§ MINISTRY OF INFORMATION.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1941 for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Information.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker (Derby)
I will start by offering the congratulations of those who sit on these benches to the new Ministers who will speak to-day and by assuring them that this Vote has been taken, not in any hostile or party spirit, but because we want the new Ministers to have a chance of explaining the work they have to do and because we ourselves want to make constructive suggestions which we hope may be of use. We think it particularly appropriate that this Vote should be taken on the day which has brought us news as grave as that which the Prime Minister has just told us. It gives the House a chance to show that our nation will receive the news with the fortitude which is required. We have lost a battle because of the enemy's advantages in treachery, in brutality, in bombing aircraft and in tanks. It is on the day when we have lost or may lose that battle that we should remember that the greatest of all soldiers, Napoleon, said that in war the moral factor was three times as important as material equipment, that all history consisted of a conflict between the sword and the spirit, and that in the end the spirit always won. Napoleon proved by his victories, and still more by his defeats, that he was right. It has been proved again in modern times. When Napoleon said that, he was not moralising; he was stating a military fact of supreme importance.
Our moral power is a vital factor in the will-power which will bring us victory in the end. When we say "will-power" we mean opinion—conscious, organised, articulate opinion founded upon truth. It 438 is, infact, the opinion in this country, in the countries of our Allies, in neutral countries and in Germany upon which the force, the duration and the outcome of the war will inevitably depend. It is the task of the Ministry of Information to guide, form and express that opinion in this country, to give the neutrals the material upon which they can found their judgment, and to play a part, I think a very important part, in making the Germans understand what is the real choice before them. In other words, the Ministry have to make our public, other nations and the German people understand what we are fighting against, what we are fighting for and our ability to defend our cause effectively to the end. That is the substance of the Ministry's work as we see it; it is to make the world understand our moral principles and our material power.
Our criticism of the Ministry has been that up to now it has largely failed in carrying out that task. Our own people, no doubt, have before them the principles in which they themselves believe. We are all agreed that we are standing for the principle of resistance to aggression, for the freedom of nations to make their own lives, for the freedom of the individual within the nation, for democracy as a guarantee of peace and as the instrument of humane and progressive government, and for social justice—and I lay great emphasis upon it—between, man and man. We have something to do in creating even among our own people a burning faith that these principles are the foundation of our policy in every case and every conflict, and that we are resolved to build a new world when the war is over upon those principles. We are very far from having convinced neutral countries that that is what we mean to do.
The real truth is that all civilised men nowadays have given up the old dogmatic assumptions that military power means greatness, that military domination brings prestige and that military conquest increases the wealth of one nation at the expense of another. These are the things the Nazis believe. We all know their faults and we all know that we must have a new kind of peace when this war is over. We have not yet finally persuaded all the neutrals of the fact. I am afraid that we have not really made them under- 439 stand, and I do not think we have made our own people understand, what Nazism in practice really means. I went last night with some friends to see the new film "Pastor Hall," which gives a pale picture of what Nazi tyranny has meant in German life, that tyranny in the village, in the concentration camp and in the outrages of the torture chamber. My friends are anti-Nazi and they follow politics, but they found it impossible to believe that this film was not an exaggeration, that any Government could be so unutterably vile. If that was true of my friends, how much more true is it of much of our own nation, and of the people in neutral countries, where the Press are not even free to publish what the Nazis do not like to see.
How many people really understand what the lessons of Nazism mean when they are exported by conquest abroad? Our people have not in their minds a living picture of the sufferings of Poland. They have no idea of what Goering's knock-out blow really means. I begged the Ministry of Information last October to collect all the evidence they could get from every source and try to make a picture, which the world could see, of this knock-out blow in practice—the annihilation of towns and villages, the massacre of the civil population, the machine-gunning of refugees, the systematic destruction of hospitals and ambulances, the whole mechanism of sadistic terror. They never did. They left the field clear to Goebbels, and he has found many people in many countries who were all too ready to think that the conquest of Poland was a stupendous and even a glorious military achievement. It was not anything of the kind. It was a bestial crime against humanity, against the past, against this generation and against generations still to come.
To-day the neutrals all talk about the lesson of Poland—I have argued it for hours in half-a-dozen neutral countries since the war began—but there is not one who really understands the true lesson of Poland. It is the lesson that unless the Nazis are finally and totally destroyed there will be no freedom and no independence for any nation that cannot keep up an air force of 5,000 planes. They have never understood that their choice was never between peace and war but between the fate of Czecho-Slovakia and the fate 440 of Poland, and that in the end there is no difference between those fates.
Least of all, I am afraid, we have not yet made the world understand the vast material power which we possess. It is absolutely vital that we should do so. I was in Holland a few weeks before it was invaded, and a man in a very high position said to me, "Of course, we feel quite sure Germany is not going to attack us. It is against her interests to do so." But he added, "Whatever may be true it is useless for us to join the Allies, because we know no one is going to win this war." I found exactly the same thing in Scandinavia. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) came back from the Balkans the other day he said that everywhere the peoples and the Governments were profoundly anti-Nazi. In many ways they were anxious to play their part, but they had not been convinced of our power, or even of our will, to win the war. Of course, we have used complacent phrases about the joint strength of the two greatest Empires in the world; but they have been worse than nothing. They have left people with the feeling that they only covered up a failure to recognise the real strength of our enemy and a failure to mobilise our own. They have left them with a feeling that those phrases were a cloak for wishful thinking that we could win the war without great effort or great loss.
Goebbels has done, and done very effectively, what we ought to have done in those neutral countries. I frequently found people of great intelligence saying that, of course, Great Britain and France had a fearful task, that was true; that the British Empire was in a pretty parlous state; that the condition of India was most unhappy; and that Germany had immense advantages which we could never overcome. At once I started to make them really think. I convinced them that the picture they were drawing was quite grotesque. Hitler has not got a Reich of 110,000,000 behind him. He has got the 67,000,000 Germans he always had, and of these a great proportion hate the crimes which he has committed He has to keep 600,000 men at home to hold his people down. He has to keep 1,000,000 more to hold down the 40,000,000 whom he has enslaved. He has got control of far less of Central and Southern Europe than the Kaiser had in 441 1917, and he gets far less resources. He has a mortal weakness that Germany did not have in 1917, the oil sanctions, by which we can strangle Germany's military effort after a few months of active war. Once we begin to bomb his oil-production plants there is absolutely nothing he can do about it. Compared to 1917, when it was very nearly fatal to us, the submarine menace hardly exists. We control 95 per cent. of world resources in vital war requirements. Hitler's only advantage, which he is exploiting to-day, lies in the numerical superiority of his tanks and aircraft, which is offset by the positive superiority of ours, a superiority which in the end will certainly prove decisive.
All these things are platitudes. They are straightforward facts. They lead to the inevitable conclusion that if the present generation of British and Frenchmen are as resolute as their forefathers, victory will certainly be ours, even if before the end we have to suffer far greater defeats than we have yet known. But we have not got these facts across—not nearly enough in this country and hardly at all abroad. The Minister has a new and magnificent opportunity. The mere fact of a new Government gives him here, and still more abroad, a starting-point which makes all things possible, and I hope he will apply his powerful brain to the task of showing our people and the world that our stand for international law and freedom and democracy and social justice is not nineteenth century fustian, but a living faith of supreme, compelling and attractive power. I hope he is going to show that the Nazis, as Thomas Mann has said, have not a great new salutary revolutionary doctrine but are simply out of date. Their intellectual standards, like their ethics, are those of Attila the Hun. I hope he is going to make the people of this country and the world understand that with such a cause to fight for, and such resources at our command, for us the word "defeat" simply does not exist, that we know that we have the power and that we are resolute to use it. If he does that, I venture to think he will play a great part in our final victory.
Let me turn now from the substance of what I hope his Ministry will say to the special tasks which it has to perform, and 442 I will take those tasks in their order—here at home, in neutral countries and in Germany. In the past the Ministry has been more criticised than any human institution of modern times. A great deal of the criticism, I always said, was directed to the wrong address. More of it, as we see now, when the war has come so close, was simply silly. But I do not want to enter into details about administration and the methods which the Minister should use. I want to take only two things. I have always believed that the agency which is concerned with propaganda should be so far as possible controlled and centralised by the Ministry itself—I mean censorship, news, wireless and so on. That view was not always held, either in the House or in the Government, but it has prevailed, I understand, in the end. A good deal has been done in that direction, and I hope the Minister will do still more. Secondly, I hope he will not let his work be hampered for lack of funds. We all want economy, but the real criticism of the Ministry has been, not that it spent too much, but that it did not do its job. If the work of the Ministry shortened the war by a single day—and it might easily shorten it by a month or a year—it would pay for itself time and again, and if Dr. Goebbels can spare £20,000,000 for telling lies, we can spare a tenth of that amount for telling the truth.
What tasks should the Minister undertake here at home? These are some of the things to which I hope he will give his mind. I hope he will make a concentrated attack on what in the last war we used to call "defeatism," wherever he may find it, high or low. I know that the morale of the working class is a good deal sounder than that of some other people. He can do a great deal to that end by maintaining the accuracy and the balance of the news, and he can do a great deal by interpreting the news, by saving us from that fearful see-saw of emotion which, to those who know nothing about war, comes as such a fearful trial with every new item of good or evil news. Last week we all had terrible days, and on the worst of them I happened to meet a General in a foreign Army, who had a very distinguished career. I asked him what he thought, and he said, "Nothing is lost. I remember many times in my career when I thought I had lost the war, and next day 443 I found that my defence had helped us a long way towards final victory." I wish that man could have been put on the broadcast, and I wish the hon. and gallant Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears) could have given on the wireless his picture of General Weygand standing in 1914 by Marshal Foch and, while the Germans broke the lines, taking down the orders for the counter-offensive which brought the Battle of the Marne.
I hope the Minister will go on doing what he has begun, namely, giving us consistent, realistic interpretations of the news, backed up by official denials of everything that is too optimistic and of everything that is too pessimistic. He has begun to do it by his own broadcasts, and, if I may say so with respect, I think he has done extraordinarily well. But he cannot do it all himself. If he does, he will not do all his other work, and I hope he will be able to organise consistent, expert guidance to the journalists. I hope he will be able to do what I believe radio people call "building up" experts with radio personality and military knowledge, who will be able to get across to the public the truth about the events that are going on and put them in their proper perspective from day to day; and I hope that, while he is considering the current news and its interpretation, he will pay special attention to the problems and worries of special classes. I mention particularly the women in the home, whose part in modern war is particularly difficult and particularly tragic. One matter of special importance to women is the business of rumour. Goebbels has never been so impudent or so idiotic as he is to-day, but even when he is idiotic he may be dangerous, and he is going on now, day by day and week by week, with that old lie so assiduously promoted and so particularly dangerous at the present time—the lie that there is dissension between the British and the French. M. LêonBlum made a very notable contribution to the destruction of that lie at Bournemouth two weeks ago, and the Government could do worse than use part of that speech of M. Léon Blum. But I hope they will do more. I hope they will use the whole power and machinery of our Labour movement and of the Socialist movement in France in helping to combat that particular piece of work.
444 There is another way in which the Ministry could make a tremendous contribution and in which again I think our Labour movement could help—I mean in respect of armament supply. Last week the "Times" had a series of expert articles on the present situation which all led to the conclusion, which is obvious, that the real answer to Hitler's blows lies in increased production from our munition works. Everyone knows that that is true and that the workers, if they want to, can increase production. I remember that in the great offensive in March, 1918, we lost vast quantities of guns, shells and other arms, and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) appealed then to the workers to work as they had never worked before. They responded, and at Woolwich Arsenal, as Will Crooks used to tell us, men did 80, 90 and 100 hours a week. What was the result? The output of heavy guns rose in the five weeks which followed 18th March in the proportion of from 100 to 172, in heavy howitzers it rose to 218, and in ammunition the rise was approximately the same. At that rate how long would it take to replace the aircraft which the German Air Force has been able to destroy? We know that the Ministers of Supply and Labour have already got very considerable results. I see that in some places they are talking about a 20 or a 30 per cent. increase in the output for the week. The spirit of the workers is superb, and I hope the Ministry will help to keep it so. I hope it will work very closely with the Ministries of Supply and Labour and help those Departments to take on experts and to plan a campaign to mobilise the whole power of the trade union and Labour movements and the other political parties in trying to bring the full productive power of the nation into play.
Fourthly, if the Minister wants to keep up the national morale, there is nothing he can do of more importance than to work with other Government Departments in getting people into jobs where they can serve the nation. The Government are prepared for the invasion of this island. I think it is quite likely that the epileptic genius of Berchtesgaden will attempt it, but I do not much believe he will while he has a French Army on his flanks. But suppose he does. Is it a prospect that should fill us with paralysed dismay? Alas, we have no right to be 445 the only nation in Europe which is immune from war at home, and it is my profound conviction that if Hitler does attempt it, it will be the final adventure which will lead to his downfall and defeat. If we prepare, we can make that defeat quite certain, and every man and woman in the country should help in that preparation. Last January, on the Karelian Isthmus, I saw defensive works which, by voluntary labour, the Finnish people in their summer holidays had built. Our people could do the same. There are 10,000 fields in Britain where troop carriers might land, but if we dig ditches and put up hedges, they will be destroyed if they attempt it. We need fast armouredcars to meet the parachute troops, if they come. Every garage and every private car owner could armour their cars quite enough to keep off machine-gun bullets. Then we need far more shelters than we have, and far stronger shelters. The whole lesson of Spain, China, Finland, and Belgium is just exactly that. Our people could build those shelters, and to save lives might save panic and preserve production. I hope the Minister will get together with the War Office, the Home Office, and the Ministry of Transport and will start a tremendous campaign to get our people into work of this kind, and I am sure, as I have said, that if he does, there is nothing he could do that would be of such vast importance in maintaining the national morale.
Now let me turn to the neutrals. We all hate the word "neutrality" nowadays. The one good product of the war up to date is that it has shown that neutrality between right and wrong, between justice and aggression, does not bring peace or freedom to any nation in the world. But there are still many neutrals, and their attitude may be of vast importance. I have only to say the words "South America," "the Middle East," "the Balkans," to show that that is true, and it does not lie with us to lecture or denounce those neutrals. We spent too many years teaching them to be neutral by our example. Our task now—the Minister's task—is to persuade them that we are fighting for the right, that our existence is the sole remaining obstacle between them and Nazi tyranny in their homes, and that our cause in the end will triumph. Are our efforts in neutral countries worth while? When I 446 hear of Nazi toughs in South America breaking up cinemas where "The Lion has Wings" is shown, I am certain that our efforts are worth while. I hope the Minister will go on, and I hope he will pay particular attention to the news. Our newspapers never arrive in neutral countries till far too late—long after the German papers.
A friend of mine was in Budapest the other day, when the British newspapers arrived with glaring headlines that we were determined to turn the Nazis out of Norway, and that same day the news arrived that Namsos had been finally evacuated. It is worth money, it is worth hiring foreign aircraft, to get the newspapers to these foreign countries. I am told that even our news service, meritorious though it is in many ways, is always later than the German, and that in consequence it loses the headlines, it is printed in smaller print, it comes last, and the public perhaps never get to it. Half the public take their news nowadays in photographs and captions. Our photographs are good, but again they are always too late. Two days after the Germans captured Oslo, the American papers were carrying a double-page German photograph of their triumph—two days. We can do it if we want to. It is only money, facilities and the necessary decisions that are required, and I hope the Minister will take them. I hope that he will take that film that I spoke of, "Pastor Hall," and I hope that he will add an introduction by a refugee, explaining it. If he wants me to I will find him one who spent 14 months in Buchenwald and Dachau and who is perfectly ready to speak. I hope above all that he will take over, organise and greatly extend the wireless work which we are doing in foreign countries. I have nothing but admiration for what the B.B.C. have done in the last 12 months. Within the limits of the present conception, their programme of 23 languages in 24 hours is a great achievement.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Stoke-on-Trent, Burslem)
Does my hon. Friend include the crooning that we have to put up with?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am coming to that point in a moment. Our present conceptions are far too narrow. Foreign news is no part of the proper function of the B.B.C, and in fact, although that news is going through the B.B.C, the organisa- 447 tion is working in vile conditions. It has no proper office space, no studio space, no proper organising power, it is grossly understaffed, it has not enough real experts and very few of these people have radio personality. I suggest to the Minister that he should take it over, re-house it, strengthen it and, above all, give it more transmitter time. I know of the difficulties about transmitters and I know that we are building them, but again we are always too little and too late. I know of the difficulties about wave lengths, but there is a lot more which we can do if we want to do it. The Minister could ask our people to give up a part of our own home programme and part of the crooning to which my hon. Friend referred. The French people have done it, and I am certain that our own people would very gladly respond. I hope that the Minister will get on with this job and that he will remember the peasants in the villages of Denmark, the squires in Hungary and the journalists in Portgual and Greece who will be tuning in to-night, for 10 minutes only, to hear the only news which they can believe.
