§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
When I was interrupted, I was reading to the House the second of the set of paragraphs which was the subject that has given rise to this discussion. I had reached the last paragraph, and had read out the first sentence:It is not generally remembered that Sir Laming was the author of two of the vital expedients of War Finance. One was the commandeering of colonial and foreign securities by the State, a Measure which Mr. McKenna, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, refused at first to adopt, but ultimately accepted as a means of averting the danger which the country was incurring by borrowing from America at ruinous terms without adequate realisation of our financial strength.I hope the House will observe the very interesting comparison that is there made as to the relative merits of the Postmaster-General and of Mr. McKenna in the sphere of finance.The other expedient was the War Savings Certificates. The only difference between Worthington-Evans' idea and the scheme which was subsequently launched was that he suggested 18s. for £1 in two years, whereas the Treasury decided to make the offer 15s. 6d. for £1 in five years.A variant of "9d. for 4d." But that is not all. That is the second set of paragraphs, but I understand there was another set of paragraphs, which did not go to the Press Gallery, but which was only communicated to certain favoured evening newspapers. Unhappily, I have not been able to get a copy of that particular document and I have to rely on the recollection of my informant. The most interesting statement in that other set of paragraphs was that the Postmaster-General resembled the late Professor Lecky in personal appearance and that the resemblance did not stop at personal appearance, but that the right 1325 hon. Gentleman had "the Lecky mind." The House, of course, accepts the right hon. Gentleman's statement that he never saw these things before they went out, and that he did not authorise them and we accept also the other parts of his disavowal. His description of them as stupid and vulgar will, I think, also be generally accepted, but those words contained in his personal explanation of last Thusday and his answer to a question this afternoon, seem to me to go rather to the form than to the substance, and it is with the substance that the House is really concerned. It is a great advantage to the House this afternoon to have on the Front Bench the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who was the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman at the Post Office. Was the intelligence officer there in his time? Did he ever do anything like this in the Financial Secretary's time; or, if he did try to do it, did the Financial Secretary sternly stamp his foot on any such attempt at publicity? I have no doubt, if the Financial Secretary speaks he will be able to enlighten us on that matter, but he is not the only right hon. Gentleman who has recently held office as Postmaster-General. There was before him the present Minister of Health. There was no such untoward episode in his day. Indeed, we have to go back to Mr. Kellaway's time to find a precedent. My recollection is that in Mr. Kellaway's time there was also issued an interesting personal "puff" which Mr. Kellaway had to disavow. We have not the advantage of Mr. Kellaway's presence here to help us in the present discussion; he has found a safe, congenial and lucrative refuge in the arms of the Marconi Company.
I only refer to that because here we have a strange coincidence. This has only happened in the case of two Postmasters-General, and both of them began their Ministerial life in the same office. Their first Ministerial appointments were at the Ministry of Munitions and the Ministry of Munitions was the first Department which started the publicity business. [Interruption.] Yes, it was under the resourceful auspices of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). That was one of his methods of winning the War. It had its origin and it attained to considerable stature in that 1326 Department—indeed, it grew so far, that the Department actually subsidised an organisation which was publicly attacking one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues. That was enterprising publicity, and is it surprising that two Postmasters-General who started their Ministerial careers in that Department, who, as it were, served their apprenticeships there, and who saw all the virtues of this particular machinery, should, when at the Post Office, both have been victims of blunders of this character? It is a strange coincidence. It is not only a matter of coincidence, but the House has some grounds for believing in the inspiration of the substance of the document. We might deal with it after the manner of the higher criticism and go into the internal evidence. These paragraphs bear all the marks of a somewhat clumsy exercise in the art of selective autobiography. This gentleman when selecting matters which are matters of "public notoriety" selects the right things. The references to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs are particularly illuminating. It is not the Postmaster-General's association with the right hon. Gentleman during the War—it is not, for example, his visits to Genoa and Cannes—which are mentioned. The veil of obscurity is thrown over all that. It does not mention what perhaps was, and what all of us certainly understood to be, the greatest achievement and the most publicly notorious achievement of the right hon. Gentleman's life, namely, his great speech at the Genoa Conference. He was chosen to announce to a waiting world the great economic programmee which was to reconstitute and revitalise Europe. I remember the right hon. Gentleman at that time described it as the new economic Pandects. Think of it! He was on the same plane as Justinian. That was the Lecky mind.
