§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Munro.]
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
I make no apology for raising this matter to-day. Obviously the answer of the Minister of Information to a Question which I put in the House yesterday could hardly be left where it was. The matter does touch the liberties and the susceptibilities of ordinary people in this country, and, rightly or wrongly, whatever view may be held, there is evidence of a growing dislike of the activities of the investigators who have been going round on behalf of the Ministry of Information. I am only trying to the best of my ability to put the point of view of the ordinary individual, and I should like to say to the Minister of Information that there is no question with me of any personal attack upon him. I pay my tribute to the unfailing courtesy which he has always shown to Members who go to him on any matter. I have experienced at 1514 his hands much help and much kindness when he has held other offices. I want to strengthen his hands in order that he may make alterations at the Ministry which is under his control in the way the Department is run and in what it is doing. This canvass from house to house is, in my opinion, as unpopular and unnecessary as it is expensive. It is quite definitely an invasion of the privacy of the ordinary individual at a time when he is much harassed by many matters and when, owing to the necessities of the present time, privacy has become increasingly difficult for the ordinary individual to secure. I cannot think that now is a proper time, whatever their scientific value may be to institute these investigations, when the ordinary housewife and householder, if living at home, are much exercised in their minds on many matters.
Whether this is a good scientific investigation or not is surely a matter of opinion, but collectors of statistics, some medical men and every sort of crank, never cease trying to harry and use as specimens members of the community, in the interests of what the investigators are pleased to call science. I suggest that, so far as one can, the time has come to leave in peace the ordinary law-abiding citizen of this country. Leave these people reasonable freedom, and do not treat them as a sort of scientific cannon fodder on which scientific investigators, whether unleashed by the Ministry or by any other organisation, may work their wicked will. Today we are confronted, quite properly, by a mass of Defence of the Realm Regulations, and we have heard a good deal about them in this House. Obviously, it is very difficult for the householder who goes to the door to know whether these investigators are officially entitled, under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, to be there, or are merely people who come down with no real authority for demanding information, and are in a position only of asking for information. It is very difficult for any ordinary person to know whether to slam the door in an official's face or not. Many people would be afraid of taking action which in peace time would be quite proper.
It seems to me that the proper function of the Ministry of Information is to provide information. Heaven knows we get 1515 enough complaints at the present time that they do not provide enough of it. Their proper function is also to counter the false information which may be disseminated, either over the German wireless or by any other means. It very often seems to me that there are great gaps in the Ministry's activities, and that we do not get contradiction of statements made over the wireless and of false and harmful information. It does not seem to be any part of the duty, which this House set the Ministry up to do, to go snooping and spying round the homes of ordinary citizens, who are already sufficiently harassed and perturbed. These people are exceedingly courageous, and are not in need of being told by the B.B.C. to be courageous and to stand up to the situation. Whatever may be wrong with the Ministry of Information, this country has not got the jitters, and is perfectly happy. There is a sort of feeling among investigators that you have to stir people up. Leave the people alone. They are not apathetic. They are worried, as everybody must be worried by reason of the war, but they are not jittery or worried in a way which makes it necessary for people to be going round to find out exactly what they are thinking. These investigations seem to me to be stupid and unnecessary.
There is something much more important than that. The Ministry of Information is a Ministry to provide information. It is no part of its duty that it should become a propaganda organisation. Propaganda must of necessity be tainted and tinged by the personal views of the investigators who go round under the ægis of the right hon. Gentleman. I am afraid that these people must, therefore, in asking their questions, put over some form of propaganda. One cannot imagine that the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), if she had been told to go round and find out the reaction of the ordinary individual of this country to beer, would be able to ask her questions on the subject of beer without conveying her own view of beer being bad for people.
§ Sir A. Southby
Therefore, these people must be putting over a certain amount of 1516 propaganda. I do not suppose there are many Members in this House who are not quite adequate to reporting the feeling in their constituencies. I do not know about the postbags of other Members, but, judging from my own private postbag, I should say that I had a very good cross-section of opinion in my division. That propaganda must obviously tinge the questions of these investigators with their views is borne out by a most interesting criticism or critique which appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" last February, written by the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information. He was reviewing a book called "War begins at home," by Maas Observation, compiled apparently by two gentlemen, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Madge. Their organisation would appear to be doing what the Ministry of Information has sent out these investigators to do. What the connection may be between the two organisations I do not know. It may be close or it may not; but, at any rate, the hon. Gentleman who is now Parliamentary Secretary made a most illuminating comment when he said:Mr. Harrisson (whom I should imagine to be impatient and alert rather than strictly scientific) is honest enough to confess that it is difficult to sift all this amount of evidence without developing a certain bias, or at least a point of view.That argues that, in the hon. Gentleman's mind, there is at least a realisation that you cannot go round and ask all these questions without putting a certain amount of bias into what you say. He went on:In so far as any central theory runs through this book, it is that the Press and the politicians have little idea what the masses are really thinking and feeling.I cannot speak for any other Member of Parliament—no man can speak for anybody but himself—but I venture to say that I do know what the people are thinking in my Division, and that the Press—very much maligned, and sometimes quite rightly so—have means of finding out public opinion. The most illuminating thing in this excellent critique is of course the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary that the Ministry of Information and others should be most grateful for these observations. It is thereby obvious that the Minister would smile upon the activities of this Mass-Observation organisation. He went on to say: 1517Interesting examples are provided of the unthinking optimism of the masses, of their indulgence in rumour, and of the bewilderment which assails them, owing to the absence of news.I am glad that the masses are optimistic. It sometimes requires some effort to be optimistic. I said just now that I believed that the masses were optimistic, exceedingly courageous and quite unperturbed. The Ministry of Information has been set up to provide the unthinking and bewildered masses with news. Perhaps the masses would not be so overwhelmed if they had some news from the Ministry for a change. So much for the Mass Observation organisation.
Scientific cross-sections of public opinion are notoriously unreliable. In this country, whatever our political views may be, we had a good example of this sort of thing in the Peace Ballot. The Peace Ballot may have gathered certain impressions from people, according to how their political views went, but it was and is now acknowledged to be a most unreliable reflection of public opinion. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] We have a difference of opinion about it at once but we can agree to differ quite happily. The "Literary Digest," a paper which I used to read fairly regularly, conducted a cross-section canvass of public opinion in the United States.
§ Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
May I interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend? Is he aware that the "Literary Digest" conducted a straw vote and never conducted a cross-section vote?
§ Sir A. Southby
Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me to continue. I am pointing out that it was by way of reflecting the views of the people of the United States—what they thought and what they were going to do. It was proved to be completely and utterly wrong. I venture to suggest that these so-called scientific investigations do not really give a cross-section of public opinion. If you could go into every home in England—which God forbid—and ask all sorts of questions, you might, indeed, get a considerable rebuff in some homes but you would get some idea at any rate of what people were thinking, in response to certain questions. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's organisation can have been very successful. I suggest that 1518 if the activities of those who conducted this canvass and who, I presume, are still conducting it, were really satisfactory they would have found that public opinion was against his Silent Column proposals which had such a short and inglorious life. If these investigators wished to discover anything they would have found out the enormous feeling among the public against this Silent Column proposal, of which I hope we have heard the last.
I would like to give the House two examples of what is going on in regard to the activities of the Ministry of Information. Recently at Bournemouth, acting under the aegis of the Ministry, members of the Information Bureau were instructed quietly to spread it around, as I am informed, that those who could evacuate Bournemouth should do so. Nobody said a word to the town clerk about this; he was not consulted. He rang up the Ministry of Information and got on to somebody in a subordinate capacity who confirmed that the instruction had been given. The Regional Commissioner was then communicated with and apparently knew nothing about it all. When he was asked, he said that such instructions were entirely contrary to the present policy of the Government and that he considered that the spreading of such information was wrong. I am informed that the town clerk got in touch with a high official of the Ministry of Information who admitted that a mistake had been made in sending out these instructions. When it was pointed out that the least that could be done was to try to undo the harm that had been caused the Ministry flatly refused to take any steps in the matter. If that sort of instruction is going out, if the Regional Commissioner is not being told, if the town clerk who, after all, has some responsibility for the town in which he lives, is not allowed to know what is going on; if something is done contrary to the suggestion, "Stay where you are until invasion begins and only leave when the military authorities tell you to"—which seems to be the policy at the moment—and if the Ministry say, "Get out if you can," one can imagine the alarm and excitement which will be occasioned, even in a place so quiet as Bournemouth.
