HC Deb 13 September 1939 vol 351 cc728-33

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Robert Gibson

Certain representations have been made to me regarding the information muddle as it affects chiefly Scotland and my own constituency. On Tuesday of last week there appeared in the Press reports of interviews with sur- vivors of the "Athenia" who had landed at Galway in Ireland. On the same morning information was available to Pressmen in Scotland that other survivors were coming up the Clyde and were expected to land far up, at Old Kilpatrick. Newspapermen congregated there expecting survivors to land. Owing to fog they did not get so far, but were landed at the Albert Dock in Greenock.

In Greenock we have an afternoon newspaper which comes out every day in four issues. The reporters of that paper got interviews from the survivors who landed in Greenock, and on that day the editor of the "Greenock Telegraph" wired to London asking whether the Ministry would say whether there was any objection to publishing the interviews with the survivors who had landed. No reply was received. The editor then had copies typed in duplicate of those interviews and sent them to the Ministry in London requesting the Ministry to wire an O.K. so that the matter might be published on the following day, Wednesday. During Tuesday morning, interviews with these survivors who had disembarked at Greenock were secured by the Press Association. These interviews came into the offices of the "Greenock Telegraph," and were prepared for publication in the one o'clock edition. Another message came, holding up all reference to these interviews; so they could not be published in that edition. Later that afternoon, information came that the Admiralty had consented to publication of the interviews. On the following day, a reply came to the wire which had been sent. It stated that all matters must be submitted to the Ministry in full in the usual way. This had been done already, and the matter must have been in the hands of the Ministry in duplicate. No reply was received to the request to publish the matter that had been submitted. It was not until the Friday that this matter was returned, marked "Passed for publication." By then, of course, it was entirely useless as news matter. That is a state of affairs that calls for explanation and, I submit, for very sweeping changes of method.

There is one other matter to which I desire to call attention. In Greenock the newspaper men occasionally receive bulletins from the "Ministry of Information, Scottish Regional Office," at an address in Edinburgh. They are at a loss to know the position of this body. Does it supersede the body in London, or is it supplementary to that body? To which office are the newspapermen in Scotland, and particularly in Greenock, to look, as the authoritative body affecting their business?

8.8 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I want to return to the question of the Ministry of Information. It is very necessary that we should criticise the amount and the character of the information that the Ministry gives out, but we should be deserving of severe censure if we, in turn, did not supply the Ministry with information. In the last hour or two quite a lot of information has been supplied to the Ministry on the question of the fishing industry. I want to return to something very different, and of very great importance.

I said in this House the other day that, whatever might be said about the calmness and resolution of the people of this country, there was not a mother in this country whose heart was not filled with dread, and that account should be taken of that. I am more than ever convinced, as a result of my experiences throughout the country since the House last met, that that is true. I have been in many homes where the lads have been taken away. In every part of the country mothers' hearts are filled with dread as to the future. Yet we get the Ministry of Information sending out information through the radio that we are preparing for a three years' war. We are getting statements such as that we are going to fight until we get victory. If this is true, a whole new generation is going to be wiped out. Is that the way to win people around for a great, and presumably a noble, cause: to say that we are going to wipe out a whole generation, to carry on another war like the last War, to attain a victory of the Allies over the Germans? Is that the information which the Ministry send out? If they send out that sort of information they will nullify everything done by the propaganda in Germany. I agree that it is desirable to make propaganda in Germany and in all countries, but it must be much better propaganda than the character of the propaganda contained in the leaflets dropped in Germany. But no matter how good the propaganda in Germany may be, to send out propaganda for the victory of the Allies over Germany, and proclaiming a three years' war in order to accomplish it, can undo all that has been done and is something that I shall fight against with all the power I possess.

For what is this war being fought? It should be understood by the Ministry of Information when dealing with this question that what is important is the defeat of Fascism. If you are to defeat Fascism those who are responsible for the Ministry of Information and for other Departments must be clear of Fascism themselves. The one thing that is of the greatest importance from the point of view of the Ministry of Information, of propaganda and of the Ministry of Supply is that the efforts that are being made in district after district to establish Fascist methods in this country should be stopped right away.

I do not want to have to go into the situation in Glasgow further than to say that I have put down a question for some day next week regarding two lads who were handing out leaflets near a factory. A million of these leaflets have been circulated in this country. These lads were handing them to workers. Two detectives came over and took the lads to the police station where they discussed whether they could make a charge against them under the Defence of the Realm Act. One of the detectives looked over the Defence of the Realm Act and expressed the belief that there was a certain Section under which they could make a charge. The lads were put into the cells for four hours, and before they were liberated they were warned not to distribute any more leaflets pending the development of the charge against them. This sort of thing cannot be allowed to go on. Reference was made by an hon. Member to the fishing industry and to the fact that somebody in conversation with the Lord Mayor of Birmingham said that they would not get any fish in Birmingham. Comments were made all round of the Hitler-like character of such an individual as that. You are getting them all over as a result of the repressive organisation that is being developed.

We must make it clear that it is not a question of the victory of the Allies over Germany, but of the defeat of Fascism, and only those who are free from Fascism are capable of carrying on that propaganda or that fight. I have been speaking to one or two of the lads who are already in uniform. They would be very happy if something could happen to take them out of uniform and allow them to go back to civil life, with the hope of the future that every youth desires. Therefore, it is necessary for us to see that we do everything possible to get administrative activities in this country and responsible people of such a character as to bring about not only the maximum of encouragement to the German people, but the guarantee of cooperation with the German people to bring about peace in Europe. That is the big thing that we must put before the people of this country and the people of Europe, not only the German people but the people of the neutral countries. That is the character that our information and our propaganda must take. That is the only possible hope of saving the masses of our young people. I would ask hon. Members to do everything that is necessary in order to ensure that there will be no question of a war such as we had on the last occasion, when masses of young men were marched out to slaughter without any regard for the human suffering and agony caused all over the country.

When we consider the statements made by the Prime Minister about the propaganda for helping forward the war, the organisation of supplies for war, and the various other organisations that are being built up in order to bring about an early end of the war, and lasting peace in Europe, the one thing that we hear nothing about is the reorganisation of the Government. Yet the one thing that is demanded is the reorganisation of the Government. The Government is not trusted by the country, and all the efforts of the Ministry of Information and all the propaganda that is put out will never remedy that serious defect unless there is reorganisation. There is no more erratic political leader than the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), but when he was included in the Cabinet there was a feeling of satisfaction all over the country. What did that feeling of satisfaction represent? It represented a lack of confidence in the Government. Therefore, when we are considering information, it is most important that the people should get information that will satisfy them as to the character of the central authority. If we are to conduct the war for the defeat of Fascism, then we must have a Government free from Fascism, a Government that will not only encourage the German people but will cooperate with the German people in order to put an end to the terrible conditions that exist to-day and to bring about lasting peace in Europe.

Motion, "That this House do now adjourn," by leave, withdrawn.