to think, and then pointing out how preposterous such a thought would be.
He went on to say that, unlike the Conservative Party officially, he does object in principle to the institution of the Central Office of Information. Indeed, he appeared to deprecate the use of propaganda by any official organ of information at all, omitting to mention that propaganda of one kind or another is always around us, and that most of the great commercial organs of every kind of propaganda are constantly making propaganda against the purposes and the performance of the Government. Therefore, it would seem at least fair that the Government should have one tiny, modest means of stating factually what the position is and what has been done.
I agree with the hon. Member in preferring a precise use of the English language. I dislike clichés such as the one he chose to refer to, although anyone who searched the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations would probably find that some quite respectable poets had used such a phrase as, "The turn of the tide."
The hon. Member was overstating the case when he accused hon. Members on this side of unfairly accusing the Opposition of concentrating on these "niggling" points. That is the kind of thing he himself did. A fair criticism of most of the Opposition speeches this afternoon is that they concentrated on points such as that ridiculous German phrase—one phrase, which might have been the result of a mistake of somebody in the office—and completely ignored the great broad issues on which they were challenged, from the same publications, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce).
I agree also with the hon. Member when he says that it is primarily the business of Ministers to issue information on behalf of the Government and preferably in this House. That is perfectly true, but not every worker, every cottager, every middle class person reads HANSARD; and newspaper reports of proceedings in Parliament and of Ministerial statements, both in the House of Commons and in the country, are, to say the least, highly selective and dubious. Surely it is precisely part of the job of the Central Office of Information to give, in easily understood and digestible form, the essence of the long, complicated statements that Ministers often have to make in Parliament. I cannot see any objection to that, or that it in any way infringes Ministerial prerogatives or duties.
It is evident from this Debate that one job in which the C.O.I. has failed lamentably is that of educating and informing hon. Members of the Opposition in this House. The hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) read a good deal from various official publications. I hope he will continue studying them more and more diligently. He may gradually learn some of the facts of modern life. He might learn that convertibility was not as he seems to think, a rash caprice of the last Chancellor of the Exchequer, but a condition imposed on us by the terms of the American Loan, about which, incidentally, the Leader of the Opposition said at the time that our experts had undoubtedly made the best bargain they could. He would learn that the Reid Report was not published by Transport House.
I think, too, that when he has studied and thought, to the best of his capacity, a little more deeply, he will agree with us that nationalisation of the mines is now one of those great settled issues of national policy which can properly be dealt with by the Central Office of Information. Certainly it is—for not only has it been passed by Parliament and been in operation for a year or more, but it has also now been adopted by the Party opposite; so no one can complain if the Central Office of Information put out information showing the progress which is being made in recruiting, in production, or whatever it may be, in the coalmines.
The hon. Member was wrong, incidentally, about the Royal Commission on the Press. He seemed to think that it was the Commission's job to investigate the whole business of propaganda and publicity, by any medium, and monopoly therein. What the Commission is doing is investigating monopolistic tendencies in the newspaper and periodical Press. It would no doubt be competent for the Royal Commission to investigate the finance and control of the magazine "Coal." I hope they will do so, because they will probably find that it is admirably run and a model of what such a magazine should be.
Another of these great settled issues of national policy with which the Central Office of Information can properly deal is, of course, the National Health Service. Almost all the controversy about that is now over. I hope that there is no Member opposite who would dare to say other than that 5th July will be a proud day for this country? I do not think that one of them would dare to deny that in this House or in the country. If that be so, obviously it will be perfectly proper for the Central Office to issue all kinds of materials on how the National Health Service is progressing, when it comes into operation.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter)—I am sorry that I have not given these hon. Members notice that I was going to refer to their speeches; but one does not always know when one is to be called—quoted with some agitation and alarm the instance, I think, of a Labour Party propagandist's briefing conference at which the material supplied included three party pamphlets and about ten or a dozen White Papers, or something like that.
The hon. Member is very naturally confused. He used the expression "Labour Party propagandist's briefing conference," and I can well understand him being confused about what actually happened. It was supposed to be a C.O.I. conference.
I am sorry; I did not hear that part of the hon. Member's speech. I happened to come in when he was just reaching that point. In any case, I do not understand the revelance of the point, because it would be quite proper to use not only White Papers at such a conference but also a number of pamphlets published by the Labour or any other parties or publishers. Personally, in any propaganda effort I may have tried to encompass, I have always found Government publications, official publications, White Papers and so on, extremely useful. For instance, the one I use most frequently—I hope hon. Members opposite will have no objection to its publication because it can be made use of by Labour Party propagandists—is the monthly Housing Return. I understand that it is the contention of hon. Members opposite that the Government's housing programme is a failure, so presumably they ought to be glad that we should publish and use that Return. As I think that it is a very remarkable and substantial achievement, I find that purely factual and statistical account of what is being done, month by month, of immense value.