That is all forgotten. It is not publicly notorious now. All that is publicly notorious now is that in the year 1911 he fell foul of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. Is it not ungracious that allusion should only be made to old conflicts with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and that the Postmaster-General should, as it were, desert the right hon. Gentleman in his fall as 1327 he has deserted his colleagues on the back benches opposite, and that he should flaunt the fact as being publicly notorious? Then, again, there is the attribution to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs of only one virtue now. Bereft of everything, all his laurels gone, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs can only spot talent. The only public service the right hon. Gentleman has done apparently was the selection of the present Postmaster-General for Ministerial office. How are the mighty fallen! Then I go a little further with the internal evidence:Sir Laming was the author of two vital expedients of War finance.Now there have been suggestions that that statement is not entirely accurate, but I gather that the right hon. Gentleman to-day adheres to their accuracy, because he says they are publicly notorious. One of the expedients in relation to the mobilising of foreign and colonial securities, is claimed, I notice, by Lord Rothermere. The right hon. Gentleman will have to be careful. That is not the way to get the "Daily Mail." Mr. Cecil Harmsworth, who is well known in this House and was for several years Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, has written to the "Times" to point out that it was really his brother who did it, and he alone. In connection with the scheme of War Savings Certificates, I have had a communication from a person somewhat more obscure, a business gentleman on the South side of London, who tells me that he is really the father of the War Savings Certificates idea, so that the public notoriety test is not quite sound. The right hon. Gentleman, I understand, was questioned about this and submitted himself to cross-examination the other night, and he said these things were notorious, and that anybody who looked up the OFFICIAL REPORT would see that he was the first to suggest the mobilisation of foreign and colonial securities. I thought I would look up the OFFICIAL REPORT and refresh my memory, and I find there that Mr. McKenna said the idea had been suggested to him in the June previous to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman was made, I think, on the 11th October, and Mr. McKenna stated 1328 in this House that he had the suggestion made in the previous June, and the only reason he did not accept it was that he thought it premature. According to this paragraph Mr. McKenna resisted the idea, so that we have some doubt as to the accuracy even of this document.
Then there is the interesting statement of Lord Derby which I think is new to some hon. Members of this House. I am not questioning the accuracy of Lord Derby—far be it from me—when he said that the right hon. Gentleman was destined to go very far in the high offices of State and in the Unionist party. I do not know how many hon. Members of this House were aware of this interesting prediction, but it was particularly appropriate that that prediction should appear as a paragraph in the newspapers on that particular day. Why on that particular day? This helps the coincidence business a little further. On the morning of Wednesday of last week there appeared a paragraph in the "Daily Mail," among other papers, which said that it was now practically certain that Mr. McKenna would not enter the Ministry as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was to be appointed to that office. As we know from these paragraphs, the Postmaster-General is too good a man for his present office. This says so, and also infers that it is a compliment to the Post Office that ho should be there. Obviously, he is marked out for advancement. Obviously, the Prime Minister merely gave him his present post as a stop-gap, so that when the opportunity occurred he might be asked to step up higher. Obviously, when that paragraph appeared and when the competing claims of the Financial Secretary were mentioned, it was very important that something should appear in another interest. In other words, it was the moment for a big push. The push took place with somewhat unhappy results. When the House takes all these things into consideration I think there will be general agreement that there are strong prima facie grounds for believing that this intelligence officer, in the matter of the substance of this communiqué, was not acting entirely without inspiration.
I wish to ask a number of questions in regard to this, and, first of all, from whence the initiative earner Not since 1329 Mr. Kellaway's time has anything like this been done. Was this gentleman moved entirely on his own account to take this precipitate and unauthorised action? Who supplied the facts? Has the intelligence officer been browsing through the OFFICIAL REPORT—not a very delectable occupation? Some of us are compelled, in the course of our Parliamentary duties, to read the OFFICIAL REPORT, but we would not do it for pleasure, or even to oblige a friend, unless there were some powerful motive to stimulate us in our researches. Did he discover about the War Savings Certificates? There is nothing about that in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am told that the right hon. Gentleman once gave an interview to the "Daily Telegraph" in 1917, and that that is the foundation. The intelligence officer at the Post Office must keep a very good file. I know there are some hon. Members of this House who are very proficient in card indexing, and so on, but it would be a marvel indeed to learn that the intelligence officer at the Post Office had, since the right hon. Gentleman entered upon his new office, card-indexed all his utterances since he entered the House of Commons. It would be interesting to know also whether, before this communiqué, the Postmaster-General had any communication, direct or indirect, with publicity officials. And what has happened to this official? [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is he?"] We know that it is the intelligence officer, that he has been in the Department for a considerable time, and that, apart from these peccadilloes in relation to Mr. Kellaway and the present Postmaster-General, he has a blameless and a stainless record. Obviously something is required to account for this extraordinary aberration on his part, and I hope that the Postmaster-General may clear that matter up.