As hon. Members can imagine, I have had a considerable number of letters since 1519 I put this Question on the Order Paper and since it was known that I proposed to raise it on the Adjournment, but a most illuminating comment is a cross-section of public opinion which I had to-day and which was quite unsolicited representing the average feeling of the man in the street. I was lunching in a restaurant in London and as I came out the attendant at the door who apparently knew me—I am afraid I did not know him—said, "I see, Sir, that you are going to have a word with Mr. Duff Cooper to-night." I said that I was proposing to discuss the question of the house-to-house canvass, to which I got the reply, "Well I am glad to hear that. It is utter rubbish." That is an unsolicited testimonial.
Those who read the "Times" must have been impressed by the letter which appeared this morning signed by somebody who calls himself "Country Parson." What function is it of the Ministry of Information to supply parsons with sermons? Its function is to provide information, not propaganda. The distribution of propaganda throughout this country in individual constituencies is something which this House and the country will not tolerate. If these investigators, be their number small or large, are to go round, they go to the constituencies of nearly all of us. This is a time when political warfare in the constituencies is at an end. Hon. Members have a certain amount of work to do. The Minister does not come to a Member and say, "What is the opinion in your constituency?" He sends an investigator. It is as wrong for a person who holds views of which I approve to go into a constituency of an hon. Member opposite and propagate those views from door to door, as it is for somebody else holding views with which I disagree to go into my constituency and pass those views round.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
Is it the hon. Member's view, therefore, that propaganda is not part of the work of the Ministry of Information?
§ Sir A. Southby
I think the work of the Ministry of Information is to give information and not to create public opinion by going round the houses. With regard to this organisation called Mass Observa- 1520 tion, a book of which was reviewed by the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, I have just seen its latest bulletin. This organisation works in much the same way, presumably, as these investigators. As I have said, I do not know how much they are in liaison. They may not be in liaison at all, or they may be in what is known as "close cahoots." Anyway, this is going on and going on pari pasu with the work of the right hon. Gentleman's organisation. Here is an investigator who is reporting something which is happening in Worktown:War talk is down almost to nil again.
§ Sir A. Southby
The hon. Lady says, "Thank heavens," and I agree. They are working. They have not got the time to chew over this sort of stuff.
§ Sir A. Southby
The investigator says of a little village in the west:Villagers have been very busy this week picking fruit and getting in their last cut of hay. There is little concern or even awareness that the war is being fought in any of their talk. The general tone is light-hearted.This is under the heading of "Apathy." The scientific investigator says that they are getting in the crops and not talking about the war. That is what we want them to do, to stop talking of the war and to get on with the business of making munitions and getting the crops in, and when they do that, let us not call it apathy. There was once somebody who said that he wanted to stir the natives of India out of their "Pathetic contenment." That is to say their apathy. I say: Leave the people of this country alone—
§ Sir A. Southby
No, let them think in their own way. Do not try to be a sort of super-nursemaid. Let people have views of their own. Let them have a little individual expression of opinion and do not go snooping around trying to make them think in your particular way. This Mass Observation document refers to the Press. It seems to me that we are standing in a position of some difficulty. Here 1521 is a reference by the Mass Observation bulletin to the "Sunday Pictorial." It quotes that paper as saying that there was a week towards the end of July which would find a place of honour in the history of the fight for freedom. It proceeds as follows:The editor then goes on to list 'the case for jubilation,' i.e. (1) end of the silent column, (2) review of alien internments and consequent defeat for Sir John Anderson; (3) defeat of Sir John Anderson over courts-martial.And it saysIndeed from the point of view of defeating or retreating Government policies, the past few days have been terrific.It complains that this newspaper should have expressed that view. What has happened in the last week has not been something wrong. It has been an expression in this House of the opinions of the Members of this House. This House has performed its proper duty; it has expressed the views of its constituents. If the Government have had to alter or amend certain of their proposals, it is because the House has expressed the view of the people outside. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) remarked to-day that if this House had not debated the Emergency Powers Bill, but had let it be pushed through in five minutes, on the plea that we must have speed, the Amendment which the House passed, in the interests of the country, would not have been put into the Statute. That is true. If investigators are going round and telling people this as their view of what is being done in this House—"the case for jubilation," "end of the Silent Column," etc.—these people are doing a disservice to the State. They say:The retreat on overseas evacuation, the retreat on Press censorship, the retreat on taking away A.R.P. wardens' uniforms, the retreat of the Burma road, all these and others reflect a bewildering lack of determination or co-ordination in the Government. For the first time since Churchill became Prime Minister, we have had a picture of Ministerial confusion and obvious lack of foresight, exactly comparable to the Chamberlain winter period of chaotic legislation, which we described and listed in 'War Begins at Home' (Chapter 13).It cannot be right for investigators to try to find out public opinion by putting such a false construction on what has been done in this House by the elected representatives of the people.
§ Mr. Lindsay rose—1522
§ Sir A. Southby
Since the hon. Member left his Ministerial job, in which, of course, he was silent on every subject except his own, he has not been prepared to let any other hon. Member express a view.
§ Mr. A. P. Herbert (Oxford University)
Is the "Mass Observation" body, for which I share the hon. and gallant Member's detestation, now a part, or is the leader of that body now a part, of the organisation of the Ministry of Information? If so, I am entirely with the hon. and gallant Member. It is important that we should know whether that is the case.
§ Sir A. Southby
I am quoting this as an example of what these people who conduct inquiries are doing. "Mass Observation," which I and the hon. Member think is wrong, has been praised by the hon. Member who is now the Parliamentary Secretary. He says that the Ministry of Information should be grateful for whoever wrote this book, "War Begins at Home." I hope the right hon. Gentleman will say that there is no connection whatever between the two organisations. But there is a great similarity, it appears to me, in their methods. It seems to me that asking questions on the doorsteps of people, quite apart from the scientific value of the questions, may lead to all sorts of misunderstanding. It is reported that one of the investigators from the Ministry asked on the doorstep certain questions, of which I will quote these:Do you read a paper right through, or merely glance at it?Do you look for special advertisements or special articles by daily writers?Would you miss posters and advertisement hoardings if they were abolished completely?One of the channels whereby public opinion and criticism may be expressed is this House of Commons—up to the present, at any rate. Let us see to it that that channel is kept inviolate and intact. The other channel whereby reasonable criticism may be levelled at Ministers at the Government or at policy is the Press of this country. I venture to suggest that this House has many shortcomings and 1523 many failings. The Press certainly have many shortcomings and many failings. We are the best people to remedy our shortcomings, and it has always seemed to me that the best people to remedy the shortcomings of the Press are the Press themselves. But the two things go together—a free House of Commons and a free Press. If you lose a free Press, you lose a free House of Commons, and if you lose a free House of Commons you lose a free Press. At a time when we are trying to maintain freedom and liberty and are making every conceivable sacrifice to that end, I suggest to my fellow Members in the House of Commons that we should do everything we can not only to maintain our own freedom and the freedom of the Press, but the freedom, as far as we can, of the individual. Talk of criticism about the Press has an ugly ring, because that was exactly what was done in Germany at the beginning of the Hitler regime. The investigators there worked under the Gestapo, and they went to the doorstep and said, "What paper do you read?" The next step was, "You ought not to read that; you ought to read another." It is perfectly true that when you begin to ask questions like that you must inevitably start to influence the person of whom you ask them. To me it is a dangerous beginning, putting in the thin end of the wedge and interfering with people's privacy and their liberty to control their own thoughts and actions, provided the community does not suffer thereby.
I hope and trust that the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I personally have the greatest regard, will do something to meet a question which, however badly I have expressed it, does arouse a very real public resentment and apprehension. People do not like all sorts of investigators coming round and asking questions. Why should they? Whatever may be the merits—and I know the right hon. Gentleman's great literary capabilities and great knowledge—whatever I say may be the merits of this sort of scientific point of view, I do put it to him that this is not the time to start these investigations. It is a dangerous time, when people are already sufficiently harassed, to harass them still further on all sorts of subjects with questionnaires and demands for information. By all 1524 means, let him issue from the B.B.C., much maligned though it is, proper information. I would like to see it taken over by the Government, and run by the Government under the control of this House, which is behind the Government, to disseminate real information.
