§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I am sure I express the general feeling of the House when I congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary of State for War on his very comprehensive survey of the magnificent work of the Home Guard, and the Government on having brought forward these very timely measures. Therefore, I am sorry to have to introduce a controversial note into this very harmonious Debate on the 2190 Motion for the Adjournment. At Question Time, however, I asked a Question which I considered to be very important, and, following the usual formula, I said that owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I felt bound to raise the issue on the Motion for the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity. This is the earliest opportunity. I think it is important that the Ministers concerned, of whom there are two, should have a chance to clear up what seems to me, and I believe to a great many other hon. Members, to be a rather unpleasant incident.
The British Broadcasting Corporation is one of the most important organisations in the country. Millions of people in this country and in the Dominions listen in not only to the B.B.C.'s news bulletins, but also to their talks on various subjects. Once people get the idea that opinion is tampered with by His Majsety's Ministers because of personal issues, a great part of the influence of the broadcast will go. If that happened it would be a disaster. No doubt there are two sides to this issue, and I want to hear the Ministers' explanations. I will, briefly, give an outline of how the matter arose. A friend of mine, Mr. Gibb, wrote an article in the "Economist," dealing with Regulation I8B. The original article was unsigned, like all the articles in the "Economist." I read the article at the time, and I was immensely impressed with the fair way in which the problem was analysed. It was not a partisan article, it stated both sides of the issue, from the point of view of the critic and from the point of view of the Minister concerned. Apparently I was not the only person who was impressed with this article, because the B.B.C. telephoned Mr. Gibb and asked him to give a broadcast talk on much the same lines as the article.
I think that the B.B.C. were justified in asking him to give a talk. Here was an issue of very great importance which the public do not understand—18B sounds very mysterious to the public, if it does not sound mysterious to Members of this House. If the B.B.C. are to keep the public informed, I think that it was their duty to try and find an impartial and responsible person to give a detached view on the issue. Mr. Gibb, who has never broadcast before, accepted, and, on 2191 5th December, feeling rather nervous over the ordeal which he had to go through, arrived at Broadcasting House, or whatever is the appropriate building. After keeping him waiting for half-an-hour— and he was to have broadcast at 9.30 p.m. —a message came through, telling him the B.B.C. were very sorry that they could not allow him to read the manuscript, which they had apparently approved.
We want to talk frankly about this question. I understand that he knew people at the Home Office, and, very rightly and properly, he got into touch with them and was accorded an interview; the usual courtesy which one expects from a Government Department was accorded to him. He was led to understand that the reason the broadcast was not allowed to take place was that the Home Secretary took exception to it. I am open to correction, because I have only heard one side, and possibly there may be some explanation. Naturally, I put down a Question to the person who I understood was the guilty party, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, not through a desire to evade responsibility, because that is not his makeup, handed the baby on to an innocent party—the Minister of Information. If my statement is correct, I think that it would have been better if the Home Secretary had dealt with the Question himself. I gather that the Minister of Information, who I understand cannot be here to-day, had no objection to the article. I gathered this from a conversation I have had with him. He took no exception either to the tone or to the character of the article, and, if it had been left to the Ministry, I understand that the broadcast would have been permitted.
I understand that the article was considered too controversial. I have it with me. It is largely historical, it analyses the law and explains its administration. The writer very fairly describes the Debate which took place in the House of Commons, and he puts the Government's point of view and the critics' point of view. A more detached and historical document I cannot visualise, except, perhaps, the Official Minutes of this House. It may be that the last sentence is a bit controversial, and I can understand exception being taken to it. But this sentence 2192 could have been "blue-pencilled." It expresses sympathy for the men who have to bear the ordeal of prison and the stigma which is attached to it.
That, or any other sentence, could have been eliminated. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] It would take a quarter of an hour to read the whole article. It is available to anyone who would like to see it, and its contents are, of course, already familiar to the Home Secretary. If it is going to be said that no broadcast is to be allowed on home affairs except by Ministers, if they are controversial, the utility of the B.B.C. as an educational organisation will largely disappear. I accept unreservedly the policy that anything that endangers National Defence or security should be censored. That is why the Government have established the right rule that articles should be submitted to the appropriate Department. If they raise the question of the number of guns or aeroplanes or the capacity of our National Defence, articles should be censored, but I believe the Prime Minister and the Government never intended that any Minister should intervene on matters which do not endanger our safety merely because a particular Minister was criticised. The Home Secretary is the last person to complain.
