§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I beg to move,That, in the light of the considerable activity of various foreign governments in the field of propaganda by means of the Press, broadcasting, and films, this House urges the Government to pay more attention to publicity and to render wholehearted moral and financial support to schemes which will make certain of the effective presentation of British news abroad.In these days of rapidly-moving events throughout the world, it is essential that other countries should know exactly what Great Britain thinks, and exactly what Great Britain proposes to do in any given set of circumstances. In the past, there was no need to explain ourselves to the world. It was sufficient that a certain number of people in high places in Governments abroad understood, to a certain extent, what Great Britain stood for and what she had achieved. But those days are gone, by reason of the great scientific developments which have taken place. It is essential now that the masses of the people in foreign countries should understand as much as we can make them understand of our institutions and traditions. It is not merely a question of day-to-day news being "put over." It is of no use, in giving a report of such and such a set of facts, to state only the bald facts; for it is essential, if those facts are to be clearly understood, that we should make foreign newspapers understand also that they should print those facts in the light of the background which our national institutions give to them.
1809 For instance, shortly after the September crisis there was a great deal of talk in certain circles that this country would do well to adopt conscription. We know that very sooon that idea was dropped, and it was made quite clear that in this country we had no need to adopt conscription, except in time of war. Yet one can see now in foreign newspapers the headline—"British Government declines to accept conscription, in spite of the lessons of the crisis." I maintain that such a headline would never appear if those countries clearly understood what we really can do in Great Britain through voluntary effort, without there being any need for compulsion.
When I was fortunate enough to secure a place in the Ballot, numerous representatives of the Press asked me whether it was my intention to urge upon His Majesty's Government the need for a Ministry of Propaganda. I hastily assured them that that was far from being my intention. I remember that last November the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) addressed a question to the Prime Minister, asking him whether it was his intention to set up a Ministry of Propaganda, and the Prime Minister replied that it would be extremely dangerous to set up any Ministry which might give foreign nations the idea that we were likely to impose any form of compulsion or censorship on the Press. On the whole, I think it is true to say that in this country we have a most excellent Press. It does its best to obtain the best news possible and to present it, at any rate in the news columns, in a clear and unbiased fashion. What is written in the leaders is entirely the concern of the proprietors and a matter of their policy; but as regards the news itself, I think we may say that we get news which is as good as, if not better than, that in any other country. But it is essential, in these times, that the Press should be as careful as possible not to print anything which is likely to inflame international relations. The Press in this country has grown up under our great system of private enterprise of which we have always been, and still are, naturally, so justly proud—although perhaps not all hon. Members will share that point of view. Whatever we do, and whatever means we adopt, to make sure that British news and publicity gets abroad, we must not do it by controlling and 1810 fettering the Press, or by doing anything of that description. It has always been our policy in everything in this country to build on what exists, and not to make new machinery.
The field of publicity may be conveniently divided into three sections—politicial, commercial, and what I will call, for want of a better word, although I do not like it, cultural. Political publicity is achieved by means of Debates in this House, by the speeches of Ministers in the country, and by the information which the Departments of State hand out to the Press. Commercial publicity is brought about by the efforts of private firms, making their own publicity and publishing it in this country and abroad. In these days, however, I suggest that that is really not enough to achieve the end in view, and that, just as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade said the other day that it is absolutely necessary that the commerce of this country should get together and go in for collective bargaining, so it is necessary, I think, that commerce should go in for collective publicity. I know that these things have arisen as a result of systems of government in foreign countries, with which we do not agree; but still, I feel that even the worst system may perhaps have something in it from which we can learn. If we adopted in this country some of the things which have been done with great success in Germany and Italy by way of collective publicity, I think we should do a considerable amount of good for commerce in general.
With regard to cultural publicity, I would like to say a few words about a great and growing institution which is coming more and more into the public eye, not only in this country but throughout the world, namely, the British Council. The aim of the British Council is to make Great Britain and British literature, art, music, and everything connected with this country, known to all types of foreigners. I submit that there could be no better object than that for which the British Council exists. Proof that the British Council is accepted as a national institution now is to be found in the fact that upon its directorate are Members not only of the Government, but of His Majesty's Opposition.
Of course, the trouble is, as with all things that do good, that it is very diffi- 1811 cult to get money for the British Council. Although I would not like to say that the Government have been niggardly as far as the British Council is concerned, a great deal more money is necessary if its objects are to be achieved. Three or four years ago the Government's grant to the British Council amounted to about £5,000, but last year it amounted to £110,000, and by means of private subscriptions, the money which the council has available amounts to a little under £200,000. This is not nearly sufficient for the work which the council seeks to do. For instance, last year it spent £2,000 in placing British books and periodicals in the libraries of Europe and a great deal more in teaching English and English subjects in many of the countries of Europe. In Athens and Bucharest, the council has instituted chairs of English. All these things cost a great deal of money, but they do a great deal of good. In Athens, 4,000 pupils are studying at the English School under the auspices of the British Council. The council also sends various prominent men on lecture tours in different countries in Europe and other parts of the world. Another field which the council has to tackle, and which I submit very badly needs tackling, is in South America. There is in South America a great deal of foreign propaganda of a type for which we do not particularly care, and it is time that, in South American countries, Great Britain was made very much better known than she is. So much for the sources of national publicity.
As regards the dissemination of news, there is, of course, the telegraph and the cable—about which other hon. Members who are more qualified than I am to deal with the subject will speak perhaps—the foreign Press, broadcasting, and films. All of these should be used to the utmost capacity. We know that in other countries of Europe these means are used for making known to the people exactly what their Governments want them to think, and also for making the nationals of other countries know what those particular Governments want them to think. The value of broadcasting cannot be placed too high. It permeates the homes of countless thousands of people and enables them to hear British news, and to appreciate it. I am sure that many hon. Members who have friends who have returned 1812 either from Germany or Italy can testify to the enormous amount of good which these broadcasts are doing in making known in those countries exactly what Great Britain stands for. In connection with that, I would like to make one point. Let us have more broadcasts to foreign countries in their respective languages, but, above all, let them be free from any form of bias whatever. Let them be confined to the strict news and let them be non-controversial as far as possible. I think it is of paramount importance, also, that they should not be made in such a way that they attack the institutions existing in those foreign countries.
The subject of films is very important, and here a great deal has yet to be done. It is essential that if other countries are to appreciate historical facts, they should have good British films shown to them. Friends of mine have told me how very greatly such films as "Victoria Regina" and "Sixty Glorious Years" have been appreciated in foreign countries, and I hope that when my noble Friend replies to-night he will be able to tell us what steps are being taken to make more effective the spread of British films abroad. I know that there is a committee sitting under Sir Robert Vansittart which has this particular object in view, and we should like to know something of what the work of that committee consists. I had one experience myself of the effectiveness of British films abroad. About 18 months ago a few other Englishmen and myself were in a room in Germany and were being introduced to Herr Hitler, and the man next to me happened to be Mr. Yeats-Brown, who, as the House is aware, wrote "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer." When the Führer was introduced to him he remembered the name at once, and said, "That is a film which should be seen by every German." There was a tribute to British propaganda right from the very highest source in Germany. I respectfully submit that we cannot estimate too highly the effect of good British films upon foreign nations.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I agree. I do not mind so much where the film is made, provided it puts over what we in England know to be truly British. Before I conclude I would like to draw the attention of the House to this rather important 1813 fact. Taking into account the amount of money which the Government spend upon the British Council, from what inquiries I have been able to make I have discovered that the total expenditure of the Government upon news services, publicity and everything connected therewith for foreign consumption is something rather under £500,000. Well, it does seem to be a fantastically small amount of money—the cost, say, of a destroyer, or of 20 heavy bombers. I was told by one hon. and gallant Member of this House to-night that a destroyer costs £80,000 a year to run. I am sure the House will agree that the sum I have mentioned is a very small amount of money to be spent on something which, if properly organised and properly done, would, I believe, mean that we should need to spend far less money on destroyers and bombers. I am sure we should like to know from my Noble Friend when he replies exactly what the Government are prepared to do in order the further the aims mentioned in this Motion.
§ 7.49 p.m.
I beg to second the Motion.
I am very pleased indeed to have this privilege. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the words that appear in the earlier part of the Motion—"in the light of the considerable activity of various foreign governments in the field of propaganda." Propaganda is, of course, no new phenomenon. I remember that when I was a very small boy at school it always seemed to me, when I used to read about Cæsar coming out of winter quarters, that he was always engaged exhorting his legionaries to further assaults on the Gauls of those days. Even after the time of the Great War propaganda was generally a feature incidental to war, whereas to-day it seems to have become a pervading feature of every-day life throughout the world. I think this change can be attributed to two causes. In the first place science has placed at man's disposal—and he has misused it—the means for the rapid transmission and powerful presentation of impressions, whether those impressions be true or false; and in so doing science has given man a weapon. Propaganda is no less a weapon that is a bullet. The two differ in this respect, that whereas the target tries to avoid the bullet, propaganda is only successful if the target is a 1814 willing target. But, for all that, propaganda is no less deadly to the lives of nations than are other forms of aggressive weapons.
The second cause of the change is that this weapon, once having been formed, has become indispensable to the rulers of certain kinds of States. Dictatorship is in large degree ruled by propaganda. If one studies the immense propaganda machines which have been created by the Governments of Russia, Italy and Germany, to mention only three, one thinks one is living in a world of complete fantasy. But the aim of these machines—they are more or less successful—is always the same, and that is to produce an absolutely centralised, unified, single control of all the impressions that may influence the people living in those countries, particularly the young people. It was not for nothing that Dr. Goebbels boasted that he would play on his propaganda instrument in the same way as a musician plays on a piano. The object of these instruments is two-fold—to maintain power within the country and to extend power beyond its borders.
Of course we are not in this country concerned with the internal affairs of other countries, but these propaganda machines do concern us in more than one way. First, they concern us as to what kind of impression is made on the peoples living in those countries about our affairs. We are also naturally very concerned by any attempt that may be made to use these machines for the extension of power beyond the borders of those countries. This latter may take the form of trying to organise the national minorities in other countries to disrupt their Governments—to exercise this new technique of aggression without war. This technique can possibly be extended into many spheres where so far it has not been greatly exercised—in certain areas of Europe, in South America and in North Africa, where such propaganda may have great effect.
I would like to give the House examples of the kind of think that is being done. At Zeesen, the short wave station in Germany, broadcasts are sent out for practically 24 hours every day on 14 different wavelengths to countries of the British Empire. Broadcasts are also sent out from Germany in Portuguese and Spanish for Central and South America for something like 16 hours every day. 1815 The programmes, of course, are varied. There is a lot of entertainment, music and so forth, but always the element of tendentious news is liable to crop up. In one of the South American countries there are even organised bodies of listeners to these broadcasts. In other countries of South America there have been distributed in large quantities cheap, small receiving sets which are capable only of receiving broadcasts from Germany. That is one example, but there are many others.
Take the broadcasts from Rome. These, on short wave or ultra short wave, go out in 19 or 20 languages. From Russia similarly there are broadcasts in some 16 languages; and it is not unamusing that it is a criminal offence in Germany to listen in to Moscow. Other methods of course are used, but I believe that throughout the world there are some 1,700 news agencies which receive their news by wireless from Germany and 150 of these are in the United States. Every kind of channel for propaganda is used—documentary films, written articles, trade exhibitions and so forth. But the point about it is the fact that many millions of money are spent by these Governments on this propaganda service, and that money would not be spent by those Governments unless it had a definite political objective.