I myself was somewhat surprised at the form of his personal explanation. The old Parliamentary tradition, and I think the old official tradition, in this House was not to throw over the permanent officials. I think the usual thing was for the responsible Minister to take blame or credit, whichever came his way, for the action of the permanent officials, and I think it has been a regrettable change in recent days that that good, old-established practice has 1330 been abandoned. I think, on the whole, it would have been better for the right hon. Gentleman to have taken the responsibility. After all, the House of Commons is generous and indulgent to all hon. Members who make a clean breast of it. I remember Mr. Birrell saying that if a Member of the House of Commons were, by some strange accident or fortuitous association of circumstances, to be led into a position in which he had murdered his mother-in-law, and if he came down to the House of Commons and begged leave to make a personal statement and stated that he was fully and entirely responsible for the murder, the House of Commons would say that after all he was a very good fellow, and they would accept his explanation. I commend that to the right hon. Gentleman, and to other Ministers who in future get into trouble. I think it will stand them in much better stead than this method of throwing the blame and the responsibility upon their subordinates.
That is the issue so far as it relates to the Post Office. There is the other matter, and that is the general question as to these publicity departments in other Government offices. I think this episode has been of considerable value in calling public attention to these things. The Prime Minister was asked a question yesterday by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) as to these publicity departments, and his answer was:Publicity officers are at present employed under the Air Ministry, Colonial Office, General Post Office, India Office, National Savings Committee, Ministry of Pensions and War Office. Their total annual salaries amount to £5,520. None of these posts existed prior to 1914. The question of the continued existence of the posts is being considered on the merits of each case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1923; col. 1034–5, Vol. 167.]The same question was also put by the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon). That, of course, shows that, so far as the number of officials is concerned, these Departments have certainly very largely diminished in recent years. We all know that the Prime Minister has no love for them. We know that there was one department at the Board of Trade when he went to that office, and that very shortly after he went there the depart- 1331 ment was abolished. The full growth, of course, of the system was in the old Coalition days. I believe that in one year as much as £110,000 of public money was spent on publicity business. That was a flagrant scandal, and we are all glad that to some extent it should have been reduced
I am not going to enter into any argument or into any definition as to the correct attitude of the Government to the Press. That has been a much debated question. I remember that in 1918 the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Austen Chamberlain), during a short period when he was out of office, initiated a Debate in the House on that question, which led to no useful result except, indeed, his early return to the Government. So that when such great men have failed, I should be the last to generalise. I think it is necessary that Governments should have some relations with the Press. They always have had, in one form or another. Indeed, we have all had relations with the Press. We cannot avoid it, when we go out to the Lobby, and, as a matter of fact, the most intelligent people to talk to in the precincts of this House are the Press representatives in the Lobby. I say it advisedly. Some of us, indeed, write articles to the Press, sometimes under our own names, sometimes we attach our names to articles written by other people, sometimes we write under no name, and sometimes we are alleged to sign the names of other people. At least, an ingenious writer in the Sunday Press has suggested that I have written an article in praise of myself and signed it "J. M. Hogge," so that I should be the last to be in any way prudish or puritanical in regard to these Press matters.
This raises a completely different issue. This is a question of the use of public money for the purpose of promoting the personal interests of particular Ministers, or even their special political schemes, and I think hon. Members on all sides of the House will be agreed that that is a practice which should not be tolerated. I say that it has diminished in bulk. At least, the expenditure is not so great as it was, but it still continues, and I will quote from a very experienced journalist a statement in these words, in 1332 regard to the paragraphs we have been discussing:I have known this kind of thing done, and it is being growingly done, but the specimen now given is the lowest depth of banality I have seen touched. If its compilation involved any expenditure from the public purse, it is nothing short of a scandal.We are anxious to know, in regard to the other Departments, what exactly is happening. We only know about this because it was clumsily done. It was done in a foolish way. Perhaps it was thought that the old ways of the Coalition would be still tolerated in this new regime, that the Press would take no notice of it, and that if they did not publish it, it would be merely thrown aside. Fortunately, the Press published it and revealed its origin, so that is how the House of Commons knows all about it. But it is being done, though not so flagrantly and not so clumsily. The Prime Minister's answer told us about the Air Ministry, the Colonial Office, the General Post Office, and sundry others, but there is something new that has arisen.