The very week-end after that broadcast a friend of his gave the weekly talk on "The Week in Westminster." I do not want to speak disparagingly of it, but it was fulsome praise of the right hon. Gentleman's oratory and the skilled way in which he put forward his arguments. I agree that it was a clever piece of work and that the speech was good, well argued and well reasoned. I have no objection to his having full publicity, but he is the last person to try and censor anyone who tries to give an impartial account of a discussion in the House. It strikes at the very foundation of our liberties. We are always giving lip service to liberty, freedom of speech and freedom of the Press, and I think we might in these days demand freedom in broadcasting. I am an old friend of the Home Secretary's. I have watched his career with great interest since the early days when he first came on the London County Council. I recognised his ability and capacity, but, if he wants to keep our respect, he must exercise the immense powers vested in him 2193 with more discretion and more restraint. I know that power is most intoxicating. We have seen it at work in Germany. We do not want him turned into a miniature Goebbels. We have much too high an opinion of him for that. But if, when he sees a critical document, he says, "I do not like this; I am going to stop it," his great position in the House and in his own party will be undermined, and he will lose the confidence of the country. I appreciate the terrific responsibility of his office. I have supported him on occasion after occasion, though sometimes reluctantly, because I have realised that in war-time Ministers have a terrific responsibility, and we should criticise them with discretion. Before we rise for the Christmas Recess we ought to have a full explanation of what to most of us looks like the arbitrary exercise of the great powers vested in him.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information (Mr. Thurtle)
I would like to assure the right hon. Baronet that the Minister of Information accepts full responsibility for this matter. It was our decision which caused the broadcast to be dropped. There was no question of handing over the baby. We accept the paternity of the child.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I would like to say on behalf of my right hon. Friend that he regrets very much that he is not able to be present and to deal with this matter himself. He wanted to do so, but, as the right hon. Baronet knows, he is unwell and cannot be here. Therefore, I have to act as a very inadequate substitute. The history of this matter is a very short one. The B.B.C. thought that the subject of Regulation I8B was of sufficient general public interest to warrant an impartial broadcast on it—I say "an impartial broadcast." With that in view, because Mr. Gibb was known to be interested in the matter and had written an interesting article on the subject, it was decided to approach him, and he agreed to do the broadcast. The script, I understand, was received at the B.B.C. several days before it was due to be delivered, but by some unfortunate mischance it was not brought to the attention of the Ministry of Information, as on a matter of public policy such as this it should have been, until a 2194 few hours of the time it was due to be broadcast.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I do not know the reason, but it was something to do with the mechanism of the B.B.C. When the text was brought to our attention, as I said at Question time to-day, some doubt was felt by us as to whether it was an impartial statement of the case, and it was thought right to consult the Home Secretary on the point. He expressed the view that while there could be no objection to the B.B.C. putting before the public arguments on both sides of the question in dispute by a debate between opposing speakers, the proposed talk did not give an impartial, statement and was in a material point inaccurate. Confronted with that view of the Home Secretary's, and that view coinciding with the view of my right hon. Friend, the broadcast was dropped. I do not know whether the right hon. Baronet will dispute the point as to the inaccuracy of a material point, but if so, I would like to draw his attention to the point I have in mind. The broadcast says this:The Government agree that before a man is imprisoned not only must the Minister believe but the Minister's belief must be reasonable.Then it went on to say, implying a breach of faith:Later the Government went a step further. It said the person to decide whether the Home Secretary had reason for his belief should be the Home Secretary.The implication there is—and this is a material point—that it was a change of front or a breach of faith on the part of the Government. There is no change of front whatever. It has always been the position of the Government that the Home Secretary must be the final judge as to what was reasonable or not.
§ Mr. Ernest Evans (University of Wales)
On a point of Order. The Minister is now quoting from a document. Is it not in accordance with tradition that that document should now be laid upon the Table?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The Rule to which the hon. Member refers applies only to official documents, and so far as I understand this could not possibly be described as an official document.
§ Mr. Thurtle
The right hon. Baronet says that this broadcast was impartial. What is partial and what is not is obviously a matter of opinion, and in the view of my right hon. Friend, in the view of the Home Secretary, and in the view, I may say, of the highest officials of the B.B.C.—
§ Mr. Thurtle
—this broadcast was not impartial. It has always been a rule of the B.B.C.—-there is nothing new in this —that all national matters of acute controversy, and this is one, if they are to be dealt with at all, should be dealt with by stating both sides of the question, and in the view of my right hon. Friend both sides of the question were not stated in this broadcast.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether this broadcast was to have taken place on a date subsequent to the broadcast of the "Week in Westminster,"or before it?
§ Mr. Thurtle
It was certainly subsequent to the Debate which took place in the House. I should like to clear away one false impression which possibly exists and to say that the B.B.C. is not opposed to broadcasting a discussion on this subject. It is quite ready to arrange a debate so that both sides of the question can be fairly argued, and I have no doubt at all that it would be happy to arrange that Mr. Gibb should take part in that debate.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I think I have said enough to show that the only reason why this broadcast was dropped was that it was felt not to be impartial upon a matter of acute public controversy. Had it been impartial there would have been no question whatever of having it dropped. I think that is all I can say.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
The hon. Gentleman said that the B.B.C. asked Mr. Gibb to give this broadcast. He then said it was a matter of acute public controversy. Does he mean to say that they subsequently made up their minds that they could have the matter debated by two people but that one man was incapable of making an impartial statement when they had asked him to do it?