We have to ask ourselves, what are the motives and what the effects of these efforts? Of course, when they come from Russia, when they are designed to advance the interests of the Comintern, we know that they are directed against many countries besides ourselves, and though they have very sporadic success they are intensely dangerous. But apart from Russia, there seems in other countries to be a deliberate attempt to create a picture of the British people as being an effete race, poor in arms, flabby rather than free, possessing still nominally an Empire which they have in fact already virtually lost, and declining in their industrial and commercial power, largely, or at any rate partly, owing to the influence of Jews. In fact there is a theme being presented to the world of the decay and dissolution of democracy. On the other hand, by contrast there is being presented a picture of new races arising, virile, dynamic, marching to the succession of the British Empire under the guidance of great and 1816 sacred leaders. I do not think I have exaggerated the kind of picture which it is attempted to draw in foreign countries about ourselves.
So the question arises what is to be our attitude towards these efforts. I suggest that we cannot be indifferent. Equally we cannot make any easy assumption that people who matter really understand what good people we are. Nor do we want to indulge in retaliation or recrimination. We do not want to resort to methods of distortion or suppression, but we do want to make sure that we make a deliberate projection of this people and of our Empire in a dignified way, hiding nothing, not seeking to conceal our imperfections, but presenting to the world a picture of what we believe we do contribute to the common stock of civilisation. We look around, and we see that there are many materials ready to hand for this purpose. We have only to consider what a picture we can make if we present the truth that our freedom is not flabbiness but flexibility, which gives us strength. We have our unique contributions to the art of government in our Empire relations, we have our Defence services—and I trust the White Paper which has gone out this evening will not pass unnoticed in any country in the world—we have all our social services, our literature, our art, our countryside, and all the rest of it.
These things are the material which we not merely can, but must, use in order to build up and mould together a coherent, unified picture, not a series of disjointed ideas, but a unified picture of a great Empire founded on order and freedom, virile as ever in arms, in commerce, in art, and in civilisation, and above all prepared to devote all its forces to the pursuit of peace. It is some such picture as this that we want to see formed in the minds of people throughout the world by the Government and through the agencies to which my hon. Friend refers in his Motion; and I am convinced that we can be successful, for this reason, that in building up this picture we can at the same time make it interesting and make it true. It is only if it is interesting and true that it can be of lasting value as a background to the constant and continuous presentation of a stream of news such as is visualised by my hon. Friend.
But do not let us stint our efforts in this direction. Do not let us have any 1817 false sentiment about truth prevailing by some inherent power within itself. This is a matter, not merely of quality, although quality is of superlative importance, but of quantity too. There has always been much talk about "a place in the sun." We want a place, not merely in the sun, on the sea, in the air, even in the ether, but we must have a place also in the minds and hearts of the peoples throughout the world, and we must make a deliberate effort to create the right impression in those minds. I do not need to go through all the methods which are open to us and which we have traditionally relied upon to create the right impression, but I would like to reinforce what my hon. Friend has said about the importance of giving this continuous service of interesting, straight, accurate, reliable, and regular news to countries where the people may well be deprived of such service in the ordinary course.
We have, as everyone knows, these foreign broadcasts in Arabic, in Spanish and Portuguese to South America, and in German and Italian, and I think it is very interesting, in trying to gauge to some extent the effects of some of these broadcasts, to have noticed a report which appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" recently of an article in a German newspaper, which complained—as indeed Herr Hitler, in his speech of 30th January, complained—of the British broadcasts in German. It is interesting to reflect on that, because it means that these broadcasts must be so well known among Germans that those who control the Press in Germany are not afraid to give them a free advertisement; and by contrast it is interesting to ask oneself how many people in this country know that German and Italian stations send out English news for our benefit. It is encouraging to think that we are really, by these broadcasts, meeting a genuine and perhaps increasing demand.
In conclusion, I would like to reinforce what my hon. Friend has said about not creating any elaborate machinery, or any ministry, of propaganda in this country. What we want to do is to extend our efforts on the lines on which they are already laid down. It may be that it would be a possible or desirable plan—I do not seek to judge of it either way—for the Government to give some assistance direct to the British Broadcasting 1818 Corporation to enable them to increase these services, either to extend their time and their programmes or to include other countries. It might also be useful to have some general review of this whole matter, though I dare say that, as that is already in the competent hands of the Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Vansittart, that review is unnecessary.
However that may be, I am convinced that from the financial point of view we must bear in mind that the countries to which I have been referring are spending several million pounds a year on their propaganda, and although we do not seek to set up any comparable instrument, although we do not want to retaliate or indulge in counter-propaganda, we do want to make sure that we give an adequate projection of ourselves, so that the world may not be misled and so that we may not be misrepresented, because this matter is really part of our Defence services. Our rearmament programme, if it is to be successful, must obviously be linked with a definite policy and a definite aim. If it is to achieve that aim—and that aim is not to win a victorious war, but to maintain a peace—it is essential that we should maintain our prestige throughout the world and that our aim should be widely and properly understood. It is because I believe that by extending these methods we can help to achieve that end that I have very great pleasure in seconding the Motion.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett
I would like to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Grant-Ferris) on bringing before the House this very important issue. I believe, as the last speaker has said, that it is a matter which is of the very greatest importance from the point of view of defence. We would all agree, I think, that we should like to have more, and more pleasant, information about this country spread abroad, but in our desire to get that information spread there are certain temptations which I think we ought to resist and to which I will call brief attention. We read, in the first place, of these vast sums of money spent by totalitarian States on propaganda, and instead of realising that these sums, like all sums spent on advertisement, are in themselves to some extent a confession of weakness, we might be tempted to spend great sums of money 1819 ourselves in trying to rival these totalitarian States. I think that would be a great mistake. I happen to be very strongly opposed to what is now known as propaganda. I am one of the victims of it. When I first became a victim of propaganda during the Peace Conference, I weighed less than 10 stone. I then became a victim of Polish, Hungarian, Rumanian, and other dinners, which have not done me very much good.
I venture to believe that the situation is not as bad as it sounds, because, after all, what is the situation to-day? I think we must, in the first place, distinguish between news and publicity or propaganda. Every editor of every newspaper is, quite rightly, on the look-out to prevent publicity from creeping over from the advertising columns into the editorial columns, because he knows that his newspaper will lose prestige if he does not prevent that. The Government, I think, should be just as careful, because in a world where more and more States have their Press strictly controlled and have a Press which is allowed to publish only that news that is valuable to the Government, any service of news which is entirely free from that suspicion of control is looked upon with increasing respect, and I venture to believe that our present services of news from this country are treated with very great respect throughout the world just because there is at present no suspicion of Government control. How does news from this country reach the foreign Press? Some of it goes through the British Official Wireless, some of it goes through the great news agencies, the British news agencies, some of it, most of it, goes through the representatives in this country of foreign news agencies and foreign newspapers, and some of it again, as we have been hearing, goes through the B.B.C. news bulletins.
As I see it, in the totalitarian States whatever we send out would be suppressed when it did not suit the Dictators. In other States the less our news service is coloured by propaganda, the more willingly will it be received and the more will it be used. I think it was about a year ago that the Associated British Chambers of Commerce adopted a resolution pressing the British Government to subsidise a news service to South American countries. I hope very much that nothing of 1820 the kind will ever be done, because once we go in for subsidising commercial news services, we arouse the suspicion that our sources of news are tainted, and we begin the process of undermining the whole structure of the freedom of the Press, with results that are just as disastrous at home as they are overseas. Whatever Members of this House may think about the British Press, I would venture to remind them that Parliament and the Press are the two great bastions of our freedom, and the maintenance of our right as citizens to speak our own minds is the best propaganda of all in a world that is suffering far too much from control of one sort and another. I imagine that the Government must sometimes feel a desire to control the Press, just as I imagine that right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench must at times resent being put in the witness box or in the dock every day during Question Time, but they would, I am sure, agree that through the Press and through the right of Members to ask questions on every conceivable issue, we do maintain a freedom which is of the greatest possible service in a world that is losing freedom.
I deplore as much as anybody in this House the exaggerated sensationalism which is found in certain British newspapers. I rather wish that somebody could put forward a Bill which would limit, for example, the size of the headlines, which are the cause of most of the trouble. We cannot, however, suppress the yellow sensational newspapers without at the same time endangering the great defenders of the best British traditions like the "Manchester Guardian" and the "Yorkshire Post." Once we have a Government subsidy for news agencies or news services we are menacing the freedom of the people. Subsidies, indeed, are unnecessary, because the present service of news, as distinct from publicity or propaganda, is admirable. The British Official Wireless may sometimes be colourless and dull, but it is looked upon with great respect throughout the world just because it goes out as an official service. If public money is spent on sending out news from this country, it can go out only with the hallmark "Official" on it.
In a world where more and more we have subsidised services trying to put forward the picture which the hon. Member 1821 for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) drew of a decadent British Empire facing a vigorous and all-successful totalitarian State, the existence of a British official wireless service which goes out without any pretence that it is anything but official has a great influence. It is very often referred to, even when it is not printed in newspapers, by the editors of foreign newspapers to make sure that their own correspondents are not going too wide of the mark. But the most important agents we have in this country for disseminating news about this country abroad must necessarily be the representatives of foreign agencies and newspapers. They do, on the whole, an extremely valuable job. If any question of subsidising a news service from this country were to come up, I would remind hon. Members that one great American news agency during the September crisis cabled to the States of South America as much as 20,000 words a day, including verbatim reports of speeches by the Prime Minister and a White Paper which came out about the time of the visit to Munich.
Considering the fact that it is not too easy for a foreign correspondent to come and listen to the Debates in this House, I am amazed and impressed in picking up newspapers printed 6,000 or 7,000 miles away to find fuller reports of the proceedings of the House of Commons than we find in a considerable number of daily papers in this country. I believe with the hon. Member for Winchester that we have to watch very carefully all this propaganda effort which is carried out by other countries, in South America and elsewhere. I am encouraged, however, by the reflection that in South America, for example—where there has been undoubtedly a tremendous effort by the totalitarian States to convey the impression that this Empire is utterly decadent—at the Pan-American Conference held at Lima, German propaganda, which must have been carried out at the cost of a tremendous expenditure of money, was a signal political failure. I think it is true that all matters, except those which are of purely domestic interest, including the proceedings of this House are widely reported everywhere.
There are two respects in which we can be useful to these unsconscious agents in this task of projecting Britain overseas. I refer to the foreign correspondents in London. A few years ago London was the 1822 channel through which almost all news to Europe went overseas. It was all cabled or telephoned to London, sub-edited here, and then cabled on to oversea countries. Now that is changed because the French, by the use of a special system, have been able very greatly to reduce their cable tolls. That is a serious matter, because it does not matter whether the stuff is sub-edited by British subjects or not if it is sent overseas from London it does to a certain extent get coloured with British views. To give an illustration. There might be an important happening on the Continent. If the report of that event comes through London, the local correspondents of the news agency or the paper are immediately put on to the job. They get into touch with prominent British citizens and they are able to accompany their report of the event in Europe with an account of the British reactions to it. At the very moment the news is going, say, to South America it is accompanied, therefore, by the British reaction to it. That is of the greatest importance. I suggest that if we are really going to take seriously this question of disseminating news we should do something about the reduction of cable tolls from this country. The Empire Press Union has for many years been urging that Press rates to the Empire should be reduced. I believe that it is not only to the Empire that these rates should be reduced. I am told that the reduction could be brought about without great technical alterations in our present equipment.
There is a second way of helping to get news abroad. The various Government Departments give the greatest possible facilities to foreign journalists established in London. I would like to pay a tribute to the news department of the Foreign Office. It has a very small staff, but I believe that it has far greater influence than any other news department in Europe, and I think I have had dealings with almost all of them. It has that influence because it sticks absolutely to giving straight news. It does not make any great effort to influence the man who goes to get his news. I cannot pose as a whole-hearted supporter of the foreign policy of the present Government, but I have never been victimised because of that. Because the news department of the Foreign Office has always done its best to give me the information I have wanted, and has told me what the Gov- 1823 ernment's policy was, and has not victimised me if I did not make use of that information, I think it is true that I make a greater effort to understand the Government's foreign policy and to appreciate it than I might otherwise do. I am sure that the same remark applies to other journalists who go to that department. There are other Government Departments which have not yet realised the part that they can play in this important business of projecting Great Britain to foreign countries. I would suggest that the Government should, if they can see their way to do so, persuade these Government Departments to pay greater attention to foreign journalists than they may have done in the past. Of course, it is true that those journalists will not conceal the fact, for example, that we have over 2,000,000 unemployed, and it is true that in certain sections of society-it is almost as indelicate to mention the existence of unemployment to-day as it would have been to mention the existence of legs during the reign of Queen Victoria. But no Government can escape criticism if it does not do very much to remove that scandal of unemployment.