When the Minister is considering the wireless, I hope that he will also think about the Germans. I do not want to criticise anything that has been done in the way of our enemy programmes in the past, but I have always believed that it is a matter of great importance which has not been rightly understood. Wireless work is much the most important part of all that we can do, and in that wireless work the Ministry should play a preponderant role. In Germany we have, next to the French, potentially the most numerous and most powerful of our allies. We all recognise the terrible responsibility of the whole German people at this time, but we know that there are millions of Germans who loathe and detest the crimes which are being committed in their name, and how many millions of Germans have themselves felt the iron grip of the despot's hand, judging by the mere fact that 500,000 have passed through the concentration camps and by the fact that every report from Germany this morning tells us that the smashing victories of Hitler's army have produced no elation among the civil population of any country.
Let us realise, too, that these people who hate Hitler are largely helpless—or 448 at least they believe they are. A civilian who tried to oppose him would be in the torture chamber within 12 hours. The soldier who whispered against him would be shot down like a dog. But it is always true that we should be telling the German people ceaselessly, morning, noon and night, by wireless, that only our principles can save them from this bloody bondage. We should be telling them that Hitler's victory will mean more war, more disease and more hunger stalking through their land, the triumph of enemies from which bombs and tanks can never save them. We should be telling them that our victory will liberate them and that, if they will help to smash Nazism, and, what is even more important, to smash for good and all the Prussian militarism of the past, we will do all on our side to help them to make a different Germany with which we can live at peace. We should tell them that the sooner they help us the less will be the price in blood and money, and other nations' hatred, which they will have to pay. All this may be of immense importance in the next feew weeks, and in organising it there is not an instant to lose. I hope that the Minister will give to enemy propaganda by wireless all the manpower, the money and the transmitter time that it requires.
I hope that I have said enough to show the great part which, in our view, the Ministry of Information ought to play in bringing about the triumph of our cause. We know—and the Minister can find it out every day—that the power of propaganda depends, in the last resort, on policy. That is true at home and abroad, and in Germany. We are quite certain that the Government will remember what General Smuts said the other day, that the principles for which we fight are our reinforcements, and that they will see us through. If they do, we shall survive this present crisis and any others that may be in store. In April, 25 years ago, I was at Ypres when the Kaiser's troops first used poison gas. In 1917, I was at Caporetto when they first used the treachery which Hitler has perfected, and I saw there a defeat so fearful and a rout so complete that it was impossible to think that those fleeing soldiers could ever fight again. A week later, they were holding a new and a weaker line and they held it with success. Within a year, they had marched in victory back across the conquered land. We ask the Minister and 449 the Government to-day that in this task, as in others, they shall be worthy of the brave and generous people whom it is their destiny to lead.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ The Minister of Information (Mr. Duff Cooper)
I should like in the first place to thank the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate for the words that he spoke. I have no quarrel with any sentiment that he expressed or with any suggestion that he made. It is a good thing, even in these days of great emergency, when the war has been brought so much more closely home to us and the enemy is indeed at our gates, that the House of Commons should maintain its ancient practice and should observe its regular forms of procedure, discussing on given days those matters which the majority of the House consider should be brought before us. At the same time, there must be some diminution of the ardour of Debate and, I am afraid, some falling-off in the quality of the speeches which are made by those who may have little time in which to prepare their speeches.
The speech to which we have just listened could not possibly have been bettered. As I listened to the hon. Gentleman I began again to cast envious eyes upon him and to think how useful a Member of the Ministry of Information he might make. I hope that what he has said will receive the widest publicity and will reach a broader and larger public than was accorded to his speech this afternoon in this Committee. On the other hand, I must apologise to the Committee because I have had little time to acquaint myself with the machinery of my Ministry or to prepare a statement of its activities in order really to be worthy of this occasion. It is only a fortnight yesterday, although it seems months ago, that I went to the Ministry of Information. I should have visited the various departments in order to meet every member of the staff, but every day I have had to postpone that visit, so heavy have been the duties. It was decided, and I think wisely, that, in future, the Minister of Information should attend meetings of the War Cabinet in order that he may be really informed of the minds of those who are responsible for the highest decisions. While that privilege has been of immense assistance and is one which my predecessor did not possess, it has also made a very great 450 demand on such time as I have had for the important duties of my office or for preparing for the Debate to-day.
Nevertheless, I have been able, even in these hectic days—more hectic during the last 14 days than at any other time, perhaps, in our history—to realise that the Ministry has profited enormously from the good work done there by my predecessor. It was a Ministry that was born grown-up. It was almost at a disadvantage in life because it was not one that started small and gradually extended; it started large and gradually diminished, although some of that diminution has been due to changes and increases in other directions. It is only fair to say that the present Minister of Transport, during the time that he occupied my office, did excellent work in improving the machinery.
Let me, in a few words, give my own view of the duties of the Ministry of Information. First and foremost, its duty is to give accurate information to the people of this country with the minimum of delay. Unfortunately, promptitude and accuracy are often at war with one another. I remember that, years ago, when I was in the Foreign Office, I used to be taunted by my friends on being ignorant of what was done until I had read the evening paper, which was perfectly true, because it is not the duty of the Foreign Office to be prompt with the news but to get the true information and to be sure that the news is accurate. They have not to sell it, but they have to get the facts correctly, and to hand them on blamelessly and irreproachably to the highest authorities, who build on that information the policy of the State. So the Foreign Office news was always behind the newspaper. It is the duty of the representatives of His Majesty's Government who are in foreign parts to verify every rumour and alleged fact before they report; but once they get into the realm of accurate information, speed is of the greatest, or almost the greatest, importance.
That is an example of the kind of difficulty with which the Ministry of Information has always to cope. On the one hand there is the difficulty of being too late, and, on the other hand, the difficulty of not being true. A report reaches the authorities; it seems sufficiently well substantiated, but it is not completely vouched for and it cannot 451 be guaranteed as the truth. Yet at the same time, if it is held up, the delay will cause great inconvenience, and, above all, it will cause this great danger, that the rumour will get about before the news. There is nothing more dangerous than allowing true rumours to precede true news, because rumour is one of our greatest enemies. It is one of the allies of the Nazis. You can give no greater assistance to rumour than by allowing it occasionally to be right. So you have to decide in a very short time whether the news shall be released at a specified hour either by the Press or the B.B.C., or whether it is better to hold up or suppress a story which you do not think true and which may afterwards prove to be true and which already has been spread by the still most rapid and efficient means of communication, the human voice. You have to decide whether you will allow rumours to precede the truth or whether you will take the risk of believing them to be true and thereby releasing them as true to the public. That is the first of the difficulties and dilemmas with which we have to cope, the problem of deciding between the desirability of promptitude and the still greater desirability of accuracy.
As this war becomes more intensified, as it does become from hour to hour, so are the duties of the Ministry of Information evermore important, because our duties are not only to present the news but also to guide as well as to inform opinion both at home and abroad. It is our duty abroad to encourage all those forces in neutral and enemy countries, forces, as the hon. Gentleman has so rightly observed, which are still upon our side, which sympathise with the cause for which we are fighting, and all those silenced voices but not deadened brains inside enemy countries which do not know the things for which they have been compelled to fight. It becomes ever more important that those forces should be stimulated, that we should get to them through the various means at our disposal the truth which is being so assidously and successfully concealed; and it is equally important that we should do our best to guide, influence, lead and inform opinion at home.
Here again we are met with a dilemma which occurs to us almost every hour of 452 every day. There are two dangers when you are dealing with popular opinion—on the one side panic and on the other side complacency. It is not easy to steer a level course between the two. Bad news must come; bad news has come all too recently. Immediately the problem of this Ministry arises: Shall we tell all the bad news? Shall we exaggerate in order to wake up the mind of the nation to the dangers with which it is faced? There is another danger in telling the news, and that is in assisting the enemy. Every particle of news has to be carefully scrutinised with this view: Is it something which the enemy knows already? If so, it cannot help him or hinder us to disclose it. But is it something which should be concealed from him, something which he is longing to know and which may help him to produce a larger supply of munitions or an additional corps of men? Those are the questions which one has to ask oneself first of all before releasing information.
Then you should also ask yourself: Will this news, for which the country is perhaps not sufficiently prepared, come as too great a shock to the minds of the people? Or, on the other hand, is it not wiser that they should know the full truth of the situation? That they should know the full truth we believe to be essential at all times. I am confident that the people of this country, knowing all the facts, will never react towards those facts, however dire and terrible they may be or may appear at first sight, save with confidence and courage. Always the question is whether one particle of news disclosed out of its context as it must be, one news item in one evening paper or in one news broadcast, may not throw an unduly terrifying or equally an unduly reassuring light upon the whole picture. In a short news communiqué, still more in the headlines of a morning or an evening newspaper, it is impossible to paint a picture of the whole situation. All that we want to do is to ensure that in the minds of the ordinary man and woman, walking about, doing their duty and working hard, with little time to read the papers and to speculate upon the future or to study strategy, there should exist a true picture of the situation as it really exists. It is not always easy to paint that picture, to give the right proportions of it or to avoid the danger that one new fact suddenly presented may throw the whole 453 drawing out of proportion. That is the kind of problem with which we are dealing day and night. Rumour is the great enemy of true news, and it is impossible to suppress it. You can fight against it; we are fighting against it, and I ask every hon. Member in the House of Commons to help in that fight. Having heard something sensational, it is not easy, with the best intentions, to refrain from repeating it. We may find ourselves in private, and we are all inclined to say, "This is what I heard." With such exertion as we can command, we should try to overcome any such tendency. The more sensational the rumour is the more likely is it to be repeated.
The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate said that my. Ministry should endeavour as far as possible to centralise and control all the sources of information. I entirely agree, and I am doing my best to effect that very centralisation so as to bring them, as I have succeeded in doing to some extent already, under the control of one Ministry. The policy of what the Ministry has to say should be decided by the War Cabinet, and above all by the Foreign Office in connection with what we should say in foreign countries. But the means of conveying those views and those facts to the world should be under the Ministry of Information, and the necessary steps are being taken to arrange that there shall be a greater centralisation of agencies publishing news and centralising them all under one Ministry.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
Does that mean that no information at all will be given to the Press or to the public except by the Ministry of Information, that no officer or head of a Department can give a Press interview except through the Ministry of Information or my right hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Cooper
It does not go quite so far as that, but we have arranged that all official announcements for the B.B.C. should in future be communicated to them through the Ministry of Information in order to ensure that all their information is correct. In these days there is a grave danger of our enemies, both within and without, attempting to spread false information, and we are now insisting that every official announcement on any question of policy or administration that reaches the B.B.C. should come directly through the Ministry of Information. By 454 the system of checks it is intended to make sure that no bogus orders or information of any kind will ever be broadcast. Of course, the Press are free to publish what they like, subject to the censorship which is under the control of the Ministry of Information. We are keeping in the closest touch with the Press, who are most anxious to collaborate and to give us all the assistance they can. They come daily to the Ministry, which is open day and night; they accept the information which we give them and also guidance as to the tone with which that information shall be conveyed. I would also like to say that I have had the greatest good will and collaboration from the B.B.C. It is a greatly criticised Department, which I have had little time to see, and it is admirably organised.
The entertainment section is often criticised. For that I shall not be responsible, but I would say in defence of that portion of their activities that those who criticise it must remember that that Department is producing entertainment not for a small audience but for an audience of many millions, and if those with highly refined and cultivated tastes find much in the programmes to criticise, and if those with broader and simpler appetites find much in the programmes which they cannot understand, then to both one and the other I would say: "Make allowances for the fact that the B.B.C. are appealing to one of the largest audiences in the world and that they have to compromise between the tastes in their vast auditorium."
The hon. Gentleman very rightly said that we must remember the important elements in Germany who do not agree with the present régimeor with their crimes. I will do all in my power while I am at the Ministry to convey to that ever-existent, but crushed, minority within the enemy country the views that we hold here, and I shall encourage them to hope, as I hope myself, that when the war is over and a better régimeexists throughout the world those people will also be given an opportunity of sharing to the full what prosperity remains to any of us. That is the first message that we should send them. The second message, to which I think the hon. Member referred, should point out the certainty that in the end they must be beaten, and that, therefore, it is not only in accordance with their principles and policies to 455 oppose the continuance of the war, but in accordance with the truest patriotism from the point of view of a good German for them to wish for the earliest possible peace, because the sooner it comes the more there will be left for them and others to share in Europe, and the less bitter will be the hostility and hatred with which they must expect to be treated when they come to the council table.
The hon. Member spoke of the importance of money. I must confess that in the short time that I have been at the Ministry I have found very little difficulty in getting the necessary funds for its activities. It has been said by the hon. Member that if we can shorten this war by one day, we can repay almost all the money that has been spent on the Ministry. That is true. I believe that it is possible, through the activities of such a Ministry as this, to shorten the war, not by one day, but by weeks and months, and even by years. The opinion of the world is still a tremendous force. One of the strongest things in existence is public opinion. We are all ruled by public opinion; and nations in the long run are ruled by it, too. Our business is to see that that public opinion is well-instructed, well-informed, and harnessed to the duty that civilisation demands of it. We feel that we are one of the Service Ministries to-day. Indeed, all Ministries are Service Ministries, working in the service of the State. Members of this Ministry, who work with such devotion day and night, at tasks which, in view of the great events which are happening, may seem trivial and petty, are nevertheless playing their part in the great cause. They are serving just as much as the men are serving who fight in the air, on the ships, or on land. None of us can rejoice in any feeling of great security to-day. Our people can be buoyed up to continue to function to the highest point of our ability and energy only by the knowledge that we are all serving in a great cause.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Evans (University of Wales)
In a speech which the Minister made a few days ago, and in the even more impressive speech, if I may say so, which he has addressed to us to-day, I think he interpreted the general desire when he said that accuracy and speed 456 were two of the main qualities that should characterise the emanation of all material from his Department. Of those two qualities, accuracy is the more important. I was a little disappointed when, in relation to the question of lack of speed, he referred to the Foreign Office for his authority. He could have found a better authority in the experience of this country during the past week. People have shown that when they are told that they cannot expect immediate and detailed news, they are prepared to control, even if they cannot adequately conceal, their anxiety for such news; but inaccuracy of information is something which this country will not condone. Since the war started this country has had cause to learn many lessons. No doubt it will have to learn many more before the war is over. If there is one lesson more than any other which has been impressed on us, it is that the country should be told the truth.
The right hon. Gentleman, I am sorry to see, finds himself placed in a dilemma over the choice between panic and complacency. I have for a long time rather resented the stress which some people have laid on the fact that the country is not alive to the gravity of the situation. If that is so, whose fault is it? It is not the fault of the country; it is the fault of those who, having the knowledge, have not taken the country into their confidence. I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to be bothered about that dilemma. The country has shown during this last week that it is prepared to face the truth. We have been faced with the gravest news that has faced this country for generations, if not in all its long history. I have not seen any evidence of panic. What I have seen is evidence of determination to face the peril, and to face the possibility of even greater danger which may come to these shores in the next few days. The first duty of the Ministry is to tell us the truth. Another duty is to explain the significance of that truth. There is an old saying that "whispering tongues poison the truth." There are many whispering tongues of scandal makers abroad at present. Let the truth be explained, so that we may understand its significance. The right hon. Gentleman himself has set a good example. He has broadcast two or three speeches, which have not only been very enjoyable as examples of good speaking, but also have 457 been very interesting, instructive, and helpful to the people in enabling them to see the truth in its correct significance, and to give due proportion to what they are told.