§ Mr. Thurtle
Not at all. The B.B.C. asked Mr. Gibb to do this broadcast in the belief that he would be able to do an impartial broadcast. A study of the script showed that the broadcast was not impartial.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of Order, and further to the point of Order raised just now by the hon. and learned Gentleman. This House is being asked to consider whether an interference with a broadcast was because of the Home Secretary's objection to it or because it was not an impartial statement of the issue with which it purported to deal. This House finds it very difficult to decide that question without the document; my hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Bench on behalf of the Ministry has referred repeatedly to the document, and has said that it is not impartial. Having done that, is he not bound, under the practice and Standing Orders of this House, to produce his document, so that we may decide whether what he says about it is right or wrong?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member has not quite correctly stated the question before the House. This is a Motion for the Adjournment, no such question for decision as the hon. Member suggests is before the House. Going into the matter further, I think that the Rule as to the production of a paper refers only to something in the nature of an official paper.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker (Derby)
I have no desire in the world to embarrass the Government, but I venture to suggest to my hon. Friend who has just addressed the House that this is a matter of the very highest importance, in which the B.B.C. has a very high tradition to maintain. Broadcast discussion has become a most important matter in the life of the nation, and it is now vital that the prin- 2197 ciples established should not be sacrificed in any way. I want to put two questions to my hon. Friend. He said that the B.B.C. were obliged to consult the Minister of Information. Why? On matters of foreign broadcasting, yes; policy arises at every moment. It has led to the utmost difficulties that there is in fact divided responsibility between the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Information and the B.B.C, and I have many times pointed out to my hon. Friend, and to others who have had to deal with the Ministry of Information, the disastrous results which have followed from that divided responsibility. But why in this connection? You cannot help the enemy by anything you may say about 18B. Why was the Ministry consulted? Why did not the B.B.C. follow the practice which of course it would have followed in peace-time, and make its own decision for itself?
The second question I want to ask is this: He said that the B.B.C. has a rule —it is a very right one—that on difficult matters of national controversy both sides should be stated. The speaker was chosen because it was believed that he had taken an impartial view and would state both sides of the question. The Ministry and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary then decided that he was not stating both sides of the question. Why did they not allow him to carry on with his broadcast and have another speaker to state the other side another day? Those are the two questions to which I would like his answer. I do not consider that this is a small matter, but that a great principle is involved.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
On a point of Order. Frequent references have been made to a document. The Deputy-Speaker has said that this is not an official document. But may I respectfully submit that had this been a document that was sent in to the B.B.C. and was not handed over as just stated to the Government, it would not be an official document? Therefore, your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would have been perfectly correct, but once a document has been the subject of Government decision and consultation, I submit that it becomes an official document.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I cannot support the opinion of the hon. Member on that subject, that every document so used by 2198 a Minister of the Crown or any Government Department is an official document.
§ Mr. Bevan
With all respect to you, Sir, I would suggest that you should have waited for me to complete my speech and my submission to you. Whenever a document is quoted from by a member of the Front Bench or by a Government spokesman in the House, by that very act, in so far as the quotation or the reference to the document is intended to influence Debate, it becomes, I submit, an official document, and in my experience it has been the invariable practice of the House to insist that Debate should not be influenced by quotation from a document not available to the House. In this case the document has been made the basis of a decision, is quoted from, is referred to by the Government, has been looked at by the Home Secretary and has been made the basis of an official decision. The House cannot form an opinion whether the Government are right or wrong unless it has the same access to the document as have the Government themselves, and I submit that the document ought to be produced.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I quite appreciate the argument presented by the hon. Member, but I see no reason for any change in my Ruling. I feel sure that there are methods of bringing the document before the House, but one point is that when it is referred to in a Motion of this kind, which is really a Motion for the Adjournment of the House, it is not an appropriate time, or indeed practicable, for the House to come to any formal decision on the document. Therefore, on grounds of convenience as well as of what I am inclined to think is a correct interpretation of the Rule, I think this is not at the present moment an official document, the production of which can be enforced in the Debate.
§ Mr. Ernest Evans (University of Wales)
The hon. Member who supported the Ministry of Information is such a popular Member of the House that we are inclined to accept a statement coming from him more readily than such a statement coming from other people, but we cannot ignore the fact that the Home Secretary is sitting on the Front Bench. In view of the fact that he is here, it is important that we should ask one or two questions with a view to elucidating the 2199 facts. It is all very well for the hon. Member to say that the B.B.C. takes responsibility for the suppression of this particular broadcast, but that is not good enough for the House of Commons or for the country. We know that a man—I do not know him and never heard of him before, but he is obviously a gentleman of some distinction—was asked by the B.B.C. to broadcast upon a topic of vital interest to the very things that we are fighting for at the present time. He accepted the invitation. He prepared a document. He presented it to the B.B.C. some days before the day on which he was to broadcast. By some very peculiar set of circumstances the B.B.C. did not see the document until a few hours before he was going to broadcast.