I beg of him to do something inside the Ministry of Information to clear up the present system which is in operation, or at any rate to put a stop during the war to the activities of the people who are going about doing this work. This is a demand which comes from people of all sorts and in all walks of life in this country, and I believe it is one to which he would do very well to pay attention. There is no question of attacking him personally, nor, as some people are saying, of the Press attacking the Ministry of Information. I do not believe that that is true. I believe that the Press have a great apprehension that their liberties are being jeopardised. I do not believe that he has meant to put them in jeopardy, but there are people in the Ministry of Information who would be only too glad to smother the Press and to smother criticism in this House, and if this Debate has achieved no other useful purpose, it will at least have drawn attention to the feeling in regard to the operations of these people which are causing a great deal of resentment throughout the land.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
The hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) accused the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) of speaking on every possible occasion since he left the Front Bench. I have never been on the Front Bench, and I do not think I have made a speech since the war began, so I cannot be accused of that. I ask the House, therefore, to forgive me for being somewhat nervous in addressing it again. I cannot help thinking that the hon. and gallant Member was somewhat confused in his thoughts. He seemed to muddle the people who are out to get information, with those who are attempting to give it, and when he talks about the freedom of the individual, and compares the people asking questions with the spies of Hitler, I would ask, has he never used his canvassers in the Epsom Division? He has never denounced them for work- 1525 ing overtime for him. At any rate we ought to be grateful for their work because it has led us to enjoy his presence here. I think there has never been a case in which a Minister has been attacked more unjustly. The charge against the Minister by my hon. and gallant Friend is that he is attempting to suppress information and free opinion, but what is the Minister really trying to do? He is trying to find out, by a new and scientific method, the opinion of the people of this country. I should have thought that the Minister would be more useful if he knew what really is the opinion of people in the country. There have been many scoffs at new scientific methods, especially at those which have been used in America to find what public opinion is thinking, but there are always scoffs at scientific progress. This body has been accused of being stupid and—
§ Mr. Herbert
I apologise for putting the question but what does my hon. Friend mean by "scientific"?
§ Sir D. Gunston
I mean methods by which, using a proper cross-section and a balancing of the answers, you get, through trained investigators, near the opinion on a certain question held by the people who are asked the questions. Our party have been accused of being stupid and opposed to progress and scientific endeavour, but I have always denied that charge although the speeches of my hon. and gallant Friend sometimes fill me with grave misgivings. I believe that we can use these new scientific methods to get to know what public opinion is really thinking. The War Office has been attacked for not using modern methods; the Minister of Information has been attacked—indeed, all Ministers of Information have been attacked—for not getting on with the job. Now, when we have a Minister who is showing enterprise and energy he is attacked for doing too much. Surely, if the Ministry of Information is to do useful work it ought to give information on subjects on which people require opinions and I understand that the idea of this survey is to discover what people are thinking. Naturally, the Press are apt to be rather resentful of the use of other vehicles of information. The object and duty of the Press is to mould public opinion, and it naturally claims that it can also interpret public opinion.
1526 The Minister of Information is attacked for using new methods. It is sometimes forgotten that he is not the first Minister who has used these methods. I believe this system was started under the late Minister but no attacks were made then. Why are they started now? I believe it is because the elephant never forgets. The House will remember that the present Minister of Information has always stood up against the Press when it has tried to dominate the House, or one party in the House. I well remember the election in the St. George's division when, by his victory, he for a long time asserted the right of a big party in this House to choose its own leaders, and he has never been forgiven for his victory. I believe that is one of the reasons why we are getting the attacks to-day. My hon. and gallant Friend talked about the freedom of the Press and Parliament. I would remind him that this House took action the other day against the advice of the Press when it voted for a Secret Session, and the spleen of the "Evening Standard" is shown in that very questionable article appearing in this evening's issue.
My hon. and gallant Friend has quoted, as an example of the inexactitude of these new methods, the "Literary Digest." I think he must have been reading the leading article in the "Daily Mail" this morning. I feel sure he cannot have studied the modern methods in the United States. As he referred to the "Literary Digest," I think he was speaking of the prophecy that it made for the election in America in 1936. It prophesied that Mr. Landon would be returned, and it was wrong. But the "Literary Digest" founded its prophecy on a straw vote, which is totally opposed to a scientific method of cross-section. He also quoted the Peace Ballot. Again that was an emotional affair and not opinion obtained by quiet questioning. Rightly or wrongly, I do not think you can compare it with a balanced result from a proper cross-section. It is interesting to see what actually happened in America in 1936. The "Literary Digest" said that Mr. Landon would be elected. The Gallup survey suggested, first, that the "Literary Digest" straw vote would indicate that Mr. Landon would be elected. That was before the "Literary Digest" made up its mind. The "Literary Digest" did tip Mr. Landon. The Gallup survey said Mr. Roosevelt would be returned. Mr. 1527 Roosevelt was returned and the Gallup forecast was correct within 6 per cent. of Mr. Roosevelt's votes. My hon. and gallant Friend has shown some surprise that the questioning of a few people should give a fairly scientific result. The interesting part of these surveys is that they do not depend so much on the number of people questioned as on the scientific differentiation of the cross-section. There was a very interesting example in America in 1936, when they took a survey on a certain question. They examined 30,000 people. The answer was "No." The first 500 voted 54.9 per cent "No"—
§ Sir D. Gunston
I do not think I have it with me at the moment. The Senior Burgess of Oxford University (Mr. Herbert) is very careful in his words; may I remind him that I am dealing with methods? I can look up what the question was, if he likes. The first 500 voted 54.9 per cent. against; the first 1,000 voted 53.9 per cent. against; and the 30,000 voted 55.5 per cent. against. The actual degree of inaccuracy between the 30,000 and the first 500 was only .06 per cent. This shows how accurate these methods can be. I know it may be said that we do not want American methods in this country, but we are very glad to have American aeroplanes Surely, if we are dealing with modern methods in the front line, we are entitled to use modern methods on the home front in trying to find out what the people are thinking. In times like the present, there must be certain grievances, apprehensions and fears. Surely, we ought to allay them. We cannot find out what those fears or apprehensions may be unless we ask the people, and I believe this method is one of the best means of finding out.
§ Sir A. Southby
Do I understand that my hon. Friend still adheres to his previous statement that to get accurate results it does not matter how few people are questioned?
§ Sir D. Gunston
It does not matter up to a certain point. If you take one person, such as the commissionaire who was cross-examined by my hon. and gallant Friend at lunch to-day, then you do 1528 not get a cross-survey. A cross-section must be of sufficient size to give accurate results. But it need not be very large. If the Government are to provide answers to questions which the people want answered, the Government must find out what those questions are. To give an example, let me take the German broadcasts by "Lord Haw-Haw." Do we know whether they are doing harm or not? I suggest that they are not, but surely it is the duty of the Government to find out, and one of the best means of finding out is by these surveys. Take the example of the leaflets issued by the Government, such as the one issued the other day. The only way to find out if they are successful is by asking certain sections of the people who have received them.
What possible objection is there to this method? The only objection is if the fears put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom are well founded. Is it true that people snoop around and put suggestions and propaganda into people's minds, or is it true that they go round openly to see people and ask them what they think are the answers to various questions? The hon. and gallant Member talks about spying. What does spying mean? It means you go round not allowing people to know who you are and trying to find out what people are thinking without their knowledge. I suggest that these surveys are carried out in a different way. They are carried out by people asking questions openly. They are secret only in the fact that the names of the people questioned are never known. If that is so, and I hope it is, what fear can there be of introducing any of the Gestapo methods suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman? When the real stress comes, people will want all the moral support we can give. Is there any harm in finding out their anxiety? The whole agitation against this method is, I believe, a Press agitation. I hope the Minister of Information will stand up against the Press to-night, as he has done with such success in the past.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
I do not think anyone can accuse me of being a tame supporter of the Government, and I hope I shall not be accused, in what I am about to say, of trying to curry 1529 favour. I want to be quite clear what it is I am defending, and what it is I am not defending. I am not defending the Minister of Information, but as a matter of fact I think he is better than his two predecessors. I can never have any other feeling for him than that of admiration, but I think his qualities fit him better for some other office, and that some other people would fill his office better than he. However, I wish to defend this particular method of acquiring information, because, after all, it is against it that the attack has been directed. It has been attacked as if it was something new and as if the people of this country were experiencing it for the first time, and bitterly resented people calling on the doorstep. But it is nothing new at all. A great number of businesses have employed this method for years and years, without public protest. The B.B.C. have used this method to find out what the public think about B.B.C. programmes, and I think I am right in saying that they asked 800 questions a week, and have done so for years, without public protest. The G.P.O., under the direction of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, carried through extensive investigation by precisely this method to find out just what were the prices to produce the greatest possible expansion. They altered their policy as a result of that inquiry, and, taking it by and large, it was extraordinarily successful. On this occasion, although I cannot say it for all the activities of the Government, I think they have selected the right man for the job—Professor Arnold Plant. Professor Plant is not some academic, armchair scientist. He is a man highly respected by the business world and by people who have to conduct these investigations and test them with cash results.