I venture to think that, as far as news is concerned, we have not got very much to worry about, and, as previous speakers in this discussion have pointed out, the important thing is to concentrate on publicity, on propaganda; in other words, to do much more to get people interested in the culture of this country. That can be done to some extent by a development which, I believe, is taking place—by the appointment of far more Press attachés at our Embassies and Legations overseas. If there are energetic young men in those Legations abroad they can do a very useful, because a very honest, job by watching out for misrepresentations in the foreign Press, by maintaining contact with responsible journalists and by supplying them with the background that is necessary if they are rightly to make use of the news that is brought to them by the news agencies. That, I believe, is an important development, and, as I say, I am glad to see that the Government do seem to be sending abroad far more Press attachés than in the past.
Of broadcasting and the other important methods of reaching the public in other countries I am not going to say much, because previous speakers have 1824 done it better than I could, but I am convinced that the broadcasting from this country in foreign languages which has taken place in the last few months has been successful because it is completely unbiased. Occasionally when I listen to the broadcasts in German, for example, I find that I am a little annoyed by them, because I wish there were a little more "kick" in them, but when I reflect about them I have to admit that this method of giving only straight news is much the best. After all, if we went in for definite propaganda there is no doubt that those news bulletins would be suppressed in the totalitarian States. As the hon. Member for Winchester has pointed out, for many years broadcasts in English have been sent out from other countries, and I think it is quite time that we replied, and I hope very much that we shall extend as much as possible the time allotted to them and the number of languages in which we send them out.
But in the last resort the valuable field is publicity, not news. We have for far too long given the foreigner the impression that we were interested in nothing except football pools, golf handicaps and that sort of thing. We have great cultural traditions, of which we have every right to be proud. I am sometimes distressed to see how German Ministers and very important people in German public life find time to visit the smallest and humblest capitals in Europe. I should like to see that system developed very much more in this country. The British Council, especially when one remembers how little money it has, is carrying out a very remarkable job, and I hope very much that Members of this House will do everything they can to further the work of that council, even putting themselves to some inconvenience to accept invitations to lecture abroad. I am distressed sometimes to see how little in the past we have worried about the provision of British books in libraries overseas. We have the example of the French, with their institutes in capitals all over Europe, with their great efforts to spread French culture, with their French theatrical companies, with their French orchestras and so on.
I hope that we shall learn from the French and develop that cultural propaganda as much as possible, because, after all, it is a legitimate propaganda. We have this culture and we have every right 1825 to spread it overseas. From my experience when wandering around Europe I am sure that anything we can do in that direction will be most warmly welcomed. Nothing to do with any attempt to control news, but everything to further the cultural propaganda. But in the last resort, of course, the best propaganda of all is a policy of the courageous maintenance of our ideals. If we are content to sit back and admit that there must always be 2,000,000 unemployed in this country, and to admit that the destruction must take place of other peoples in Europe who have been doing their best to defend those ideas of democracy that we did so much to foster in the past, then I believe all the propaganda in the world is useless and justifiably useless; but I do believe most sincerely that the more we can be proud of our culture and of the cultural ideas that we have been able to give to the world, the more welcome we shall find for them.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Storey
I welcome this opportunity to discuss what is, after all, an essential part of the equipment of the modern State, and that is the possession of efficient methods of publicity. My hon. Friends who moved and seconded this Motion dealt mainly with broadcasting and the work of the British Council. Those are both means of publicity deserving of the support of this House, particularly as in them this country starts with no great initial advantage. Indeed, we have rather allowed ourselves to be forestalled and it will mean a strenuous effort if we are to keep up with our competitors. I wish rather to deal with a matter which has been touched upon by the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett). It is the third means of publicity—which I believe to be by far the most effective, because it is not so obvious and because it deals rather with the written than with the spoken word—and that is the distribution through British channels of world news to the newspapers of the world. In that department we in this country start with very great advantages, because we possess what is the only universal news agency in the world which has direct contacts with all the principal news agencies in the world, and has its contacts in every quarter of the globe. For three quarters of a century, mainly through the medium of Reuters, British and foreign news has been widely distri- 1826 buted throughout the world, particularly in Europe and in the Far East, and the independence, the accuracy and the integrity of that news has assured its ready acceptance, and by that acceptance British prestige has been maintained and a better knowledge and understanding of British aims has been fostered.
In the last few years, however, there has been a great change. The hon. Member for Bridgwater said he did not think there was much to fear as regards British news. I am afraid that I cannot agree with him, for foreign Governments having realised the advantages which have accrued to Great Britain through the dissemination of British aims and views, and the development of wireless telegraphy having provided a cheap means of transmitting news messages, those foreign Governments have seized their opportunity and have spent large sums in building up competing services. National news agencies in foreign countries, heavily subsidised, enjoying special facilities for cheap transmission, have been able to distribute a wealth of information by wireless news service, with unlimited wordage, of news not only of their own countries but of Britain and other foreign countries, at a fraction of the cost which it means to their British counterpart which is run as a commercial concern.
When it is realised that a foreign news agency can deliver news in Japan at one-tenth of the commercial cost to an agency in this country, the House will understand how potent is that competition. It is no wonder that those national news agencies have forced themselves upon the attention of foreign newspapers. Only the reputation for efficiency, accuracy and integrity, built up over a long period, has enabled us to hold our own. Even if those foreign news agencies contented themselves with skilfully presenting the news of their own countries and in fairly presenting the news of this country—news, as the hon. Member for Bridgwater pointed out, would still be news as seen through foreign eyes—the loss of a proper understanding of Great Britain would be enormous; but when these heavily subsidised agencies present news of Great Britain in a definitely tendentious manner the harm to British prestige is incalculable.
I need not weary the House with examples of such tendentious news. The 1827 hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) dealt in a similar Debate last year with this tendentious news and with the derogatory twist given to news of Great Britain; I need only recall that the secret instruction of the German Foreign Propaganda Department calls for action to discredit the news agencies of other countries and to damage their relations with foreign newspapers, and states that the elimination of news from other news agencies is a definite gain to Germany.
How are we to defeat such efforts? Last year the House passed a similar Resolution to that which we are discussing to-night, and during the stress of the crisis something was done to implement that Resolution as regards the distribution of news to foreign newspapers. I do not feel that enough has been done. I hope that the House will pass this Motion and, the House having reaffirmed its opinion, that the Government will go forward and take more far-reaching action. As I have pointed out, there is available a worldwide organisation such as no other country possesses. Surely the Government will make full use of that organisation. For such use there is only one essential condition and that is that the independence of the organisation must be maintained. The prestige of British news services and their ability so far to hold their own are due to that independence. There is no reason why we should interfere with that independence. Unless that independence is fully safeguarded those concerned would prefer to continue to fight a losing battle. They would not give up the fight, but they will not seek assistance at the price of their independence.
I see no reason why we could not safeguard that independence; in fact, I have every reason to believe that the Government take that view and would not seek in any way to do anything to lessen that independence. After all, it is possible to assist in meeting the cost of distribution of news services without interfering in the collection and selection of the news. During the War, Reuters did an immense amount of work for the Government in sending out news services to foreign newspapers, and—let it be placed clearly on record—never once during the whole of that time, when they did that work, did the Government of the day show the 1828 slightest tendency to interfere with the selection of the news. What was done then can be done now. It can be done at the present time. I hope that the Government will utilise the organisation that is available to its fullest ability, without weakening the foundations upon which that organisation is built, which is its independence.
I support the Motion because it calls attention to a problem which has long caused those who are engaged in the distribution of world news through British channels grave concern. Their work is more apparent abroad than it is at home, but it is work which plays a great part in maintaining British prestige and in developing British trade. I feel that it is well that the House and the country should realise it and that the Government should do all in their power to assist it.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff
In cash value we can afford to imitate any foreign country, so far as the provision of money is concerned, in the dissemination of news. In moral values I hope that this country will never descend to copying any foreign nation, or to endeavouring to imitate a foreign nation in some of the methods to which we listen to-day in what is called foreign propaganda. I am glad that the Mover and Seconder of the Motion put out of their own minds and out of ours any idea that we want a minister of propaganda. The creation of a ministry of propaganda would be a confession of weakness. I feel that there is no need for this country to have an inferiority complex such as is sometimes displayed in the propaganda from foreign countries. I agree that at times we are misunderstood in foreign countries, and that there may be in some foreign newspapers on Saturday evening or Sunday joy because of the great defeat of England—England defeated; the downfall of England, by Irishmen at football. I am certain that we are misunderstood; at any rate, we Yorkshiremen are misunderstood. When we meet Lancastrians on August Bank Holiday or at Whitsuntide, and we talk about the battle of the Roses, some of the foreigners may think that we are talking about a battle of long ago.
I quite agree, therefore, with the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), who speaks with great knowledge about the Press. We do not want a gramophone 1829 Press, but I wish that certain sections of the Press would not emphasise the failings of the foreigner. In one weekly newspaper published last Thursday we were told almost with joy that the head of a certain State was suffering from a throat disease. I was sorry to see that printed, because it would be copied in certain foreign newspapers, which would say that we were gloating at the probable death of the leader of whom they were proud. Fortunately, our Press does not need any lessons from such people as myself upon how to conduct its affairs, but if my voice could reach certain sections of the Press I would wish that in their criticisms of certain foreign Powers they might use forbearance and a certain amount of charity. I am sure that the speeches of certain Ministers would not be reported in the foreign Press but for the fact that in Free Trade Hall and in St. Andrew's Hall, Glasgow, certain speakers, both from the party opposite and from the party on this side, have been shouted down. I wish my voice could reach that small minority of men of my own country who put in peril our great right of free speech, and also give to the foreigner a false impression that we are decadent.
I am glad that the B.B.C. is disseminating news on the medium wavelength. There has been criticism from abroad, and I try to understand the foreign point of view. A government abroad caters for its citizens by putting on the market a radio set which will only pick up news on a certain wave-length, or on two or three wave-lengths, and, because they use an ultra-short wavelength, they expect us to do the same. But the wicked Britisher puts the news over on a medium wave-length, and it is a testimonial to the success of our dissemination of that news that there is this criticism from abroad. It shows that that radio straight news of ours—I emphasise the expression "straight news"—is appreciated at its proper value both by critics and by those who admire it. There was some criticism about what we did by way of a certain form of reprisal, as I suppose it might be described, to the Ban station, which disseminated news to the Arabians. In that case the B.B.C. was somewhat slow in not commandeering into its service the Paymaster-General—the Noble Lord, apparently, does not appreciate his new office; let me say the 1830 late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—because, if there is a man in this country who could disseminate British news with the proper Arabic, almost Rabelaisian flavour, I believe it would be the Noble Lord.
§ Mr. Muff
I am glad that the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) drew attention to the foreign Press, and also to the cable messages that we send abroad. I had made a note of that matter myself. We ought, in our British unemotional way, I agree, to make a little more fuss of the foreign correspondents by providing better accommodation for them at St. Stephen's. I think it would even pay the Postmaster-General to reduce his tolls on foreign messages, because then the cables would be used to a greater extent, and perhaps in the end there would be no larger loss than at present, because, even if there were a loss in one direction, what he would lose on the swings he would gain on the roundabouts.