He also seemed to imply—although I do not think he meant this in quite so exaggerated a way as I may be stating it —that no issue which is controversial is properly the subject of public information. For instance, he cited a case in which there was a substantial minority of people who disagreed passionately on moral grounds with some policy that was made the subject of public information. Surely there are many great issues about which a minority of people in this country feel strongly? For instance, there is war. There is quite a substantial minority in this House of pacifists, people totally opposed to war, but I do not think it has been suggested that the Central Office, or whoever issues the posters, should not put out information about recruiting, and appeal to people to volunteer. Another example cited—I think by the hon. Member for North Croydon (Mr. F. Harris)—was the diphtheria immunisation campaign. There has been quite a lot of controversy and criticism about that from a minority. Yet the hon. Member said that it was clearly the sort of thing which should and ought to be done by the Government.
I am afraid that, on the whole, the criticism from the Opposition has been, as we have said, throughout the Debate deplorably niggling and petty. The tone was set from the first by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley in a speech w lich, I really thought, was far below his normal level. It was more reminiscent of a fourth-form debating society. It was full of a patronising distaste for 'he dreadful times we are living in; he bemoaned these "common" advertisements, this "crude and amateur" publicity. What had really irritated him, I. think, was that it is not amateur; it is done rather more professionally than it used to be The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, the perfect archetypal amateur of life and politics—the perfect hangover from the Edwardian era. He and other Members who followed him complained that all the facts were emphasised which were favourable to the Government, in this official Government Information. If that be so, and I do not admit that it is so, it after all only very slightly offsets the tremendous preponderance the other way in the big-circulation newspapers. He said that no doubt the Minister of Food needed a lot of explaining; this may again be because, of all Ministers, he has been subjected to the most innuendo, misrepresentation, and downright lies in the headlines and in the substance of the articles in some of the Opposition newspapers.
I think that the Central Office can be fairly content if the worst the Opposition can drag up against them are the sneers at slogans and colloquial phrases which always sound excruciatingly funny when retailed in the solemn atmosphere of a Parliamentary Debating Chamber. If we on this side were to condemn private enterprise on the basis of quoting isolated scraps. slogans, jokes, phrases, and promises from advertisements—or even from publishers' blurbs—I think that we could have just as much fun as the right hon. Gentleman had today with the Central Office; but we really would not have put up a very solid argument.
I thought his criticism of the V.D. posters somewhat anti-social. I recalled that that extremely useful campaign, with posters and all, was first developed and made widespread when there was a Conservative Minister of Information and a Conservative Minister of Health. But that by the way. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Lord President said about the right hon. Gentleman's sneer at the road safety campaign. It would, of course, be unfair to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman wants a lot more children killed on the roads; we know he does not, of course not; but that is the sort of level to which the Debate has largely descended as a result of the lead which he gave in his opening speech. That is the sort of cheap debating level to which we have fallen.
I will not detain the Committee for more than two or three minutes longer. I want to make one specific proposal, and one general reflection. The specific, limited proposal is this: that the Central Office of Information ought to do far more than, so far as I know, it has done already to make known in this country something of what is going on—the great new developments and changes—in the Colonial territories, something of what has been done already by this Government to make the British Empire at last something to begin to be proud of, instead of something to be largely ashamed of. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I said "largely." This morning there was a disgraceful article, in my view, in a daily newspaper, the "Daily Worker"—a grossly ignorant or grossly dishonest article—about the great and hopeful, but difficult, groundnuts scheme in East Africa. I am very glad that Members opposite no longer jeer and sneer, as they once did, at that very hopeful scheme, which will do so much 'to raise the standard of living of the peoples of East Africa as well as increasing the total food supply of the world. Since a national daily newspaper, however bigoted against the Government, can print, as facts, statements which are totally inaccurate, I feel that the Central Office of Information ought to be doing more than it is to make known in England the tremendous benefits that the rule of this Government is bringing to the British Empire overseas.
I end by saying this: I think the Lord President has made an absolutely cast-iron case for saying that the Central Office has not intruded party propaganda at all into official information. Indeed, I sometimes feel that it is almost too impeccable, that 'it is almost a little too diffident, and that the Lord President leans almost too far backward in his determination not to allow party propaganda to rear its ugly head—to coin a phrase. I realise the dangers he is determined to guard against; I realise that if, by some ludicrous mischance, there were ever a Tory Government again in this country, it would be unfortunate to leave them with an organ of propaganda which had been used for party purposes. But they have, after all, as I have already mentioned, the bulk of the Press on their side, so perhaps they would not need it.