§ Sir R. Acland
He was mentioned yesterday, in reply to a Question, as being in charge of the team of investigators. When the Incorporated Institute of British Advertisers wanted to know what was the effect of broadcasting from the Continent to England and conducted a survey of public opinion, they engaged Professor Plant to carry it out. I submit that the Ministry is applying the right method in this case. I hope that I 1530 shall not be accused of copying the technique of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer when I say that the House surely has to decide whether the Ministry of Information should itself be informed of what the people of this country are feeling at any particular time. If the House decides that the Ministry of Information shall be informed, the question is, how shall they be informed? Shall they be informed by the random reports that come from one individual or another? Certainly. Let anybody who has any information as to the state of public morale pass it on to the Ministry.
I have a friend who is a housing manager in one of the most progressive boroughs of London. In the course of her duties she gathers what public opinion is on certain issues and passes it on to the Ministry. She had an interesting experience after a speech by the Prime Minister. A tenant from whom she was collecting rent expressed the view that the Prime Minister was "a very nice gentleman; he takes such an interest in the war, doesn't he?" Is there anything wrong in that? That kind of information submitted by individuals is useful to the Ministry. If it is right for the Ministry to obtain information in that way, it is also right for them to adopt rather less random methods to check up the reports which they receive from all quarters. I agree with the hon. Member for Thorn-bury (Sir D. Gunston) that these methods are scientifically accurate. By taking a comparatively small number of people and deliberately, frankly and aboveboard asking them their views, and then weighting the results in accordance with age, occupation and income groups, you can get within 1, 2 or 3 per cent. of what the feelings of the people really are.
§ Mr. Herbert
Does my hon. Friend really say that for an advertiser or newspaper canvasser to say to a man, "Do you believe in Hitler or soup or tea?" or whatever it is, is the same thing as a representative of the Government going to the ordinary citizen and saying, "Do you think the war is being conducted properly?" or, "Are you satisfied with the tea ration?".
§ Sir R. Acland
I think I have satisfied the hon. Gentleman by giving one very substantial qualification to the support 1531 which I am giving to the Minister. It is said that all this work can be done by the Press, but that I substantially deny, because the results of letter writing to the Press are entirely different from what inquiries from a representative cross-section of the people show them as really thinking. The Minister's predecessor cannot contradict me if I am wrong, and so it is unfair to ask him. I suggest that the postbag opinion received by the B.B.C. was always substantially different from the cross-section of opinion which they got by asking 800 people a week what their views were on this and that. The letters received by the Press and the B.B.C. have been ten to one against the B.B.C's. commentary upon a recent air fight, and yet I submit that an inquiry which went straight to the people asking what they thought of it would show that the great majority of the people appreciated it.
I would say this to the Press, and I challenge denials, that well over one-quarter of the letters received by the Press come on headed notepaper, and yet we know that not one in a hundred of the people possess headed notepaper, so that in that way you are getting only a cross-section of middle-class opinion. Moreover, upon any issue the people who are against it more readily write to the Press than do the people who are in favour of it. The letters received by one paper to-day show that fifty to one of the population of this country would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) were to resign, whereas the survey proportion is only three, and that is significant. The "Daily Mail" quotes the experience of the "Literary Digest" to show that these inquiry methods are ineffective, but that is wrong. That incident proves that when that newspaper attempted a survey among its own readers, when it took over z,000,000 samples it was wildly inaccurate, whereas the Gallup survey, taking a 1,000th part of those numbers, told what the result would be and was right within a very few per cent. Then it is said that this method is unpopular with the public, who passionately resent it. The "Evening News" to-night says that it is not the fault of the newspapers if the Minister of Information has not a very clear idea of the nation's attitude towards the social survey carried 1532 out by 60 well paid investigators. I think in this matter the "Evening Standard" is more accurate. After all, the "Evening Standard" was as much opposed to the right hon. Gentleman at the time of the by-election which has been referred to as was the "Evening News," and it says:In the midst of the hurricane howling around the new corps of doorstep investigators are a number of newspapermen; in fact they are creating a storm.I think that on that matter the "Evening Standard" is more accurate than the "Evening News." Moreover, the people of this country do not reset this method of inquiry. The "Daily Mail" itself has published the fact in its columns that 2 per cent. bang the door in the face of questioners, 10 per cent. do not answer the questions that are asked of them, and 88 per cent. are willing to talk. If we were to listen to the hon. and gallant Member and to the Press, we would imagine that at this moment there is a typhoon of resentment against these methods howling through the length and breadth of this land. There is no resentment against doorstep investigation, against the services and asking whether people find the tea ration too large or too small, or whatever the question is.
I happened to ask one of the ordinary market services to-day, which conducts these inquiries on behalf of commercial firms, and may be able to give an answer to any question for any hon. Member of this House, if it is wanted, for some particulars about its work. These people have had their investigators out this morning, conducting the ordinary routine inquiries. I do not know what questions they were asking, but they were regular questions to which some commercial firm or private individual wanted to know the answer. In the course of this morning, in the middle of the typhoon of rage against these methods, their questioners conducted 80 interviews.
§ Sir R. Acland
No, not at this point. This organisation did not receive one cross word from any of those 80 people, all of whom they interviewed this morning, in the middle of this passionate, public rage, which is supposed to be howling against these doorstep methods. Of course, 80 people are only a small number, but there was not one single expres- 1533 sion of resentment from those 80 people. On the contrary. A very small proportion, 2 per cent., may have resented the questions, but I suggest that the people of tins country are extraordinarily glad to be asked questions.
§ Mr. Stokes
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask him whether this investigator of his declared what he had come for, and whether he was selling soup or snooping round for the Government?
§ Sir R. Acland
I do not know what the word "snooping" is. The suggestion is made that people resent being asked questions on the doorstep, and I am merely giving information to the House that this organisation, standing on the doorstep and asking questions, in the ordinary commercial way, asked 80 people and did not receive a single resentful answer.
§ Mr. Herbert
I want to return to the previous questions which I put to the hon. Gentleman earlier. I am enjoying his speech very much, as we all are. I asked him whether there was any distinction between commercial people asking questions and representatives of the Government. He tells us about these 80 people who answered so politely, but I want to know (a) whether they were Government questioners, and (b) whether, if they were, the hon. Gentleman thinks that all the questions were quite frankly answered. That is what matters.
§ Sir R. Acland
I was indicating, when the hon. Gentleman asked me exactly the same questions, that I was coming to that point later. I do not want to exaggerate in the least the significance of what I am saying to the House. It is only that some hon. and gallant Members suggest that people resent merely having questions asked on the doorstep. The only point I am seeking to put to the House is that the great mass of the population of this country do not resent being 1534 asked to answer questions. On the contrary, they feel rather proud, braced and encouraged that people should want to know their opinions. One of the things that discourage people in this country is that they are left to feel that their opinions do not matter. The mere fact of a citizen of this country being asked questions on behalf of the Government, who want to know: "What is your opinion upon this matter, because upon your opinion we shall direct our policy?" has, in itself, a good effect upon morale, and makes people feel that they are taking part in the total effort of this country. May I call attention in this regard to the outrageous conduct of one of the chief constables in this country, if it is correctly reported in the "Daily Mail"? He said:I have warned householders through the Press to be on their guard. I killed Communism and the Fascists in this town, and I intend to kill anything else which will persuade people to express their views.I believe that is in Derby.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker (Derby)
I think that the hon. Gentleman must have got an incorrect report of what the chief constable said.