Films have been mentioned, and it was rather amusing to think that a film which the German Führer had been primed to commend before the arival of the distinguished Conservative Members of Parliament who are visiting him, and their friends, was an American film. It is, of course, a very exciting film, and one which all of us, even Germans, can enjoy. I want to say in passing that these films have to stand on their own merits; and that they are appealing more and more to a wider public is shown by the fact that a great British film has received the crown of glory, or the olive branch, or the gold medal, or whatever they give in America to the best film of the year.
I am glad that the British Council has been mentioned. Again I trust that we shall never compete with certain foreign nations in shovelling out money for propaganda. Every Member of this House receives the "Asiatic News" and various other forms of propaganda, and I am glad that the Lord has given to most Britishers, and especially Englishmen, a sense of humour, so that we can appreciate some of this propaganda literature that we receive week by week at its proper value, which is not very high. I hope we shall not spend money in that way. But I think that the British Coun- 1831 cil should receive greater recognition from this House, and also from the other House, but particularly from this House, because it is the money-providing machine. I was impressed when some of us were invited—in my case for the first time—to attend a meeting of the British Council. I knew very little about it, but I was impressed by the smallness of the amount of money it possessed, and was astounded at the great use that it made of its money in providing what I would call ambassadors of good will to go to various countries and simply be their natural selves, putting the English point of view in a straight sort of way. If there is one suggestion that I would make to the British Council—I do not suppose that they will ever hear of it—I think they might make more use of Members who sit on these benches. If my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) and myself were sent abroad on such a mission, I am sure the results would be surprising. I think the British provincial point of view might be put to the foreigner. London does not represent the British point of view in its proper dimensions and aspect. You have to go north of the Trent if you want it put in a proper way. That is one reason why I would suggest that the British Council should make some use of Members of Parliament and other people of my own persuasion filled with the same spirit of good will. We might not do it so effectively; our English, I am certain, would not be as good; but at any rate we should try to put the really British point of view.
Looking at the picture as a whole, I am proud of the British Press for its dignity, and also for its preservation of the decencies of everyday life, and if our radio services can continue to preserve in their way the decencies of everyday life, there is no need for us to be duly alarmed. We need not be complacent; but the message of England will get across the footlights of the world without any subsidies, without any undue extravagance, because the message that we have to deliver to the world is really a message of good will, and not a message of ill will.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I am sure we all enjoyed very much the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff). He did unconsciously say a thing which I 1832 think is profoundly true; that was when he jokingly proposed that a visit by himself and one of his political opponents abroad would do a lot of good. Nothing would be more beneficial than such a visit by two political opponents from this country, because that would indicate just what other countries are suffering from. You cannot run a democracy when you want to murder and blow up your opponents. Unless there is an understanding which rises above party feeling, democracy will not work.
I feel that everywhere we are becoming more and more like the children in "Brave New World." We are educated by the Press to think along the lines they want us to follow. Hon. Members will remember how the children in that book were taught not to like certain things by being given shocks when they were young. That is the sort of thing that is happening in Europe to-day. Our own Press, perhaps, is less blameworthy than the others, but you get things of a surprising type creeping in, like the case of the Duke of Windsor, which was not mentioned for a year, while the foreign Press was discussing it, and the case of Oswald Mosley, who, although he is the leader of a political party, is not mentioned at all. That must be because some form of arrangement and conspiracy exists within our Press. If that is so, we have not a free Press, and that state of affairs should be altered.
We are told that we have the sort of Press that we deserve. From that we draw the obvious deduction that we are getting more vulgar every day. That, of course, is our own fault. But some of the papers get their values very wrong. One may see the front pages of some of our papers occupied by the story, for instance, of the amours of some American film star of whom one has never heard. The climax was reached recently when one of our great papers gave one-third of its front page to the picture of a cat that saw a murder.
One of the most important developments is the starting of this broadcasting in foreign languages. Let us be perfectly clear about it. It was the Germans who started it. During the War, before one could speak over the ether, when it was all Morse code, they sent out the most remarkable anti-English propaganda. Afterwards, they were the first to start the short-wave stations, from which 1833 broadcasts in English went to all our Colonies. I have listened to a great many of these broadcasts, and I do not think it could be said that in them the Germans tried to run us down. They did a great deal of English broadcasting, but, apart from boosting their own goods, it was a perfectly fair type of broadcast. We are drifting into a position where each country knows only what its own Government wants it to know. That is most unhealthy. Broadcasting of a propaganda type has been tried, and has failed. I do not know whether hon. Members have listened to the English broadcasts from Moscow. That is a country to which everybody would like to listen if one could get perfectly fair and unbiased accounts of their successes, their troubles and their failures. But their broadcasts were so obviously propaganda that nobody would listen to them. There was a chance of enabling us to learn about Russia, which was thrown away because they resorted to propaganda.
Now we have one of our English stations starting to talk to Germany in her own language. We must not prostitute the gift of broadcasting by propaganda, because if for one moment the German nation, when listening to that, thought we were trying to educate them rather than to give perfectly straight news, the whole thing would be bound to fail. I would like to see a German station broadcasting in English also. After all, we are so prejudiced against Nazi-ism, against Communism, against this and that, that we do not hear about the good side of Governments of other countries. We could inculcate 60 per cent, of National Socialism, with very good results, into this country without destroying democracy. Good broadcasting, without propaganda, would enable us to learn something from Germany which we do not now know, and they would learn something from us which they do not know. It is only by a true knowledge of other countries that we can remain peaceful citizens of a bigger country than our own, a United States of Europe.
I turn to one point that is important. Who is going to control this very important system of broadcasting to the Germans? I have been a critic of the B.B.C., and shall probably continue to be. There is nobody who is happy with their programme. Sometimes we think 1834 they are too pink; sometimes others think they are too Conservative; but that is all a matter for ourselves. When we are talking to Germany in her own language, we can make the most terrible mistakes. One can get a country annoyed at something that is said. Only the other day we quoted an article about Germany. That is not the sort of thing that is wanted. What is meant is to tell Germany the sort of thing that is going on here. These broadcasts should never deal with the country to which the broadcast is being addressed. I am afraid we shall not take this thing seriously enough.
Who is to be responsible for these broadcasts, with which I honestly believe the future of Europe is going to be bound up? Is it not going to be the Government's job? It is not a job for the Foreign Office, because they view things through their own spectacles. It is not a job for the Post Office. I think there needs to be a more intimate liaison between the Government and the B.B.C. over this. We have here a weapon which must grow in favour. Germany must ask for it and want it because the Germans know that it is trustworthy and the truth. If in answer to the good broadcast of this type, unbiased and unprejudiced, there come from other countries broadcasts in English of their doings, then we shall have succeeded in doing one of the best things that has ever occurred in Europe.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) has made not only a delightfully racy speech, but one full of most shrewd common sense to which, I am sure, attention will have to be paid if dissemination of news is to proceed along proper lines. He mentioned Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and went on to describe what I think is rather a Grave New World in which we are not allowed to hear about the Duke of Windsor and Sir Oswald Mosley, but may hear about cats which witnessed murders and the domestic lives of film stars. The answer is, of course, that newspaper proprietors print the news which sells the paper, and, no doubt, people do like seeing pictures of cats which witnessed murders and hearing about film stars who are really only doing what most people would like to do, in 1835 their heart of hearts, if they had the courage of their convictions.
I remember the dissemination in the news a short time ago of some theological views which the stress of the Munich crisis had invoked in the mind of the hon. Mover of this Motion. I did not agree with those views, but I agree with much of what he has said to-night. He is to be sincerely congratulated upon having chosen this subject when fortunate in the ballot, because I am quite sure that Debates on this subject do good, not only because they may bring certain points of view and opinions to the notice of the Government but because these Debates are read abroad. Foreigners reading them must be impressed with the good sense and the moderation with which the question of propaganda is approached in this House, and especially with the fact that there is no encouragement in any quarter of the House for any form of retaliation in regard to propaganda. The effect on my mind of listening to Debates on this subject is that we shall never in this country have a ministry of propaganda, although we may well one day have a ministry of information, which would probably be a very useful ministry indeed.
There were one or two points which particularly impressed me in the speech of the Mover of the Motion. What he said about the Press was well deserved, and I should say that the highest tribute paid to the British Press is the wish of the German Government to muzzle it. It is an illustration of the fact that the one thing that a dictator fears is thought and that he will stop at nothing to prevent his people getting the material from which thoughts can be formed. I should like to reinforce what has been said about the British Council, and may I say in commentary on some remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull East (Mr. Muff) that it would be a great mistake to imagine that the British Council have any prejudice against Members of the Labour party as lecturers abroad. I believe that Lord Snell is actually upon a lecture tour at this moment. The success of the British Council in keeping up a high standard amongst the lecturers sent abroad is remarkable. I hear from residents in foreign countries how much these lectures are appreciated, of the good that is done 1836 by them, and especially of how immensely the fact is admired that no politics are ever introduced into the lectures, and that there is no attempt made to ram any particular point of view down the throats of the audiences. I certainly agree that it would be a very good thing to extend these lectures to South America, a country which I have always very much wished to visit.
As to foreign broadcasts, I hear from Germans who are sincere well-wishers of both countries, of their own country as well as of ours, how good they are, and they say that it is really impossible at the present moment to broadcast too much straight news. They say that nothing but good can be done by it. Although I think that it must be straight news, I see no reason at all why in these broadcasts prominence should not be given to the fact that nobody in this country has any thoughts or any designs for the encirclement of Germany or wishes Germany any harm at all. Something was said about the Vansittart Committee. His Majesty's diplomatic adviser is not, I think, overburdened by his duties in that capacity, and I am sure it is a very good thing that he has an outlet on this committee to which he can devote his undoubted energies and abilities.
I will not say anything about foreign propaganda to-night except that I cannot help remembering that one of the sequels to the Munich visit was the outbreak of a particular virulent and slanderous campaign of libel about our troops in Palestine. We heard something from the Prime Minister to-day about assurances which he had received from Herr Hitler in regard to German intervention in Spain. I felt sorry that he had not availed himself of the same opportunity to obtain some assurances from him about this propaganda, because it is impossible for anybody to work with any hope of success of better relations between this country and Germany unless a stop is put to campaigns of the nature of this campaign about our troops in Palestine.
Some time ago the House approved a Motion urging the Governmentto give its full support to schemes for wider presentation of news, views, and culture abroad.I am sure that there is no object to which the Government could with better advantage give the full weight of their 1837 moral and financial support. But if we are to further the more effective presentation of British news, views and culture abroad, it is most essential that the news should be kept entirely separate from the views and the culture. The news should be a department by itself. In that connection subsidised propaganda is suspect, and it is no good seeking to reply to subsidised propaganda with more subsidised propaganda. It is said that every poison has its antidote, but the antidote in this case is not another poison but a wholesome diet of straight news to build up the patient's powers of resistance. If that wholesome diet is to be supplied abroad, it is essential to have transmission rates for news which are low enough to enable the British news agencies to transmit on equal terms with foreign news agencies, and also low enough to encourage foreign agencies to use London for the transmission of news abroad. It is because this is not possible that we are losing influence in world affairs at the present moment. While foreign agencies are able to pour out news by the bucketful at ridiculously low charges, British agencies cannot do it. If they are to compete they must have concessions in regard to cheap radio transmission, such as other countries enjoy. There must be cheap radio transmission or cable rates which compare favourably with the radio charges, so that our news agencies may offset the ever-increasing flood of foreign propaganda, with objective news.
I fully appreciate the importance of the defence aspect of this question, and I know that on account of defence requirements there must be a certain preference for cable services as opposed to wireless services, which can be jammed. Cable services will be essential in time of war and, therefore, they must be maintained. If we are agreed on that, I still think that defence requirements ought to be a general charge, and not a charge against a small section of the community. If on account of defence requirements we have to maintain these cable services, the position is that they are maintained, in effect, at the expense of that small percentage of the Empire community who are actively engaged in long-distance communications. They have to suffer because of our defence requirements, which prevent them from having the cheap radio transmission which is possible.