I want to ask this question to begin with: When did the Governors of the B.B.C. first see the script of Mr. Gibb's proposed broadcast—if they ever did see it? I should be very interested to find out whether they ever did see it and, if they did see it, when.
The second question is, How long was the interval between the time when somebody, either the Governors of the B.B.C. or my hon. Friend, or the Minister of Information, saw this script, and the time when it was referred to the Home Secretary? Who is the Home Secretary, anyhow, to decide? He is the very man who is concerned. He has already got much more power than many of us think he ought to have. If, in addition to the powers, the tremendous powers, practically uncontrolled powers, which he has— this is the only place where we can challenge him—he has also the right to tell his hon. Friend or the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Information or the Governors of the B.B.C, "You must not allow that to go, it is criticising me," well, where are we?
My right hon. Friend paid a great tribute to the Home Secretary. He knows him; I do not. Speaking without that intimate knowledge which my right hon. Friend has of the Home Secretary, I quite frankly say that I have not the confidence in him that my right hon. Friend has. I think he is acting in a way which is against the interests of the country, that he is undermining the confidence of this country in the way he is running the Home Office. It is about time somebody 2200 said that. It is certainly about time we stopped him from interfering with the Ministry of Information. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I was angling for that. I was wondering whether he Would challenge that statement. I say that he interfered with the discretion of the Ministry of Information with regard to this particular question.
§ Mr. Thurtle
If the hon. and learned Member will forgive me, I think he is wrong there. What happened was that we asked the Home Secretary's advice.
§ Mr. Evans
Do not let us quarrel about whether I used the wrong expression. If I did use the wrong expression, I am sorry, and I withdraw it. As I see the position, it is, that a gentleman was asked by the B.B.C. to broadcast. He prepared his broadcast, he submitted it to the B.B.C. and, as far as I can see, for about two or three days they did not discover anything objectionable in it. Would the hon. Gentleman like to contradict me on that?
§ Mr. Thurtle
The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. The B.B.C. is one place; the Ministry of Information is another, and the right hon. Gentleman did not see the script until about four hours before it was to be broadcast.
§ Mr. Evans
Do not let us quarrel about that. The script was delivered, and the B.B.C, or the Ministry of Information, or both, did not object to that script until some time after receiving it. Somebody thought, "There is one paragraph in this thing that we do not like, and, before we allow it to be delivered, we are going to consult the Home Secretary." Then the Home Secretary said, "I do not like the particular sentence, or sentences"; and it was then turned down. The great question of principle is, Why should the Home Secretary have the right to refuse to allow to be published to the people of this country a matter of vital principle in which the country takes a great interest? I do not think it is right that the Government should have such control over the 2201 B.B.C. or the Ministry of Information, whatever you like to call it, so that they can keep away from the people of this country a statement by a fair-minded man on a question of great principle, which affects our people.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
I think this incident must be considered in relation to the events which followed the Debate on Regulation 18B in this House a little while ago. I think that anyone who read the papers the following day, with one or two exceptions, or who heard the news broadcast by the B.B.C. that night, would agree that the view presented to the public by the B.B.C. and the Press of what took place in the Debate was a complete travesty of what actually occurred in the House of Commons. The public were not allowed to know the argument put forward by Members who took part in the Debate; and, as my hon. Friend opposite said, the space given in the Press erred on the side of giving the Home Secretary and those who supported him tremendous publicity, and of denying publicity to those who criticised the working of 18B. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information made great play with the word "impartial." He said that it was essential that the public should have the views expressed about 18B put to it impartially. The B.B.C. certainly was partial. It did not pretend to give any of the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) and myself and others in this House. Then occurred the "Week in Westminster" broadcast, by a friend of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. Anybody who heard, or read the script of, that broadcast would be bound to say that it was about as partial a statement as could be put over the air. It denied to the public the right to hear one side of the case which was put, because it did not suit the Home Secretary to have that side of the case put.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
There is a rumour going about that the friend of the Home Secretary was a Member of this House, who was asked to broadcast as a Member of this House.