§ Sir R. Acland
If that is so, then I apologise. But for the moment the Government are pursuing this policy. What right has the chief constable to make himself an authority to warn people not to express their views? I do not want to be attacked because I appear to be defending more than I really am defending. I am not defending the Ministry's conduct as a whole over the last months. I think there is a great deal to be most seriously criticised. I am not defending the use that is made of this information by the Ministry itself or by other Ministries. I would suggest that some of these reports show that the people of this country are baffled by the way in which the Government are failing to take them into their confidence as a whole, and that others show that they are bewildered by the meagre publication and the late publication of news. I suggest that these reports show that the great majority of this country want something to happen which will prove to them beyond doubt that we are fighting this war for a new world order and not for 1535 any risk or chance at all of returning to the world order which we knew before. I believe that the Government will soon have to act on those reports. I am not defending, either in large or small matters, the way in which the Government make an excuse for these things.
I want to add one vital qualification to the support which I have given to the Ministry which I hope will satisfy the hon. Member who has questioned me. I said that this matter of collecting information is a legitimate method to be used by the Government. The great question is: "In this country what is government?" In Germany we know what government is, as far as this is concerned. It is Dr. Goebbels, and he collects information which he uses, not for the purpose of following public opinion, but for the purpose of discovering in which direction he must direct his propaganda in order to make of public opinion what he wants it to be. That is very important, because in this country government does not consist of Dr. Goebbels, it does not consist of the right hon. Gentleman, and it does not consist of the right hon. Gentleman plus other Ministers, plus a certain number of civil servants. In this country government resides in this House as a whole, and therefore I say that everything I have said in defence of this method of gathering information is subject to this: It is only legitimate for the Government to use these matters if they make their results available to the House as a whole, so that we may all know what is the state of public opinion, because it is not right for the Government alone to possess this scientific and accurate knowledge so that they can know in which direction they must conduct their propaganda in order to produce the effect which they desire, when the information is not available to us. Therefore, subject to the fact that, of course, the Ministry will not be able to publish reports which give information to the enemy; subject to the fact that very often when they receive a report relating to a particular place they will be able to publish it only when they have expunged the name, substituting "a town in the North-West of England" or something of that sort, I suggest to the Minister that if he wants to continue this 1536 method of obtaining information, he must make the information available to the whole of government in the democratic sense—that is, to the whole of this House of Commons.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I do not believe that the people of this country are bewildered or baffled in the least. I get bewildered and baffled when I return from the people of the country to the House of Commons. I believe that the people of the country are united in their desire to support the National Government, and I believe that, far from the Government or the Ministry of Information being out of touch with the people, it is this present House of Commons which shows that it is very much out of touch with the country in some ways. And I am convinced that a part of the Press is completely out of touch.
§ Mr. Herbert rose—
§ Viscountess Astor
Do not interrupt me. I warn the hon. Member that I am not the kind of lady who turns the other cheek. I feel very serious about this, and I think the House of Commons ought to take the Debate very seriously. We have constant personal attacks on Ministers of the National Government. That is not good enough. The country wanted a National Government, and they have it; and they do not understand the goings-on in the House of Commons or in the Press. I am not going on a house-to-house survey. I know the ordinary housewives. They like attention; they do not in the least mind answering questions. Many of them are leading very anxious lives, and are terribly strained. This gives them something to talk about, and may change their thoughts. I do not believe that there is this feeling in the country against this survey, but I believe that there is a feeling about this constant sniping at the National Government. The country was never in its history more united than it is now. It is far more united than we seem to be in the House of Commons. [An HON. MEMBER: "We are united here."] If we are united, we dissemble our love in a very strange way. The country, also, is far too busy working to win the war to pay a great deal of attention to the House of Commons. I rejoice that, owing to the shortage of paper, 1537 they do not have to read the whole of our Debates.
§ Viscountess Astor
No, I will get on with my speech. I will not pay any attention to the hon. Member. We know that National Governments, Coalition Governments, are never popular; but they are a war time necessity. We know that certain Members in my party find it very distasteful to see Members of the Labour party sitting on the Government Front Bench, and that it is very distasteful to Members of the extreme Left on the other side to see their leaders sitting with the leaders of the late Government. There are also disappointed and dissatisfied Members, who have either been turned out of the Government or think that they could do better.
§ Viscountess Astor
I have only one object, and that is to wake the House of Commons up, to see what we are doing by these constant attacks. We would not dare do it against the Government as a whole. You really cannot want to beat the Government by first attacking one Minister and then another, and so pulling them down. If you do not think that Ministers are doing well, you have your remedy. Why do you not go to the Government and make charges against them? You can easily do it. I am not standing up for any individual Minister, but if we want to play into the hands of Hitler, we cannot do it better than by trying to weaken the Government by making these individual attacks. I have watched what has happened in this House in regard to the Home Secretary. There could have been nothing more unfair than the universal outcry against the Home Secretary. It should not have been done.
§ Mr. Herbert
On a point of Order. Is the Noble Lady entitled to refer to attacks on the Home Secretary?
§ Mr. Herbert
May I ask the Noble Lady why, if the nation is so united, as she so truly says, it is necessary to have this canvass?
§ Viscountess Astor
I really do wish the hon. Member would allow me to continue. We all know that he is very witty and amusing, but really some of us feel very strongly about this matter. We know what we are up against and what effect it is having in the country. As for the Minister of Information and the attack against him, it was only a month ago when we were in a jam that the Press and everybody said that he had made the most magnificent speeches and had pulled the country together. The people do not understand why, all of a sudden, a man, who was said to be doing his job well, should be pulled down. An ordinary man said to me to-day, "I do not understand why the House of Commons and the Press should make this terrific personal attack." At a time of war and crisis people do not like personal things. They do not mind an attack upon a Government or a policy, but they do resent personal attacks. It is that against which I am protesting, and I believe that I am representing really the feeling of the average person in the House of Commons.
And now about the position of the Press. I know all about the Ministry of Information. It has had a very hard time. It has made mistakes, and it will probably make more mistakes. But if we do not want the Ministry of Information, if the House of Commons do not want it, we ought to go to the Government and explain the reasons why we do not want it and give a reasoned case against the Ministry of Information. That would be the fair and right way to do it during the war. If the Press have a real grievance against the Ministry of Information, why do not they get together and go to the Government and say why they do not want the Ministry of Information? You cannot say that the Press are not well organised. I belong to the Press, and I know the Press. There are no greater trade unions than the doctors, lawyers and the Press, and the Press are as well organised as the doctors. If they have a grievance, let them put it forward, but, as a matter of fact, you cannot speak of the Press as the Press. Some of the Press is good some of the time, and some of it is bad some of the time. None is good or bad all the time. I believe that the Press are working on the whole pretty well with the Ministry 1539 of Information. As for saying that the Ministry of Information wanted to suppress the Press, the Press know themselves that they have an understanding with the Ministry of Information. I am sorry for the Press. They have a very difficult time. It is a terrible time for them. You cannot blame them for resenting not getting more news. The tragedy about the Press is that it is not the news it gives but the news the people want. We all know that during peace-time bad news is good news. If there is a long story about a happy family which goes to Brighton and mother and father have a good time with their six children, no one reads it, but if the same family goes to Brighton and the husband runs off with a dizzy blonde, then we all read it. The Press has to give what is called glamorous news. I believe that at this moment the country is not clamouring for bad news. The people do not want news which they know they should not get.
I represent a constituency which has been as hard hit as any in the country because of the tragedies of the ships from the West Country that have gone down. I have watched women there for weeks and months waiting—like some of us who have not heard about our sons—for news about their relatives. They do not want news which will play into the hands of the enemy. I found these people extraordinarily patient and understanding. They want true news, but they understand that there is certain news that they cannot get. I have found no discontent. The Press are having a bad time, but they must remember that so are the Government. The Government have not only to deal with the country, the war and the Press, but with the Services. The Services do not like talking to the Press; if they did, they would not be the fine Services they are. They hate giving away news; they are not used to Press propaganda and notices. A good sailor, soldier or airman does not care about Press publicity. That is one of the real difficulties which the Government and, I have no doubt, the Minister of Information, have had to face.