1838 If the cable services are a matter of Imperial Defence and must be considered from that point of view, and maintained accordingly, so also is the countering of foreign propaganda a matter of defence. Many foreign countries realise that and provide cheap radio transmission for their own, and in some cases for foreign news services. Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Holland, the United States, Japan and Argentina have all been quoted to me as countries which provide this cheap radio transmission for foreign news services as well as for their own. They quote very low rates, and the charges work out at a fraction of what the cable charges would be. I remember a little time ago I heard with great dismay and some distress from a gentleman connected with a British news agency that, much against his will, he might be forced to use a foreign broadcasting station in order to meet the competitive situation with which he was confronted. So competitive is the situation that London has ceased to be the world clearing-house for news, because the news transmission rates from London are not competitive with those offered by foreign countries. The result is that the volume of news circulated via London is literally only a fraction of what it was.
There is one further aspect of the distribution of news abroad, and especially to the Empire, to which I would call attention. It is of the utmost importance that the charges for the transmission of news to the Empire should be so arranged as not to compel a too wide diffusion of each message. A weakness of the British news service overseas is that in order to avoid the duplication of cable charges one and the same message is sent, say, to India, Malaya, Australia and other places. What may interest India may not interest Hong Kong, and vice versa. If each part of the Empire is to receive its appropriate messages, the charges must be such as to enable the news agencies to transmit to each part of the Empire only the news which is appropriate to that part, and not be compelled to give such a wide diffusion to one message as they are compelled for financial reasons to do at the present time.
Most of the speakers to-night have dwelt upon the question of the distribution of news. This question of cheaper rates applies with equal force to the collection of news, which is just as important as the distribution. Facilities must be 1839 offered such as will stimulate the inward flow of news as well as the outward flow. Facilities for what are called "Radio Communications to Several Destinations" will not solve news-collecting problems, and the cost of incoming messages must be lowered, because the best distribution is no good unless there are the supplies to distribute. In regard to news abroad, there are one or two points to which I wish to call attention. Some time ago I asked a question of the Secretary of State for the Colonies as to the reasons why newspapers in Singapore had been refused permission to operate radio sets for the reception of news. I was told thatAs regards the news broadcast by radio-telegraphy—for instance, the Reuters' Rugby Service—it was decided to adopt in the Straits Settlements a practice followed in this country under which the reception of such messages is carried out exclusively by the Administration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1938; col. 1880, Vol. 332.]I can quite understand that the Government have to control radio reception at such naval stations as Singapore, and the newspapers in such a case would have no right to complain as long as the rates charged for the service they have to take are in line with what private enterprise could do if it were allowed to do it. It may be quite right that the Government should control radio reception in this way, but I do not think that should be made a reason for financially penalising the newspapers concerned.
Let me say a few words about Reuters. Nothing is further from my mind than to make any attack on the Reuter service, and I may say that I have no connection with any news agency service of any sort. My efforts are devoted to trying to secure for them all better terms and fairer conditions, and I certainly make no attack on Reuters. As a matter of fact, when I spoke in the House on this subject a little time ago I was sent a copy of the "Straits Times," in which a writer made a severe complaint about the "extravagant tribute," as he called it, which I had paid to the Reuter Agency. He went on to say certain things which it will be just as well to mention, so that we may have an explanation of them. I am sure that something can be said on the other side. The article went on to say:It is only the protection of a Reuter monopoly that has prevented Malaya receiving a far more extensive service of British news than is received at the present time.1840 Later, the article said:For nearly five years the 'Straits Times' has been striving to get into the country a second British news service, not with the idea of excluding Reuter but in the hope of stimulating that agency to greater effort by the introduction of competition. The service we sought to bring here is thoroughly reliable, absolutely independent and of worldwide repute, but, most astonishingly, numerous obstacles have been encountered.The article concludes:The remedy for the present shortage of British news lies not in a grant or concessions to Reuter but the transmission of all British news between various parts of the Empire being facilitated.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I have not got it on the cutting from which I am reading. I will look it up and see if I have the name, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman stands in need of the information.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
It is a very good thing, at any rate, to get some of these points cleared up. I have heard opinions expressed generally that under the present arrangement for the transmission of British news it is difficult for other agencies to compete with Reuters. If that is so, I think nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of the general improvement of news services to Empire newspapers. I have another, as I think, authoritative message from a gentleman who wrote to me to say thatIn India, where I travelled extensively in 1936 and 1937, there is considerable agitation against the Reuter monopoly made possible by government assistance of long standing. Both British and native-owned newspapers there are anxious for stimulating competition.There was a subsidy, of course, paid to Reuters during the crisis and no doubt Reuters rendered very adequate services in return for that subsidy, but I should be very interested to hear if Australia took the subsidised service supplied by Reuters.
Then I am told that even in Canada there was resentment some time ago owing to the closing of the Reuter Bureau at Ottawa. I was told that news of Canada now depends on information filed o to New York by the Canadian Press, 1841 a co-operative news agency, primarily for the benefit of newspapers served by the Associated Press of the United States. This gentleman deplores anything thattends to impair a great prestige of over a century's standing. These are the days of 'specials,' and a news service must retain a tip-top efficiency and must move forward with the times, if it is to deserve the support of its subscribers or members. … Reuters' cable wordage from Ottawa to London during the fateful month of the abdication crisis averaged no more than 200 words a day. The wordage was cut down and Reuters' Office in Ottawa was closed when the Dominion Government's subsidy to Reuters terminated.I think it was very sad if that took place, because we in this country are not as well informed about Empire affairs as we would like to be and should be, and it is regrettable that a news service from Canada should be cut down in that way.
May I say, in conclusion, that while a good deal has been said about propaganda to-night, I do not think that this country is ever likely to take kindly to blatant propaganda. I do not think it would be very much use if any Government ever tried to introduce propaganda in this country on the scale which we have heard about to-night, when we were told that Dr. Goebbels uses propaganda as a musician plays on a piano. I have come to the conclusion that propaganda requires the proper geese. The ether to-day is full of propaganda spreading confusion and distrust all through the world. That is what the great invention of wireless telegraphy is being used for—to spread confusion, fear, distrust and anxiety throughout the world. In spite of that, I believe that objective straight news of the sort that has been talked about to-night will find its own market, and in the long run command a warmer welcome than propaganda.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bull
There are, I know, still a number of hon. Gentlemen who are anxious to speak, and therefore I will not detain the House long. I am very glad, indeed, that the House has been given an opportunity of debating this Motion. I had twice myself put down a Motion somewhat similar, and I waited in the hope that it would be called, but that did not happen. I put down that Motion because I have travelled a certain amount both in the Empire and in other countries and I have personally seen the great need for more and better British news abroad. 1842 That is very important if there is to be better understanding of this country abroad, and particularly in view of the enormous activity of other countries in this direction. I am aware that the object of the Motion is to call attention not only to British news abroad but also to other publicity activities, and indeed the field of national publicity must, to some extent at least, be considered as a whole. Other forms of national publicity are vitally necessary because we must spread abroad a knowledge of the British background and give some understanding abroad of our internal problems in this country. Only if we do this will there be a proper understanding of this country, and only if people abroad know something of our background will they be interested in the day-to-day news of this country and appreciate it in its proper perspective.
I agree entirely with what has been said by the hon. Gentleman who proposed this Motion, and, indeed, I think by almost every hon. Member who has spoken, as to the great importance of the work done by the British Council, and I agree that this is a vital work. But we must remember that we have come late into the field in undertaking this work, and we must push ahead and make every effort possible if we are to compete with the immense activities of other countries. I have also no doubt of the vast importance of films as a means of propaganda. About a month or so ago there was in the Press a considerable amount of correspondence about the influence of films. There was a great difference of expert view about them, but I do not think there was any difference about the importance of films as national publicity. In regard to industrial and commercial publicity, this is of course largely the function of individual firms, but as the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Grant-Ferris) rightly said, there is, I think, a great need for coordination by the firms in advertising abroad if they are to achieve the best results.
This is even more important just now in view of the enormous number of foreign subsidised goods in the markets of the world, which means that we cannot always compete with them in price. It, therefore, becomes vitally important that people in those countries where we are to some extent under-sold should realise the superb quality of British goods. I 1843 think it is very seldom questioned, but none the less it should be adequately pointed out. To give a simple example, I wonder whether everyone in this country knows that British brushes are by far the best in the world. Owing to the business publicity in the United States, for example, very few people there know that you can get British tooth brushes and hair brushes often at about the same price as the American brushes. They are not allowed to know that, as similar articles of American manufacture are so well advertised.
Publicity, so far as the tourist traffic is concerned, is in the hands of the Travel and Industrial Development Association. The funds provided for it mainly come from those engaged in the tourist industry. By far the best way of getting to understand a country is to travel in it, and it is in the national interest that as many tourists as possible should be attracted to this country. They are primarily interested in our ancient landmarks and buildings, not so much perhaps in our climate, although that is good enough in the summer. They come to see our ancient buildings and scenery, and American tourists, a very important section are also interested in the hotels where they stay. They are interested in the bath-room accommodation and if they could be sure that some of the hotels in the country had more bath-rooms they would stay longer. From some proprietors of our hotels, for some reason which I do not know, I understand that they do not seem to take very kindly to such things as greens, cabbage and brussel sprouts.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton-Brown)
The Motion is about publicity and the Press, and has nothing to do with cabbages and greens.
§ Mr. Bull
I will stop at brussel sprouts. I am glad that the Government have recognised the importance of attracting tourists to this country, but by far the most important items of our publicity are those things which happen every day, the events which are broadcast and published in the Press. The British Broadcasting Corporation's Empire broadcasts and their broadcasts in foreign languages are a very valuable contribution, and I think they are being well done.
With regard to Press news, and particularly with regard to what the Mover 1844 of the Motion called political propaganda, I do not venture to criticise any of the speeches which have been made, and I only express a personal opinion when I say that speeches made in this House as to the prospects of American support for this country are not very good propaganda from our point of view. They only defeat their object and furnish material for such books as "England expects every American to do his duty," which was a best seller in the United States recently. The population of the United States is very mixed and it has strong local opinions. A great many of them left England in order to get away from the type of nonsense which is going on in Europe now. They see the only frontier which they all know well without a single fort or soldier, and they wonder, and rightly, why some nations in Europe cannot live in a similarly sensible manner. It is important to remember that as we could not legislate for the 13 American Colonies 150 years ago we certainly cannot do it to-day, and they do not appreciate any efforts to do so. As one hon. Member has said, such things as the recent Glasgow meeting are, unfortunately, the type of news which always gets great publicity on that Continent. It was very well put by the New York Correspondent of the "Sunday Times" in an article in that paper last Sunday. I will only read the last sentence:Most Americans would agree also that the time has arrived when it is best to call off any and all European propaganda designed to commit America to a definite-position in advance of actual conflict.In regard to what the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) said about unemployment in this country I do not think some of the totalitarian States have anything to boast of in the propaganda for their institutions when they claim to have solved their unemployment problems, as it does not seem to me a method which should commend itself to this country to solve this problem, by maintaining vast conscript armies. That is nothing to be proud of. It is well known that certain foreign countries, particularly-some of the totalitarian States, have devoted great efforts to inundating this country and many other countries with their news, their views and their culture as well. They spend enormous sums of money and employ vast staffs and, machinery for this work. It has resulted 1845 in the development of national publicity to an extent which makes it of overwhelming importance in international politics. I do not mean to imply that the Government of this country should spend vast sums of money in this way, but I should like to be asured that the Government are giving sufficient consideration to the question of British publicity abroad, and that they are prepared to spend adequately in order to achieve real results.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Montague
The hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Grant-Ferris) and the Seconder of the Motion made interesting and useful speeches in introducing the Motion, but I think they approached the subject with rather a tender tread. I gather from their remarks that the old British principle, "You stir it and stump it; and blow your own trumpet," has to be modified in case we offend the leaders of certain foreign governments. I have no desire to offend anybody but I feel that you cannot discuss the first part of this Motion without referring to leaders of foreign countries. You cannot correct premeditated inaccuracies without offending the "inaccurateurs."