I want to refer to a part of the administrative work of the Ministry to which I think greater importance should be attached. That is the regional organisation. At the beginning of this war I had the privilege of serving on the Advisory Council of the Ministry of Information. It certainly was a council, of very great proportions—of alarming proportions, numerically—but it could hardly be said to be advisory. We never had an opportunity of advising. All the council did was to sit down and listen to the heads of departments telling us what they were doing. I have two distinct impressions: one, that there seemed to be a great many departments of the Ministry, all carefully planned; and the other, that no matter what suggestion was made, there seemed to be very great difficulties in the way. One of the things proposed was the establishment of these regional councils. Months have passed since there was first any talk of having public meetings throughout the country at which responsible Members, representing all aspects of political opinion, should explain what was happening. Weeks have passed since plans were first prepared for putting this scheme into operation. I think I am right in saying that, so far, not a single meeting has been held within the scope of that scheme. The time has now arrived when Ministers of the Crown, whom the public most wish to hear, are too busy to appear at those meetings.
But public meetings of that character are not the only means by which that sort of work can be done. Every week, thousands of meetings are being held, under the auspices of churches, chapels, literary institutes and social agencies, and classes are being held, under the auspices of universities, the Workers' Educational Association and other bodies, all over the country. It often happens that the discussion which follows a speech has not any great relevancy to the subject of the speech, but that is not a bad thing in itself; that does not differ much from what happens in this House. The important thing is that such discussions take place. I believe that all these instruments might be used by the Ministry, to give to the country the sort of knowledge 458 that it wants in order to digest properly the information that it gets. The right hon. Gentleman has given us very good speeches, and the Parliamentary Secretary did the same sort of thing very well when he told us about the dangers of—[Hon. Members: "Chatterbugs."] That is the word. There are so many new words being coined nowadays that it is hard to remember them. The Parliamentary Secretary's was a useful speech. I know, from my own experience, that that rumour about the nun had reached at least six parts of the country before the hon. Gentleman spoke about it on Friday night. That was an innocuous, innocent sort of story; but unless we can feed on a good joint of news, you cannot blame us if we feed on rumour.
It may be necessary to help these organisations with Press matter. I know that that will involve a good deal of trouble, but it has been done by political organisations in the past. For years, all the political parties have been in the habit of issuing what are called "speakers' notes"; some are good, some are not so good, but I know that speakers have been very glad to use them. Why should not the Ministry supply notes of that kind, not to enable people to make speeches, but to enable them to answer questions addressed to them by an anxious public at these meetings, and to enable them, through these regional organisations, to satisfy the country on a question which has been directed to me hundreds of times in the last few weeks, and has probably been directed to every other Member of the House: "Are we being told the truth?" That is a very important consideration. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that there are moments when he must judge as to whether the truth should be told at this time or that. Many of the Ministers of the Crown, before the right hon. Gentleman went to that Ministry, and ever since the war started, have been inclined to blame the people of this country for not realising the gravity of the situation. If you tell the people the truth, you will find that they will act with resolution and determination, and you will not have to complain about their not realising the gravity of the situation or about their lacking in determination to face it.
I do not want to say much with regard to the position abroad to which the hon. 459 Gentleman referred, but I am very sorry that the word "propaganda" was ever given currency in this country. So many people regard propaganda as being the dissemination of false news. That is not what I had in mind at all when I pressed for propaganda in foreign countries. Propaganda does not mean the dissemination of false news; it means telling the truth and explaining our position to foreign countries. Unfortunately, the misinterpretation of this word has frightened so many people, and there are few people who have been more frightened than the Ministry of Information itself. It is the fault of the Ministry more than anyone else if it has become the subject of jokes in music-halls; and we need not pay too little attention to the jokes in the music-halls. Sometimes they are a very great compliment to what is happening, although sometimes they are the subject of scorn. The fact is that the Ministry of Information has not lived up to the expectations which led to its establishment. Nothing of what I am saying is new to the Ministry of Information. It was known at the inception of the Ministry, and even at the conception of the Ministry, but the trouble is that the mind of the Ministry has been so bewildered by the grand scale upon which the Ministry was devised on paper, that it has been unable to adapt itself to the constantly new needs of the situation. The right hon. Gentleman has come there with fresh brains and great energy and experience, and I only hope that he will succeed in making the Ministry what it should be—an effective instrument in what is likely to be one of the most important fronts of the war, namely, the home front.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)
I feel relieved to see the two Ministers opposite, because they, at any rate, are completely free of the disappointments we feel from the last few months and cannot be charged with any measure of the responsibility for the dilemmas that we are in, because we have been so obviously led to believe many things about ourselves which have simply not been true. Part of our story is related to the fact that to-day we feel that we have found out many things that we did not know, and had we known them in time we might have taken other steps about them, and 460 that we have had the time and have misused it. I feel that that is related in part to the job of the Minister. He must not merely be the vehicle for Departments handing him out things and material of various kinds to influence the situation in the minds of the people, but he must himself make representations in higher quarters in advance of information that may be made available to him and not to the public.
If he can see situations developing in Ministries that are likely to heap up trouble for himself in the future if they are not faced—in the realm of high policy, I mean—he has the right to come into the matter at a stage earlier than, say, the predicament in which we are at the moment. For instance, the Minister has an interest in the settlement, in Ireland. He knows that, were the Government able to take decisions and to secure settlement of outstanding problems there, his task would be easier, and his approach to various interests that are important, such as America, and even Ireland itself, would be simplified. Therefore, in that sphere he is not merely a Minister who handles the business of other Ministers when it is done, but he has an interest in seeing that solutions are reached as soon as possible in spheres that are presenting difficulties at present to him in his work. India, for instance, must present itself to him in the same way. He has a very direct interest in getting some solution brought to India.
And he must still find in his Department a legacy from what he will have experienced in the United States of America and what we have had running as an undercurrent in our own state of opinion. That is succinctly summarised in a very useful booklet—I do not know how many hon. Members have got it—called "The British Empire," consisting of a synopsis of a series of lectures by Ramsay Muir, and issued by Sir Samuel Turner, of Turner and Newall. In the summary it says that, coming back from America, Sir Samuel Turner felt that people in all quarters—and who could know better, and who might have been expected to express an opinion on better information—expressed this view:We cannot see what complaint you Britons can reasonably have against Hitler, because of his efforts to acquire by force more of the good things of the world than his country now possesses. You have been 461 the principal aggressors in the world for centuries past. You have, by this policy of aggression, acquired the most desirable areas of the world and hoisted the British flag over them.That is part of the premise on which Haw-Haw talks to the people of this country and part of the tacit acceptance of the argument with which you meet in this country, and it remains an obstacle still to be removed, not merely in this country, but in a greater degree in many other countries in the world. It is unfortunate for us, with this kind of opinion in the world, that there are elements who would say, "If it could be done without an undue measure of risk to the rest of us, it would not do Britain any harm to be taken down a peg or two." That is an attitude of mind that has to be met by the Ministry that is under discussion to-day. This summary remains to be treated. It is not true. I am not one who subscribes to this sort of thing, for the acid test is that when they have the choice of whether or not to assist their Mother country in the circumstances before the crisis assumed the dimensions it has, all the units in the British Commonwealth themselves accepted responsibilities of the role that brings them alongside us on the issue of the day. But we also have this too as a counter that whatever may be felt about us outside this country, the fact is that nobody wants Hitler to win, not even Italy. It is all right Mussolini saying that he is entitled to be regarded as mistress of the Mediterranean, but if Hitler becomes Emperor of Europe, the Duce will be a mere concubine. There will certainly be no mistress-ship of the Mediterranean for him. I cannot help feeling that the pressure that is upon him at this time is that, if he does not keep up his Adriatic and Mediterranean case when his master moves, his master will be there before him. As I say, nobody wants Hitler to win, and certainly not Russia.
Here again the Minister has a great deal of work in front of him. We have had difficulties created in our minds by the Russian anticipation of Germany's major and ultimate intentions. We have had the first flush of our feelings over the Russian aggression in regard to Poland, and subsequently Finland. It will be the duty of the Minister of Information to pave the way for us to have a realist view of the Russian attitude in these matters and that whatever line 462 we might have taken in the past, it has been upon insufficient information and upon the fact that we had not then gone the full circle of events. We now see. that there might be something in what Russia has done after all, and we may all have to be made to understand it in such a way. The business of the Ministry will be to pave the way for us to understand Russian realism in the realm of international action. We may never come to accept the total Russian thesis. It may never suit all and everyone of us to say that it has some other motive than Hitler's, but to put Stalin in the same camp as Hitler will not do. They are not the same persons; they are not bent upon the same objectives. The Ministry of Information has a very real piece of work in front of it to adapt the public mind to that fine distinction—and it will be a fine distinction—between the realities of the Russian acts in international politics and the morality of the proceedings. There it stands.
I believe that the Committee wishes this particular Ministry well in its new beginning. We seem to have the feeling that both Ministers are capable of making-a good thing of this post, and that they have entered upon it at a moment when it can serve very wide purposes and support the public morale with facts treated in a correct and satisfactory way and help us to meet what must occur in increasing volume in the next few months, this, up rush of rumour and panic through disturbed minds faced with unseen terrors. It will be their business to deal with that aspect of affairs also. They have a good deal to go upon in this particular sphere. Only this morning my wife was in a small market town when a tradesman, of all people, rushed out into the street, and, approaching two persons, said, "Do you hear that? Belgium's gone; chucked up the sponge." He shouted it across the street. A man quietly got off his bicycle and said to him, "You just keep that to yourself. We shall hear all about it before the day is out." We should encourage that sort of good citizenship: it is part of the job, and we must devise ways and means of encouraging people to be on the lookout for that kind of thing. Chambers of commerce ought to be approached as well as tradesmen functioning as groups. This over-the-counter talk should be checked. Tradesmen are very useful 463 people for checking shopping gossip. They can check the flow or interchange of rumour, and the Ministry might very usefully concentrate upon tradesmen's bodies in order to check a substantial amount of the kind of language that we have so much in mind. With those few words, I do not intend to pursue the matter further, except once again to stress my deep measure of good will towards this new Ministry and my consciousness of its real role in affairs, both home and abroad.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Norwich)
Every Member who has spoken has given his sincere good wishes to the new Minister in his great position. I wish to do that too and to congratulate him most heartily on the magnificent start he has made in his very difficult work. Allusion has already been made to some of the broadcasts he has made in very difficult circumstances; he had little time in which to prepare his speech for this afternoon and must have had still less time in which to prepare the most difficult of all those broadcasts and, I think, the best—that in which he gave admirable guidance to the country in preserving a sense of proportion, not minimising the gravity of the news, but setting it in its proper perspective. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who comes to the task with very good knowledge and sense of publicity and whose writings and broadcasts have made him a very effective contributor to spreading abroad knowledge of our cause. I am glad that at last a proper conception of the magnitude of the Ministry's task is generally accepted, and what I want to do is to urge the Minister to obtain and exercise still more power. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) rightly talked of the need for unification, and the Minister treated that passage of his speech most sympathetically. I thought, however, that the Minister showed almost excessive gallantry in defending the indefensible when he defended throughout the programmes of the B.B.C. But before I leave the speech of the hon. Member for Derby, may I saw a few words about what I believe to be a common error in some of the ideas which he put forward? He talked, quite rightly, of the importance of the Minister's task in dealing 464 with neutral opinion; he talked, also, of the Minister's task in dealing with opposition feeling in Germany itself, and he assumed that the propaganda which would be most effective for those two different purposes would have no reason to conflict. That, unfortunately, is not the case.
Let me give a very simple but, I think, very important example. The hon. Member for Derby, who spoke, as he always does, with great sincerity, talked of the many people in Germany who hated what was being done, and said that unless there were many such people there would not be concentration camps. That is quite true, but it is equally important to remember that those people to whom he referred are a tiny minority in Germany. Few things, I think, did more harm in neutral countries than the statements that were made at the beginning of the war in so many quarters that we had no quarrel with the German people. We must remember that there were many small neighbours of Germany who thought they knew Germany quite as well as anybody does here. People living in those small countries neighbouring Germany were extremely frightened—and I believe the Minister's expert advisers will confirm this—that if the British and French cause ultimately triumphed, there might be a sequel in which the English, with their usual easy-going, kindly nature, would say, "The Germans have been beaten. We need not bother about them," and leave them to build up again a monstrous military power. That was a very real fear in the neutral countries neighbouring Germany, and one of the most important things, if we are to have the good will and possible co-operation of small neutral nations, is to make it quite clear that our purpose in this war will not be accomplished until we have smashed the military might of Germany and that we do not mean to allow it to be re-established.
Equally erroneous, I think, would be the idea that the statement that we had no quarrel with the German people was good propaganda even in Germany itself. You are not very likely to drive a wedge between people and their Government if, while you are waging war against them, you attempt to exaggerate the difference between them. I do not believe it was ever true. I do not be live it was good 465 propaganda in Germany itself, and I am quite certain it was very bad propaganda in every neutral State. I think it is very important that the Ministry should guard against all types of erroneous wishful thinking. There have been three main examples of it in this war; first, that we had no quarrel with the German people; second, that time was inevitably on our side; and third, well exemplified in a passage of the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, failure to recognise the hostility of Russian policy towards this country. Whatever else the Minister does, I hope he will not adopt the advice just given by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) and try to explain away or excuse Russian aggression against Finland.
With the general terms of what the Minister said to-day I agree, but may I say a few words about the B.B.C.? I am quite certain that at the stage which we have now reached, whatever the legal position may be, the B.B.C. will loyally carry out any wishes that may be expressed by the Minister as regards news and so forth. But is that enough? I think it is important that we should realise what the failure of the B.B.C. has been in our war effort hitherto. I agree it has had certain successes and has done much that is good, but it has in the past built up as radio personalities people who, in the national interest, should not have been so built up, and has done its best to convince this and every other country that there is no such thing as British culture. Let me deal with the first point first. The hon. Member for Derby quite rightly spoke of the power you could have if you created a national figure whose voice was well known and who could make our cause well known in this country and abroad. I suppose there never has been a time in the history of this country when anyone had a greater and more eager audience than the B.B.C. had in the weeks immediately following the outbreak of war. Yet who was the speaker that the B.B.C. chose to give a series of six broadcasts? He was Mr. Middleton Murry. What were the facts known about Mr. Middleton Murry at the time he was chosen for those broadcasts? The following facts were known and could have been checked by looking up "Who's Who." They were that he was a Communist, a pacifist and one of the 466 principal members of the Peace Pledge Union. Those were the facts known about him at the time he was given that unrivalled publicity—
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Would the hon. Member say whether those were all the facts known about him at that time?
§ Mr. Strauss
No, they were not all the facts, but they were the most relevant facts and were known or should have been known.
§ Mr. Silverman
Were these relevant facts that Mr. Murry was a very distinguished writer, a distinguished thinker, a distinguished journalist and a very honest man? Would not those be relevant facts too?
§ Mr. Strauss
If the hon. Member thinks that Mr. Middleton Murry is a distinguished thinker and all the rest of it, he is entitled to his opinion. I do not think he is a thinker of the slightest distinction, but that is a matter of opinion. What I say is that the facts I have mentioned—that he was a Communist, a pacifist and a member of the Peace Pledge Union—are sufficient to make it very strange indeed that he was the one man chosen by the B.B.C. to be built up into a new radio personality. I have no doubt whatsoever that the B.B.C. will not do that again, but I believe it would be well worth while to investigate why they did it on this occasion. One almost wonders when one sees armed men surrounding the B.B.C. whether they are designed to keep the Fifth Column inside or outside. However, I do not suppose that that particular thing will happen again, but it happened on that occasion, and I could mention other examples almost as notorious. It may be more convenient to do that privately to the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary rather than in this House.
What of the other point—their failure to give any indication that there is such a thing as British culture? I believe that almost the most effective enemy propaganda in neutral countries would be to distribute copies of the "Radio Times" to show what the B.B.C. thought was good enough to give us in our home programme. The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) and I have on a former occasion ventured to criticise some of the 467 preposterous rubbish which the B.B.C. thinks fit to put before the people of England and our intelligent Fighting Forces. I made a plea, which I believe was a good plea, that the B.B.C. should give us great music, not only in the early mornings or late at night, but at the hours at which broadcasting is most received. I believe that there is a greater unsatisfied hunger for good music among all classes of the people at the present time than for almost anything else. Anybody who has observed the variety of those who crowd the National Gallery concerts every day will have some idea of this, or who remembers the audience when there were popular concerts at the Queen's Hall.