Here we are fighting for our very lives, yet we are constantly misrepresenting the feeling of the country. Really, in some cases it is disgusting. The country is united behind the National Government. If people do not like a Minister, they 1540 ought to give a reasoned case why the Government should gel rid of him. The Press can do it, and they know it, but they are not always right. Look at their great outcry against aliens. Now they have turned right round, but the country is always sound, especially in war-time. People realise that we are fighting a war for justice and mercy which, I believe, are divine qualities. We have God behind us, and we know that if we do not put these qualities into practice in our public and private lives, we are misrepresenting what we are fighting for. I say to Members of the House of Commons: Come back to real things; let us do away with this smallness and unworthiness. We have a great battle before us, and we shall win, but it would be far better if the Members, instead of sitting here and criticising the Government, would go back to their constituencies and see what their people there are doing and feeling. They would find that the courage and morale of the people do not need anything except to be followed. When the Press subject Ministers to bitter personal attacks they are misrepresenting the feeling of this country and aiding Hitler.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
It seems to me that, if the Noble Lady had her own way, there would be very little work for the House of Commons to do at all. I think she was quite wrong in suggesting that there is anything like a personal attack. Everyone who has spoken has praised the right hon. Gentleman most highly. No one has a greater admiration for him than I have, but it is a perfectly proper Parliamentary proceeding, when we think that something that is being carried on, in this case not a major thing, is contrary to the public interest that we should take the facilities that a Motion for the Adjournment offers to call public attention to it and try to persuade the Minister that it would be a wiser course to withdraw a policy for which he is in no way personally responsible. It would be no reflection on him if he felt that it was right to withdraw the policy which is now being pursued.
I want to come to what is the main point of the discussion, which I do not think has been sufficiently emphasised. Mass observation, to my mind, is perfectly wise and proper. It may be a 1541 necessary thing to carry out in ordinary private life. Business man have done it for investigating markets, Members have done it, and political parties have done it. But it is a very different thing when you have the Government of the day trying to investigate and control and play their part in public opinion. That, to my mind, is a very dangerous thing indeed. When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston) says his hon. and gallant Friend employed canvassers in Epsom, those canvassers were not paid for by the Government. They were paid for by private individuals, who are perfectly entitled to send anyone to ask anyone else whatever questions they like.
§ Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)
Is the hon. Member giving the House to understand that my hon. and gallant Friend thinks that these investigators were in fact canvassers?
§ Mr. Mander
They were going there as persons in the employment of the Government asking people what they thought about the Government or about this or that Minister. It is obvious that that is a very dangerous position. It is contrary to the way in which we conduct our affairs. You can get your information through voluntary channels without this interference with public opinion. There are lots of different channels through which this information could be supplied. First of all, there is the Tom Harrisson mass observation scheme itself, which is carried on voluntarily and is available to the Government. Then there are the political parties, which have their means of reporting what is going on, and the suggestion has been made that the nursing services, which are going into the homes all over the land, in town and country, and have many opportunities of knowing what people are thinking, would be able to supply most valuable information. It has been suggested by persons connected with them, and they have offered their services.
§ Mr. Mander
I do not imagine that all sick people hold the same opinions. After all, the main source of public information is Members of Parliament, and those of us who are not able to be on active service 1542 and who are in touch with our constituencies ought to know what the people there are thinking. We are capable of coming here and expressing on behalf of the people we represent their views on the situation and on what they want done. It would be far better to rely upon the proper constitutional procedure than to try this new innovation. The Ministry of Information have adopted some curious practices. Only to-day I was told that in a certain part of England where there was an Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Information and that Committee put forward one or two ideas about the Ministry's policy which were not quite in accordance with the Ministry's views, they were told, "We do not want you to give us advice, we do not want you to criticise the Ministry; your job is to back up the Ministry." That is utterly wrong. An Advisory Committee's function is to tell what it honestly thinks, and not stand behind the Minister. I have given the facts in a certain case, and if there is machinery of that kind, it shows that it is all the wiser to avoid any new system of this kind. I do not object in the least to mass observation if it is done in a voluntary way, but I think it is highly dangerous, contrary to our traditions, and an innovation that ought to be resisted, to have paid Government officers going about the country interfering with and controlling public opinion.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
I find that as each succeeding hon. Member addresses the House, I am inclined to take a point of view opposite to that which he expresses, and I am wondering what my state of mind will be when the Debate concludes. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) gave us a very long homily on how we should conduct ourselves, but I did not notice that she expressed any view upon the matter under discussion, namely, the advisability or inadvisability of the census of opinion being taken. The Noble Lady instructed us that we were not in any circumstances to criticise Ministers in the House. She suggested that if we wanted to criticise a Minister, we should approach the Prime Minister and report that Minister to him. Surely, the correct practice is to follow the House of Commons manner, to bring the matter before 1543 the House, thereby affording the Minister the right and opportunity of defending himself, if such defence be necessary. The Noble Lady has a very short memory. Within the last three or four weeks she has made a speech in the House on overseas evacuation in which she was not at all sparing in her criticisms of the Minister.
§ Mr. Beaumont
The Noble Lady was also instructive to-night, although she made one slip. She said that she belonged to the Press; I thought that the Press partly belonged to her.
§ Mr. Beaumont
I suggest that this Debate should not be construed as an attack upon the Minister of Information. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman will be glad of the opportunity of defending his point of view, and no doubt he will make a very excellent case. He would much sooner have criticism expressed in this House than await snooping and sniping criticism from outside. The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) gave an illustration of a certain investigation which was conducted to-day. I believe he said that 80 people were asked a certain question and that not one of them resented the question being asked; but I submit that it entirely depends on the nature of the questions. I can imagine people going to a house and asking, "Is your husband at home?" The answer might be "No" or "Yes," and possibly there would be no resentment in giving the answer. [An HON. MEMBER: "It depends who asked the question."] I suggest if we are to judge the value of this particular investigation, we should understand and appreciate the particular questions.
I am extremely confused in regard to what the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) said. He told us of a pathetic incident when a commissionaire ventured a remark with regard to the approaching Debate. He did not say if he registered alarm when the commissionaire approached, or the commissionaire registered despondency when the hon. Member left. I suggest 1544 that if the hon. and gallant Member had asked that commissionaire, unbeknown to him, that he was going to speak in the Debate to-night, "Do you believe in or approve of this policy?" the commissionaire would have registered no resentment against the asking of such a question. He also made reference to the Peace Ballot. That was conducted on entirely different lines. First of all, it was not a localised ballot, but a national ballot, and, secondly, it was a ballot of not one day but spread over a number of weeks and months, by which time the people understood the questions being asked. Thirdly, the ballot was conducted by people who lived for the most part in the district, and in many cases knew the persons on whom they called. Therefore there is no relationship at all between the Peace Ballot and the kind of investigation which is now being conducted. In fact, so much import was placed on this ballot that upon it was framed the foreign policy of the Government of that day, if the 1935 election campaign is a true criterion.
The hon. and gallant Member also decried certain efforts of the Ministry of Information, and one was the fact that they were arranging to offer sermons to parsons. It might be that these sermons would disturb lethargy in the churches and thereby have a beneficial result. What I suggest is that at the present time the best source of information for ascertaining what is in the minds of the people in any area is the Member of Parliament, providing that the Member does not rely on letters which are in his postbag every morning, and that he pays not only periodical but long visits to his constituency, and does not visit only people who are friendly disposed towards him, but sits, as it were, in public court and receives anyone who wishes to see him. In that way it is possible for a Member of Parliament to obtain the opinion of a true cross-section of his own constituency. I speak as one who has tried it. In my constituency last week in four days I had an innumerable number of people coming to me, with difficulties and so forth. I found, as the Noble Lady said, that right throughout the country there is a grim determination to carry on. There is a high morale, and the people do not need to be comforted or to be aroused. I 1545 would rather the Ministry expended their energies in the countries with which we are at war than in this country. I believe that this scheme is inappropriate at the present time, because I do not think it will produce results. I do not believe there is any great resentment about it, but it will not produce any results of value. It would be better if the effort that is being expended on it were transferred into some other channel and that propaganda carried on abroad, where it is needed. I consider that the main function of the Ministry of Information is propaganda of the most effective and efficient kind such as will bring dismay and disillusionment to the enemy and gratification and eventual victory to this country.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I find myself at a serious disadvantage. I cannot emulate the hon. Member for Barn-staple (Sir R. Acland) in his catholic knowledge of the Press, although I have had a little over half a century's experience of it, nor can I profess to speak on behalf of masses of people as he did. I can speak only for myself. I hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will accept the assurance from all parts of the House that nobody wishes to embarrass them in their task, but that everybody wishes to give them such assistance as they can, based upon their experiences. I say that strongly, because I am more conscious, for a particular reason, of the enormous difficulties of their work than any other Member. Apart from my own experience in that direction, I realise that my right hon. Friend inherited an appalling legacy and that he is still struggling, in the midst of his constructive work, to get in order the great mass of undigested personnel with which he is saddled. This inquiry is one of the unfortunate legacies of the Minister. It is like the steam-roller in all bureaucracies; it goes steadily on gathering force and momentum, and unless it is pulled up now, it may become a more serious encumbrance to the Ministry than it is now.