§ Mr. Montague
If we are to discuss this Motion intelligently and usefully we must have something to say about the methods of publicity used by foreign governments against this nation. I would remind hon. Members that this question was very fully discussed about a year ago on a similar Motion. In that Debate the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) made a speech which was full of information but of a different character from the one he has made this evening. It had to do with the methods of propaganda of foreign countries. But not only was this question discussed a year ago. It has been raised again and again in this House, on one occasion by such a prominent Member as the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). All sorts of committees have been appointed to consider possible means of counteracting the effects of some types of propaganda directed against this country. I would like to ask the Noble Lord who is to reply to the Debate a few questions concerning these committees. Reference has already been made to the 1846 Vansittart Committee. That committee has not issued any report, and I do not know whether it is going to do so. We do not know very much about it. There was also a Cabinet Committee appointed to discuss the matter, and when a question was asked in the House as to what that committee had done or proposed to do, a definite refusal was given to the request that a White Paper should be issued on the subject.
Then, with the full knowledge of the Government, a B.B.C. official was sent to South America in order to see what was being done in South America by the totalitarian Governments in regard to broadcasting in Spanish and Portuguese. When questions were asked in the House, we were told that the matter was confidential, that the report was a report to the B.B.C, and that it had nothing to do with us. We do not know anything about that. What was the nature of Lord Lloyd's report to the Government? The Government were supposed to review the whole subject early this year, but we have not heard yet of any new move by the Government in regard to this important subject. Only last week a writer said:The general complaint is that the matter "—this refers to what is being done by the British Council, by the B.B.C, and in other ways—is not being tackled as firmly and as comprehensively as its importance deserves. Since the crisis it has degenerated into a boring recital of trivialities.The night before last, I noticed in the "Star" a short article by "The Man in the Street" in which a rather remarkable suggestion was made on this subject. He stated that the technique of propaganda has changed during the last generation, and he went on:Posters may only raise a smile. Slogans by themselves will not convince. We need to use our new instruments, with their vast power—the radio, the film—with subtlety and with dramatic emphasis. … If I were Sir John Anderson I would call in the best advertising brains in the country to help me, men whose business it is to know just how to appeal to the publicThat is a striking suggestion. After all, an advertising man, a publicist who is prominent in that profession, at least knows how to play upon the instrument referred to. But I am rather doubtful when I hear talk about propaganda and 1847 culture. It is desirable sometimes to define one's terms. I would like to know what is meant by culture, in this respect. We can get all sorts of culture over the wireless; one has only to turn a knob to get the culture of the African savage by way of Tin Pan Alley. What is really meant by the dissemination of British culture? Who is to be responsible for deciding what is to be the official cultural taste of this country? I think there is a little bit of cant in this talk of British culture. Our real culture, which is a great historical thing, can stand upon its own merits without any boosting by publicists by the ordinary advertising methods. I detest the word "propaganda."
On reading the Debate that took place on this subject a year ago, I noticed that the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Lees-Jones) spoke of "getting over" the policy of the Government. That raises the question as to who is to decide the nature of the broadcasting or the news that is to be sent abroad and to be spread over, not only the dictatorial countries, but our own Empire. If the policy of the Government is to be defended, surely there is a considerable danger of that measure of defence being turned into a question of party controversy. After all, when we talk about propaganda, let us remember that the British Empire is not a pot of toilet cream, or one of the 57 varieties. I think there is an objection to spending public money on propaganda either about Government policy or the supposed culture of this country.
I suppose there are some gullible people who passively accept the psychological value of advertising and publicity of this character, and who really believe that if they encourage their boys to use one manufacturer's soap rather than some other manufacturer's soap, those boys will grow up into very fine members of society. I remember that not long ago a proposal was made by a professional publicist that religion should be advertised, and he produced a specimen advertisement of about 10 inches single column, with a slogan in the form of a text at the top. The effect it had upon me was that of a blend of the "Pilgrims' Chorus" with Alexander's Ragtime Band. The important thing is not the subsidising of a tourist agency and talking about the beauties of this country. 1848 Italy and Germany can do that sort of thing much better than we can. Much more important than boosting the beauty of this country or even boosting the business of the country—which ought to be the job of the business men—is the correction of the sort of propaganda that emanates from the totalitarian countries of Europe at the present time.
I admit that what is being done by the B.B.C. has induced many Germans, who face obvious risks, to write to the B.B.C. thanking them for the German broadcasts, while Hitler's annoyance and the threat of reprisals are evidence of the fact that they are hitting their mark. What is to be the attitude of the Government to possible reprisals? I hope the Noble Lord will say something about that. The question of propaganda and news is one that cannot be considered without running the risk of offending the people whom the hon. Member for North St. Pancras does not wish to offend. We must consider what is being done by Germany. Those who have examined the matter must have been surprised and concerned, not only at the amount of money that is being spent, but the type of propaganda against this country which is indulged in by other countries. In Germany, for instance, there is a Ministry of Propaganda which serves as a fundamental organ of government, enjoying the same rank as the War Office and the Foreign Office. I do not want a Ministry of Propaganda in this country. I will quote to the House what was stated by the Nazi official organ, the "Voelkischer Beobachter":The influence of the Nazi party in foreign countries extends literally around the entire globe. 'My sphere is the whole world' might aptly be placed over our headquarters in Hamburg. This foreign organisation comprises to-day more than 350 national branches and fulcrum points of the Nazi party everywhere. The Nazi party will yet further develop in an effort to transplant to all foreign countries the objectives of the National Socialist Reich.The Ministry of Propaganda in Germany controls over 300 German newspapers in foreign countries as far apart as South America and the Far East. It utilises a multitude of travel agencies. Many hon. Members will have received from Italy and Germany literature which is not political but cultural in the sense that it deals with one or other of those countries, its manners and customs, scenery and 1849 the rest of it. Those agencies and all the steamship companies of the Reich are utilised. There is a foreign organisation of the National Socialist party, a foreign organisation of the Labour Front, and a foreign political organisation independent of both. Its central department is installed in the Foreign Office as an integral section, with Herr Bohle as under-secretary. There are special institutions for training those who are to carry on propaganda in foreign countries. This, to my mind, is one of the most serious aspects of the question. There is a school in Berlin controlled by Dr. Rosenberg for such training. Every German professor and teacher who accepts a foreign appointment must undergo a course of instruction at the Akademie in Munich. Every student who goes abroad must register as a member of the German Students Foreign District, and there is a harbour service for the distribution of Nazi literature in which the Navy and mercantile fleet of Germany are utilised.
If we are to fight that kind of thing we shall have to do more than talk about what is being done by the British Council. We have to consider this matter very seriously and we have to counteract propaganda in this country, as well as abroad, because it is filtering through here in many ways. There are German agents in many reputable organisations in this country. There is a central authority in Germany—the liaison staff—which consists of Dr. Goebbels, Herr von Ribbentrop, Dr. Rosenberg and Herr Hans Oberindober. The latter is director of the ex-service men and also of the Hitler Youth and arranges fraternal meetings with the ex-service men of other countries. Upon the surface that is a very fine thing indeed, but the leaders of British ex-service men and others who go over to Germany on the invitation of the director of the Hitler Youth come back to this country filled with propaganda which has been instilled into them. Near my own constituency an address was delivered by the leader of a party of ex-service men who went over there. It was purely political and referred to the wickedness of British politicians who "wanted war."
That is what is being done in reputable organisations. It is done almost unconsciously as far as the British members of those organisations are concerned. It is not unknown in some of our peace 1850 organisations also and if we are to counter this system propaganda we have to consider also what is happening in this country. The paid and voluntary agents of these organisations number 25,000, and the expenditure this year, we are told by a writer in the "Quarterly Review," was more than £21,000,000, upon foreign propaganda of a character largely antithetical to the interests of this country. Millions of leaflets and tons of pamphlets are distributed from Hamburg all over the world. This is being done not merely to advertise the Nazi system and the German Reich. They have a perfect right to show the world what their culture is and to defend their own systems of government, and if that were all I should not grumble; but the fact is that this propaganda is anti-British and anti-democratic and is done with subversive intent, on an enormous scale and with the expenditure of a tremendous amount of money.
With regard to the Middle East, although Italy does not do as much as Germany does in this way, there is the problem of Palestine. It would be undesirable to say much on that subject just now while the Conference is sitting, but I cannot help quoting one or two statements. This is one from an Arab newspaper published in Paris:Listening in by natives to foreign broadcasts in Arabic has increased to an embarassing extent. B.B.C. transmissions have provided different stories from those emanating from Bari. Italian colonial governors have been advised to submit reports on the advisability of confiscating all privately or collectively owned radio sets capable of receiving foreign broadcasts. It is fully expected that the recent decree imposing heavy penalties for the reception of non-Italian broadcasts, will be followed up by a formal order for the confiscation of all sets with the exception of those owned by members of the Fascist party.I do not think that the broadcasting of news, straight or otherwise, would easily get over that difficulty. We find the same thing in South America. The first of several detailed plans for a Federal Radio broadcasting station, aimed primarily to combat the propaganda sent over the air by the totalitarian States has just been presented to Congress. A move to counteract the steady flow of Fascist propaganda to South America has been under consideration for more than a year. That is one result. While an American group was attempting to negotiate with the Ecuadorian Government for the installation of a powerful broadcasting station 1851 in Guayaquil, agents for the German transocean group proposed the installation of an even more powerful Nazi transmitter, offering a local newspaper the official German news service at very low rates, and to instal their transmitter practically free. We are told thatGermany which for years has led the world in broadcasting propaganda in foreign languages will start a radio war upon Great Britain unless Great Britain stops broadcasting news in German.I think we may reasonably ask the Noble Lord who is to reply what the Government propose to do in connection with these, often vicious attacks upon this country. Some of the speeches to-night have been very kind and considerate and tolerant, but we do not know what is to be done. Are we going to combat this propaganda or not? If so, in what way and who will be responsible? Is it to be by propaganda or by straight news and who is to decide what is straight news and where it is to be obtained? I think I can pay the B.B.C. the compliment of saying that their ordinary news service is, in the main, unbiased and fair and I do not know that it would not be useful to rely upon that news service being translated into foreign languages and "radioed" over the world.
The use of the radio for propaganda purposes by one country against another and by one set of countries against other sets of countries has led to confusion in the world. I feel that that problem will not really be solved until we apply international principles to the whole thing. Why should there not be a department of the League of Nations, if it is a question of accurate news, to disseminate news that can be relied upon? It might not be practicable, but I throw out the suggestion.
I am very much afraid of this idea of propaganda. I do not want Government money to be spent merely upon business propaganda or publicity, and certainly not upon this hybrid thing that some hon. Members call culture. I should like to have that word "culture" defined, and I should like to know what kind of culture it is that we are going to broadcast from this country. If we can act in this matter by accuracy, by an honourable statement of our own case, where that case has been attacked by foreign countries, without any colour, without any propaganda, I think 1852 the truth can be relied upon to win in the long run. As Plautus said:It is necessary to entice the buyer to unsaleable wares. Good merchandise easily finds a buyer, even though it be hidden away.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton
I think it is exactly a year ago to-day that we had a similar Debate on this very important question, in which also I replied for the Government and many of the hon. Members who have spoken to-night took part. I therefore feel in the position of a Minister presenting Estimates for the second time, and I should like to give some account of the progress which has been made since last year in connection with this matter. Before doing so, however, I should like to pay a tribute to the general tone of the speeches which have been delivered to-night. We have had a very interesting Debate, and I must say that the House, if I may use a somewhat overworked term, has been something like a Council of State on this question. Until the closing words of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), he appeared to me to be slightly in disaccord with the tone which has hitherto prevailed in the Debate, including the speeches delivered by the hon. Members for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) and Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Muff), both of whom gave proper credit to the work which has been done by the British Council and spoke also of the importance of showing to foreign countries the artistic and cultural achievements of this country.