Curiously enough, I had rather an odd way of finding out how wrong the Minister was in his assumption, in his gallant defence of the B.B.C. just now, that they were catering wisely for a great many people and that the sort of objection which I am making is a sort of highbrow objection which is not generally shared. It has occurred to me, and I expect to other hon. Members, when I have made a speech in the country and have interjected an occasional aside, that the Press has given greater publicity to the aside than to the rest of the speech. I happened to be speaking in the North of England not long ago, and in answer to a question I rather rashly said, in criticising the B.B.C, that the cinema organ was, in my opinion, Hitler's secret weapon. The amazing result of that remark, which received a good deal of publicity, was that I got not insulting communications but the biggest fan mail I have ever had. People wrote to me from all parts of the country saying, "If only you could get the B.B.C. to realise how many people agreed with you and to give us better programmes and great music, how much better it would be for our national reputation."
Why give us all this tenth-rate American stuff? Why assume that anything that is not British and is not great music will be popular in this country and among the Forces? I hope that the time will come when the right hon. Gentleman will take over the B.B.C.—after all, important things are being taken over in this war—and realise that the morale of the country may depend, not only on news, but on the entertainment and culture 468 which come over the wireless. That is all I would say. The Minister has made a great start in his task. I am delighted at the news he gave us that he attends the meetings of the War Cabinet and as a result will have complete up-to-date knowledge of the important decisions which are being made. I hope he will continue his practice of broadcasting himself to the nation on important occasions. I hope also that he will realise, where there is possible conflict between the propaganda suitable to our own people and to neutrals and to the enemy and will get the priorities right. Our own people and their morale are very important, and I agree most emphatically with the views expressed in many quarters that our own people are stimulated by true news and will bear bad news with equanimity. The opinion of neutrals may be important, and there I hope that he will not—indeed I am certain, from my knowledge of his courage and his speeches that he will not—assume that the way to get neutral good will is necessarily to tell neutral people that which they like hearing but rather to tell them what our cause is and trust that the facts will make them sympathise with our cause and desire its triumph.
As to propaganda to the enemy countries—the time may come when that too will be very important; it is the most difficult and probably of the three to-day the least important. It may be a hard fact for many hon. Members to accept, but there probably has not been within the memory of any of us a more popular and well-liked Government in Germany than there is at this moment. The feelings of the majority of Germans are a fact with which we have to reckon, and it would be the greatest mistake to try to utter comforting statements to what is a small minority if the only effect of them is to make neutral nations fear that we are not going to fight to a finish against the big majority. I do not believe that any of these views, which I hold to be important, are overlooked by my right hon. Friend, and I conclude by wishing him the best of good fortune in the great office he has undertaken.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I apologise to the House for speaking to-day, and I assure my right hon. Friend that I will not keep him more than a few 469 moments from the main business of his Department. I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) or the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) in their somewhat dogmatic statements about what goes on or does not go on in Germany. I am concerned this afternoon entirely about the home front. May I, in advance—even in war time I suppose we can exchange courtesies and civilities—congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information on what I regard as two of the most significant appointments in the new Government? They are significant for this reason; that neither of them is a lawyer or an organiser; they are both ex-diplomats, men of letters, orators, men who have been known over the wireless, particularly the Parliamentary Secretary, for some years, men with strong and forceful views on the nature of the German people, the problems of the British Empire and the Jews and general conditions in Europe. It is an entirely new thing in Government, and I think it is perfectly right. I remember listening with blank despair to a defence some months ago by the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) of his Department, when he said that we started where we left off in 1918 as if methods of publicity had not changed and as if Goebbels had never been born.
Now the scene has changed. The previous Minister may have improved the machinery, and I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that that was so, but the most important announcement we have heard to-day—it is a point which I have been stressing for some time in my own small way—is that whatever the shape of the War Cabinet the Minister of Information is either to have a place at its decisions or is to be in immediate contact with all its deliberations. I rejoice to know that the right hon. Gentleman is, in fact, going to be present at the War Cabinet meetings. He has told us the purpose of his job. It is to tell the truth with the maximum of clarity—may I add interest—and speed, and already in two broadcasts, in his speech on St. George's Day and his broadcast to the Empire, the right hon. Gentleman has stepped right into the breach which has not been filled for the last eight or nine months. I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will also be stepping in from time to 470 time. It would appear, therefore, that we are in the presence of an entirely new policy. Useful information has been the most conspicuous gap in our national equipment for the last five years. I think it is an amazing tribute to our democracy that they have responded to so little information.
What has the right hon. Gentleman done in his last two broadcasts which differentiates them from anything which has happened since the outbreak of war? He has treated the country as an adult. For the first time he has treated the people on the home front with dignity. May I suggest that much more will be wanted before long? In the early days of the war it was the policy of the Government to have all party conferences and speakers in the constituencies. That did not materialise, but I thought there was going to be some alternative policy. We waited and waited. In many parts of the country no speech has been made since the beginning of the war on an all-party basis, except in one or two elections. We have moved since those days very quickly. Only a few months ago the previous Secretary of State for War announced that the greatest enemy of the soldier was boredom. To-day we have heard that our greatest enemy is rumour. Only a few weeks ago the Parliamentary Secretary was presiding upstairs at a meeting of E.N.S.A. when Mr. Basil Dean told us what was being done for the Forces. Quite recently, in collaboration with the Board of Education, there has been worked out a scheme for Army education. I mention these things to show how far we have travelled in these few weeks. But not only that. Other methods have been used; concerts for industrial workers and the beginnings of a movement for the youth of the country have been started.
We have been meticulously careful to try and keep separate education and propaganda, but I am not at all certain how far it will be possible to keep these two separate in the future. For every lecture given to adult audiences there are hosts of other activities going on throughout the whole country, and the Ministry of Information must bear some responsibility. May I mention two cases? At this moment it is possible to have a branch of the League of Nations Union in a school, but you must not have a cadet corps, and in some cases you must 471 not have a scout troop. That is humbug, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will have a word with the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Minister of Supply and see whether in these days, when we are trying to throw aside all humbug, we cannot get a more healthy and saner attitude to these problems among the youth of the country. I mention this with great emphasis because, during the last six months, I have seen something of defeatism in the universities, where, of all places, it should not be. I do not find it among the workers of Kilmarnock, I do not find it among the workers of Glasgow; I have to go not only to my old university, but elsewhere, to find arguments being put forward in regard to this war which I thought were dead years ago. They are not the arguments of the honest-to-God pacifist, with whom I disagree but whom I respect; they are arguments which are new and dangerous.
Therefore, I say that not only has the nature of the war changed, but the nature of the policy has changed, and I welcome that. We are in the presence of Members of Parliament and others being in detention and of a host of new Regulations which it is extremely difficult for the average man or woman to understand. We are also in the presence of a change in the sheer methods of publicity, because posters and Press will become, because of a shortage of paper, less and less the medium of information. We shall be left, not so much with the film, but with the radio and the local organisation. As far as the wireless is concerned, if the samples we have had already from my right hon. Friend are any sign, we can leave that safely in his hands, because not only does he speak to us as adults, but he dresses up his material with interest, he takes his examples from the ordinary life of the people, and he is getting home. May he go on, and if he cannot do it alone, may other voices be added as these difficult days continue.
But above all, coming straight back from my constituency, I am sure that that original organisation through Members of Parliament, through Chambers of Commerce, through ministers of religion, through the Information Bureaux, of which there are 700 or 800 scattered throughout the country—through them must the speeches which my right hon. 472 Friend and others make be followed up into the home life of the country. It is extremely difficult at this time when new Regulations are coming out which affect every branch of life for ordinary men and women to be able to follow them. I think a variety of suggestions can be made to help ordinary people to understand some of these difficulties, some of which are not even debated in the House. We have now given control literally over life and limb and property to the State, and if the people of the country are to understand all that this means, if they are to have interpreted for them in detail what is meant by the policy of the Government, who are working extremely fast—I am glad to see it—as they have been doing during the last week, then we must have not only the strong nucleus of a home Defence Force—we want that, as various Questions this afternoon made quite clear—but the Ministry of Information must work in close co-operation with the Ministry of Labour primarily, with the Ministry of Supply, certainly with the Home Secretary, I believe with the Board of Education, and with the Ministry of Health.
All those Departments, through evacuation, Air-Raid Precautions and so on, touch the life of the people as never before. The Press and information side have always been a weakness in Government Departments. In the days of peace it was difficult enough to get stuff across, as I know from my experience at the Board of Education, but now, when these important Regulations are coming out, how much more important is it that the Ministry of Information shall have a well-balanced and well-controlled regional organisation extending to the constituencies, to the villages—the village notice boards, if you will—telling people exactly what is happening. I believe it is only in that way that you can keep healthy, sane and vigorous the public opinion of this country, which is absolutely determined, as far as I see it in the North Country, that, whatever happens in Belgium or elsewhere, victory shall be the reward in the end.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
I am sure that the Committee is glad of this opportunity to deal with the work of the Ministry of Information. I wish to offer my word of congratulation to the Minister on the work he has done already in the short 473 time at his disposal, and for the way in which he has spoken to the country and helped to steel its effort, and at the same time, without lowering our confidence, made us face the terrible facts which we must face to-day. The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) made two references to the state of feeling in Germany. He spoke of the tiny minority in Germany which is still opposed to the regime. I do not believe that minority was so small when the war began, although I agree with the hon. Member that, having regard to all that has happened, it is a minority which is without any appreciable importance at the moment. We must, however, remember that that minority may become stronger if certain events take place, although we must at this time face the terrible fact that the reverse is taking place.
We cannot expect any change in public opinion in Germany until the military situation is entirely different. The military power of the machine must be nearer breaking point before there can be serious outspoken opinion in Germany. To my mind, the situation there is now rather similar to the situation as it must have been in France over 100 years ago at the height of Napoleon's great victories. Napoleon had become the figurehead of the French Revolution, and he was marching from victory to victory across Europe. Because Napoleon over-reached himself and because it became plain to the rest of Europe that he was infringing upon the liberties of Europe, there sounded the death knell, and finally he was brought down at Waterloo. In Germany to-day, all opposition is silenced because the machine has triumphed. However much we disliked the regime in Germany in its early stages, it was no affair of ours how the German people governed themselves. It has now come about that the whole of Europe outside Germany is terrified by this machine. We have to see where and how we can mobilise in all parts of Europe and the world opposition to this terrible machine.
At the same time, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Norwich in his statement that it is wrong to say that we have no quarrel with the German people. I would not put the matter quite in that way. Of course, the time has come when we must say that the German people are responsible for the crimes of their rulers 474 and that we will hold them so responsible. There I agree with the hon. Member, but if it were left there and nothing more was said, I would not agree. There is more to be said. We must add that when right and justice have triumphed, as they must triumph, we will not treat the German people, when once they have given evidence that they are going to behave themselves, as a criminal nation never again to be brought within the comity of nations. To say that it is wrong to say we have no quarrel with the German people is surely not enough. Even at this terrible time we must look forward to another time when right and justice have triumphed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) and also the hon. Member for Norwich spoke about Russia. My hon. Friend said that it is desirable to distinguish between the dictatorships in Russia and in Germany. The hon. Member for Norwich did not seem to agree with that. I think it is right that we should make a distinction. It is true that there was a terrible example in Finland of an attack by a dictatorship country upon a small and independent democratic State, but we have to remember that, at a time like this, we cannot afford to make unnecessary enemies.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
May I point out to the hon. Member that the point on which I quarrelled with the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) was that he suggested that the Minister of Information should use his position to excuse Russia's action in Finland? I said that would be a disastrous thing for the Minister to do, and I cannot believe that many hon. Members would differ from me on that point.
§ Mr. Price
I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension as to what my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster said. I consider that it is legitimate to point out even now that, however much we may abominate the action which Russia took in Finland and the way she did it, Russia was defending what she thought to be—wrongly, I think—her strategic interests in the Gulf of Finland. I believe that is the reason for that war. We are entitled to point out that, although Russia is a nationalist imperialism now and has very little in common with the ideals which actuate the Allies, nevertheless, if Russia is prepared to do 475 a deal, politically or economically, we are willing and anxious to deal with her. I think it would be very unwise, when we are fighting for our lives against the human gorillas in Berlin, not to free our hands wherever we possibly can and not to look for, if not a friend, at least someone who may be able to give us some small modicum of assistance.
In the case of our relations with Russia, we must be realists on every occasion. I think it is correct to say that although the Russians, as a whole, have a wholesome respect for Germany and always have had, they have also a wholesome fear of her. During the years that I lived in Russia I was much struck by that fact. The Russian people are a comparatively young people. The national feeling of Russia scarcely existed under the Czars, but since the revolution it has come out much more strongly. Although the Russians have, for reasons into which I need not enter now, made a compact with Germany, I believe that at the back of the Russian mind there is a strong fear that if Germany were to triumph they would be next on the list. The Russian people are actuated by an innate sentiment against cultural, political or economic domination from the West.
With regard to the British Broadcasting Corporation's relays to Germany, I have been in contact with members of the Austrian and German Social Democratic Party who are refugees in this country. I asked some of them what they thought of the broadcasts which we send out to Germany, and one of them said this: "I hope you will keep out of your broadcasts anything in the nature of support for the propaganda in favour of the return of the Austrian monarchy." I understand that propaganda of this nature has been going on, particularly from France, but that there have also been communications from this country of the same kind. That, I should add, was long before the present Minister took office. I wish to warn him, however, that there is a strong dislike to any propaganda of that kind and that it does not cut any ice in Austria. It is sent out in support of a small clique of refugees in Paris and has no effect on public opinion in Austria. Another of these gentlemen told me that it was very important to stress the kind of life which is still going on in this country, despite the war. It is, he said, 476 most important to emphasise that people here can still go about their business and speak their minds, and that Parliament carries on its business as before. The Goebbels machine keeps all that information from the German people. They do not know that life in this country, in spite of the war, is, if not normal, at least on the same lines as before, and that the basis of our democracy remains. I hope the Minister will bear that consideration in mind and will, if he can, put across information and ideas of that kind.
I wish also to refer to what has been said by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) with regard to local propaganda in the constituencies throughout the country. There is practically no organised means of delivering courses of lectures or addresses on the ideals for which the Allies are fighting and the kind of peace that we want to see, and I think something in that direction ought to be done. Otherwise, the wireless will become the sole medium of education and, increasingly important as it is, I still think that lectures in the localities can play a very important part. Finally, I agree strongly with the Minister's admonition that we should do all in our power to fight against rumour, for rumour, like jealousy, is agreen-eyed monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on.At the present time, great harm may be done by the spreading of rumours, and I hope that we shall all set a good example in that respect. I understand the Minister's difficulty in trying to balance his reports so as to give the people the truth while withholding important information from the enemy. I wish him, as I am sure we all do, God-speed in his task. I hope that he will overcome all the difficulties and will be able to give us that accurate knowledge for which we all thirst, and I am sure that we shall all do our own part to help him by setting an example of discretion.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Hannah (Bilston)
I trust I shall not be out of order if I occupy a few minutes in giving, so to speak, an account of my stewardship as one of the lecturers for the Ministry of Information. I do not know whether any other hon. Member has been rendering service to the Ministry of Information in the matter of very humble little meetings, but it is, I submit, a not unimportant work. I was brought 477 into this task, not in any way through politics, but through having been for a good many years an extra-mural lecturer for both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. I have given addresses at various towns, largely in East Anglia, about the general position and the great principles for which we are fighting, with the object of informing the people and maintaining their morale. It is a pleasure at those meetings to find that all parties are represented equally on the platform. I do not think there is any other pleasure in public life quite as great as that of being able to co-operate with those who, in other circumstances, would be our political opponents. I do not for a moment say that I shall not fight as hard as anybody to retain my seat when the proper time comes, but in the meantime it is incomparably more congenial to co-operate than to fight with those who may, in a few unimportant details, differ from my own views.
