HC Deb 23 November 1938 vol 341 cc1727-8
4. Mr. Mander

asked the Prime Minister why representations were recently made by His Majesty's Government to the American Embassy for the withdrawal from a Paramount news reel of items contributed by Mr. Wickham Steed and Mr. A. J. Cummings?

Sir J. Simon

His Majesty's Government considered that certain passages in the news reel referred to, which was being shown at the time of the Prime Minister's conversations with Herr Hitler at Godesberg, might have a prejudicial effect upon the negotiations. The Ambassador of the United States, I understand, thought it right to communicate this consideration to a member of the Hays organisation which customarily deals with matters of this kind and which brought it to the attention of Paramount News, who, from a sense of public duty in the general interest, decided to make certain excisions from the news reel.

Mr. Mander

Can the Chancellor quote any precedent for this form of Government censorship of news reels in this country?

Sir J. Simon

I do not know that a precedent was needed. The view one takes on this matter probably depends on whether one wished it to have a prejudicial effect on negotiations.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is it not a fact that four films of the "March of Time" have been suppressed in the last six months when there was no crisis, and that this Government censorship is very much resented in the country?

Sir J. Simon

I do not know of the other cases, but in the present case His Majesty's Government are grateful to the Ambassador of the United States, and I am glad that the Ambassador and ourselves were in complete accord.

Mr. Shinwell

Before His Majesty's Government establish a censorship ought not this House to be consulted?

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

Will not the Chancellor arrange for some means by which a full disclosure can be made to the House of what has been the practice of the Government in the matter of censorship?

Sir Percy Harris

As there is no precedent, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the censorship will not be used in other cases?

Sir J. Simon

A censorship, I should have thought, means the exercise of some compulsory power. There was nothing of that sort in the present case. Representation was made to the Ambassador of a friendly Government who was good enough, and thought it right to take action tending to promote European peace.

Mr. Mander

Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I will take an early opportunity of calling attention to this and other efforts at censorship by the Government recently.