The hon. Member for West Islington, until his closing words, with which I entirely agree, seemed rather to pour cold water on the work of the British Council. He said he did not quite know what was meant by British culture. If I may with respect explain what is meant, it means the exhibition of pictures by the best British masters, the giving of works by well-known British composers, performances by British orchestras—and we have in this country, especially in the North, orchestras of which no country need be ashamed—exhibitions of British first editions, speeches by well-known British authors, and so on, all of which are evidences of the artistic and cultural achievements of this country, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept them as an admirable part of legitimate British propaganda.
§ Mr. Montague
I was wondering what was meant by British culture in connection with this Motion. The exhibition of pictures by British masters and concerts abroad are old stuff, but I was referring to the Motion that has been moved to-night.
§ Earl Winterton
I am giving the hon. Gentleman the information at my disposal, and I would answer his question by saying that there has been an immense increase, largely as a result of the creation of the British Council, of this sort of exposition—I will use that word—of British artistic achievement in all its branches abroad. To give a general picture of what has been done all along the line, so to speak, under the headings dealt with in the Motion, the first point that I wish to deal with is the question of the sources of information, and I think the House generally will agree that one very valuable thing that always requires doing is to supply to foreigners sources of information which have a positive effect in the sense of giving the political views of all sections of opinion in this country. That is done through the reporting of Debates in this House, and without making the slightest reflection on the British Press, I would say that it is a fact that many foreign newspapers report the Debates in this House more fully than do many British newspapers. It is a very interesting fact that you will often get a fuller report in foreign newspapers than in British newspapers. I happened to be in Paris recently on official business, when there had been a Debate in this House, and I tested that by a practical example. I found that there was actually more space devoted in French newspapers to information about the Debate as a whole than there was in any of the popular newspapers in this country. I do not mention that fact as in any way a reflection upon British newspapers, but merely as a fact.
The reading public in a good many Continental countries which have a Parliamentary system are more politically-minded than the reading public here, if we are to judge by the amount of space given to Parliamentary Debates in the popular Press in this and other countries. Of course, the popular Press here knows its own business and publishes what it thinks its public will like to read, but equally the foreign Press knows its own business and publishes what it thinks its 1854 public will like to read. However, on this subject the Press generally give fair and accurate reports of what occurs, and it is the proper reporting of public speeches and of discussions in this House, and indeed discussions in local bodies, that enables foreigners, who are big readers of British newspapers, to know what is going on in this country.
That is or should be a form of publicity which requires no assistance from the Government. I want to make that very clear. We have to be very careful in saying things by way of advice to the Press in this country, but I would say with the greatest respect to the Press, having in my youth been an editor, that it is the duty of the British Press to report speeches in this House and outside if they are of sufficient importance to be reported. In that way they can help the dissemination of news of all kinds and show the diverse character of British democracy. I do not want to be frivolous, but if you want to discover the British character, its extraordinary incalculability and the diversity of views expressed by its people, you have only to read a typical Debate in this House, and probably at the end of it you will be left wondering what the mind of the country really is.
Apart from what is provided in the ordinary Press, there is the information which is given out to the Press by the Press branches of the various Government offices. This matter has scarcely been referred to in this Debate, but it has come up in previous Debates, when it has been approached from two angles. Some hon. Gentlemen have seen a great danger in this system. They have seen in it an attempt, by whatever Government is in office, to damp down criticism, to supply a tendentious stream of information, and generally to do something which is malevolent. On the other hand, other hon. Gentlemen have said from a different angle that not enough is done by British Departments of State to make known to the public their activities.
I think that in this as in other matters the truth lies between the extremes of criticism. These Press branches, which are a comparatively recent creation of Government Departments, do a good work and are greatly appreciated by the foreign Press. Somebody suggested that it was not possible for foreign Press correspondents to get official information. I think that I can say in respect of every 1855 one of these Departments that the Press officer is only too pleased at any time to supply all reasonable information to foreign as well as British Press correspondents.
Lastly, on this part of my subject referring to publicity in foreign countries, it should be remembered that large sums of money are always spent by firms and interests drawing attention to British industrial and commercial achievements. That is too big a subject to go into tonight and it is perhaps slightly outside the purview of this Motion and of my purpose in replying for the Government. There have been criticisms in the past that British commercial literature is not as good as foreign commercial literature. I do not think that is true. It is, however, sometimes the case that the representatives of British firms in foreign countries are not sufficiently anxious to learn the language of the countries in which they live, or, if they do know them, to use them; and it is sometimes the case that pamphlets and information sent out by British firms are not printed in the language of the country to which they are sent. Speaking generally, there has been a great improvement and the Department of Overseas Trade assists in every possible way in that connection.
I turn to another matter to which I have already made passing reference, and that is the British Council. I want to correct the impression if it exists in the minds of anybody, that there is the slightest partisanship of any sort displayed by the Council. It has on it, I think, as Members of the executive both the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal party. Use is made of the services of Members of all parties in the House and of people outside of all sorts of political views. It will be worth while to devote a minute or two to saying something about the work of the Council since last we had a Debate on this subject. It has as its very energetic head Lord Lloyd, who devotes four or five days a week to this unpaid administrative work. Anyone who does unpaid administrative work often feels that he might be earning money elsewhere, and it is a great tribute to Lord Lloyd that he should do this work.
The work of the Council is both cultural and educational. I should like to give a few examples of its activities. It has 1856 established British institutes for teaching English at a number of important centres in Europe and South America, and there has been an immense demand for these facilities. It is difficult to keep abreast of the demands in respect of senior pupils. In the Near East, and in Egypt especially, existing British schools which provide an education for British children whose parents reside in those countries have been assisted, and I think in some cases they have been actually furnished by the British Council. In addition, classes of instruction in English have been provided in Cairo for Egyptians who have not been able to attend British schools.
There are two other very important activities of the Council. They have established Chairs of English language and English institutions at a number of foreign, universities where hitherto they have not existed, and where there have been flourishing schools for teaching French, German and Italian. Then they have provided scholarships for foreign students in English universities, and more than 150 foreign students were brought over to this country last year in this way. Lastly the Council supply books, periodicals and technical productions to foreign libraries, clubs and schools. I have already referred to the manner in which the Council assist in the promotion of the understanding abroad of British artistic attainments. Lecture tours have also been arranged. I understand that a very distinguished Member of the Opposition is lecturing abroad on behalf of the Council at this moment. Lord Snell, once a Member of this House whom we all recall with great respect, is at present in America in connection with the activities of the Council. It is a most admirable body and I cannot pay too high a tribute to it. Incidentally, the grant-in-aid of the Council has been increased from the £5,000 received in its first year to £110,000 in the present financial year, which I think is not a bad effort by the Government of a country which has such a heavy burden to carry at the present time.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
Will the Noble Lord say whether the Government are likely to increase the grant to the Council in the coming financial year?
§ Earl Winterton
I will not say that my hon. Friend seems slightly ungrateful, but has he appreciated that the amount has been increased from £5,000 to £110,000? 1857 I cannot speak about the future, I have no responsibility in that respect, and I do not think the Council have suggested that at this moment, when there is a tremendous demand upon the pockets of the taxpayers, there should be any increase in the grant. In the Travel and Industrial Association of Great Britain and Ireland there is another Government-approved and Government-supported body which is covering a very important field all over the world by dealing with tourist publicity for this country. I must not get outside the terms of the Motion, but, in fact, this Association is helping what was one of our most flourishing forms of invisible exports. There was a period—I am afraid it is no longer the case to-day—when the amount of foreign tourist money spent in this country exceeded the amount of British money spent by tourists in foreign countries by such an enormous sum, much larger than the public realise, that it was one of our best invisible exports. That is not true to-day in view of the special circumstances in which the world finds itself and of the depression in the United States, but a considerable amount of that foreign money has been spent in this country as a result of the activities of this Association. It has information bureaux in London, Paris and New York and it receives—no doubt my hon. Friend will be glad to have this information—a grant of £5,000 per annum which is being increased to a higher figure in a Supplementary Estimate which will soon be considered by this House.
Before I conclude my speech I want to say something about telegraphed news and, of course about news sent over the radio. A great deal of attention has been called in many speeches to-night to this question of telegraphed news, and from more than one angle. One hon. Gentleman thought that not enough was being done for Reuters and another hon. Gentleman thought that too much was being done for Reuters. It is, of course, true that the main channel by which news of Great Britain reaches the Press overseas is provided by the London correspondents of foreign newspapers and by the great British and foreign agencies. I should like to take the opportunity of paying a tribute to the very responsible way in which home and foreign news is handled by them. The British agencies I have in mind in this connection include 1858 those who operate from London and who serve the particular needs of various Dominions, as well as that pioneer in news collection and distribution, Reuters.
If there is one criticism which some of us might make in regard to the service of news—I am speaking in a sense as a Member of this House and not with the responsibility of the Government—it is that there is to my mind a regrettably small space devoted in the British newspapers to Dominion and Colonial news. Attention has been called to the point during this Debate. Possibly it is because there is no demand for such news on the part of the customers of the newspapers, but there is regrettably small space, and it is a source of some embarrassment to those of us who have, as I have, many friends and indeed relations in the Dominions, when they come to this country, to explain the reason why there should be such a small amount of news devoted to those matters.
When on the subject of the supply of news to newspapers I would refer for a moment to the very interesting speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), and also the speech made by an hon. Member opposite, and to raise a rather delicate question. My hon. and gallant Friend said that it was true, speaking generally, and I think we all agree with him, that the news supplied by the British Press was admirable. If I may go into a parenthesis I would like to pay a tribute of respect to the British Press as a whole which is unexcelled in the Press of the world, but there are one or two curious features of British Press news in recent years which raise a point never raised in this House before, so far as I am aware. The matter was referred to also by the hon. Gentleman opposite. He asked why it was that the leader of a certain movement with which no one is in agreement in this House, I think, happens to have meetings, which I understand are fully attended and crowded, but who never has a report of his speeches in any of the London or provincial Press. He asked what the explanation was.
He will agree that it is not my duty to give an explanation, because I do not know it and because it has nothing to do with the Government; but merely as a matter of interest, I also say, speaking as an old Member of this House and not 1859 as a minor Minister, that I wonder what the explanation is. I wonder, further, whether the question asked by the hon. Member and by me will be reported in the Press and whether there will be any answer to it in the Press. I have not the slightest idea what the reason is. The same thing might, as the hon. Gentleman said, apply equally to Communism. I should be interested to know what the reason is. Speaking generally, I think that we are very fortunate in the presentation of news in our Press, and that it helps the cause which is advocated in this Motion.
In addition to the unofficial news, there is, as everyone knows, the British Official Wireless, about which I must say a word. It is generally recognised that the British Official Wireless is good, and, in order to show that it is official, it is never sent out save under the caption "British Official Wireless." It is, in an objective form, a survey of current British news which is available for reproduction in the Press or for broadcasting by wireless telephony by any individual or organisation anywhere without special organisation, and it is, in fact, intercepted for reference or reproduction in the Press of many foreign countries and of most of the countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The whole question—and this is in a sense an answer to the question of my hon. Friend below the Gangway on the subject of news agencies—of the provision of telegraphic news from this country to foreign countries is occupying the attention of His Majesty's Government. It is an extremely complex question, and I am not in a position at present to make a statement. In the meantime it remains true of the general position that there is ample machinery for the provision of authentic information, and the news agencies do in fact telegraph large quantities of news about this country all over the world.