I see the dangers; but I am not sure that those dangers are not outweighed by the danger that, during these few critical years, tile people of this country will not be sufficiently informed and inspired. It is difficult for propaganda put out by the Central Office of Information really to inspire people, since it is inhibited from reminding them specifically, in so many words, that this is a Socialist Government. [ Laughter.] No, I am not giving any loophole at all; I realise exactly the loophole which hon. Members opposite think they see, but they do not in fact see it at all. It is not there. I have said that the case is absolutely cast-iron, that the Central Office is impeccable, that they always keep right on this side of the fence—of allowing no party propaganda to creep in at all. That is why it is more difficult to get an enthusiastic response from the people of this country than we should get in other circumstances. I am sure that the Lord President of the Council is right in pursuing this policy; but we on this side of the Committee must do all that we can, in our Party propaganda, to supplement the official information. We ought not to be ashamed to remind the people that the positive achievements and benefits of the last three years are primarily due to the steps that this Government have taken in the direction of Socialism.
In the few minutes before nine o'clock, I want to make one point. I must apologise to the Lord President of the Council for not being present when he was speaking, but I was having a minor operation and could not be here. The point I want to make is that all the wrong reasons for the Central Office of Information have been given by Government speakers today. I have been staggered at the speeches made by the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan), the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) and the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). Implicit behind the whole of the arguments was that a very important change was going on in this country, and it was important that the people here and abroad should know about it. But supposing they do not agree with the change?
This Department is a hang-over from the war when all of us, or the overwhelming majority were in agreement. I agree with the hon. Member for Maldon that there is always a minority, but broadly speaking, the whole of this country was united during the war. In my constituency of Kilmarnock, every Sunday night for four years I had meetings of 1,200 to 1,500 people. It was a grand, thing and often the people were inspired. But in peace the people are riot going to be inspired by Government-sponsored speakers. I am altogether opposed to the whole of the domestic speaking arrangements in this country on behalf of the Central Office of Information. It is absolutely scandalous that this is still going on. I want to make it clear that in my opinion there would be an even worse impression if there were another Government in power. It is not a question of party politics. We have had too much of party politics here today.
Suppose a Conservative Government get into power and they have these creative civil servants, what is the position? Where lies freedom under these present conditions? It is exactly what is happening on the Continent. [ Interruption.] It is no use hon. Members opposite denying it and particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland after the speech which he delivered on the Second Reading of the Representa- tion of the People Bill. In country after country, I have seen step by step the emergence of two key Ministries—one for Information and the other the Ministry of the Interior.
If hon. Members opposite had explained their true feelings we should know where they are. If they had said as good Marxists "The capitalist Press are against us and we are in power; we want the best possible technicians to put across our case," I should have known where hon. Members stand. The Under-Secretary who is to reply will no doubt say we must be objective about these matters. I want to dissociate myself from the speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite; but I also want to say that I support that portion of the expenditure which is devoted to overseas services. It is doing a first class job though the organisation in my opinion is quite wrong. It is fantastic that when one is in Norway, as I was recently, one goes into one. British office to make arrangements for a political speech and into another British office—that of the British Council—to get the arrangements for a cultural speech. What are the people of Norway saying? They say, "We want controversy. We want to hear about the great issues which are at stake in your country. We do not draw this fine line." It is excellent that the overseas expenditure is included in this Vote; we need a first-class technical production unit for this purpose.
The analogy of Montgomery's Army used by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), is a very dangerous one. Montgomery's men were all told what the plan was. Is that the way to treat the independent citizens of Britain? Are they to be told what the plan is to solve our difficult and subtle economic problems? Speeches here today have been even more dangerous in their attacks on individual liberty than any I have ever heard, and I have a great deal of support for some of the things which the Government are doing. If any Bills have been agreed in their larger sense, our Insurance Bills have, but even here controversy enters. The Government must talk about existing and proposed legislation and not ancient legislation. If a Conservative Government came into power they would focus its propaganda on the legislation which they were going to put through. That is inherent in a domestic propaganda service. I cannot finish my speech because I have promised to give way to the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). My final sentence is: For Heaven's sake abolish this ridiculous speaking programme in this country because it is a waste of money and it is a disgrace to continue Government-sponsored speakers after the war.
It is with the greatest reluctance that I have to cut short the speech of the Senior Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay), because it seemed to me that in a few trenchant words he brought back the subject matter of this Debate to a reality which it had lacked for some time. I should like to point out that in his speech the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) pirouetted for three important moments away from his tendentious pinpricks against the Opposition into three essential verities.
