HC Deb 23 July 1940 vol 363 cc597-9
50. Mr. Lindsay

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the policy of the formation of silent columns, of the regulation relating to the spreading of gloom and despondency, and the arbitrary arrest and release of British citizens is diminishing the bracing effects of his own speeches and broadcasts and belittling the loyalty and intelligence of the British people; and whether he will take suitable action in the matter?

The Prime Minister

The movement of forming silent columns was well-meant in its endeavour to discourage loose and ill-digested talk of a depressing character about the war. However, when this idea was put down in black and white it did not look by any means so attractive and seemed to suggest that reasonable and intelligent discussion about the war between loyal and well-disposed people ought not to take place. On the contrary, His Majesty's Government are glad that the general aspects of the war should be understood and discussed, provided that there is no breach, however inadvertent, of official secrecy, no precise references to the strength and disposition of our Forces, and no talk about future operations. This movement to create a silent column has, therefore, passed into what is called in the United States innocuous desuetude.

Upon the second part of my hon. Friend's Question, I would observe that we have been and are still passing through a most critical phase in the war, and that our Forces are now ranged and vigilant to strike at invasion. The House has accepted numerous regulations which, but for the gravity of the hour, would be extremely repugnant to all our ideas, and some of which might tend to encourage ill-natured tale-bearing and mutual suspicion in our midst. In the circumstances I have asked the Home Secretary to have every sentence imposed by the courts for loose or defeatist talk carefully and immediately reviewed, and that it should be reduced or remitted wherever it is clear that there was no evil wish, or systematic purpose to weaken the National Defence in the persons concerned. His Majesty's Government have no desire to make crimes out of silly vapourings which are best dealt with on the spur of the moment by verbal responses from the more robust members of the company. They desire only to curb, as it is their duty to do, propaganda of a persistent, organised and defeatist character. As these sentences come to be revised and their revision is made public, as it will be, the courts all over the country will have a good guide furnished them as to what are the intentions of Parliament and the requirements of the State in respect of these war-time regulations.

Mr. Rhys Davies

Is it possible for the Government to consider either withdrawing or amending this regulation?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I do not think so.

Mr. G. Strauss

Was not this silent column campaign initiated by the committee to which I referred in my previous Question?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of it, but even if it were the case, I do not think that I would be called upon to revise anything I have said.

Mr. De la Bére

Did not the Prime Minister give a most satisfactory answer?