What about the Press campaign of the Admiralty? The Admiralty is not mentioned in the Prime Minister's statement, but I am informed that there are at the Admiralty gentlemen—officers—known as intelligence officers, whose duties are to keep up relations with the Press—at least, who in fact do keep up relations with the Press. There is an allegation in the newspapers this morning as to an abuse which has occurred in this respect. We are told that in a statement issued from the Admiralty on Saturday morning there is a paragraph which is taken from a secret document, obviously a thing which should not have been published under the circumstances. I hope the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply will be able to answer on that point. It is a very disquieting thing that when, for example, as in this instance, there is a dispute between two Ministries, you should have one Ministry firing off information and communiques to the Press as against another Ministry, and that officers of the Department should be using confidential information for that purpose. If these disputes have to be carried on, the place to settle these things is the House of Commons—first of all, the Cabinet, then, after the Cabinet, either before or after their decision, the 1333 House of Commons is the proper place where the matter can be discussed and determined, but this Press propaganda, I submit, must be brought to an end.
There are other Departments. I believe that the Foreign Office has also means of giving information to the Press, although the representatives of that Office are not technically called intelligence or publicity officers, but that the same thing is carried on. I would not lay down any rule that no such officer should exist in particular Departments, because I can conceive circumstances in which it would be advisable that there should be authorised and accredited representatives of the Department whose duty would be to give information. But that is a different thing from propaganda. We must have a clear distinction between the giving of legitimate information and propaganda, either for personal or for political ends. I have not thought fit to place the attack on this system too high. I recognise the importance of the public being informed regarding the working of Departments, and of it being done in a legitimate way, but if you are going to have these representatives, I think a clear rule must be laid down that they should in no case be used by the head of the Department for his personal ends, or by the Government as a whole for political ends. For example, we must not have, as we had under the late Government, speeches by the Prime Minister printed and published at the public expense. That is not a thing which can be tolerated. It has not happened under this Government, and I hope it never will. I do not believe it is ever likely to occur again, but these are examples of the kind of abuses that are likely to arise.
I, therefore, ask that on this general ground the publicity staffs should, as far as possible, be abolished, and where they are necessary, as I believe on the whole something of the kind is necessary in the Foreign Office, they should be used solely for the purposes of communicating news to the Press, and not for disseminating any kind of dope or propaganda. That is the case I wish to present. I hope, in the first place, the Postmaster-General may be able to give a somewhat more complete, adequate and satisfactory explanation than he has yet done as to the respective parts played by in- 1334 dividuals in his office in the composition and distribution of the paragraph to which so much reference has been made, and that we shall have a statement from the Government as to the line of action which the Government are to pursue in the future.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not intend to attempt to follow the hon. Member in his attack on the Postmaster-General's intelligence officers. I want, however, to say that I should think any head of a Department, having been served so badly by a subordinate as the Postmaster-General has been served on this occasion, the House of Commons might be told who he was, and what steps were taken to bring him within some sort of discipline for the future. No workman would be allowed to commit so gross an error as this without being very severely reprimanded. I do not know what good the officer concerned thought he was doing for his Department by publishing this kind of puff. But I want to go away from that to say that I think every Department needs some particular officer to give information to the Press. I do not want it to be supposed that I am saying I think it is not necessary that each Department should give information, but I want to join issue with, I should think, nearly every head of a Department as to the kind of information that is given. During the War, and since the War, it seems to me that every Department has used the Press, not for personal aggrandisement, or personal puffs, as on this occasion, but always to support the particular line of policy of the Government, and to do all it can to prove that the policy of its opponents was wrong. I think that is the business of the Government themselves. I think it is their right to do that, but I do not think they have any right to use public money in paying men in their Departments to do this sort of thing.
There is the well-known case of the attack made upon the unemployed at the beginning of this Parliament. Nothing more outrageous was ever done than was done on that occasion from 10, Downing Street. It so happened that when that information was being doled out, I was there with a deputation of men representing the unemployed, and saw the paper being handed out to the correspondent of the "Daily Mail." On that 1335 occasion the people who handed out the dope discriminated as to which particular newspapers they should give it, and they knew perfectly well that no decent newspaper, except for propaganda purposes, would ever publish it. Nine-tenths of the statements made about those poor men, no one of whom could defend himself, each one of whom was unemployed, and whose only crime was that he was agitating to get rid of unemployment, was in a position to contradict anything that was said. Yet those men were most scurrilously libelled by officers in the employ of the Government at 10, Downing Street. I hope someone will tell us from the Treasury Bench whether that sort of thing is going to be put an end to or not. I do not think the House ought to agree that public money should be spent in libelling and lampooning the unemployed, or any other section of the community. The newspapers can do that if it requires to be done, or hon. Members and right hon. Members can get themselves reported whenever they so desire through speeches and otherwise, without the country paying the cost.