I will remind him of the three important verities to which he gave tongue. First, he said that the Central Office of Information should be used by the Government as a reply to those who opposed it. Secondly, he developed that by saying that it should specially be used as a reply to the Opposition Press. His third verity, which truly sets out the state of his mind and the state of mind of so many of his colleagues, was that it should be used as an instrument to show the benefits of the Government. The hon. Gentleman exactly deployed and delimited the matters against which we are complaining. He stated, with the clarity and wealth of phrase which he always uses, the beginnings of the approach of the one-party State—get into office, and use the public funds to repel attacks upon you. He said it three times. I am very glad that he had the courage to come out into the open and let us know where we are.
I am glad that I gave way, because the hon. Gentleman has confirmed my proposition, and when he reads HANSARD he will see that the three points I made are absolutely accurate and are within the recollection of the Committee. He does not stand alone. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) put it slightly differently but to the same effect. He said, "This Government is making a great social experiment, and the C.O.I. should serve this experiment." So there is no doubt that the very skilful attempt of the Lord President of the Council to get away from that position does not represent the atti- tude of his party, and the general undercurrent of the speeches has been that which I have quoted from those two hon. Members.
I make no apology for asking this Committee to consider a practical aspect of this matter which hon. Gentlemen opposite, of course, dismiss; not one of them, except the Lord President, has mentioned it in the course of our Debate. That is the matter of expense and the value that we are getting for it. As my hon. Friend reminded us, this is an inheritance from a war-time Ministry, the Ministry of Information, and the then Minister of Information, Mr. Williams, on 11th October, 1946, told this House that the expenditure of the Ministry was £5,000,000, and its staff 2,310. The figure for this institute—because we cannot call it a Department—for 1947–48 was £4,500,000, and its staff was 1,946. It is quite obvious that there is no—
The estimated figure of staff has gone up by seven. I think I am right, and I think the figure was right for last year. That shows that there is no attempt to finish with the wartime machinery. As the Under-Secretary knows, there has been a fall and a rise, and it is quite obvious that is going to be built up. Let me take the net figure of last year, having allowed for the appropriations in aid, which brings us to just over £3,500,000, and let me remind the Committee of the kind of results we are getting for our money. Press advertising, £850,000; publications, £265,000; poster advertising, £800,000; films, £849,000, and exhibitions, £300,000. There are a number of other items, but I have picked out the biggest items. The total is just under £3,500,000. To get that amount of publicity, the expenditure was just over £1 million. In other words, the percentage of costs to results was 3o per cent. I see the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) is present, and I notice he is following my figures with his usual courtesy and attention. They are very striking figures, because everyone knows that in an ordinary advertising business if it is doing publicity it will be done for 12½ per cent., with an occasional special fee for certain work. Making all allowances, there is au enormous discrepancy there.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary not to misunderstand me as the Lord President misunderstood my right hon. Friend, and not to think that I am trying to go behind the Ministerial facade to attack the civil servants. Nothing is further from my mind. I much more' greatly enjoy attacking Ministers, as I think hon. Members opposite will agree. I remind the Committee of a very old story. I would ask the civil servants to make the same reply as Charles II made to Lord Rochester. Lord Rochester said that the king never said a foolish thing and never did a wise one. Charles II very naturally replied, "That is absolutely true, because my words are my own, and my acts are my Ministers'." In this case the civil servants can say with equal propriety that both the acts and words for which they are responsible are the true responsibility of the Ministers, and on that basis I approach them.
I would like the Under-Secretary to tell us about films. What is the position in regard to documentary film units? There has been great criticism about the production of documentary, films. This is the only place where we can get it investigated. Is it true as has so often been said in public, and not hitherto denied, that it takes five or six times as long to get a documentary film made now as it did during the war, and sometimes there is as much as 18 months' delay? Will the Under-Secretary tell us the position in regard to "The Cumberland Story"? According to what is published it cost £50,000. I know that costs have gone up, but when one remembers that the French studios made " Pépe le Moko," one of the greatest emotional films of the decade before the war, for £20,000, £50,000 for this sort of film requires investigation. Is it true that up to the end of 1947 there was no Press showing and no publicity for "The Cumberland Story," and what has happened since to it?
Let me instance a film which my hon. Friend the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) mentioned, "The World is Rich." If my information is correct, that was shown in Geneva last August and in Edinburgh in September, Again, for a long time there was no attempt to get publicity for it.
I am speaking about two films; we should like to know what has happened to them. These are matters which have not been explained.