§ Sir A. Southby
The Noble Lord is quite correct. "The Week in Westminster" broadcast was given by a Member of this House. I am only saying that his broad- 2202 cast was about the most partial one that could be put over the ether on the subject of 18B. It, quite rightly, lauded the great qualities of the Home Secretary. We would all pay tribute to his great qualities. But the broadcast did not allow the people to know the truth about the arguments levelled against 18B. NOW comes a completely impartial gentleman who has submitted a script at the request of the B.B.C, and, because that script contains something which the Home Secretary did not like, not because it was something that would injure the country, but because it did not suit the Home Secretary to allow anybody to bring any argument against 18B to the notice of his fellow-countrymen, that script was turned down. Why does the Home Secretary exercise censorship over the B.B.C? We have not been told whether the Governors of the B.B.C. read the script and exercised their judgment about it. We have been told that they went to the Home Secretary for advice. Did they ever intend not to take that advice? If the Governors of the B.B.C. ever had the script submitted to them, did they approve of it, or disapprove of it? The fact remains the script contained an argument on Regulation 18B which did not commend itself to the right hon. Gentleman and therefore he used his position as Home Secretary to prevent it from being given over the air.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
It seems to me that the attack is, to some extent, being directed at the wrong quarter. I have listened to the Debate very carefully and it does not seem to me that the Home Secretary is in the dock. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) seemed to put the position in the right perspective. If I were the Minister and it was intended to broadcast something about me, and the authority responsible for making the broadcast said to me: "Do you like this?" and there was something in it which attacked me, I would, of course, say, "I do not like it." If it were something that was not praising me, I would disapprove of it. It is natural, if a broadcast is to be made on a very delicate subject like Regulation 18B and the Home Secretary is asked, "What do you think about this?" for him to say, "I think it ought not to be made."
I do not understand that the Home Secretary has been exercising a censorship over the B.B.C; he has no power to 2203 do so. The Home Secretary has no power to say that a thing should not be broadcast by the B.B.C. I understand all that happened was that a document was sent to the B.B.C, and from the B.B.C. to the Ministry of Information, who said: "We think we ought to ask the Home Secretary about this," and the Home Secretary, being an ordinary common or garden individual, said "I do not like it." It seems to me unreasonable to attack the Home Secretary because he said to the Ministry of Information, "If I were the Ministry of Information I would not broadcast this document." Therefore, I believe that we are aiming at the wrong target. I suspect that the Home Secretary would use all his persuasion to try to prevent a broadcast anti-pathetic to himself. Knowing the Home Secretary as I do, I think he would exercise all his ability and charm to prevent that from being done. Obviously, in such circumstances he is not being asked as a Minister. He has not the power. You cannot find in any Statute that the Home Secretary has power to prevent a broadcast. He has no powers except those conferred upon him by this House. He was asked for his advice. He ought never to have been asked.
The evil part of this business is not any statement by the Home Secretary but the fact that the Government have degenerated so far as to become a little caucus communicating between themselves against the public interest. That is the evil. An atmosphere has grown up between Ministers, and you have here a little close conspiracy of Ministers of the Crown without any sense of public interest who derogate from democratic institutions for the sake of their own private reputations. It is not the Home Secretary. We ourselves are as much responsible for this as anybody. We have allowed Ministers for the last two years to have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. We have allowed them to get away with things they ought never to have been allowed to get away with. Plutarch has said:When a man's powers are equal to his passions, he becomes a tyrant.The right hon. Gentleman has become irresponsible, because he has not been sufficiently kicked in this House. If he had been restrained more, he would have been a better man. No matter what a 2204 man's abilities and capacities are, he ought not to be allowed to exercise unrestrained power. Therefore, I say that the House has been aiming at the wrong target. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information what business the Ministry had to ask the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Thurtle
Our view of this proposed broadcast, as I have said before, was that we thought it was a partial judgment of a matter which was somewhat technical, and, therefore, we thought we had the right to consult, and obtain the advice of someone who might be considered an expert on this issue. We consulted the Home Secretary. We were under no obligation to accept his advice.
§ Mr. Bevan
I accept the hon. Gentleman's statement. Of course there was no obligation to accept the advice, but there is nothing technical about this matter at all. This is a principle of public policy which has been argued in the newspapers of this country and in this House on many occasions. The hon. Gentleman is using language that he knows he ought not to use. What happened was that you had a sort of bakehouse gossip about it, and it was said, "We do not think we ought to allow this to be broadcast, because it might hurt the feelings of another Minister. We will ask if it should be done." This sort of thing illuminates the atmosphere that exists in Government Departments. We know that this sort of thing has happened on more than one occasion. We know that the broadcast "The Week in Westminster" is never done by anybody except those who favour the Government. You are always impartial if you praise the Government, and partial if you attack the Government.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the Ministry of Information would have taken the same trouble if a private individual had been concerned?
§ Mr. Bevan
Of course not. This is the camaraderie of a number of Ministers, who are using powers conferred upon them by the House of Commons to protect each other's reputations. That is the evil of this situation. The hon. Gentleman says this document was sent to the Home Secretary and he says that the Minister was responsible for saying whether or 2205 not they had the right decision, having received the Home Secretary's advice. But we are in no position to judge whether they were right or wrong.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
It is very difficult for the House to debate this subject without knowing the terms of the document. It would clear the atmosphere if it were read out.