I would also like to say something in that connection with regard to the Home Office. The Home Office has wonderful ways of carrying on political propaganda, especially against Socialists and Communists. I know that many hon. and right hon. Members opposite think that Communists and Socialists are legitimate prey, who ought really to be stamped out, but I have yet to learn that this House has authorised the Home Office, or, at least, has voted public money for the purpose of employing people to engage in propaganda against Communism or Socialism; at least, I have never seen any Vote in any of the papers that have come to me. But it is a fact that at the Home Office there is a regular Department, the Criminal Investigation Department, that not only treats Communists in this way, but publishes the same kind of scurrilous statements in regard to it. They also do something worse, of which, perhaps, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs may have heard. There is a paper published in Russia called the "Pravda," and on a famous occasion a forged "Pravda" was published in this country, and the extraordinary thing was that it was taken to Scotland Yard to 1336 have the imprint of the printers cut off the bottom. That also is well known in this House, because the matter was raised here at the time. I would like to inquire from someone on the Treasury Bench whether that sort of thing has been put a stop to. The reason that the forged "Pravda" was taken to Scotland Yard and dealt with in that fashion was because it was hoped that its publication would damage the Soviet Government, and damage the propaganda for Communism in the eyes of the general public. It seems to me that the House ought to put its foot down on that kind of thing. That sort of publicity could very well be left to the ordinary Press.
During strikes and lock-outs I have been invited to the Mines Department of the Board of Trade to hear the Government's view of strikes and lock-outs, and to hear the statement as to the Government's position in regard to them. I do not think the Government have any reason to take up any such a position, or to take sides in a strike or a lock-out, or to take part in giving anything to the Press except pure and simple facts. When I have been there, I have heard statements, which I know have not been facts, but I have also heard the Press requested not to print this or that, and generally to act in the way of suppressing news rather than spreading news abroad. I think all that sort of relationship with the Press is entirely bad, and the Government ought not to have in any of their Departments men engaged on that kind of work. With regard to the Foreign Office, especially concerning Russia, will someone on the Treasury Bench tell us where all this sort of half-truths and half-lies comes from that appears in the Press in a sort of semi-official kind of way, always on one side, always to prove what villains the Communists are, and what angels all the other people in the country are? The "lie factory" at Helsingfors, which is well-known to every pressman in the world, and the equally big "lie factories" along the Baltic coast at other places, as everyone knows, belch forth torrents of lies as to what is happening in Russia and in the countries close to Russia. I want to know who at the Foreign Office ladles out this stuff week by week in a semi-official sort of way, and always for the one purpose, as I say, of proving what villains the 1337 Russian Communists are. We do not do the same sort of thing, as far as I know, with any other kind of Government, but we take up an attitude of sheer hostility, and we always support anything that happens to be hostile to the Government that we do not like. I do not think that is giving facts; it is giving opinions. I can respect people who hate Socialism as I hate Capitalism, but that is no reason why my point of view should be twisted at the cost of public money, and that people should be employed at the public cost to do it.
Therefore, I hope that this slight hullabaloo about the puffing of the present Postmaster-General will lead to an entire review of the whole position in regard to publicity. Finally, I want to emphasise and to drive home the point that the gentlemen in these Government offices are partisans, and are employed as partisans, and I want to refer to the Ministry of Health. I notice that neither the Foreign Office nor the Ministry of Health are on the Prime Minister's list, at least I have not heard about it. But there are people at the Foreign Office, I know from my own personal knowledge, who do give information to the Press and are, therefore, I suppose, in the same position as the intelligence officer at the Post Office. As regards the Minister of Health it so happens that I represent a Board, and I am a member of a council that adopts a policy which is entirely against the ordinary official policy of the Ministry of Health in regard to public health and in regard to the Poor Law. We are entitled to our views, and, obviously, the Ministry is entitled to its views, but it is not entitled to use public money for the purpose of propaganda against the point of view of myself and my colleagues down at Poplar. I am bound to say that we have not suffered so much from that kind of thing during the last couple of months, but previous to that there were communications, half-lies, half-truths, that you could not nail down as complete lies which were continually being sent out to the Press. The Poplar Board was treated in a most scandalous manner in regard to the communication and publication of Mr. Cooper's Report, a report which we nailed down directly we got it, for we were able to demonstrate that it contained any number of quite inaccurate statements in 1338 regard to the subject-matter he had been appointed to investigate.