If I may pass to another matter, this institution has taken far too much on itself from two points of view, both from the point of view of getting results from the money which has been spent and from the political point of view, which I will develop in a moment. Dealing with results, I would refer to exhibitions. I understand that this body has gone into the business itself. Is the criticism true which was made of "The Miner Comes to Town" that plastic sheeting was used for the transparent cover on the machinery when everyone should have known that it was such a dust collector as to become barely translucent, and so nearly opaque as to hide the motor which was there to be displayed? I am not putting points which have not been made public, but points which are well-known. These are well-known criticisms which have been before the public for a period of at least four or five months. There, again, delays and duplications which have taken place have made it extremely doubtful whether this way of dealing with the matter is really one which gets results.
I must pass quickly to another aspect, because I want to leave the hon. Gentleman his full share of time to reply. I accept—I think the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) questioned mg on this point—the principles with regard to the Government information service as enunciated by my right hon. Friend. I understood that they were the principles which the Government accepted when this setup came into being. The first is that each Minister shall be responsible for the information policy of his own Department with the aid of a small but highly-trained information staff. The second is that there shall be adequate machinery for the coordination of both home and overseas Information Services so as to ensure consistency of policy and presentation. The third is that there shall be a central Government agency to carry out on behalf of Departments most of the common technical and production functions.
We accepted these principles. We think they are wise. Departments are obviously concerned with certain matters which they have to explain. There must be co-ordination, and so long as it is limited to the matter of a really common service we shall be quite prepared to consider it provided that it works. Now we come to the second principle, to which the Lord President gave general agreement. There is no reason why this matter should not be discussed because it has been public knowledge and has been the subject of public discussion for some time. Running this institution is a Ministerial Committee of which the right hon. Gentleman is the Chairman. He was good enough to tell me that it now deals with both home and overseas Information Services.
Here we have this extraordinary development with regard to the Official Committee. Namely, that we have what was the home Information Services Official Committee, the committee which deals, at any rate inter alia, with home information. I understand the chairman of that committee is the head of the C.O.I. We have now, interlocked with that, the Economic Information Committee which, though the nominal subcommittee of the old Official Committee, has as its chairman the gentleman from the Economic Information Unit. I am not going to mention names. I do not think that is desirable, if it can be avoided, but I do not think that any hon. Member will have any doubt about who I am mentioning. It is a well-known matter.
What we see in that set-up is a move towards the creation of a very different body from the original mere co-ordinating body that was contemplated. I ask the Committee to observe, in the striking phrase of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe), that this is where we have the beginning of the Goebbelsisation of a service. We have the changing from a co-ordinating matter, from the old idea that it would not have contacts with the home Press, into a process of forging an instrument and building up an organisation which aims at being complete in itself and technically capable of handling every aspect of propaganda—Press, posters, radio, films, exhibitions and other means of propaganda which may be available. That is going far beyond the two propositions which I accepted, and from which the Government started—namely, a co-ordinating committee and a common service which would provide certain necessities in the same way as the Stationery Office.
It has two inevitable effects which have shown themselves. It destroys the principle that each Minister is really responsible for the information policy of his own Department, because there is this intervening tertium quid. which is apparently on its own. It therefore attacks the assistance that can be given by outside bodies who have been very keen and try very hard to assist in this problem. May I give one example? The Advertising Association, at its conference in May, 1947, had, as the name of the conference, "Advertising, a Vital Stimulus to National Recovery." It was significant and typical of the effects of this swelling desire to improve the importance of the propaganda machine that the conference was summed up in an article in the trade Press as though everyone accepted that idea, everybody except those to whom the conference was primarily addressed—His Majesty's Government. That is the other aspect. Not only do we swell our own frog, but we drive away the other surrounding animals that might help.
The result, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to deal with it, is that instead of building up from the public relations staff of the various Departments, we have now got the reverse process of C.O.I. men being put back as Departmental public relations officers. That is what I am informed. The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong. If it is so, that is a reversal, showing that this is happening. In that sense, and in the action which I have seen, there is the possibility for a separate instrument doing the complete work of propaganda. My hon. Friends have given examples of the way in which it has been used. I can see the difficulty of the hon. Gentleman. Somebody raises a point and it is a question that one does not know whether it is a typical point. It is very difficult to attach importance to an individual point. I see that, but I want, if possible, to tackle the wider point. I ask the consideration of the Committee for the difficulty which I see.
By necessity, only one side of the picture is given. As the Lord President said, they do not want to give a picture which will reflect on their country, and it would be superhuman to get a Government which would reflect on themselves. There we are left with a difficulty. No hon. Gentleman has faced that difficulty and provided the answer except—may I say with complete fairness—the hon. Member for Maldon and the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), who have given the answer that this is a good weapon with which the Government can hit back. That is the difficulty. Anyone who, like myself, has listened to practically the whole of the Debate must recognise that that is factually true.