Yesterday I had the great privilege of spending practically the whole day going round with a Ministry of Information loud-speaker van. We spoke in the open air in five different places in my own division, and we did so with a very definite object. We realised the possibility of air raids, and we wanted to make sure that the morale of the people was strengthened and improved as far as possible. I think we spoke to something like 1,200 to 1,500 people. We had the assistance of the A.R.P. workers, and we had out the fire engines. We were much struck by the fact that in the Black Country so many people did not know what they were supposed to do in the event of an air raid. I am sorry to say that comparatively few have taken advantage of the opportunities provided for training. We have made the greatest efforts we could at these meetings to induce people to take classes so that they will know how best to deal with incendiary bombs, how to behave generally if ever an air raid should take place, and how to prepare suitable places of shelter. We are most anxious that the country should not be taken by surprise if, as I fear is exceedingly probably, air raids should take place.
Therefore, though in a very humble capacity, I can speak from first-hand knowledge of the work of the Ministry. I believe it is of extraordinary value and 478 extremely important. It is necessary that we should try to cover the whole country in the way that I have described, giving the people exact information about what they are to do if an air raid comes. We should avoid anything in the nature of panic, or that disorganisation of the general life of the countryside, such as an air raid would be likely to bring about if the people were not prepared for it. I would commend to the Minister the idea of extending as far as possible the work of sending round loud-speakers. I think it rather impresses the people and perhaps in some cases even frightens certain people into realising that in a very short time aeroplanes from Boulogne could come across and bomb the Black Country. It is all-important to fortify the general morale of the people, so that, if these terrible air raids should come, we shall be worthy of our past and remain what we have ever been through our long history, a race that knows no panic.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I am sure that on all sides of the Committee there will be an intense desire not to embarrass the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary in their duties and to intervene in this Debate briefly and only if we have anything to offer which may assist them in their important work without detaining them unduly. I feel that, with all the dynamic energy and brilliance which are now devoted to the direction of this Ministry, it will still find itself circumscribed unless there is a material alteration in its organisation. There are at present 25 Government Departments maintaining 25 separate publicity organisations. I gather from answers which have been given to me in the House that those Departments are not under either the control or the direction of the Ministry, although they may have some sort of tenuous liaison with it. Apart from these 25 Departments, there are many others scattered up and down the country. There is a mysterious organisation working at Oxford, another hush-hush organisation somewhere else, and I know of yet another. None of these are under that essential unified control and direction of the Ministry which ought to be existent if the Minister and his colleagues are to fulfil the purposes they have in view, and which they are so eminently qualified to discharge.
479 I would like to join with the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) and to say that of all the activities which ought not to be excluded from the Ministry those of the B.B.C. are the most important. I say that partly for the reason given by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay), that in the days ahead of us the newspaper Press must inevitably, as a result of shortage of. supplies, get smaller and smaller for the dissemination of news. Unfortunately, it must come down more and more to the distribution of snippets which are always misleading, and for that reason I think it is of immense importance that without any unreasonable delay the authority of the Ministry should be exercised over the B.B.C. I have had a good many connections with the B.B.C. in the past, and under the very distinguished man who laid the foundations, which I think were laid broad and deep. I say with some regret that there is something wrong in the psychology and mentality of the B.B.C. to-day. I say that not only for the reason given by the hon. Member for Norwich, with which I entirely agree. Who has not been infinitely distressed when, night after night, after a most inspiring and moving address to the vast audiences which listen-in to the B.B.C, there is very vulgar entertainment of the most loose and debased character instead of what is wanted, namely, some of our greatest music to inspire and clinch the aims and purposes aroused by the great address which went beforehand? The Ministry has many other things to do, and obstructions will be made from various Departments, but I urge that they should take their stand firmly on this front. Now that they have been brought under fresh and vigorous minds to carry on this great work they should not be handicapped by having an immense distributed, dispersed and non-responsible organisation entirely outside their influence and entirely outside their control. I say that with some regret, and I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will not think that I am harping on a narrow point in conditions of gravity. May I ask him in all earnestness never to allow the word "panic" to be addressed to the British people?
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I do not think the Minister of Information 480 will complain about the time which this Debate has taken and the time which he, therefore, has lost in carrying out the onerous duties of his office. Perhaps the most important function which this House has retained under the new dispensation is that of enabling Ministers to keep in touch with current public opinion, because only in that way can they continue to be representative of the country. In the course of the Debate we have had one very interesting footnote to history provided by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) confessing with what blank despair he listened to the efforts of at least one of his colleagues defending the policy of the Government of which he was a member. I wish to make one contribution of my own to the Debate on a subject which has figured in several of the speeches which have been made. I do not very greatly dissent from the way in which the right hon. Gentleman referred, in the course of his speech, to our attitude to the German people, although perhaps I would qualify or modify it myself in one or two particulars. What I want to say at once is how very much more representative of the feeling in this country was what the Minister said on this subject this afternoon compared with what I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say the other night on the wireless in a broadcast in French to the French people. Unless I misunderstood him he said then that Germans loved war as much as you and I detested it and that they loved it because they were barbarians. I do not hesitate to say that that is not true, and whether it be true or not, it certainly does not represent what the Government of our country in these days ought to be representing to the world.
It was Burke who said a long time ago that he did not know how to draw an indictment against a whole people, and it is no easier to-day to draw an indictment against a whole people—even the German people—than it was for Burke to do so against the French people 150 years ago. That was not the right hon. Gentleman's attitude to-day, and I am glad that it was not. But even now, after listening to this Debate, I am not quite certain that we have got it right. I agree with all those who have said that our business to-day is to defeat Germany. I entirely agree that this is the paramount 481 consideration and that until we have done that none of these other matters can ever arise. But do not let us forget, while bearing that in mind, what it is we ultimately wish to achieve—a Europe in which nations can live side by side in comradeship, and in which there can be a kind of united States. We wish to see a Europe in which we can do away with rivalry, hatred, bitterness and jealousy, but we are not likely to help to create that kind of spirit if, even in these trying days, Ministers speaking for the Government refer to one nation as against another as being barbarians and loving what everyone else detests. I suppose that if, in Germany, people are inclined to worship success, they are not very different from people elsehere. If in times of war people in any nation sink differences between themselves in what they conceive to be a necessary united national effort, that is not a spirit of which one need complain. The truth is—and I think the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate will not dissent from what I am about to say now—that in a sense the German people were the first victims of Hitler's aggression, and that they have remained his victims.
It might be said, "Ah, but they are behind him now." It may be, but he was able not merely to enslave their bodies, but also to enslave their minds. He was able to cut them off from knowledge of what was going on in the world, and to cut them off from knowledge of what was going on in Germany itself, let alone anything outside their borders. He was able to cut them off from free discussion among themselves, and he was able to exempt the Government from any kind of criticism, question or inquiry. If, in these circumstances, the German people remained responsible for their Government, then in what sense do we claim an advantage for our system over theirs? They are not responsible, but that does not mean that we must not fight, and that we must not obtain victory over them in order to free them as well as the rest of the world from this gangsterism which dominates their world and ours. But do not do it in the spirit that they are essentially different from other men and women in other parts of the world. They are not. It is not in that spirit that you will create a new Europe.
At the moment these considerations may seem a little remote. The question 482 is whether we can prevent ourselves from being dominated, and all our national effort must rightly be towards seeing that we are not so dominated. Do let us remember that this struggle is apt to cloud judgment, and that we must do what we can, even in these days, to keep our minds free from unnecessary bitterness, passion or injustice, so that when the day comes, as I feel certain it will, and our cause has triumphed, we shall not be carried away by the flush of victory and do again the things which we did so wrongly in 1918. Something was said by a colleague of mine about our having no quarrel with the German people provided they behaved themselves. I would invite him to ask himself what was wrong with the German people between 1918 and 1933. In those years they had less responsibility for the rise of Hitlerism than we ourselves had. Let us, when victory has been achieved, as I feel sure it will be, use it so that not again in our lifetime, or the lifetime of our children, shall we have again to face this fearful thing which, after all, is as much the outcome of our own mistakes and sins as it is of the mistakes and sins of other people.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
I do not propose to speak for more than a few minutes. I do not think any of us is in a mood to-day to make or to listen to long speeches, and I hope that mine will be shorter than the majority of those that have been made. I have listened to most of what has been said and I am in agreement with much of it. It has nearly all been concentrated, however, on the effect of the Ministry's service or broadcasts on either our own people or upon the German people. What has been vexing my mind for some time is much more the effect of our service or lack of service upon the French. The same thing may be true about the neutral countries, but the kind of impression we are making upon the rank and file of the French people is more important. I have been in touch lately with six or eight people who recently returned from France. They have been working in that country on some errand of mercy or other, generally connected with refugees. They have been travelling widely and travelling cheap, talking in cafes and places with humbler people in France. They have all brought back the same story.
483 I put to each of them the question whether there was really good feeling between the rank and file of the French people and this country and whether the French people understood the difference between the kind of contribution we are making to the national effort and the kind of contribution they are making. The reply I have had from each one is, "They do not understand." The French deputies and the better-off people do, but in the cases of the ordinary women in the villages—for there are hardly any but women left—and the privates in the Army, the reports of what they are thinking and feeling show that they are thoroughly puzzled by what seems to them the inferior magnitude of our war effort and the fact that a much smaller number of our men are mobilised. They do not understand the past history of the difficulties that have made a more rapid mobilisation possible, and they are not having brought home to them the extent of what we have done through our Navy or our Air Force. It is true that the greatness of the Air Force effort has been rather in the last few weeks, and most of my information is a little prior to that, but I think that it applies to the Air Force too. The French people listen night after night to Stuttgart, as our own people listen to Lord Haw-Haw, and the Stuttgart traitor is producing a considerable effect with propaganda about England fighting to the last Frenchman and that sort of thing.
Both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are known Francophils and know far more about the French people than I do, but perhaps they have been associated mostly with the elite and intelligentsia in France. I appeal to them to remember the enormous importance in the dark days that are coming of doing everything that can be done to make the mass of the French people understand what we are doing and not to allow the least bad feeling to arise between the French and ourselves. We do not hear what is happening behind the dark veil that has fallen in Flanders and the French and British Armies are not in as close contact as they were in the last war. So far as that bad feeling can be prevented through the efforts of the Minister of Information it should be done. We are not afraid that the French will ever let us down for that is not France's 484 way, but it is of great importance that there should be an increasing good understanding and feeling between the rank and file of the British and French people.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Sir Walter Smiles (Blackburn)
The speech of the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) contained some constructive advice and I do not quarrel with a word of it. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), however, attributed every mistake between 1918 and 1933 to us and I think he conveniently forgot a good many of the German faults. Germany never disarmed and there is no doubt that they nursed a great desire for victory and that the military caste was still alive in 1933 when Hitler came to power. However, I think we can pass over that in a Debate in which all the speeches have been short. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Information cautioned us about the danger of two extremes—complacency and panic. I have to plead guilty that during the past six or seven months I have been complacent because I have felt that in the history of the British Empire we have always won and that no matter how dark it is we will surmount any obstacle.
I want to bring to the notice of the Minister the question of the Fifth Column activities. On Saturday last I was for the first time brought in contact with Dutchmen who actually saw the work of the Fifth Column in Holland. I suggest that these facts should be brought before the British people through the microphone by one of these Dutch people who can speak English and that it should also go all over the world. I must admit that I was staggered by the facts that were given to me. I am convinced that they were true. Hon. Members listening to me may say, "It is only the hon. Member for Blackburn speaking; we have heard him before and have paid little attention to him." When, however, you speak to a man who has actually been through these things and seen them, it is a different matter. Some of these Dutchmen are coming to the House to see me at 7.30 and if any hon. Members want to meet them I shall be pleased to introduce them.
I do not think that the average man or woman in this country knows how the first attack on Holland came about. 485 I believe that Holland and Belgium would probably be still fighting to-day if it were not for the Fifth Column. My Dutch informant said he heard a noise and it made him nervous, for they had been thinking of invasion for a year. He looked out of his window about 4.30 in the morning and the air was full of parachutes. He did not say it was black with them, although one person did. When they came down the first thing the parachutists did—these young men who were either drugged or drunk with alcohol—was to jump on to a tramcar and with a portable gun kill everybody in it, not only the men but the women and children whom they seemed particularly to want to kill. I believe the Dutch and Belgian resistance went because of the wholesale killing of women and children, and that the orders given to these men were not so much to kill soldiers as to kill women and children and so to destroy the morale of the people.
For that reason I suggest that the Minister should bring these facts before the people of this country and of the world. Three weeks ago, if I had heard a machine gun in the street I should not have worried much. Now I should know it was due to something like the Fifth Column. I should be unarmed like the rest of us, but I should go to a window and hurl out a chair or something to distract attention. I am convinced that if the people of the country are only warned against this activity and told the truth they will be ready to fight it, even if they are unarmed. Because they were surprised the people of Holland and Belgium cowered before the Fifth Column parachutists like a flock of sheep before a wolf. If our people are only warned in time they will be like a pack of prairie dogs of whom even the tiger is afraid.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (North Lambeth)
I want to follow the example which has been set by other Members this afternoon and speak for only a few minutes. I would like to make one comment on the speech to which we have just listened. I agree that it is an excellent thing that the country as a whole, in the towns and the villages, should be warned and prepared against the dangers from possible landings of parachutists and of the danger of Fifth Column elements. I hope, however, that the Minister of Information will 486 discourage the atmosphere which is being created almost of hysteria about the Fifth Column in this country, which, in my view, does not exist to anything like the extent which has been put about in the popular Press and through other sources. The situation of this country is entirely different from that of Belgium, Holland and Norway. Those countries are practically contiguous with Germany and thousands of Germans and thousands of natives who have close relations with the people in Germany live in them. I fear very much growing up in this country a hysteria about Fifth Columnists which may be as unpleasant, as untrue and as unreal as, or even worse than, the spy hysteria that grew up in the last war. One unfortunate effect already of the Fifth Column hysteria in this country is that many people are suspicious of every refugee who comes into the country, giving them either the cold shoulder or a bad time. These people are flying from the Nazi terror and this attitude is most unfortunate.
One fact which has not been brought home sufficiently in all this talk about the Fifth Column is that experience has shown that the dangerous Fifth Column elements are not Germans or refugees from Germany, but the natives of those countries which have been attacked who have adopted Fascist sympathies. It is not the Germans who have come into this country recently who are dangerous. There may be one or two spies among them, of course, but if there is any Fifth Column danger it is among English people who have strong Fascist sympathies. There are quite a few people in responsible positions who have expressed openly Fascist sympathies. It is that element, which is quite small, which is dangerous. I am glad that some of them have been dealt with. I hope that the Ministry of Information will not increase the hysteria about the Fifth Column, for it creates an unnecessary atmosphere of alarm against German refugees, but that they will rather concentrate their warnings against the danger of parachutists, which I believe is a real danger.
I would like to ask the Minister whether any change has taken place in the direction of the Ministry since the unfortunate combination of facts which led to the printing of so much false news in the 487 papers directly after the invasion of Norway. The Committee will remember what happened. Either the day following, or two days after, Germany's invasion of Norway the hopes of this country were roused by the publication in all newspapers, including the most responsible ones, of the news that English troops had landed at Trondheim, Bergen and other places. The papers were not to blame. We have the evidence of the editor of the "Daily Herald" about what happened and I suppose it was the same with other papers. News came through from Sweden that there had been considerable landings of British forces in those Norwegian towns. The editors, anxious not to print false news, and knowing how important this news would be if it were true, got into touch with the Ministry of Information, the War Office and the Admiralty and asked, "Is this news true? We do not want to print it if it is not true, but unless it is contradicted naturally we shall print it. It comes from a fairly authoritative source in Sweden, and we are bound to give it a front page splash. Please tell us whether it is true or not." The Ministry of Information would give no information whatsoever when they were approached.