§ Mr. Bevan
That is why I raised this matter. The hon. Gentleman opposite stated that he accepted the advice of the Home Secretary that this was an improper statement to broadcast. We are in no position to judge whether that was so or otherwise. [Interruption.] I have come to the Home Secretary's defence. So far, I have put up the only defence he has. What I do know is that he has shown no enthusiasm to speak in his own defence—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
Does the hon. Gentleman imply that I am afraid to answer him? If so, there is no justification for a statement of that kind.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt have his opportunity. All I can say is that whenever I am in an argument with him in the House, he always makes me feel like a bully. The right hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity in a few moments. I say that, not having heard the document read, we now have to accept the position that the Ministry of Information decided not to allow the broadcast because a paragraph in the document was improper. But I understand that it is quite usual for the B.B.C., if exception is taken to the use of certain words, to ask the broadcaster to amend his script. Was that done?
§ Mr. Thurtle
There was the time factor involved. I have already said the document was received four hours before it was due to be broadcast. There was no time to effect any emendations or anything else. This statement of fact was one of the factors. It was not the only factor. The document was tendentiously partial as well.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Gentleman now says that it was tendentiously partial as well. Obviously the House can no longer discuss this matter intelligently without having the whole document. The hon. Gentleman says there was no time. I have a good many very close personal friends who broadcast, and I know that broadcasts can be altered in the last five minutes. The fact is that the hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense, and knows that he is talking nonsense. He is stonewalling, and is a very bad stone-waller. His wickets are spread on the ground. The gentleman referred to was at the B.B.C. for a quarter of an hour. The consultation with the Home Secretary had taken place long before that. There was ample time for any emendations to be made. But we know now that no emendation could be made because objection was taken to the whole document. It was tendentious; in other words, it did not butter up the Government. No document can ever be produced for the B.B.C. which does not butter up the Government. The fact of the matter is that this one incident discloses a most disgraceful state of affairs. We have rarely an opportunity of considering instances of this sort. This instance discloses an atmosphere which is obscene. When a huge broadcasting instrument like the B.B.C. can be made the subject of sordid conspiracies of this sort, it is a very bad state of affairs. I suggest that we ought not to come to final conclusions on this matter, except such conclusions as are disclosed from the evidence we have, until we see the full text of the document. I hope that in the interests of the good name of this country and the B.B.C, we shall not have a repetition of this misbehaviour.
§ Lieutenant Butcher (Holland with Boston)
I feel that the right hon. Baronet has placed us under a deep sense of gratitude for raising this important matter. As I listen to this Debate, I find that I am unable to agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that the Debate has centered on the wrong Minister. After all, this Question was originally put to the Home Secretary, and it was passed on by him to the Ministry of Information. I see no reason why that should have been done. It seems to me that in the absence of the document it is very difficult to come to a conclusion. When a document is presented to the 2207 B.B.C., surely the B.B.C. have two tasks. First, they have to see that it is the kind of document for which they asked, or, in other words, an impartial resumé of the question of Regulation 18B, and, second, whether it infringes questions of national security. Upon both of these points, they should have been able to reach a decision of their own without any consultation with the Ministry of Information. Obviously, they must exercise their judgment on these two points on many hundreds of documents during the course of their normal work. Instead of that, the matter is referred to the Ministry of Information. Surely the Ministry is able of itself to come to some conclusion. But the Ministry referred the matter to the Home Secretary. I am bound to say that if anyone referred to me a matter in which I was not concerned, I would say, "This is your job. You cannot expect me to express any opinion." We find that the Home Secretary made representations to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Information, and they forbade the B.B.C. to publish these facts.
This Debate has contained a good many tributes to the Home Secretary, and I am not going to join in those tributes. I think that he is a thoroughly unsatisfactory Minister. On a previous occasion, when Regulation 18B was under discussion, it was the Prime Minister who came down, discussed and answered the case raised in this House. I also bear in mind that on an occasion when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) raised this matter, the Home Secretary challenged a Division, and those of us who support the Government were unable to divide the House. I hope that before this Debate ends we shall have an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to the right hon. Baronet for raising this matter. I apologise for detaining the House, but I am bound to say that the Minister of Home Security is a thoroughly dangerous Minister to the country at the present time.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
A good many comments have been made in the course of this Debate on the fact that it is difficult for the House to express an opinion because they have not seen the 2208 document concerned. I hold the document in my hand, and, if the House wish it, I am prepared to read it. I warn the House that there are five pages, and I do not wish them to complain if they find it somewhat lengthy. I think that it would be fairer to the Home Secretary and all concerned if the actual words were read out. As I say, if the House wishes it, I am ready to read the document.
§ Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing)
Would the House be in a position to judge a document of five closely typewritten pages, merely because it is read at this hour?
§ REGULATION 18B.