There is no answer to it, and we must therefore examine the point that they are trying to turn out to the people of this country propaganda stating in the most glowing terms all the good things of which they can think, and all the best aspects of everything in their lives. That is not a true picture. It cannot be a true picture. If hon. Gentlemen opposite say to me, "Well, you cannot bring in the shade; you cannot bring in difficulties into Government propaganda," I say that is a reason for stopping Government propaganda and leaving it to those who try to give an objective picture. Alternatively, if, as the hon. Member for Maldon said, no journalist can give a purely objective picture, then give, as he does in his column in "Reynold's News," a perfectly frank party picture which everyone reads as such. Let us know exactly where we are. When we get under the assumption of objectivity what is really only one side of the medal, then we are misleading the people of the country. I still believe, as I have said without any hesitation in the House and on public platforms, that the general result is that people in this country are not given true guidance as to the seriousness of the economic position until many months too late.
In the minute that remains to me, I want the House to consider that point and to allow me to sum up the case which I suggest is our attack on this matter. We say that the C.O.I. functions badly; it does not fit in with the original Governmental set up which was suggested to the House when the Ministry of Information was done away with; and it does not help the creative businesses or the artistic firms who have given great help in the past. Finally, it is one more tendency towards this extraordinary belief that if we have a monopolistic manifestation, so long as it has a connection with the Government, then it is free from fault. Of course, it is not. Inertia and inefficiency can come into any organisation whether it be private enterprise or Governmental, and, therefore, we must find some method of seeing that this matter is investigated. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that it is not within the terms of reference of the Press Commission, but what we must not allow ourselves to do, whatever our view —and I suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the more strongly they believe in nationalisation, the more strongly they should take this point— there must be some method of criticising, investigating and weighing up every Governmental operation until we are satisfied that we are getting the best. At a convenient time I shall move the reduction of the Vote, but I do not want to move it now because it might narrow the hon. Gentleman's speech.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) began with an attack on the views of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). I do not myself agree with the views that he expressed towards the end of his speech, but I think that it should be pointed out that he went to great trouble to explain that the things which he would like to see happening were not in fact happening. It is quite wrong and unfair to identify the views that he has expressed with the views of the party or the Government's national policy. There were one or two questions of fact which the right hon. Gentleman asked me about films. The film called "Cumberland Story" cost £50,000, has had So cinema bookings and is getting further bookings, and there is no undue or special delay in getting it shown. Concerning "The World is Rich" there was certainly no delay. It has had a double West End premiere. I am not sure what that is, but apparently it is a very good thing to start with, and it has already had I on bookings. I do not think that there is any ground for complaint about those two films.
I am afraid that I cannot follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the question of official committees and personalities. I do not think that it is normal or usual to discuss them. A perfectly normal relationship exists between ministerial and official committees and to call that Government Goebbelsisation, as I understand the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) did is unfair, because it is a perfectly normal procedure and ministerial responsibility is in no way affected by the C.O.I. Each Department which sponsors a film or any other activity from the C.O.I. is responsible for that, and the Minister, as head of the Department, is responsible for the policy embodied in exhibitions or whatever it may be. There is no doubt that the responsibility of each Minister is quite clear. They answer questions when put to them on these matters of policy. Whenever Question- are put down concerning the C.O.I. by hon. Members who do not like something about its policy, the Question is put to the Minister concerned, and it is clear that ministerial responsibility is perfectly maintained.
Where it concerns more than one Department, if it were financial the Treasury would answer for it, if it were policy the Lord President, and if it were something very big, something which covered the whole field, possibly even the Prime Minister would answer.
I could not understand why the right hon. and learned Gentleman was so horrified that a member of the Central Office of Information might become a public relations officer. Even if he moves about in the Civil Service, in and out, though he becomes a sort of public relations officer, he is a servant of the Ministry he is serving. I cannot see anything horrifying or worrying about that. The right hon. arid learned Gentleman asked about costs and staff, but if he will permit me, I will deal with that later, because it will then fit in more with the way I want to develop the point.
It seemed to me, when listening to the Debate, that there was a certain dispute on the other side of the House about one important field of information. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) said that there was a proper field of Government information; and he was supported by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby. Both of them withdrew that statement a little in the course of their speeches, but at any rate, the statement was made. Other hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) and the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) really took up the position that there should be no Government information at all.