I am quoting evidence of the editor of the "Daily Herald," who, I understand, personally approached the Ministry of Information, and afterwards the Admiralty, and begged them to confirm or deny the news. In both cases he was told that the news was not official, that it had not come from Government sources, that the editor could print it if he liked on his own responsibility, and that they were giving no further guidance than that. The unfortunate result was that the hopes of the whole nation were roused by the news that was printed. When it turned out to be quite untrue the hopes of the nation fell again, not with disastrous but with very unfortunate results. Plainly, someone was at fault on that occasion. The Ministry of Information, not then under the present Minister, was I think at fault in not seeing to it that on such an important occasion either the Ministry itself or the Service Departments should do more than take up a position of silent neutrality. They should have given positive guidance to the Press. I very much hope that such changes have taken place in the organi- 488 sation, direction and the spirit of the Ministry of Information that if some similar occurrence takes place and the Press want to know whether certain good news from some neutral or some semi-official Press agency is true or not the Ministry will see to it that either they or the Service Depatrments check up on the news and, if it is not true, tell the Press so. I am certain the Press would act loyally if they were told, "That news is not true and we therefore suggest that you should not print it." I quite understand that, as was explained in the House on that occasion by a Minister representing the Admiralty, it is undesirable to deny or confirm every story that comes along. A Service Department might not want to do it. One agrees, and that is obvious; but on an important occasion, when the whole nation may be seriously misled, I suggest that it is the duty of the Ministry of Information to give proper guidance to the Press.
Another point I wish to make is quite a small one and, in fact, some Members may think it is a petty one. My criticism of the talks given over the wireless by official commentators is that while usually the matter is good in varying degrees, the manner of the speakers has been unfortunate. I admit at once that both the matter and the manner of the talks from the present Minister of Information have been very good indeed. Whether the speakers are too sophisticated, too cultured, too literary I do not know, but they speak in a language which is not the language of the ordinary people of the country. It is adorned with too many adjectives, too many parallels. It is not the language of a man in a heart-to-heart talk with another man, but the language of a highly-cultured literary person talking down to the people. I do not want to give the names of the individuals concerned.
I think that is a grievous fault in the wireless service which the Government is giving to the people. If a propaganda talk or a review of the situation or whatever it may be is to "get over" and to be convincing, the manner of the speaker is just as important as his matter, and I ask the Minister to do his best to see that these talks are given by people who can put over the right stuff in direct, simple, straightforward, easy language. People whose position, whose standing, whose education is of 489 such a high standard that when making a speech they naturally speak in a language full of literary adornments should either be barred or be told they must cut them out and make a direct and simple appeal to the audience they are addressing. I think that is a matter of some importance; others may not think it important at all; but if the Minister of Information wants to make these talks effective I hope he will bear this point in mind.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
I did not mean to enter into this Debate, as I said a good deal on the last occasion, but I think I should be failing in my duty if I did not say something to-day. Though I was rather astonished when the new Minister told us that he had been so overburdened with other duties that he had had but little time to review his new establishment, I can understand that, but I have been waiting for some time to learn what his predecessor had been able to accomplish. I can assure the new Minister that anyone in his position will require to have courage and a double-edged scythe to cut down and winnow away the army of barnacles that have got into that establishment. There are professors, art critics, museum curators—all those. The only other place to which they can escape from the Ministry of Information now is, I understand, the Admiralty. I have discovered recently that in the Admiralty there are two great authorities on art who have found something to do there, though what it is I do not know. But in this new Ministry of Information the new Minister will have to be courageous and get down to the task, a really disagreeable one, of cutting out the scrub wood. I do not know how much his predecessor has been able to accomplish on those lines, but the makeup of the Ministry of Information has been a disgrace. In the Debate so far we have heard a good deal about the Oxford, Cambridge and Chatham House speakers: all those will have to be reviewed.
The main thing I want to say is that the most powerful weapon that has come into the hands of man for disseminating an idea—and an idea is more powerful and potent than a million cannon—is the wireless. What are we doing with it? I thought that after the last Debate some- 490 thing would be done about it. No. "Monday Night at Eight," and then after that inane performance we find this enormous instrument used by people to advertise themselves. The wireless is so precious now that we cannot afford to lose a minute in any form of entertainment which gives to the world a false impression of the mental condition of the people of this country. I do not say that we should always have Beethoven or Sibelius, because I know there are varying degrees of taste among the people, but have we fallen so low that in these solemn moments, when the entire nation, nay, the entire Empire, is listening to every syllable of a speaker conveying the solemnity and the enormity of the menace before us, that immediately the last syllable has died away on must come the most appalling trash to which it is possible for man to listen? Surely, there is some mean between the one and the other. Surely, something should be done about it. The French have taken things in hand. I know there will be critics who say that we must keep up the spirit of the people, but even if there be something in that argument, imagine the feelings of women waiting to hear something about the fate of their sons or their husbands when on come some trivial nigger boys, the corner men of a minstrel troupe. It is simply appalling.
I want to say a word on another subject which has been hinted about and concerns the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry. His technique on the wireless sometimes makes me very sick. I do not know whether he comes to the microphone before or after dinner, but I would beg of him to remember that he is not in any way developing the intimate fireside conversation style by the way he behaves at the microphone. This is a little word in his ear. He gets a little tiring with the long hiatus, the dilly-dallying with words. That may be his technique, and perhaps it is extremely homely to him, but he can take it from me that it is extremely nauseating. He is the only gentleman whom I can talk to straight on this matter, seeing that he is within pitch of my voice. Those who go to the microphone should have respect for the people who are listening to them. They should be intimate, I agree; they should be unlike the Minister of War, because when he gets to the microphone you think he is addressing the Albert Hall, 491 and we do not want that. Here again there is a mean between the two, so perhaps both Ministers can have a consultation and arrange the proper technique. Even the present Minister sometimes allows the exuberance of his verbosity and passion to get the better of him. He would like to eat Germany. If words could destroy the Germans, he would have done it long ago. There is nothing I know of that brings the soul of a man before the public like his voice on the wireless. Have the Minister or his assistant ever heard themselves being "played back"? I have, and I said, "Is that me? I wish I had heard it before." As I have heard both of them, I am giving them the benefit of my criticism.
My last word is this: Whatever may be the outstanding contracts between the B.B.C. and these "pennies from heaven" people, I should like to see that position reviewed. One night I was listening, and this is the kind of thing I heard:Although the earth should swallow me I know that you would follow me.We get stuff of that kind. Let us take these crooners out, and either put them in uniforms or send them to Germany. Let us do something about this matter. If this Debate means anything, it means that something will be done about these things, because this is the third time that they have been raised in this House. It means that they shall be put a stop to. There is enough talent in England, if you want to be entirely English, to raise us above this level. The crooner and the jazz band are a foreign importation and are not native to this land. They come here from the backwoods of America and have the rhythm of the nigger running through them, with all that it implies. They do not belong to our people. Still more depressing is it to hear some gentleman who has been born and bred round about London trying to speak bastard American when bidding you "Good-night" or telling us who his performers are. We have our own musicians and composers, our Elgars, as well as the native song and harmony of the three countries that compose this Kingdom. Let us exploit them. I would suggest, in passing, that we do not want over-much of Mr. D'Oyly Carte. That is also getting a bit threadbare. [Hon. Members: "No!"] Well, that 492 is my opinion. Let me tell the Committee what happens. Certain gramophone records must be used, and can be used, only at certain intervals. It is laid down, apparently, by the person responsible, that the only gramophone records to be played—perhaps before a public pronouncement by the Prime Minister—shall be Gilbert and Sullivan records. There are other kinds of music, native to the country and more suitable to the occasion. [An Hon. Member: "Give them bagpipes!"] I do not know about that. We must be serious about this. Whatever may be our predilections or taste in this matter, I think the Committee is united in believing that the instrument of broadcasting is far too valuable to be thrown away in rubbishy or degenerate forms of entertainment.
There is another matter to which I would like to refer. I get constant reports from people in Arab States, and from as far away even as Afghanistan, that the propaganda in the native language should be more efficient than it is. They compare the Arabic used by the German propaganda with that used by us, and they say—I am only using the information handed to me—that the German propaganda is real, sound, classical Arabic. People who are students of the Koran are accustomed to that kind of language. The British, on the other hand, I am told, do not use that purer form. If there is any truth in those reports, it is necessary that that form should be used now. We cannot demand too much, since the present Minister is only just in his job. His predecessor was there on trial. We are waiting for results. I hope that this Debate will be regarded seriously by the Ministry and that some reforms will be made to show that greater appreciation is entertained of the whisper that re-echoes itself throughout the world.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I should like to make a few points before the Parliamentary Secretary replies, and first to say a word about the two Ministers. I do not take such an unfavourable view as has been expressed about the efforts of the Parliamentary Secretary at the microphone. It seems to me that he has a very specialised and personal touch and that vast numbers of people like it very much because it expresses his 493 personality. With regard to the Minister, we are accustomed to him in this House and to his robust and vigorous personality. Many of us wondered, when his appointment was announced, exactly how he would function in office. I think that we all feel he is functioning admirably. He has shown excellent initiative in going to the microphone himself on every important occasion and stating in clear tones, with a little literary flavour here and there and in language that could be well understood, what people wanted to know, and so heartening and sustaining their spirit. I hope that he will go on taking the same line throughout the war, as it will have a beneficial effect. People in my part of the country were never more determined to go right through to the bitter end and to achieve victory, come what will.
I would like to make a reference to the meetings that are being held in some parts of the country. Some of them are being addressed by special staff speakers for the purpose of informing people about what is going on and inviting them to volunteer for different duties, as well as to give them announcements about various Government schemes. I hope that for this work the fullest advantage will be taken of Members of Parliament, because they seem to be the natural leaders in their own constituencies. In so far as they are not engaged upon other duties and are free, it would save a good deal of expense and trouble if they were asked to do some of this duty. The staff speakers are doing admirable work, but I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look into the fact that some of them have been accustomed, in the past, to speak for political parties. Perhaps it is a little difficult for them to forget, in the excitement of the moment, that they are not speaking for any political party now but are purely national and neutral. This consideration arises particularly when Question Time comes and they are invited to express their views. I hope it will be impressed upon them that they must remember to put the principles or policies of political parties entirely aside and to think only of the great national effort in which we are engaged.
Many questions will have to be looked into by the Ministers, and alterations made. I would give just one example of the kind of propaganda that is sometimes 494 put out in other countries. The case I give concerns the Balkans. Through the Press Attaché there, a serialised version of Sir Neville Henderson's book was published in the Press, and it created considerable indignation among the Jugo-Slav population, who were under the impression that it was German propaganda because it was putting over just the kind of thing that ought not to have been specially brought to their attention. No doubt the Minister has knowledge of this matter, and will be able to give us an assurance that that kind of thing will be more carefully checked in the future.
Something has been said about refugees. I hope that the Minister will succeed in making the point clear that, when we round up refugees and intern large numbers of them, it does not for a moment necessarily mean that we think that any but a minute section of them are dangerous. No doubt, as the Home Secretary said, one part of the object is to break up organisations that are in existence. But I think this point should be made clear. The German technique is such that pressure is put upon refugees through their relatives who are now living in Germany, and that sometimes for their preservation and for the safety of the State it is wiser and kinder that those refugees should be interned rather than be subjected to the terrible temptation to which we know people in Belgium and Holland have fallen. In fairness to the refugees, that is a point which should be made clear.
There has been published for some time past a journal under the name of "Noteworthy." I think the name is the only noteworthy part about it. It had a very considerable circulation, mostly by free distribution. Its contents were singularly futile, I think, and a questionnaire was included in a recent number asking people whether they wanted to see it again; those were not exactly the words, but people were asked whether they wanted to continue taking it in. It would be interesting to know what the response has been to that questionnaire and whether it is intended at this time to continue using paper for publishing stuff of that kind. I am sure that neither of the Ministers, with their interest in and knowledge of literature, would pass such a publication, and I hope the Minister will be able to announce its early decease.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff (Hull, East)
I would like to remind the Committee that the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) is not an ordinary listener. He is what I should term an extraordinary listener, and, so far as the B.B.C. is concerned under its present control, I hope that the balance will be kept, because even in these critical times when you switch on the wireless and you hear something that may be termed light, it certainly has a tendency, not exactly to exhilarate you, but it keeps what is wanted in these days, an even balance. Even "Garrison Theatre" had its good objects; it helped us to keep that balance. Let me confess that last night I was rather sorry that I was robbed of part of "Monday Night at Eight."
I agree with one or two speakers that we should make more use of the ordinary talker on the wireless instead of having these very highly cultured people with extraordinarily cultured voices speaking to us too often. I agree that in radio you have to cater for all people, and, therefore, it is necessary to have the super-cultured voice. I have always liked listening to the Parliamentary Secretary. I like the little stammer in his voice, as if he is lost for a word; I believe it is a fake, but I like it. It puts him on common ground with the ordinary listener, because many a time if the ordinary listener has to express himself on a public occasion he is lost for a word, and he may even stutter. I do not want the Parliamentary Secretary to stutter, but I want him to go on giving us talks, and I want him to be himself. I remember a few weeks ago when we had to wait half an hour for a very important broadcast. The time had to be filled in with gramophone records. Whoever put on those gramophone records kept an even balance and tried to interpret the wishes of the ordinary listener and not of the hon. Member for Burslem, by putting on, perhaps, some Gilbert and Sullivan or some of Edward German's "Country Dances" from "Henry VIII," or something like that.
Now a word about the Minister himself. We back-benchers meet the ordinary listener and the ordinary man and woman in the street. When you are promoted to the Front Bench people are afraid to talk to you when they see you in the street or in a café, but we back-benchers have 496 no purchase upon pedestals. If we attempt to get upon a pedestal, we are soon knocked off. There has been a steady improvement in the intimate contact of the Minister of Information with the ordinary listener, and I believe that the ordinary listener is very grateful to him. With regard to the other points which have been raised in the Debate, I would say that as the Ministry has some connection with refugees and internees, I hope that a sound balance will be kept in the typical British attitude towards these unfortunate people. I hope that the Ministry of Information will not withhold views unduly, but will take the people into their confidence and will put the news across in such a way that even if the dose may be bitter, we can take it and take it without a grimace. Whatever may be in front of us in these coming days, speaking for the ordinary listener, the ordinary man and woman and child with whom one comes in contact, at any rate, North of the Trent, there is a fortitude for which we can show every admiration, and it is the duty of the Ministry of Information to keep up that fortitude by giving us proper news and also to keep a proper balance on the radio.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
Prior to being elected to the House of Commons, I had the privilege for many years of acting in a representative capacity on behalf of many thousands of men and women in one of the largest factories in this country. It is those for whom I speak, and it is on their behalf that I am taking part in this Debate this evening. In the first place, we should be lacking in our duty if we did not take this opportunity of expressing, on their behalf and on behalf of thousands of men and women in this country, their admiration for the messages which have been broadcast by Mr. Ward and others during the past six months. The broadcasts which Mr. Ward has made have been so realistic and so plain in their language. The greatest and the most cultured of men are the men who use plain language. Anyone who has read real history, of the kind that is taught, not to the so-called educated people, but to the really educated people—those who know the history of the struggles of the people—realises that the greatest of men use the simplest of language. It is because of the simplicity of their language that Mr. Ward and others whose names 497 I do not at the moment remember—I single Mr. Ward out because I have had the opportunity of hearing him myself—are so much appreciated. They have rendered great service to the people of this country, and we require more broadcasts of that kind.
We are depending more than ever upon increased output from those employed in the heavy industries, particularly the engineering and steel industries; and I should like the Minister to pay special attention to this point. Most of those men and women leave home between six and seven o'clock in the morning, as they have to travel long distances to get to their work, and they do not have an opportunity of hearing the wireless news before they leave home. Will the Minister consider re-arranging the programme, so that, instead of there being a break of only one hour, from seven to eight o'clock, between the first two news bulletins, the first news shall be given at six o'clock, or half past six? People going to the armament factories may then be able to hear the news, instead of being dependent upon other people, coming to work at half-past eight or nine o'clock, bringing in news, which will slowly filter through. I believe that the six o'clock news broadcast in the evening is well timed, but I suggest that consideration should be given to the items that follow this news. People who are employed in our big factories, and who have to travel long journeys to their homes, arrive home dead tired. They have an evening meal, they listen to the news, and then they should have some light music, not the highbrow stuff which some of us can enjoy when we have not been engaged in heavy work. When you have been using up a great deal of energy during the day, you do not want music of that character in the evening: you want relaxation. I suggest—this used to be the practice years ago—that after the news there should be, for about half an hour, a programme of the lightest possible music, which would suit the masses of the people, instead of catering for only a small number. I am not asking for jazz, although I am one of those who can enjoy a certain amount of jazz. There are many people living in the Victorian days; if they went to Blackpool or other places of that kind, they would find what a lot of people there are, a little younger than myself, who take a delight in jazz.
