Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th May 1948.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Marlowe Mr Anthony Marlowe , Brighton 12:00 am, 13th May 1948

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."