I must now turn to the very important question on which there was some criticism in the last Debate that we had on the subject in this House a year ago. It was then said that our broadcasts to foreign countries were not of the character that was required. I think that to-day the supply of broadcast news from this country is unrivalled, and, without any bias one way or the other, I remain firmly convinced that the news which is broad- 1860 cast by the B.B.C. presents a fair and impartial picture. I am not convinced when people of the Left write to the newspapers and say that the news is given a Rightist turn, and when people of the Right say that it is given a Leftist turn. There could hardly be a better tribute to the impartiality of the news than a tribute of that kind. In the past year the B.B.C. started foreign news broadcasts, and, as I think no information has been given to the House, perhaps I might say a word or two on the subject.
At the beginning of 1938 a start was made by broadcasting in Arabic, and also news bulletins in Spanish and Portuguese to South America. The reports received, both by the B.B.C. and by the Foreign Office, showed that those broadcasts were widely welcomed, and recent official reports on the Arabic broadcast are unanimous in stating that it has been extremely successful. Last year there were some criticisms of this broadcast, and I said, speaking with some knowledge of Arabic countries and of Arabic itself, that I thought the criticisms were not justified. I must now stand in a white sheet and say that the powers that be, namely, the Foreign Office, did feel that some improvement might be made in certain directions. They have been in communication with the B.B.C. on the matter, and certain details to which they called attention last year have been remedied. At any rate, I am sure that now the broadcast is very good indeed. The news bulletins in German, French and Italian which were started in September have been continued, and the B.B.C. have recently extended the period of the German broadcast from a quarter of an hour to half an hour each evening, and have added an additional news bulletin at 10.45 p.m.
Any Minister speaking here on this matter must realise that he must tread delicately. I feel very strongly that no good is done by using the same methods to deal with any attack on this country to which objection is taken. That is a courteous way of putting it, and I have deliberately made the language somewhat obscure. It is not only of no benefit to our dignity, but it is the way to sow the seeds of war, for us to reply to attacks made in foreign broadcasts in the same sort of way.
§ Earl Winterton
I do not want to enter into controversy with the hon. Gentleman, because this is a non-controversial Debate. But the question of correction is a very difficult one. It is of the utmost importance that the news sent out to these countries should be, as it is to-day, purely objective—objective in the sense of presenting the facts as they are seen. That is a far more effective method of propaganda than would be the methods of certain foreign nations. Quite obviously, where a statement is made which is untrue, it is necessary for a statement to be sent out in reply, as is done. That really meets the hon. Gentleman's point. The Government have reason to believe that these broadcasts in foreign languages are greatly appreciated in foreign countries. They have a very wide public and they may, for some people among that public, provide a refreshing contrast to what they have been accustomed to.
I would just like to say a word or two on the subject of films, to which some reference has been made. When the British Council was formed in November, 1934, to establish closer cultural contact with other countries the use of films was naturally considered, but, as the Council had very limited funds and neither the experience nor the machinery to deal with films, it was decided to establish a new film unit. The Joint Committee on Films of the British Council and Travel Association was therefore set up in 1936, with Mr. Philip Guedalla as Chairman. Besides the representatives of the British Government and the Travel Association, it includes representatives of the Foreign Office, the Department of Overseas Trade and the Post Office, and representatives of outside organisations are requested to attend meetings if their assistance is required. Money had to be provided. In 1936 the amount was £400, in 1937 £1,000, and last year £2,600.
There is reason to suppose that both the provision of suitable films and exhibitions in various countries have been very successful. My right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Department of Overseas Trade mentioned recently that the committee, since its inception, has been instrumental in arranging for films to be exhibited in 69 countries. A considerably wider distribution will be made during the coming year. One of the tests of the work of this committee will be furnished by the New York Exhibition. 1862 I understand that Mr. Philip Guedalla, whose name will be well-known to hon. Members as a distinguished writer, is responsible for the arrangement of the films which will be exhibited, and I need hardly say, speaking on behalf of the Government Departments concerned, that any representation which hon. Gentlemen may make will be seriously considered. This is a new service but I think it is true to say that they have made progress.
Lastly, the hon. Gentleman opposite asked me about the work of the committee for the co-ordination of British publicity abroad, under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Vansittart. I do not think it is contemplated that this committee should make a report to this House. The object of the committee was to coordinate. It includes representatives of the Foreign Office, the Scottish Office, the Department of Overseas Trade and other Government Departments concerned, and, on the other hand, representatives if the B.B.C., the British Council and the Travel Association. The committee has been responsible for making a number of suggestions to these individual bodies for co-ordinating their activities and for working along the whole field of British propaganda.
I have tried to paint a true and clear picture of the position, and I maintain that the general effect is satisfactory. The presentation of news about Britain and its various forms of national life is neither aggressive on the one hand, nor, on the other hand, slovenly or deficient in interest. It is true that this is a comparatively new movement, and as the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett), in an excellent speech, and the Mover and Seconder of the Motion in very good speeches pointed out, we must all the time be very careful to avoid certain dangers and never to sit still. I think that we have made a very good start and taken the right road, and, further, that the system is capable of extension as circumstances admit. The Government do not regard this as a party or controversial matter, and we shall always be glad, through the medium of questions or in any way, to hear suggestions for improving it from any quarter of the House.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Emmott
I am very grateful to my right hon. and Noble Friend for con- 1863 cluding his speech in order to allow me to make a few remarks in this very interesting, friendly and uncontroversial Debate upon a subject of extreme importance. I notice that the Motion moved by my hon. Friend differs in an important respect from the Motion which, as my right hon. Friend said, was debated almost exactly a year ago in this House. The Motion, which was moved in what I hope I may be allowed to describe as a charming and able speech by my hon. Friend, invites the Government to pay more attention to publicity, and to support schemes which will make certain of the effective presentation of British news abroad; but the Motion approved by the House last year invited the Government to support schemes to further the wider and more effective presentation of British news, views and culture abroad, and the addition of views and culture is a distinction which the hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench did seem to notice in his remarks. I do not know whether this was deliberate on the part of my hon. Friend, but I observe that he seemed to address the greater part of his argument to the question of foreign broadcasts of news. We have to deal—and hon. Members who have participated in this Debate appear to have recognised the fact—with both parts of the subject. I believe with the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) that the two parts of the subject have to be kept quite clear and distinct. One must distinguish between what should remain news and what belongs to culture and thought. We must distinguish between the two things, but we must deal with both. Now my hon. Friend, in his interesting remarks on the question of foreign broadcasts, said that they must be free from bias: they must give straight news and not be controversial. But in the Arabic broadcast there is not only news. I am informed that of the time given to the broadcast only about one-fourth is devoted to news, while the rest is devoted to comments, music and other things of that kind.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's description of news. He said that it must be free from bias, and must be straight and uncontroversial. But I suggest that we have not disposed of the real difficulty by describing news as "straight 1864 news." What is straight news? What to one was straight to another might be crooked. Consider the Bari broadcasts. The real objection to the Bari broadcasts was not that they included a number of statements which were positively and deliberately hostile to this country, or that they were offensive to Britain or her statesmen; but that by the process of the selection of news, and the omission of news which really ought to have been given, British policy was represented in an unfavourable and unfair light.
The example of the Bari broadcast shows, I think, the real difficulty and danger in selecting and presenting news. It is all very well to talk, as my hon. Friend did so charmingly, about straight news, but we have not disposed of the difficulty by the use of that convenient phrase. We can, however, do our best to give a fair, truthful and comprehensive account of events, and that is certainly done by the British Broadcasting Corporation in its foreign news broadcasts, which are given in Spanish, Portuguese, German, French and Italian. I would observe, in passing, that the news broadcasts in German, French and Italian were begun only in September of last year. It is worth while for it to be placed on record again by a private Member of this House, as has been done by other hon. Members, that the accuracy and the truthfulness of the B.B.C.'s foreign news broadcasts is universally acknowledged. We aim to tell "a round unvarnished tale," and generally we tell it well.
The hon. Member for Bridgwater stated that he thought the most important part of the field with which he was dealing was that which was concerned with news. He again used the expression, "straight news," but he kept on coming back to the other part of the subject. Indeed, he devoted what I thought was the most eloquent part of his remarks to that other part of the subject, that is, matters concerned with culture and thought. Now here we come to propaganda. We cannot avoid it, and I do not think we should be ashamed of it. Much has been said about the British Council, and I should like most heartily to support what has fallen from the lips of many hon. Members, and what was particularly said by my right hon. Friend, on this subject. I think what my right hon. Friend said 1865 and what so many people know of the work of that Council is the answer to the somewhat curious doubts which the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) appeared to cast upon the possibility of the propagation of the idea of British culture, British life and British thought abroad. The work done by the British Council is admirable. Had the right hon. Gentleman not said what he did to-night I was going to give the House some instances of the activities of the British Council abroad, but that is now unnecessary. I may, however, remind the hon. Member for West Islington that not the least important part of the work of the British Council abroad is the teaching of the English language to foreign boys and girls. Now is not that a great thing—that foreign boys and girls, most anxious and willing to learn, should be taught this beautiful and most rich of all languages, this key to one of the greatest literatures in the history of mankind?
Mention has been made of the Institute of English Studies in Athens. The House may be interested to know that this was only begun in the spring of last year, and at the beginning it had something between 300 and 400 pupils. Now it has no fewer than 4,000. I am informed that there has been one occasion when there was actual disorder due to the anxiety of more persons than could be accommodated to obtain entry to the available schools. There is a similar British Institute at Bucharest. That was opened in the spring of last year with a few hundred pupils, and there are now 3,000. A British Institute was inaugurated at Lisbon in November last year, and I am happy to say it is in a flourishing condition.
I should like to make an observation on an important matter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Grant-Ferris). It concerns finance. It is quite certain that the multifarious and valuable activities of the British Council require financial support. I am not saying or suggesting in any way that the Treasury has shown itself ungenerous to the British Council. But I hope that the Treasury will continue to take the enlightened and generous view which it has hitherto taken of the financial requirements of the Council.
I return to the point with which I opened. The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore- 1866 Brabazon), in his original and interesting speech, said that he hoped we should not prostitute broadcasting by propaganda. He was referring to Germany. I hope he was only referring to one part of the subject—the broadcasting of news in the German language. I hope he only meant that. If he meant more than that, I think he is wrong. We do not at this moment, as I have shown by the Arabic instance, exclude comment from our foreign language broadcasts, and I think that we should not exclude from our minds the possibility even of extending the area of propaganda in broadcasts in foreign languages. I hope we may find it right at some time to add to our broad casts of news something else, of matters which are described in the Resolution which the House passed last year as "news and culture." I would like to make this suggestion—
§ Mr. Montague
The Noble Lord in his reply made a reference to a certain politician in this country who is not being reported in the Press. When the hon. Member talks about broadcasting views, are they to be his views, my views or the Government's views?
§ Mr. Emmott
I do not think I personally should be called upon to answer that question, but in any case the problem of the selection of views, the determination of the views to be broadcast, will always remain. The resolution which the House passed last year invited the Government to support schemes designed to further the presentation of British news, views and culture: that means, I think, news relating to Britain, views held by distinguished and representative Englishmen, and British culture.
I suggest that the real distinction is between good and bad propaganda. There can be bad propaganda. It can be tactless, overdrawn, offensive or unsuccessful. For instance, the German propaganda last summer about the distresses which the Germans in Czechoslovakia were alleged to be suffering went to such lengths that at last it sickened people with the subject and defeated its own object. But what is propaganda? Propaganda is a movement to propagate a belief or an idea. We have heard much to-night about the projection of Britain and the British people. Well, but what is that but propaganda? We may dislike the word, because it has collected 1867 unpleasant associations. But the thing itself may be necessary and right. Let us not be ashamed or afraid of it.
That, in the light of the considerable activity of various foreign Governments in the field of propaganda by means of the Press, broadcasting and films, this House urges the Government to pay more attention to publicity and' to render wholehearted moral and
financial support to schemes which will make certain of the effective presentation of British news abroad.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.