498 I agree that a number of the people who speak oil the wireless are out of touch with the thought of the people. On Sunday and on Monday I spoke to a number of people, some of whom were big industrialists, and all agreed that it was like a breath of fresh air to hear the Minister of Labour speaking on Saturday night. I mention that as an illustration of the fact that the plainest speaking, in the language of the people, is what is wanted. One of the things which has undermined the popularity of Lord Haw-Haw is his accent. People do not listen to what he says because they are so amused at the way that he says it. I admit it is true that little drops of water gently wear a stone away, and that we cannot afford to ignore that propaganda, but the effect of that propaganda has certainly been reduced by the way that it is put over. That is true also of a great many speakers in this country. Since the right hon. Gentleman took over the Ministry of Information there has been a great improvement, although he has not had much time to bring about changes. One hopes that he will take note of what is being said in this Debate, so that his Department may make a much greater contribution towards the winning of the war than it has made up to the present.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hems worth)
Since the right hon. Gentleman has taken charge of the Ministry of Information practically everybody in the British Isles, including working men and their wives and children, have welcomed the forthright statements that he has made. There are thousands of boys and girls who listen carefully to his speeches. They are able to understand those speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) has asked that the Minister should arrange for the news to be broadcast at six o'clock in the morning. God forbid. Who wants the children up at six or half-past six in the morning, when the husband is going to work? If you have the news broadcast at that time, the colliers will say that they get up at four o'clock, and that they would like a news bulletin at half-past four. To my mind, seven o'clock is early enough for the wireless.
Now I should like to say a word to the Parliamentary Secretary. I was deeply disappointed with his speech on Saturday 499 night. There is nothing like a candid friend. I was not alone. There were scores of other men that I met during the week-end, and, in fact, many of our chaps who speak Yorkshire said to me, "Is yon chap talking foreign? We can't understand am." It is as well that I, as an old collier, should tell the Parliamentary Secretary what the working-class people think about it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke stated, when the Minister of Labour spoke on the wireless every working-class man and woman and every boy and girl understood every word that he said. They knew what he wanted to get across, and I wish to tell the Minister that, if we have more of that kind of talk, it will give an inspiration to the people of this country, and we shall feel all along the line that, whoever may forsake us, we shall win the war.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker (Romford)
The point made by the Minister of Information upon which there has been most agreement was that about the change of organisation. Everyone will agree that it is high time that propaganda of all types should be under the control of the Ministry of Information, particularly the propaganda on the home front and our efforts in enemy and neutral countries. I would like to say a word or two about the question of personnel. I hope that the Minister will not follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren). There has been enough of the sacking of people at the Ministry of Information since the beginning of the war. You cannot possibly get a Department to do its job properly if you spend your time in sacking the staff of that Department. I believe that some of the people might be put into different places in the Department. We perhaps might have a few more people of the publicity type of mind at the Ministry and perhaps fewer of the military type of person. We require to use the talents of most of the types now in the Ministry, and therefore I hope that the Minister will not again go in for wholesale sackings.
The Minister stated in his speech that his object in the Ministry was to give the maximum of information with the minimum of delay. A number of Members in this Debate have emphasised the fact that German propaganda and news 500 usually get home much earlier than our own information and news in neutral countries. Why is that? Some complaint has been made that it is due to censorship in this country, because it is necessary for all news of a military character to go through different Service Departments to be checked before it is allowed to be made use of. If that is so, surely the Germans have to do the same thing. They have to check up all news and information they give from the military point of view, and do it quickly, so that they get the news to neutral countries at an early date. Surely we can do the same. Therefore I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will deal with this point and explain why the Germans manage to get away with it so much more easily than we do.
I desire to say a few words about the Home front. A number of Members have stated that there have been good broadcasts recently both by the Minister of Information, and the Minister of Labour and others; I hope that we shall have a continuation of broadcasts of that kind in order to try to stir and enthuse public opinion and get is definitely behind the nation and its war effort. I do not think that some of the speeches which have been given recently—I could mention those of Mr. Healy, for example—have assisted the war effort. We need, in times such as the present, to select speakers of the type that really are going to deliver the goods and enthuse the people and rally them behind the war effort. You must have different kinds of speakers to deal with different sections in the nation. You do not want only one type of speaker, but speakers who can steady the people's nerves, and also give the people the information that they should know, and also to say what they should do. Many people have a sense of grievance because they do not know what to do, but they might be given useful advice which they could carry out perhaps not in an ambitious way but in a humble way.
It is most important at the present time that our propaganda should attempt to unite all people inside the British Commonwealth. I was very sorry that the hon. Member for Burslem to-night definitely mentioned the word "nigger" in his speech. I myself have received complaints from West Indians about the 501 use of that word by the B.B.C. in connection with a gramophone broadcast recently. It is a word that gives great offence to many coloured subjects inside the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. MacLaren
The hon. Member should remember what I said. I said that it was well known that what was called American jazz had what was called a nigger origin. That is no reflection upon people with a dark skin, none whatever.
§ Mr. Parker
But I do not think that the hon. Member had a right to use that word. Another thing that needs bearing in mind was the point made by the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone). It was a very important point about our propaganda in France. There is too much neglect of British propaganda in France. Many people who have come over from France recently have told me of the very serious effect of German leaflets and propaganda there, about the insinuations made against our men and so on. These things require answering adequately. It is the duty of the Ministry of Information to talk to the French authorities and to do its best to answer German propaganda in France which is directed against our country. Some of it at times is of Nazi origin, and some of it of Communist origin; it is not always easy to distinguish one from the other in these days. It is important that both kinds of propaganda, which are defeatist propaganda, should be answered in France at the present time. It is also important that the anti-French propaganda in this country should be answered, and to co-operate with the French authorities for that purpose. In the French working class and the British working class many attempts have been made to set the people against each other and to use all kinds of arguments, for example, to say in France that British soldiers are grossly overpaid compared with the French. A great deal is made of points of that kind without explaining that the French soldier has a number of other advantages which our soldier does not 502 enjoy. In this country there has been a great deal of Communist and Nazi propaganda which has definitely tried to stir up British feeling against France on the ground that France is no longer a democratic country, and many accusations have been made against France and misunderstandings stirred up about what has happened since the war. I hope that our propaganda in France, and French propaganda in this country, will be dealt with by the Minister, and that there will be careful co-operation between the two countries on the matter.
Then there is the question of enemy propaganda, which is one of the most important things coming under the Ministry of Information, and I hope that a thorough overhaul will now take place in its organisation and in the type of propaganda carried on in enemy countries. The radio is the most important instrument for propaganda in Germany, and the all-important thing to bear in mind is that the broadcasts should aim at the persuasion of the German people that our cause is the right cause and that we are certain to win. Both these points need to be stressed. The German people need to be told that they cannot possibly win the war and that we shall win. We have the power to win the war. They need to be told that our cause is a just cause, and that we shall give a just peace. We can take a leaf from the success of Nazi propaganda itself, which always attempts to combine these two points in trying to frighten and to bribe people by promising them something they like. I think that without doing it in a wrong way we ourselves should attempt to convince the German people that we will win and that we definitely intend to have a just peace. We ought to make it quite clear that we are against Prussianism of all kinds and everything that it represents.
Much discussion has taken place during the Debate about the size of the anti-Nazi minority in Germany and what we ought to do about it. The important thing to bear in mind is this: If our propaganda is to be successful, it has to convert people and see that the minority, if it is a minority, becomes larger and larger. I think the speech made about this by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) is beside the point because that kind of propaganda will not encourage any Germans to join the minority 503 and oppose the majority. Propaganda has to be the kind that will increase the minority until it becomes the majority. I agree that the military defeat of Germany is essential before there can be a collapse of Hitler, but that can be prepared for by steady propaganda over a number of months. The results may not be seen immediately, but once you have a military defeat, if propaganda has been good, that defeat will lead to internal collapse, thorough and complete. But if there is not the right kind of propaganda beforehand, a military check will mean that Hitler will get another breath and go on again. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that the object of our propaganda in Germany is to convert as many of the German people as possible and prepare the way for victory. I think it is essential that we should not allow our hatred of the German Government to interfere with the quality of our propaganda.
I think one of the most useful ways in which we can put forward our propaganda is to set out our peace aims beside those of Hitler. It would be quite easy to explain that when the war is over there is a possibility of a peaceful world if we win, but that, if Hitler wins, that will not be possible. It is essential to make it quite clear that the German Government are not fighting, as we and other nations are fighting, for self-preservation. They are fighting for domination, and we should make it quite clear, in regard to our propaganda in Germany, that we are not making any promises that we do not intend to carry out when the war ends. We should promise what we intend to do and not what we do not intend to do. It is also important to answer the German case about the dictated Treaty of Versailles by stressing the dictated Treaties of Bucarest and Brest-Litovsk, and to point out that if Hitler had been in power and had won the last war, he also would have carried out a dictated treaty.
We should make more use of specialists who could appeal to particular sections of the German people and more use of members of the Labour party who have knowledge of Germany and can appeal to Germans from the labour angle. More use should also be made of refugee trade unionists, members of religious sections, such as Catholics and Pro- 504 testants, and of professional organisations such as teachers. Very little use has been made, in our propaganda, of any kind of special or sectional appeal to try and put the Allied case before the Germans. Again, it is most important that we should have a much better news service to Germany. At the present time too much of the news service to that country is just a translation of ordinary British news. Surely what goes down in England and Germany is not necessarily the same thing. You should have in charge of the new services to Germany people who could select and put forward news in a way that would appeal to the German people and not necessarily to the British people.
To turn to neutral propaganda, here again I think it is necessary that there should be attempts to get people who understand different countries and their psychology to select and broadcast news which appeals to the people of those particular countries. A change is necessary, and some initiative should be shown in the organisation of foreign broadcasts. I would like to refer to other bodies besides the Ministry and the B.B.C. which in the past have dealt with propaganda and which, I understand, are now coming under the supervision of the Ministry. There is, for instance, the peculiar body known as the British Council, which, I hope, will be thoroughly overhauled and looked into. I do not think that in some countries the council's propaganda has been as satisfactory as it might have been. It has been very grandmotherly in trying to prevent people asking questions about England to which they think the answers might be unsatisfactory. For example, I have been told that in one of the Baltic States an English society decided that it would like to have Mr. A. J. Cronin's novel "The Citadel" to read and study. Three times they asked for it, and three times they were refused. Finally it was sent along but accompanied by a specially written defence of the British medical system. That is not the way to try and get interest in English institutions in foreign countries, and I hope that the British Council, when brought under the control of the Ministry, will get rid of that grandmotherly attitude and will try to interest people freely in English activities.
505 Another point that I would like to make is that many of our Embassies and Consulates abroad propagate for our country but often do it badly. Indeed, many people in important positions in the Diplomatic Service are first-rate diplomatists but second-rate propagandists.
§ The Chairman
I am afraid that that comes under the Foreign Office head and not under this. It is out of Order to discuss it.
I understood from the Minister that the Ministry was taking over control of the propaganda departments of the Foreign Office and that he stated that in his speech.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith (Keighley)
Is not foreign propaganda now divided between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Information?
§ The Chairman
We can discuss what comes under the Ministry of Information on this Vote but not what comes under the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. Parker
I definitely understood that the Minister was taking over the supervision of propaganda and would see that it was co-ordinated.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information (Mr. Harold Nicolson)
It is an outside organisation.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Could the Parliamentary Secretary explain? Is it not a fact that all Press attachés attached to our Embassies and Consulates are controlled by the Ministry of Information?
§ Mr. Nicolson
No, it is through the Foreign Office to the head of the Mission. Reports come to us, and there is a sort of dual liaison.
§ Mr. Parker
Whatever the position, I feel that all propaganda work done by the Foreign Office should be under the supervision of the Ministry of Information. Let me give an example from my 506 own experience. I suggest that there should be public relations officers under the Ministry of Information in all the important Embassies abroad to bring to the notice of the Ambassador what is happening in the country, the sort of people he should meet, whether they belong to the Government or the Opposition, because quite frequently the Ambassador is a very busy man and is not able to find out all that happens in the country. Many of the officials working in the Embassies abroad may perhaps know their own particular job, but they do not know things about the country. Last year when I was in Turkey I was struck by the lack of knowledge of some people connected with the British Embassy about Turkey.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I am afraid that is going right outside this Vote. Whether they have full information or not, it does not come under this Vote.
§ Mr. Parker
I submit that when we are discussing propaganda abroad, we ought to see that it is properly co-ordinated and looked after by the Ministry of Information, and that the Foreign Office representatives in these countries, for propaganda purposes, should come under the Ministry of Information.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That is a matter for the Foreign Office and not for the Ministry of Information.
§ Mr. Parker
I hope that point, however, will be borne in mind. Let me turn to our propaganda in the Far East, which does not seem to be as satisfactory as it should. I understand that in the Far East generally there is a great lack of British news and information. There is a radio station at Hong Kong. I do not know who is responsible for it, but I think it should come under the control of the Ministry of Information. I understand it is an independent unit and operates on two wave-lengths, one long and one short. The full news is given only on the long-wave length and a news summary on the short. It is the only British source of information in the Far East; and it is difficult to get the long wave-length, which operates at inconvenient times. I suggest that the Hong Kong wireless station should be taken over by the Ministry of Information, so that there should be a satisfactory British 507 news service in the Far East for the benefit of all Government servants.
With regard to Japan, in that country a number of foreigners have been frozen out in recent years, and a British-owned newspaper in the English language has been in considerable difficulty. Before the war started offers, I understand, were made by some Germans to buy out the British newspaper with the idea of running it in English as a form of German propaganda. I should like to know whether that has happened or whether any steps have been taken by the Ministry of Information to see that that English newspaper in Japan gives the English point of view and that British propaganda is satisfactory. Then, in China, there is very little British information given to China at the present time and very little British information about China. In the present capital, Chungking, I understand there are no British journalists or representatives to get any information out to the British Press. Occasionally the "Times" correspondent visits the capital. Surely there should be some British journalist permanently in Chungking to keep in touch with the Chinese Government and see that information about Chinese affairs is sent to this country. The case of South America also has not been dealt with. That is a wide field where, the Ministry of Information ought to organise propaganda on much more efficient lines. I think the Debate has served a useful purpose, because it has shown that this Committee realises that propaganda is one of the most important instruments for winning the war. I hope that the Minister of Information will do his part in organising the Ministry so that it plays an effective part in shortening the war.
§ 7.56. p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson (Farnworth)
I want to put in a word that some consideration should be paid to the effect of the news and programmes of the B.B.C. on our own people. The most essential thing at the moment is to win the confidence of our people. We have been talking about propaganda and that we want to win the confidence of the peoples in other countries. The first thing is to get the confidence of your own people, not only that you are speaking the truth but that the information can always be relied 508 upon. Sometimes propaganda and truth do not seem to run together. The Ministry of Information sometimes gives information which is not on all fours with the facts of the situation as they are known in the homes of the people and, immediately that takes place, the confidence of that person in the news or the announce-has gone and a good deal of trouble very often arises because of it. Let me illustrate what I mean. Let me refer to what took place at the Ministry of Food a little while, ago. We found ourselves with a surplus of; butter, and immediately over the wireless it was made known to the people that they could obtain more butter than they had been able to obtain before. A little while afterwards the situation changed and it was desirable that the butter reserve should be retained, and that we should go on to margarine. Immediately there was an attempt on the wireless to convince the people of this country that margarine was as good as or better than butter. The one cancelled out the other. Statements of that kind coming within a fortnight destroy the confidence of the people in the announcement.
Let me say one word with regard to the nature of the programmes. I do not know whether the Ministry of Information is responsible for all the progammes. I do not get much opportunity for listening, but occasionally I can spend the greater part of the day listening to the wireless. I keep it on for a long time for one reason, and that is to see what is coming and what is the effect upon myself. I confess that sometimes I feel that the best thing about the wireless is the knob which enables you to switch it off. But some people have not the moral courage to switch it off and I wonder what the cumulative effect is upon them. I plead with whoever is responsible that, at this time in particular, cheap jokes about the Fuehrer are altogether out of place, that cheap jokes about what is taking place ought not to have a place so far as official news and entertainment are concerned. A fortnight ago, after leaving the House, I went with some misgivings to a theatre, and I confess that when I came out of the place, although I ought to have been amused, I was heartsick at some of the things that had been said by way of entertainment. I wondered what would 509 be their effect upon those who had people near and dear to them at the scene of activities at that time. Sometimes, when listening to wireless programmes of the same sort, it strikes me that people who are detached and doing things from a distance may be able to smile, but that those who all the time have this thing constantly on their minds do not want to hear cheap jokes about the German people or the German rulers. That is not something to joke about.