Does not this discussion narrow itself down to two simple issues? First, is this inquiry necessary, and, second, if it is necessary, is this the best means of effecting it? Is it necessary to have this costly means of ascertaining what is the opinion 1546 of the country? I would answer in one sentence, as the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) did. This country is absolutely united behind the National Government, and there is, therefore, nothing left to find out. Take the second point. Assuming that it is necessary to take special measures to ascertain what is the feeling of the country, are these the best measures to adopt? In all seriousness, I would ask the Minister to reconsider that point. I think he has been rather seriously misled by those who tell him that this is a recognised method with businesses and newspapers. When a business conducts a canvass it is not to ascertain information but to sell something, and that is a very different object. It is true that sometimes these visits are welcome. I know that many housewives always welcome the visit of the canvasser for a vacuum cleaner, because they get the house cleaned as a matter of demonstration and do not have to pay for it. I know people also who have had "share pushers" call on them, and they may have welcomed them on the first occasion, but I have never heard that a repeat visit was welcome. What business firms and newspapers have done in this way is totally irrelevant. I feel very strongly, first, that there is no paramount and urgent necessity for an inquiry regarding something which we know already, and for the reasons given by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) it is not the kind of inquiry which it is desirable to have conducted in any circumstances by a Government agency. For these reasons I ask the Minister to look again at this legacy, this unfortunate legacy, which he has inherited, and to ask himself whether it is necessary, I will not say to antagonise people—it is not a question of antagonising them—but to create a certain amount of feeling about the Ministry in a matter which is not of urgent importance. The Minister must know the feeling of the country, and the place to ascertain the feeling of the country is the House of Commons. If a Member does not know from his contact with his constituency and from his postbag what is the general feeling in his constituency, then there must be something lacking in his contact with the constituency which he is supposed to serve.
Then I would draw attention to the absurd contradiction into which the hon.
1547 Member for Barnstaple landed himself. He said, "You take the verdict of the cross-section who have been the subject of your inquiry, and then you take the opinion of the House of Commons." But suppose they differ. Which is to prevail? Is the view of the House of Commons, to which the Minister is responsible, to prevail, or the opinion of the inquiry? Is the Minister to learn from the inquiry that the opinion of the House of Commons is entirely wrong? That is a small sample of the difficulties into which an inquiry of this kind, at this time, may land the Minister and the country. I would repeat my assurance that I wish to strengthen and assist the Minister, and I would urge him to push on with the constructive work of the Ministry and not to saddle himself with a side-line like this, which I am sure will add to his difficulties.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of Information (Mr. Duff Cooper)
I have nothing to complain of in the tone of the Debate to-night, and I am grateful to my fellow Members for the flattering tributes which some of them have been good enough to pay me, and for the general temper of calmness and the judicial spirit in which they have judged the particular experiment which we are discussing. My hon. and gallant Friend who opened the Debate said that the proper function of the Ministry of Information was to give information, and I quite agree with him, but I would point out that in order to give information you must first obtain it. It is not the duty of the Ministry of Information to invent or to draw upon their imagination; they have to get the facts before they can impart them to others. What are the subjects upon which information is looked for? The greatest factor is for the Government to know the state of mind of the people.
The word "morale," which irritates the hon. Member for the Oxford University (Mr. A. P. Herbert), does not mean the same thing as courage. Good morale does not simply mean courage, and bad morale does not merely mean cowardice. Morale is something much broader than that. What do I mean by morale? You want to find out what people are thinking, what is worrying them, what are their difficulties, whom they trust and whom they distrust—the 1548 difficulties that people are finding in living their lives in war-time and which of them can be removed: surely these are matters of legitimate inquiry. If we are agreed so far, can anybody dispute that the Government should, so far as possible, be in possession of the latest and most accurate knowledge in these matters?
The next question is: How are the Government to obtain this information? The first channel of information is undoubtedly Parliament, the House of Commons, the elected representatives of the people, but there are limits, valuable and immense as is the information which can be obtained through Members, to its accuracy, its modernity and, if I may say so without disparagement upon myself and my colleagues, to our own qualifications. We were almost all elected on a definite party basis. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) no doubt feels quite genuinely that he can speak for—I will not say 100 per cent.—90 per cent. of his constituency. I wonder whether, in those days of party politics which we are all glad to see temporarily laid aside, he regards the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) as accurately representing the views of his constituency? Hon. Members have all expressed different views, but were we not all elected for the purpose of carrying on party politics?
Some hon. Members have been elected since, and are merely carrying on the state of parties existing in their constituencies. All those things are limitations upon our usefulness at the present time. Other hon. Members are carrying on other activities by serving the State in many ways, and are no longer available as representatives of their constituencies. The usefulness of Members of Parliament is at present limited—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—but it still remains rather extraordinary—I consider it is so—that whilst my hon. and gallant Friend was good enough to say that I was always courteous to him and always took an interest in his complaints—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Might I ask a question? I hope the right hon. Gentleman applies his argument only to this limited matter, because I do not know whether he is aware of the seriousness of the statement that he has made. If he suggests that the use of this House is no longer what it was, the 1549 ultimate outcome of the argument is that we should have an immediate General Election.
§ Mr. Cooper
What I do say is that there are limits, and when I come afterwards to explain, I am sure that the Noble Lord will agree with me that these are not subjects with which Members of Parliament are fitted to deal. For two and a-half months this system has been in active operation. I have not had one single letter from a Member of Parliament complaining about it. My hon. and gallant Friend can bring forward as his only evidence of the state of mind of the people throughout the country one commissionaire from a restaurant, who knows who he is and agrees with him. Not only have hon. Members received no letters—and I await contradiction, but there is more—
§ Mr. Herbert
May I point out that what the right hon. Gentleman says now rather justifies the function of the Press? May I ask him a question on an important point which I tried to put before? Is or is not the mass observation movement, and particularly the leader of it, Mr. Tom Harrisson, largely a member of his Ministry?
§ Mr. Cooper
The hon. Member has punctuated this Debate with interruptions. It has been said that the usefulness of the Press has been challenged, because this was brought to the attention of Members of Parliament, but is it not the fact that Members of Parliament, who are supposed to represent their constituents, have had to wait until the whole thing was started by the Press as a Press stunt? It was not until the attention of hon. Members was drawn to the matter that they took any interest in it at all. If there are any snoopers in the world, they are employed by the Press. We know the tact and consideration with which they come into houses of mourning and ring up at awkward hours and make inquiries. In spite of this fact, it took the Press—who are ahead of my hon. Friend by a day or two—two and a half months to discover this "scandal." It has been going on since the middle of May. It was only the end of last week that the Press discovered it, and all the papers discovered it simultaneously. At this moment there is very little news to report. It is often the way in happier times, when it is called the "silly season." The Press 1550 is shorter of news now than it was in happier times. There is no sporting news and very little theatrical news. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman often brings comedy into Debates, but this is not a time for comedy. The Press has been obliged to fall back upon what plainly is a stunt. It can and often does provide sources of information for the country and the Government, but unhappy is the Government which relies solely on the Press for its sources of information.