I am sure the Under-Secretary does not want to misrepresent my point of view. If he will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow he will see that I went out of my way to say that there should be such information as that on the road safety campaign, and that covering health campaigns; but I thought that they were best handled by the responsible Ministers of the Departments concerned.
Before resuming, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would permit me to intervene? If he will look at what I said he will see I made it quite clear that my point was that the job was being handled by the Central Office of Information when I thought it could be competently dealt with by the public relations officers.
I listened very carefully to both speeches, and I thought the main point was that it was impossible to give public information without taking sides. It is perfectly true to say that if one talks about public health one takes sides one way or the other, in the sense the hon. and learned Member means. I will, of course, read their speeches tomorrow, though I listened to them with great care.
It has been argued that information might be given by way of separate offices instead of by a central office. It would be perfectly possible to do it that way, but more expensive. One could not get common overheads if every Department which wanted to make a film had to have the whole organisation for making films, or publishing books, or distributing handouts to the Press—which is a complicated and elaborate business: the expenses would be enormous. I thought that the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) disagreed wholly with his two right hon. Friends. He wanted to sweep away propaganda of all sorts, including, I believe, Tory propaganda which he would attack with just as much vigour as Government propaganda.
It is quite a different thing. It is the business of political parties to have propaganda. That is what they are for. But in my judgment it is a weakness in States, and almost always a self-propaganda device gets worse and worse.
I am sorry, but I think it is quite clear that, if propaganda is not true, and if it is the function of a party to make propaganda, then it is the function of his party to make untruthful propaganda.
On a point of Order. When the hon. Gentleman says that he is saying only what I myself said, and when that is not so, am I not entitled to request him to withdraw? HANSARD will show that that is not what I said.
He asked a question. Mr. Gordon-Walker: When I read HANSARD tomorrow if I am wrong I will certainly apologise to the hon. Member. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, in spite of their disagreement, consider that there ought to be a field of information, but they unite in condemning all Government information or efforts to explain things to the people, especially giving the facts to the people or persuading them to do things. It will be agreed that here is the real issue between us during this Debate, because in our view it is essential to a modern democracy both to explain and to attempt to persuade people to do things. Certainly the right hon. Member for Bromley does not like propaganda which explains. He laughed superciliously when there was mention about teaching in regard to dollars and about exports and imports. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said quite clearly and logically that if we set about explaining things we must select facts, and, therefore, it is unfair whether it be intentional or unintentional.
It seems to me and to many of my hon. Friends who spoke this evening, particularly my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce), my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan) that unless we do this work of explaining we cannot run a modern democracy at all. We agree it is essential that if we are a modern democracy the people should understand the complexities of modern life, for modern life is complex. There are many things in the people's lives which they cannot fully understand without some knowledge of economics and the interconnection between things that are happening in our own country and outside.
Yes, certainly, one of the functions. It is not realised enough that one of the dangers to democracy today is that people become irrational, because they cannot understand the things that are happening to them. When in the great slump between the wars, unemployment hit our people, it was a great danger to democracy, because people lost faith in the community and their capacity to plan ahead. In Germany unemployment, which hit that country harder still, was one of the causes that led to Hitler and dictatorship. There can only be a democracy if people use their heads. In a democracy we not only count the heads but use them, and unless there can be an understanding of what is going on—the connection between imports and exports is one example—so that people can use their heads properly there is danger to democracy.
I want to come to what is a matter of even greater difference between us, namely, the rôle of propaganda by persuasion. It is essential to democracy that there be public information for the purpose of persuasion. Road safety, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, is one example of that type of propaganda as is the appeal to parents to get their children immunised, but, generally, there is a great deal of difference between us as to this propaganda by persuasion. There is the further field of propaganda and publicity which is designed to get people to fit themselves voluntarily into all sorts of work or change their attitude to work so that they fit in with the national interest. That is what both we and hon. Members opposite mean when we say we should use propaganda to man up the undermanned industry. In my view this propaganda by persuasion in this instance is the only alternative to compulsion in a modern society.
The hon. Member then raised this question of propaganda and party bias. It is, of course, possible to have party bias in propaganda, and it is extremely important that we should draw the line between party propaganda on the one side and proper Government information on the other. I think it is possible to draw that line. The Central Office take enormous pains to instruct their people that if any individual transgresses that line, he will have to be dismissed. There is one important point to be remembered. In a democracy the information which is given has its own check. It has to be given in public by films, lectures and posters, and it is open to anyone in the country to raise any questions in regard to these lectures and posters, either in Parliament or by writing letters to the Press. There is, therefore, this automtic check, which will show whether or not there is any party bias.