What happened to this Intelligence Department of the Ministry of Health? Nobody has denied that this happened. Five days before the report was communicated to Poplar—a report that was censuring these people—the document was published in the evening and morning papers in London, together with a statement put together at the Ministry of Health condemning the Poplar Board and pointing out what scallawags we all were. I do not mind the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London or any other Member writing against us or saying the same kind of thing. What I object to is my money or part of my money, part of the public money, being used to pay for that sort of propaganda. I should have thought the whole House, after the War, would have wanted, as I do, to have this kind of thing stopped. You may hang Socialism, but you will not destroy us in the same way. That is not the way. You will have to reason. You will have to prove, not only by our action but by your actions, that your policy is much better. You will have to demonstrate it in a way that people will understand. You will not have to destroy our propaganda by using public money in this fashion.
Does anyone who sits on the other side think, for instance, that Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Disraeli, or any of the great men who have sat on the Government Benches would ever have tolerated the services of men in this kind of position in Government Departments? I do not believe there is any man here who thinks that that sort of thing could have persisted years ago. I think that in this matter we on this side are Tories, or Conservatives; anyhow, we want to preserve what, I think, is the best tradition in British public life, and that is that the civil servant is above all parties and is always willing to carry out the policy of whatever Government happens to sit on the other side of the House, and that he should never, under any circumstances, take sides in great public controversies. It seems to me that because of the War we have fallen away from that position. I think it is time that we got back to the old-fashioned way of carrying on the work of the country and of seeing that 1339 those men who have to carry it on, in spite of whoever sits on the Front Government Bench, shall be considered as above all parties, and shall be allowed to carry on their work without being dragged into controversies on the merits of the different policies that they may be called upon to carry out. I want to repeat that I am not very much concerned about the Postmaster-General in this business. I am only concerned with the state of affairs that these revelations have given to us. I am very much concerned that a perfectly legitimate thing, such as the communication of facts to the Press, should have been degraded, as I feel it has, to the level of simple partisanship used for the purposes of condemning one's political opponents.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I hope that the Government will after to-day as soon as possible abolish the Intelligence Department of the Post Office, and any other offices of the same kind. I do not quite agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that it is necessary to have an Intelligence Branch. We did not have intelligence officers before the War, and I see no reason why we should require them now. I rather agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) that public money ought not to be spent in order to advance the claims and objects of any one political party. The difficulty is that all these officers may be inclined, or tempted, to use their position to put out propaganda in favour of the particular party—at present it happens to be the Conservative pary—that may be in power at the time. Therefore, I sincerely trust that the Postmaster-General will warn the Prime Minister that, so far as I am concerned, and I believe I speak for other Members on this side, they are desirous of seeing this system put an end to. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) said that these Departments profess to give information, not propaganda. I agree with him. I have never held office, but if I happened to do so I should be perfectly able myself to give what information of my own Department I desired to go out to the Press. If I was not able, then I would not be fit to be in the Department. Therefore the matter should be left to the head of the Department. I am glad the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has just come 1340 in. I was only saying that I hope that the Government will see that the Intelligence Officers' Departments are abolished—in the proper manner!
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans)
I am not anxious to interrupt any other hon. Member, but I welcome the opportunity of making a reply to the questions that have been asked. I will answer first the questions of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). He wanted to know who was the intelligence officer. Of course he is not going to ask for his name. The intelligence officer is a temporary officer, not a permanent civil servant, but a temporary officer employed at the Post Office for about two years now, or a little over, upon the duties which I read out at Question Time. They are in the hon. Member's mind so I will not repeat them. These duties are duties which have nothing whatever to do with politics, or the person of the Minister, but have solely to do with the business of the office. The hon. Gentleman asked me what steps had been taken, and that I detailed also in the answer that I made to the question that he put to me at Question Time. But I want more particularly to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle).
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
At Question Time I explained what steps had been taken. The officer has done the general work and the proper work that comes into his functions well, as I understand it; he has done this, I think, ill—but that is another matter. May I deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Penistone? He accepted the denials which I made on Wednesday, yet in a very clever and of course a very amusing speech he suggested that by reason of coincidences which he examined, and by reason of what he called internal evidence, these paragraphs were not written without some instigation on my part, and that although my denial of having 1341 seen them might be accepted, he wished to know whether the internal evidence did not show that I had given information for the purpose of having the matter written. He asked me one or two specific questions.