You have only to consider the way in which this particular campaign has been conducted by one part of the Press to realise that those newspapers are unworthy to be entrusted with any important matter. The five newspapers which have been running this campaign in London reported to-day what took place in the House of Commons. It was the first opportunity I had had to make any explanation with regard to the stunt which began last weekend—on Friday or Saturday, I think. Not one of those five newspapers printed my reply; not one of them stated that the scheme was in operation before I reached the Ministry. Papers that carry on a controversy in such an unworthy, unfair and dishonest manner cannot be considered a suitable means of information, upon which the Government or the public or the House of Commons can rely. The importance of discovering public opinion cannot be over-estimated. Lord Bryce said once:The main difficulty of forming an opinion is that of finding public opinion out. Organs of opinion have been engaged in representing their own views as those of the people.How true that is to-day. In this country we have a comparatively small Press. Each represents the views of perhaps one individual. All attempt to represent those views as being the views of the country. Lord Bryce held that the only way of finding out opinion was to hold an election. We are debarred at present from holding an election. Nobody wishes to interfere with that arrangement. We hope it will continue throughout the war. But there is a new method which did not exist in Lord Bryce's day: a scientific method of discovering public opinion. It has developed with extraordinary rapidity in quite recent years. My hon. and gallant Friend, who relies so much on the "Daily Mail" for his opinions—
§ Mr. Cooper
I do not wish to insult the hon. and gallant Member. His resentment is rather a reflection on the "Daily Mail." One of the instances to which he referred, and upon which other hon. Members have corrected him, came from the "Daily Mail" to-day. It was the straw vote of the "Literary Digest," which proved to be two or three thousand votes wrong. Other hon. Members have pointed out that modern methods achieved results which proved to be within 6 per cent. right. And before the voting took place Dr. Gallup foretold, by his method, that the "Literary Digest" would be wrong, and he gave the figure by which they would be wrong, to within 1 per cent. That is an interesting commentary on the way in which this method can be developed.
I want to say a word now on how this method has been developed in the Ministry. It was decided that it was important that we should have accurate information on certain subjects. We, therefore, set up, under the auspices of the National Institute of Social and Economic Research, a body to which the name was given of War-Time Social Survey. We set it up under the auspices of that body in order that it should be independent of the Ministry. It was appointed not by us, but by a distinguished professor of the University of London. "Qualified people" have been referred to. What are qualified people? People who have been engaged either in social work or in merchant concerns. The expense of this experiment, about which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) was so indignant—he is not here this evening—was, for the month of June, £1,007. I can give detailed figures to anybody who wants to know the number of people employed and the salaries paid. The highest salary paid is £10 a week. These workers receive certain names which are taken at random in different districts from time to time. They call at the houses of the people. They have certain questions which they have been given to ask. They fill in the answers given to the questions, and, before they return them to the Ministry, they are tabulated. The names of the various people are so dealt 1552 with as not to be known even inside the Ministry of Information.
We are aware of the real danger of people thinking that this is some frightening shadow of the Gestapo, especially at the present time. I am fully aware of that danger, but so far the only complaint we have had—and I am very glad we have had it—has come from a policeman. It was the extraordinary outburst of the chief constable of Derby this morning to which reference has already been made. I hope that will clear people's minds of any ideas they may have had as to a connection between this experiment and the police. It has been a most useful tribute to us in that respect. Of the people who have, so far, been visited only 2 per cent. have made any objection to these questions. My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) made a most extraordinary suggestion. He stressed the importance of obtaining information on the subject but suggested another way of doing it, namely, by using the services of hospital nurses. I think that would really look like a system of espionage. Under the present arrangement people say, frankly, that they come from the Ministry of Information and desire to ask certain questions and to find out opinions on certain matters.
§ Mr. Mander
The right hon. Gentleman has made very good play with the suggestion which I made, but it was only a very small part of a much wider suggestion by the Press and Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Cooper
That you should employ various people who have other activities, to perform this activity on behalf of the State is one of the most dangerous things that could happen.
I want to say something about the various kinds of opinions that have been found out by this survey. One was a very small thing but one that was worth finding out. The Ministry of Food wanted to ascertain the other day whether people would prefer to obtain their milk a little cheaper and have to fetch it themselves, or pay a small extra sum and have it delivered at their houses. We made inquiries in 11 different industrial districts—and there was no difference in the various districts—and we obtained a return of over 69 per cent. that they would prefer it a little cheaper and fetch it.
1553 That was a small thing which required to be done. A more interesting investigation, from the scientific point of view, was that, earlier in the year, the Ministry of Food were running a series of talks on the B.B.C. which was called "The Kitchen Front," describing how food could be saved by modern methods of cooking and how, in various recipes, less palatable dishes could be made more palatable and so on.
Then they wanted to find out how many people listened to the broadcast and how many housewives had put the advice into practice. Inquiry was made of people with two different sets of incomes—those over £4 a week, and those below. The result was that a much larger number of the better off people listened because they had radios of their own or because they had access to radios, but among the poorer classes a much larger proportion really took the advice and tried the recipes. The Minister was thus assured that the people for whom the broadcasts were designed were benefiting by the advice, and he was later able to direct other methods for use by the poorer people.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
Do I understand from that that a large number of poor people have no radio sets?
§ Mr. Cooper
If the hon. Member thinks that everybody in the country can afford a radio set, then he is more of an optimist than I believed. My hon. and gallant Friend asked why, if this system was so useful, we had not provided better advice with regard to the Silent Column. Well, I will make a confession. Our Home Intelligence Division of the Ministry received these reports and advised against the Silent Column. They thought it would be a mistake, and I regret to say now that their advice was overlooked. There was one other kind of inquiry made, as to whether the people of the country resented music hall entertainments on the wireless. It was found that 90 per cent. approved, which proves the very great value of the entertainments and how they are very much appreciated by a large section of the community.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not wish a misrepresentation to go out. What I did criticise was the bastard form of Yankee low-down jazz music. I said that 1554 if instead of that pseudo-variety we had our own native talent it could have given us clean variety instead of the stuff we have had to tolerate.
§ Mr. Cooper
I am sorry if I have misrepresented my hon. Friend but there is a good deal of entertainment on the radio which people do very much enjoy. The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland), in the concluding remarks of his able and useful speech, suggested that we should make public the knowledge we have obtained by this method available to Members of Parliament. I am prepared to do my best to meet the hon. Baronet, although I do not think I can go so far as to lay the reports on the Table of the House. That would go near to publishing them, and they very often do contain information of a confidential character. I am always ready to show such reports to Members if they come to the Ministry. That this system is useful I think I have demonstrated. The only reason there could be for not adopting it is the fear that it would upset the public mind, and that people would think it was in some way connected with the police, but we have no evidence to show that there is any such fear. None has been produced this evening, and I do not believe that it exists. We all know from our own experience of canvassing—a very different activity—that the majority of the people whose houses are invaded by canvassers are, on the whole, glad to see them. Their usual complaint, I think, is that "No one has been down our street; when are they coming to us?" There you are canvassing for one party, and you expect occasionally to have the door slammed in your face, but that seldom happens. More often than not a man says, "I am not going to vote for you, but I am prepared to have a talk with you." The majority of people like it. They are open to argument. I do not believe for a moment that this survey is disturbing the public mind in any way. I believe that it is serving a useful purpose. This is a subject upon which the Government ought to have information and the information is of great value. The method is working well and has not caused any perturbation in the public mind, and until someone can suggest a better method of obtaining information which is needed, I shall advise the Government to continue to employ it.
When the information is completely collated and gathered together, is it submitted to any Government Department? What happens to it?
§ Mr. Cooper
If it contains matter likely to be useful to a Ministry such as the Ministry of Food or the Board of Trade, it is communicated to them at once, but it is not circulated to the Departments.
§ Mr. Cooper
Mass Observation is, I understand, privately run and controlled. We have once or twice applied to it for statistical information on certain subjects which it has been able to furnish, information which it was not worth while setting up a special inquiry to obtain.
§ Sir H. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that a large proportion of the working people had not got radio sets. The bulk of the working class have radio sets, and therefore his statement that the analysis showed that those who had sets did this, and those who had not sets did not, is unadulterated nonsense. It is difficult now to enter any house where they have not a radio set. I would ask his snoopers, if they still have time to spare, to find out whether people have radio sets.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at one minute before Eleven o'Clock until Tuesday next, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.