§ "Last Wednesday the House of Commons debated what is known as Regulation I8B. That Regulation is part of the arrangements made for the defence of our common safety against hostile action in this country, and it gives power to the Home Secretary to imprison without trial any persons who may in his view have certain dangerous tendencies. It has aroused great public interest, and in the House of Commons there was a sharp division of opinion which cut across the ordinary lines of party politics. Over much of the field covered by the Debate there is general agreement. There's a good deal of common ground. It is common ground that the safety of the Realm is paramount. It is common ground that the ordinary process of law will not protect us against this particular danger. In peace-time the law comes in after a wrong has been done and punishes the wrong-doer or sets the wrong right.
§ In times of war we can't afford to wait. We must anticipate and prevent, and for that purpose the ordinary law just will not work. If a crisis came on us suddenly and a bunch of fifth columnists seized a wireless station or invaded an aerodrome, you could not go to the county court and get an order for possession or send a squad of police to arrest the men and bring them to the Old Bailey. We must anticipate, and that means that we must act on suspicion. On the other hand, it is common ground that imprisonment on suspicion is a hateful business and that, so long as the safety of the realm is protected, the right to imprisonment should be hedged about with all possible safeguards. That, I think, is as far as general agreement goes, and at this point the two lines of thought diverge. But before we come to them let us go back to the birth of 18B, and see something of its life story. It came before the House first in October, 1939, and it said then that if the Home Secretary were satisfied that a man should be detained, then he could be detained. The House did not like it and pointed out that, if a Minister could act like this just because he was satisfied, then he had complete power over the liberty of every British subject. The Government promised, in deference to this criticism, to submit the regula- 2209 tion to a small committee and have it redrafted. It was re-drafted and it appeared in a different form. It is now said that, if the Home Secretary had reasonable cause to believe a man to be dangerous; he might detain him. The Government agreed that before a man is imprisoned, not only must the Minister believe but the Minister's belief must be reasonable. And later on the Government went a step further. It said that the person to decide whether the Home Secretary had reasonable cause for his belief should be the Home Secretary, so if the mind of the Home Secretary can be convinced by the arguments of the Home Secretary that the beliefs entertained by the Home Secretary is reasonable, then it is reasonable. But not otherwise. To us laymen that sounds perhaps rather like a dog subsisting on its own tail, but to lawyers it presents no difficulty, and out of II judges who have given judgment on the Clause, 10 uphold the Government's interpretation and only one, Lord Atkins in the Lords, has dissented. Now let us come back to Wednesday's Debate. The essence of the critic's case is that the Regulation put into one man's hands a power which no one man ought to exercise. That, say the critics, is not personal to Mr. Morrison. Whoever holds his office, if Solomon in all his wisdom held the office, it would still be wrong to let him sign away the liberty of his fellow subjects behind a barricade of secrecy and on the strength of his own opinion. The Government's reply is that the man can appeal. As soon as he is detained he is told of an advisory committee to which he can go and put a case for his release. The Committee has been chosen with great care and its Chairman is Mr. Justice Birkett. It gives every applicant a most patient hearing and, if it feels that the man is not doing himself justice, it often says to him, "Are you sure there is nothing else you would like to tell us?" or, 'Would you like us to adjourn so that you can think about it, and in case you think of something else come back? ' It is quite true that the Committee sits in secret and that its findings are not published. It is true that the public never knows whether Mr. X satisfied the Committee and got a recommendation or not. But this secrecy is essential. We cannot disclose our sources of information or bring our witnesses into the open. If we did, the sources might dry up and the witnesses refuse to testify. Without secrecy we cannot protect the safety of the country and we can do no more than appoint a competent committee and give it the right to advise as it thinks proper.
§ The answer the critics make to the Government is this. We do not know much about the working of the Committee, but we do know that the man comes before it without being told what the detailed charges against him are. He does not know who has given evidence against him. He does not see the witnesses. He cannot cross-examine. He is not allowed a lawyer to appear for him. He has only his own advocacy to give his own reply to an unknown case supported by hidden witnesses. And if, weighed down with these handicaps, he still manages to persuade the Committee, what happens then? The Committee, no matter how strongly it feels, has no power. It has only the right to advise. 2210 It may say to the Home Secretary, 'We do not think this man is dangerous. We think you could safely release him.' But the Home Secretary need not take the slightest notice of the advice. If he believes the man is dangerous, that is his belief and, naturally, he thinks it reasonable, and he would not be breaking the law if he pitched the Committee's recommendation straight into the waste paper basket. Actually we do know that in over 100 cases the Home Secretary has gone contrary to the Committee's advice and whenever he prefers his own opinion he is bound by the Regulation to follow it in preference to theirs. He does not, in fact, claim ever to have accepted the Committee's view in preference to his own. What we want is an independent tribunal which will have something more than the right to advise. We want a body with power to detain and release—a body which (unlike the Home Secretary) will be free from police influence, free of the Security Department, and free of the Civil Service.