I want to be perfectly frank. I told the House, and I repeat to the House, that I had no idea whatever that any steps were being taken, or were going to be taken, in order to influence the Press in the way that has been suggested. The hon. Member says that I declared that all these matters were matters of "public notoriety." I did use that word at Question Time. I also said they were "on public record," which is a good deal better as an expression. If hon. Members will look at Dod they will find that some of the questions the hon. Member raised can be answered out of that—particulars as to the Ministry of Munitions, the War Office, activities on the Insurance Bill, and so on. I am not, let hon. Gentlemen realise, defending these references in any way. I am only saying that they do relate to the things that are on public record, and can be got, and were, in fact, got without any reference to me personally. He then asked: "Did I ever see the publicity officer?" Yes, I did. There is the incident about which I think the House ought to know, and I propose to tell them frankly and to be candid in the matter, and they can judge for themselves. I saw the publicity officer on the Monday morning. That was yesterday week. I had then in draft the speech which I proposed to make on the Post Office Estimates the next afternoon. I consulted him about it. I said to him: "This is a very heavy speech. It deals with a lot of figures. What are the interesting things connected with the Post Office about which the public would like to hear?" This publicity officer has had a long experience there. I have been at the place for six or seven weeks at most, and I really did not know what were likely to be interesting and brightening features in a heavy speech, and of interest to the public, and I asked him. I went through the various things with him, and, amongst others, was something which I referred to in my speech, namely, the cash turnover of the Post Office, showing that there was a million a day received from various sources. 1342 Amongst them were the Post Office Savings Bank and the National Savings Certificates. I said on that, "I admit I am always rather interested in Savings Certificates, because I had something to do with the original suggestion of them." That is how it arose, and in no other way, and I had not the faintest idea in answering a further question about those same certificates that I should see it in that vulgar form in the Press next day. There was a sort of general conversation arose on financial matters, and he said something to me about other war activities. I did not claim that I was the inventor of the idea of commandeering securities, but I said you can find the information in the OFFICIAL REPORT at the end of 1915.
I have not looked up those speeches, and when the hon. Gentleman said that Mr. McKenna had stated that he had the idea proposed to him in July, I am sure that is correct, and he will be able to square that with the claim made by Mr. Harmsworth on behalf of Lord Rothermere. I am in a difficult position; I am called upon, if the hon. Member challenges my veracity, to prove a negative, and it is almost impossible. But I did say something about Savings Certificates, and that is how it arose. It arose from my asking him to tell me of anything I could use to brighten the speech. The hon. Gentleman talks of his informant, and he says he has seen another set of paragraphs.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
He says there was another set of paragraphs although he has not seen them, and I have not seen them. All I saw was what was in the Press, and I did not see them until they appeared in the Press. I am not quite sure that the hon. Member for Penistone is even yet satisfied, but let me put this to him. I made a statement in the House on Wednesday by leave. Before I made that statement, and as soon as I saw these paragraphs in the papers, I sent for this intelligence officer to come and see me. He apologised for what he had done, admitted that there was no justification whatever, and I read to him the statement that I was going to make in the House, and he thanked me for it. I answered to-day's question 1343 after having it prepared in the office in the ordinary way, and it was submitted to the intelligence officer to see if he had any observations to make upon it, and he had none to make, and therefore I answered the question in terms in which he may be presumed to have approved. I do not know what more I can do. It is almost impossible to prove a negative, but surely if any proof be wanted it is not in a series of coincidences ingeniously put together, but in the statement of a man who has been 14 years in the House, who has a feeling of responsibility, and who is endeavouring to tell the House exactly what the position is so far as he knows it.
I want to say a word about the public question, and the use of publicity officers in the Post Office. I will not dwell upon the general question, because my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is going to deal with that. As regards the Post Office, it is a trading concern, and it is rather different from an office which has not goods to sell, and therefore a certain degree of publicity is required to keep in touch between the customer and the provider of what the customer wants. I understand that the whole position will be considered, and the Financial Secretary will no doubt inform the House more particularly what will be done.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks)
I think the House will have heard with satisfaction the statement made by my right hon. Friend, and I hope after that statement the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Pringle) will use the muck-rake fairly.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Is it quite Parliamentary to refer to the "muck-rake"? The right hon. Gentleman has accused me of using a muck-rake.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
If the hon. Member objects to that phrase, by all means I will withdraw it. The public question is one of real importance, and it is desirable that it should be considered by the Government, and a decision arrived at upon the whole question. The Prime Minister would have been here this afternoon, but he is engaged with the Cabinet, and that is 1344 the reason why I was not here a few minutes ago when my absence was referred to.
There are seven Departments which employ publicity agents, and they are trained journalists, men with newspaper experience, and, with the exception of two, are purely temporary appointments; and only two of them are in the Civil Service. In regard to offices like the Post Office and the National Savings Committee, where it is essential that wares should be placed before the public, their duty is to give the public all the information in their power, and, in fact, to advertise the wares they are selling. Everybody knows that this kind of publicity has in the past resulted very much to the public advantage. In regard to the ordinary Departments, I am making very careful inquiries, and I think it is desirable that the House should know the present position, so far as my inquiries go. The War Office and the Colonial Office have got two temporary gentlemen, with journalistic experience. They are temporary appointments, and it will be entirely open to those Departments, on the advice which I am quite sure will be asked from the Treasury, to bring those appointments to an end in September.