I want finally to refer to something that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Parker). When advising people what to do, for Heaven's sake, unless there is something definite to tell them, do not go on asking them to do this or that. People are being filled with a sense of fear and inability to express themselves. During the last three days, I have not come across one person in my own town who has not said, "If only I could do something other than what I am doing now." There are appeals over the wireless asking people to do something. If there is something to do, tell them what it is and they will do it, and tell them how important it is that it should be done; but do not go on telling them simply to do something. To do something means to do nothing, and to do nothing means to be fretting because there is nothing to do. Therefore, any suggestion of doing something should be linked up with some kind of organisation to which people can report, and an organisation that has something for them to do when they report. I hope the Minister will keep in mind not only the suggestions that have been made about improvements in the information, but above all, the necessity of gaining the confidence of our own people and of letting them know that they can rely on what is communicated to them over the wireless, that it is not wishful thinking that is being expressed through the microphone, but that there is a desire to help them to bear the burden.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information (Mr. Harold Nicolson)
I am sure my right hon. Friend would agree with the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) that this Debate has served a useful purpose. We are very grateful to hon. Members not only for the brevity of their speeches, which has enabled the Committee to get through 510 such variety of discussion in so short a time, but for the many suggestions on many topics that have been made to us, and the friendliness of the criticism which hon. Members have given. I think there are three things that emerge directly from the Debate—first, that the importance of the Ministry as a Service Department, as my right hon. Friend said, is fully realised in all quarters of the Committee; secondly, that the difficult nature of the functions which my right hon. Friend has to perform are frankly and generously realised by the Committee; and thirdly, that the infinite variety of functions which he has to perform is most certainly recognised by the Committee.
I do not want to detain the Committee very much longer, but I wish to answer some of the points which have been made in the Debate. The hon. Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) laid very great stress upon the regional organisations. He went so far as to say that those organisations were defective and to suggest that the public meetings which used to be held had been suspended. Those who listened to the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) will have heard that he at least had attended one such meeting and that he had himself appreciated the value of the loudspeaker vans being used. I can tell the Committee that, far from having been suspended, those meetings are being arranged in ever-increasing numbers, and although at first there were certain difficulties of organisation, they have now been surmounted, and in the month of March there were 100 public meetings held under the auspices of the Ministry, and in April, 200. The hon. Member spoke of the dislocation of the regional organisation. It is not that. There has been some readjustment of it on much simpler and much more efficient lines. So far from these regional organisations being somewhat damped down, their activities have now been intensified, and they will be used by the Ministry for a great deal of work both in giving us information as to opinion in the Provinces and the Home Counties and in putting out to the public that constant information and guidance which the public requires.
The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan)—my most honourable opponent at the last election—made a very important point when he said that we 511 should try to organise sensible people to get hold of the less sensible people in their own localities. That is a point on which, in approaching this great problem of morale, which may become more acute, we are concentrating enormously. We are trying by all sorts of methods—by employing in every possible way the wireless, pamphlets, and so on—to inculcate a sense of responsibility—everybody's responsibility for everybody else—and we are trying through the regional organisations to devise a system in which every street and every village will have a person to whom they can look for guidance, not merely the Air Raid Precautions warden, but somebody else who is the general moral guidance of the street. It is a very difficult thing to do, but I think hon. Members will agree that it is very essential. Not merely in moments of alarm is it necessary that there should be somebody respected by everybody, who can keep the temperature low—
§ Mr. Nicolson
They are increasing all the time. I cannot give the exact number now, but I will let the hon. Member know. Not only in times of danger should there be somebody to guide local opinion, but in the event of any dislocation of information taking place, such as a momentary stoppage of the wireless, there should be recognised people in every street, if possible, whose information is taken as correct, so that false information shall not be propagated at moments of crisis. The idea that there should be what the hon. Member for Doncaster calls sensible people in the streets is an idea which has occurred to us and on which we are working, complicated, elaborate, rather difficult though it is.
§ Mr. Nicolson
They get it from the regional office. All regional offices have their central office where the news is received and they have branch offices where it is disseminated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) launched an attack—I do not think a deserved attack—upon the British Broadcasting Corporation and especially upon their choice of Mr. Middleton Murry, I would not have 512 referred to that were it not that the hon. Member touched upon a point on which it is very difficult to know how to answer. He said they ought not to have employed Mr. Middleton Murry because he had been a Communist and a Pacifist. I do not call that a good argument at all. We are using, and attempting to use, on the wireless a great many who have been identified with the Communists at one time or have been prominent in the Pacifist movement. Those are just the people we want. We want them to say that they think this war is such a terrible thing that they have changed their minds.
§ Mr. Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
Mr. Middleton Murry did not say that. It would have been all right if he had.
§ Mr. Nicolson
In any case I do not admit the principle that you must refuse to use the services of a person because that person has in the past been completely opposed to war.
§ Mr. Silverman
Is it not a fact that Mr. Middleton Murry's talks contained no word about either Communism or Fascism but were directed to the particular question with which the B.B.C. asked him to deal and were directed very attractively to that purpose?
§ Mr. Nicolson
He gave six talks and I cannot pretend to have listened to more than one or two of them but he is an extremely cultured critic with a very sensitive mind and great knowledge and is very competent to deal with any literary or critical subject.
A great deal has been said in this Debate about the proportions between entertainment and talks in the B.B.C. programme, and the Minister's responsibility for the B.B.C. I think my right hon. Friend made it clear at the outset that although he was, in conjunction with the B.B.C., taking a directive part in relation to the actual talks and news and what might be called the war front of the B.B.C., he had no responsibility for the entertainment. I am sure that much of what has been said on both sides of the argument to-day will make an impression on the B.B.C. They will observe that some Members like crooning and some do not, that some consider it a relief after listening to serious and perhaps 513 rather depressing announcements to pass to lighter things, whereas others feel that to be almost an irreverence. I am sure the B.B.C. will take all those views into account and will, as always, pay great attention to them. My right hon. Friend however is not responsible for the programme side of the B.B.C. and I do not think myself that he ought to be.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) made a great point about youth organisation in the country, which should of course be used in every way possible. He also said that people's difficulties should be explained in a better way than they are explained at present. We are thinking out a course of talks on which, I am sure, my right hon. Friend would welcome suggestions from any hon. Member who has any such suggestions to make. These are to be talks between two people on air raids and on difficulties of various kinds. One is to be a simple-minded person representing the ordinary individual—possibly a housewife if we can get one who can speak well and is not nervous—to say for instance, "What I do not understand is so and so." Then another person in a pleasant voice and simple language will answer the question. Of course for this purpose we must work in the closest touch with those Ministries which are in constant contact with the home life of the people.
The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) and other hon. Members referred to broadcasts in the German language. The hon. Member said there had been references, of which I was not aware, in British and French broadcasts to the return of the late Austrian dynasty, which I admit is unfortunate. As regards the broadcasts in the German language which were touched upon at length by the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) these are being reorganised. A new and, I think, more expert supervisor, as he may be called, is being attached not to the B.B.C. but to the organisation which prepares some of the material, and there is to be given a weekly talk in German upon political subjects, by an extremely cultivated Englishman who has spent, I think, 25 years in Germany and has closely studied German psychology.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Will the hon. Gentleman say something about the suggestion of my hon. Friend that Germans should be employed for these talks?
§ Mr. Nicolson
It is a great question whether Germans should be used for this purpose or not. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has always been great controversy about whether it causes more annoyance than pleasure in these cases to hear Germans speaking on the wireless. My personal opinion is that you should always use a purely sectional German representing a definite class or interest and that it is a mistake to have a cultured German talking generally. You might have a trade unionist or someone like that, talking to his fellow trade-unionists—someone whom they will recognise and whose words may have a certain effect. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) accused my right hon. Friend of cruelty and violence in describing the Germans as barbarians. I think we must realise that although the Germans have great virtues, they have been educated into a system which renders them, in time of war, more ruthless than other races and although I agree absolutely with the hon. Member that it would be wrong and destructive of the purposes and principles for which we are fighting that the B.B.C. or the Ministry should encourage hatred, yet I do not think it would be right to encourage continuous moral indignation and there is a great distinction between the two.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there is all the difference in the world between keeping up moral indignation against acts which deserve moral indignation, and attributing those acts to the common indiscriminate responsibility of a whole people, many of whom may be as much misled about it as anybody else?
§ Mr. Nicolson
There certainly is a distinction. The hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) was the first to touch upon the question of what I may call Anglo-French propaganda, and she drew a rather gloomy picture of the doubts that were being expressed in France about our war effort. I went to France about two months ago and lectured in about 12 different places. The people whom I met in trains and on the roads all said that in the first weeks of the war there were grave doubts about this country's war effort and the Stuttgart wireless was listened to, but with the news of the first naval successes and the 515 arrival of the Royal Air Force the idea was gradually realised that certainly in the air and on the sea, we were making our maximum effort. That, of course, was before the present disaster—
§ Miss Rathbone
May I ask whether some of these magnificent stories of feats that are being performed in the air are being passed across to France?
§ Mr. Nicolson
Yes, that is what we are doing at this moment. It is all very difficult, but what we have been trying to arrangements been, not to hear from French people over here about France's war effort or to send English people to France to talk to the French people about this country's war effort, but to get English speakers to tell our country about the French war effort and French speakers to tell the French people about the British war effort. We are also very busy in the Ministry with pamphlets about France which we hope to get out shortly.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Sir W. Smiles) spoke about the Fifth Column and said that the country ought to be instructed about it. We are doing something about that, and we are trying to get the Minister at The Hague to talk on the wireless. I think that if we are allowed by the Foreign Office to do that, his talk will strike the balance which the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) thought might be upset—the balance on the one hand of having everyone as a Fifth Columnist or a parachutist who is absolutely invincible, and the balance on the other hand of complacency and thinking it is all rubbish. It would be a great pity if we allowed the necessary vigilance, alertness and anxiety that we must all feel about the Fifth Column and parachutists to border on hysteria. I was asked a very pertinent question. Has there been any change in the organisation since the episode of the Norwegian news? I can state two things about that, and say that in fact the psychological effect of the Norwegian news has eaten deep into the consciousness of the Ministry of Information. I think they have learned a great deal, and the mistake will not be made through any carelessness. In order that the actual machinery shall be better adjusted by checks and counter-checks, certain 516 liaison appointments have been made which make a repetition impossible.
The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) called me over the coals for my broadcast manner.
§ Mr. Nicolson
Well, what am I to do? Would it be more effective if I tried to talk as the Minister of Labour does, than if the Minister of Labour tried to talk as I do? It is a question of how one talks. If it is intensely irritating for the hon. Member for Burslem to listen to me, he has only to do one little thing—that is, to turn off. I am certainly not going to adopt a sham attitude on the wireless merely because the hon. Member for Burslem thinks me affected and absurd. The hon. Member for East Wolver Hampton (Mr. Mander) put, as usual, a series of very necessary and specific questions. He spoke about Members of Parliament visiting their constituencies. I think we are shortly to approach Members of Parliament with a definite request that they shall do that, but it will be in a rather specific manner. We should very much enhance and fortify the self-confidence and generally increase the prestige of air-raid wardens, which has been going down a little. The moment will come when people in constituencies will realise that the air-raid wardens are there to help them. My right hon. Friend is going to call on M.Ps. individually to take a little more trouble, when they go to their constituencies and ask them to see what is being done and to visit the wardens and say to them, "You are jolly fine people. You have had a very trying nine months, and the safety of a great many women and children lies in your hands."
Will the A.R.P. chiefs in the various cities and towns be asked to give facilities to M.P.s to carry out that kind of work, because sometimes they are an obstacle?
§ Mr. Nicolson
Yes, Sir. That is realised. The second question that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton asked was about a panel of speakers. We are getting a great many non-political, or non-House of Commons people, such as Professor Jones and that type.
§ Mr. Mander
I was speaking of the existing panel, and my criticism was directed towards some members of that panel.
§ Mr. Nicolson
Perhaps the hon. Member will let me know what he has in mind. He spoke a great deal of propaganda in the Balkans, and I can tell him that this is also being organised. The suggestion is being made, and, in fact, is urgently being considered, to send out a sort of supervisor, a man of experience and position, to supervise the whole question of public relations with the Balkans. He will have a sort of roving commission and pass from Legation to Legation. The hon. Member asked me about "Noteworthy" and hoped that I would suppress it. "Noteworthy" is dead. I was very much struck by the speeches made by so many hon. Members opposite, towards the end of the Debate, urging the need of simplicity in broadcast language. I agree absolutely. I am sure it is absolutely true that the more simplicity we can have, the better. The hon. Member for Hems worth (Mr. G. Griffiths) was also a little rude about my broadcast manner, but I do not think we need go back on that.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I do not want you to run away with the idea that it was I. It was not I who was rude; it was other people who were rude, and I told you what they said.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
Is the Minister paying any attention to the request made by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) for the broadcast to be in the morning?
§ Mr. Nicolson
Oh yes, that is a question that we shall have to take up with the regional officers and ask them for their opinion. It was a suggestion which was not agreed to by the hon. Member behind the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
It is quite true that from his point of view it might affect a few hundreds, but from our point of view, and that of the munition workers, it would affect tens of thousands.
§ Mr. Nicolson
I think it is a very good point, and I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke for having made 518 it. It will certainly be considered, although of course, it would throw extra work on to the B.B.C., but if it sent people to work less anxious, it would be worth while every time. We shall certainly do it if it is at all feasible. The hon. Member for Romford raised the question of speed. One of the reasons why the Germans may be quicker is that they do not care if they are wrong, but we wish to be more careful. He spoke of appeals in German, a thing with which I agree entirely. He attacked the British Council, somewhat unfairly, I think, because it does an enormous amount of work. He also drew attention to the inadequacy of our propaganda in China, Japan and the Far East, a subject about which at present I know nothing whatever, but I shall inform myself.
The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) really echoed the feelings of the whole Committee when he spoke of the vital importance of the maintenance of confidence. If confidenc is lost, if the great public loses confidence in the organs of information and the channels of information given them by the Government, they will have practically lost their morale. I cannot repeat too strongly how constant is the pre-occupation of the Ministry with that question and how absolutely we are convinced that, every time some announcement which is not accurate is given, it must immediately be contradicted and apologised for. Confidence is practically the most important thing the Ministry has to create—I may almost say recreate and establish more firmly than it is. That is a point which is common to us all.
The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), in his opening speech, said something which struck me as the root of all our action, namely, that in foreign propaganda we must get across not only our principles—we must not think it is out-of-date to talk of principles—but our power. At any cost—and I must say that the Treasury are being very kind to us—we must pump across the fact that our ultimate resources do render us certain to win this war. That is the propaganda which is needed now. We must at the same time, of course, keep to principles. I feel the vital importance of dissemination and organisation through regional organisations. I feel the vital importance, too, of confidence and of maintaining a high standard of truthfulness, even at the 519 risk of certain delays and of causing great impatience to newspapermen, who wait for hours and who think that other newspapermen are getting better news, and then have to be told in the end, "We are sorry we cannot give you anything." I cannot pay too high a tribute to these men for the patience they have shown to the Ministry. It is absolutely essential that we should maintain the highest standard of truthfulness that it is possible to attain, because in that way alone shall we manage to maintain morale.
I should like to thank the Committee once more for the friendly reception they have given to my right hon. Friend and to assure hon. Members that any suggestions they may have regarding the improvement of morale in their constituencies, regarding what the Ministry could do, however tiny or foolish they may seem, will be welcomed. We shall be glad, too, of any suggestion as to what people can be given to do, so that we can avoid the frustration of which one hon. Member spoke. As he said, it is not right to tell people that they must do something and not tell them what to do or to frustrate their actions when they do anything. Any suggestions about points like that, however small, will not only be considered with the greatest care, but will be welcomed with gratitude. We want every idea we can get.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. J. P. L. Thomas.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.