Having listened to the small and trivial details brought forward in this Debate, I say that hon. Members opposite have not proved any party bias at all. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames referred to a party political document, but he did not quote a single sentence from it in proof of his case. He said that the Labour Party had encouraged their members to sell copies. If that is proof of party bias on the Labour side, it is also proof of bias on the Conservative side to point out that they have made more use of these lecture services than we have.
We then had the question of the National Insurance. When I first heard about this, I thought it was a point of substance. I took great care to look into this, but I find that the documents are factual and careful statements in regard to the statute. Had the Conservative Party issued anything on their side it would have been used in exactly the same way. The hon. and learned Member for Brighton and the hon. Member for Cambridge University referred to lecture briefs. It was never intended that they should be read out in their present form to the public. They are merely briefs for lecturers, both Conservative and Labour, who speak at meetings in different parts of the country.
The test of whether there is party bias is the extent to which there have been any complaints. There have been 18,000 lectures under this scheme during the last year, to audiences totalling 2 million people. The subjects have included the production drive, the Commonwealth and Empire, blood transfusion and forest fires. Is it proposed that such things should not be discussed? These are very important matters which, it seems, would not be discussed if the party opposite had their way. Only six complaints were received about these lectures during the year, one of which dealt with the content of the lecture as apart from its organisation. Therefore, although the charge of party bias can be made theoretically there is not much danger of it in practice.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames quoted from a Government publication and said that the statement that food is now more fairly distributed than it was before the war was, to some people, poisonous nonsense. That was a statement about something Lord Woolton did during the war, when he was at the Ministry of Food. He started the distribution organisation which we have today. The hon. and learned Member for Brighton said there were 600 higher executives at the C.O.I. The term "executives" is used in the Civil Service sense, and concerns people with salaries of £6 week and upwards. It has nothing to do with higher executives in the sense of those in a private business. There are nothing like 600 higher executives in the C.O.I. The hon. and learned Gentleman was misled by the use of the word "executive" in the Civil Service sense.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) raised an important point, namely, that there ought to be a Ministry of Information in place of the Central Office of Information, to serve the various Ministries and Departments. I am quite sure that that would not work in peacetime. It was difficult even in wartime. Departments of State and Ministers do not like having important parts of their work done for them, and being ordered about. A Minister of Information would boss them about or be a weak man; there is no choice between the two. Further, he would have to be a senior Minister to do such a thing; he could not be a junior Minister.
The figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley were absolutely accurate, although there is a reduction of £363,000 in the expenditure estimates for next year. The reason expenditure has increased, or has a tendency to increase, is that the cost of things which the C.O.I. uses—newspaper space, paper and printing—have increased. Using the C.O.I. to perform these common services leads to economies in several ways. I have mentioned the common overheads, but if certain kinds of publicity have to be done through the Central Office not all the demands of the Departments are met. The Central Office carries out 70 per cent. of the demands from Departments.
The references which were made to costs were based on the assumption that all this expenditure was unproductive. There are many important tangible and intangible dividends arising from the work of the Central Office, for example, the propaganda on behalf of immunisation. This was started in 1941, and has lead to a decrease in the number of cases of diphtheria from 50,000 to 11,000 a year. The Conservative estimate of the money savings involved is something like £1½ million a year, which has to be set from the other side when we think of these activities. One hundred and twenty thousand volunteers for harvest camps were obtained wholly by publicity. The hon. Gentleman the senior Burgess for Cambridge University asked about the cotton campaign. There is an important success to be registered in that campaign which started at the end of last summer. In the full year before the campaign, production and manpower in the industry had remained stationary. Since the campaign started—not wholly because of the campaign although the correlation of dates is striking—production is up by 20 per cent., manpower is increasing by r per cent. per month, and the output per worker in the spinning part of the industry is up by 15 per cent.
Overseas publicity has also to be set on the credit side. Not only do we build up goodwill in foreign countries; this Information Service is one of the intangible links of Commonwealth and Empire. I could quote many examples of the repute in which our information services are held by the Dominions. Indeed, we cannot keep pace with the demand for picture sets in schools and films for film scripts. Since the imposition of the 10 per cent. cut on overseas output to achieve economy, the demand has completely outstripped the supply. Schools and newspapers which use our blocks, photographs, and so forth are always asking for more than can now be provided. All these money savers—the prevention of diphtheria, the link with the Commonwealth and the result of he cotton campaign—have to be set on the other side against the cost.
This Debate has been a good one because it is important to air grievances and examine charges when they are made, but I do not think the charges have been substantiated. The Committee can be satisfied, that in the Central Office of Information we have a fine, highly trained and devoted body of men who are creating a new sort of public service of which the country can be proud. They are creating a service not for the Government, but for the country.