The Air Ministry also employ temporarily a trained journalist. The Ministry of Pensions also, for the last five years, has employed a journalist temporarily. The Admiralty has no official journalist or intelligence officer. With regard to the point raised with reference to the leakage which has just taken place from the Admiralty, I desire, on behalf of the Admiralty, and on behalf of all public Departments, to express in the strongest terms that it is absolutely essential that this leakage, which has occurred before, should not take place. Public Departments are the servants of the Government, and it is essential, if Government is to be carried on properly, that confidential information prepared for submission to the Cabinet should be regarded as absolutely inviolable.
With regard to this particular leakage, the Prime Minister has deputed me to inquire how that leakage has taken place, and to see what steps can be taken to prevent its recurrence. With regard to two at least of the Government Departments, resignations of these officers are on the point of taking place. Some of 1345 them were coming to a conclusion. I have interviewed two of my colleagues on this subject who have had the benefit of these officers during the past two years, and they have come to the conclusion that there is no real necessity for them, and that any information which it is desirable the public should know could much better be given to newspapers through the instrumentality of the Ministers' private secretaries, who would be directly responsible to the Ministers.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I regret that the First Lord of the Admiralty is not here. The right hon. Gentleman says there is no Intelligence Officer at the Admiralty, but certain officers in the Naval Intelligence Department are the people told off for this duty. Will the right hon. Gentleman see that these people are got rid of?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
We have been dealing with officers specially selected for their journalistic training, but none of these are in the Admiralty. Information has to be handed out by the Admiralty and there must be some officers to do it. All I can say is that two of these appointments have already come to an end, and that there are clearly one or two offices where it is desirable that trained intelligence officers should be provided as in the case of the War Savings Certificates Department, and the Post Office, where it is essential that the earliest possible information of postal changes should be given to the Press in order that the public may know what is being done. With regard to the intelligence officer in the ordinary Government Departments, I hope the House will not press me to say more than that I have caused inquiries to be made, and I am continuing those inquiries, and the Government will consider, as soon as possible, how far it is desirable that a policy, which I regard quite frankly as a relic of War days, might be abolished with the exception of particular cases where the public service might be served.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
The statement which has just been made is one which I feel sure hon. Members in all parts of the House were glad to hear. It is curious to me that these servants of the various Departments should be described as Intelligence Officers. An Intelligence Officer during the War meant a trained 1346 individual who gathered information for the purpose of putting it at the confidential disposal of his chief. What does an Intelligence Officer mean in this connection? It does not mean anybody who gathers information in order that his departmental chief may be the wiser for it. It means apparently someone who disseminates information about his political chief in order that the newspapers and public may be supplied with material. I think the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he says that whatever may be the justification of that system in the times which we have passed through for propaganda purposes, and however necessary under War conditions and for War purposes, it is most undesirable that they should form any part of the permanent machinery of government.
I want to make two observations. The first is that I think I am right in saying that, to a large extent, these so-called Intelligence Officers are much more propaganda officers than Intelligence Officers, and they are not members of the permanent Civil Service. They are doubtless very skilled gentlemen with special knowledge of journalism and newspaper work and better able to discharge their peculiar duties for that reason, but they are not Members of the permanent Civil Service. I make that observation for this reason. I do not believe that the leakage which from time to time is complained of is always correctly attributed to permanent civil servants. I recollect being told of a Prime Minister who in times past was called upon to decide a very difficult question which everybody who has been a member of the Cabinet will appreciate, namely whether the confidential key which will open the Cabinet box is a key to be possessed by Cabinet Ministers alone or whether their private secretaries may also have a duplicate key. The Prime Minister in question said that, in his long experience of the public service, he had never known a private secretary of a Cabinet Minister who had betrayed any secret to anyone, but he could not say the same about disclosures, possibly accidental or unintentional, on the part of Ministers themselves. The truth is that the indirect leakage of information comes much less frequently from the trained civil servant than from some of those concerned in Government Departments. That is one of the claims which 1347 civil servants would be entitled to make for themselves, but which in their absence from the House of Commons should be made for them. That is one reason more why we should get rid of this war-time practice introduced for temporary reasons, and the officers performing which are most oddly described as intelligence officers, although their real function has been to provide pabulum of a particular colour for consumption by the Newspaper Press.