HC Deb 19 April 1928 vol 216 cc356-8

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been directed to the contributions to current journalism being made or announced from the pens of the Secretary of State for India and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; whether these contributions, actual and prospective, are a violation of the pledge announced in reply to questions on 18th June, 1925, and amplified on 7th December, 1925; and what steps, if any, he proposes to take in the matter?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer informs me that any literary contributions which he may publish while in office will strictly conform to the conditions I laid down in my statement on this subject on the 3rd March, 1927. In that statement I gave a full and carefully considered account of the conditions which should be observed by Members of the present Administration. I drew a clear distinction between journalistic articles on questions of current party controversy and Departmental matters on the one hand, and literary, historical or philosophical writings on the other: and I had also in mind the difference which clearly exists in practice between publications in daily or weekly newspapers and publications in books or magazines. For this latter class, as I pointed out, there are numerous respectable precedents over a long period of time and under many Governments. I see no reason to modify the statement which I then made.

With reference to the Secretary of State for India, his articles on the subject of criminology fall within the class I defined as permissible, and I understand they will be shortly published in the form of a book. A single article upon the subject of the position of women in modern life appears from its topic to touch the fringe of current controversy, and to touch it in a sense different from the general view of the Government; but my Noble Friend informs me that it treats the subject in so general a form that he had not expected exception would be taken to it on this ground.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Lord Birkenhead's series which was brought to a premature close in 1925 as a result of the Prime Minister's ban was exactly of the same character and for the same periodical as that which is now appearing? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that two pledges were given to the House? There is a second one which he did not quote. On 7th March, 1927, he said: The prohibition is perfectly clear; it is a prohibition against writing articles in the Press."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1927; col. 840, Vol. 203.] Is that position still maintained by His Majesty's Government?


May I ask a further question? Does the Prime Minister not consider that the reply given this afternoon considerably modifies his own former statement on the matter; and that the statement of his Noble Friend indicates a real difference between his Noble Friend and the Cabinet on current politics?


With regard to the first part of the question, the distinction as to what is journalism and what is not is a very fine distinction, and a very difficult thing to decide upon. The answer which I have given is quite clear and is within the terms of the considered answer on the whole subject which I gave on 3rd March, 1927.


May I press the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he still holds to the opinion or to the decision which he announced in this House on the 7th March, 1927, he used these words: The prohibition is perfectly clear; it is a prohibition against writing articles in the Press.


I do not consider that this is an article in the Press. I said the distinction was very fine. There has been a practice of recent years, which is a modern practice, that when books are being compiled, portions of those books very often appear before publication. That is a state of things which did not exist many years ago. This particular chapter which has appeared is an isolated chapter of a work on which my Noble Friend has been engaged for some time, and which he will have time to complete at some future date in his leisure, hut if in this matter there has been an error of judgment on his part, that is the worst that I can say.


Does the Prime Minister recollect the fact that the late Mr. Gladstone frequently contributed to the "Nineteenth Century" during the time he was Prime Minister articles which were non-political?


That is one of the respectable precedents to which I alluded.


Does the Prime Minister realise, when he speaks of the indirect nature of Lord Birkenhead's contribution, that in this article, Lord Birkenhead definitely refers to an occasion when he spoke against the enfranchisement of women, and says that he stands on these views?


Doubtless the hon. Member will recollect that in the time of the Coalition Government Lord Birkenhead introduced the Enfranchisement Bill in the House of Lords giving votes to women.


Is it not the case that even those with the most elementary knowledge of literature are aware that the monthly and quarterly magazines are never described as the "Press"?