§ Now for the Government's come-back to that. If you mean (they say) that the Advisory Committee is valueless because it is only advisory you're much mistaken. In 90 per cent. of the cases the Home Secretary has followed the advice of the Committee and when he differs it is on policy, not on fact. And this tribunal of yours, by which you set such store, how is it going to function? A tribunal is a judicial body which needs to be satisfied of a man's guilt. The whole tradition of our courts is that a man is innocent till he is proved guilty. But in dealing with these 18B men we are not concerned with guilt or innocence. We are concerned only with suspicion. All the ordinary rules of the court go by the board and if there is reasonable cause to believe that he is likely to stab the country in the back, we as the Executive insist on detaining him. The detention is ah executive act, not a judicial one, and even in the man's own interest it is much better that the responsibility should rest on the Home Secretary who can be called to account. If he abuses his powers, Members of Parliament can challenge him on the floor of the House. But they couldn't challenge your independent tribunal, and you are much more likely to get justice done if you leave the power where it is—in the hands of a responsible Minister.
§ To that argument the critics reply that the Government is knocking down one Aunt Sally they never put up. We never asked (they say) for a tribunal which will work on the ordinary rules of evidence and when the tribunal is formed you can tell it that these rules don't apply. Make it clear that its job is not to find out whether a crime has been committed, but whether there is reasonable ground for suspicion. Let it sit in secret, if you like, and let it have only such evidence as can safely be produced. But let the prisoner have his case put by Counsel and then if Counsel can't persuade the tribunal that there is reasonable cause for his release, the tribunal can send him back to Brixton Gaol. And as regards the argument about M.P.s challenging the Home Secretary our reply in un-parliamentary language is thank you for nothing. You keep everything secret—you don't tell us what the man has done, what the case against him 2211 is, who the witnesses against him are, what they said or what the Advisory Committee recommended. We don't know whether you accepted its recommendation or turned it down. All that is kept from us and then you ask us to challenge you in the House and prove that your belief is unreasonable. Here I am, you say. Hit me. Hit me when and how you like. But before the hitting starts I claim the right to fix a bandage tightly round my opponent's eyes.
§ Well that is a rough but I hope a reasonably fair summary of the argument on the two sides. And now, there is one word of my own I would like to add. Very often the worst part of a man's punishment begins when he leaves prison, and with the stigma of prison on him faces the world and meets his old acquaintances. That is a terrible ordeal. Among the ' men detained on suspicion under 18B there are doubtless many who are traitors at heart, but it is probable that there are others who may be wrongheaded and perverse, but have not an ounce of real treachery in them. But all of them—traitors and non-traitors alike— must sooner or later face the ordeal of the prison stigma. And for the sake of those who are not guilty, for the sake of their wives and children, I would ask you not to forget that although they are in prison they are not technically being punished. Remember that they have never been charged, never been tried and never been convicted."
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that it was a great mistake to introduce the Home Secretary into this Debate. Having heard this document, I say that if I had been in charge of the B.B.C. or the Ministry of Information, I should have felt that it was quite unnecessary to consult the Home Secretary or anyone else about whether it was an impartial or a partial statement of the case. There is a sneer in every line of the document. Nobody could listen to it without feeling there was a sneer at the Government in every line.
§ Earl Winterton
Is the hon. Member speaking on behalf of the Government as a Parliamentary Private Secretary?
§ Mr. Woodburn
If the right hon. Gentleman had studied the document issued by the Prime Minister, he would have learned that Parliamentary Private Secretaries are left with the full liberties of Members of the House and can exercise those liberties when they are not dealing with their own particular office. I am speaking as a Member of this House. It is through no aspiring of mine that I am a Parliamentary Private Secretary. 2212 There were other reasons, but I am speaking as a Member of this House, and I have a right to do so, in spite of the Noble Lord's wishes in the matter. That document is an indictment and not an impartial summary of any Debate. I think it right that the case should be put for both sides; I am not in the slightest disagreement with the case being put against Regulation 18B. I am not discussing the merits of 18B. There may be a great many arguments against the Home Secretary in regard to I8B, but it would have been extremely undesirable if the B.B.C had been used to "put across" a document couched in the language in which that document is couched. Therefore, I think the criticism, if there is any criticism, is against the Ministry of Information and the B.B.C. for not making their own decisions on the evidence in front of them and for consulting the Home Secretary or involving anybody else at all. The Minister representing the B.B.C. would then have come before this House and been responsible for its judgment. This House has a right to say whether in its opinion the Minister's judgment is correct or incorrect. We may differ. It is a matter of opinion. I have my opinion about the document, other Members have theirs, and the Ministry may have theirs.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The Minister is entitled to his opinion, this House is entitled to its opinion, and even if I were speaking for the Government, I would still be entitled to state my opinion. No Member of this House is debarred from doing that, and the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. Thomas), when he has been here a little longer, will, I think, learn that.
§ Mr. Woodburn
A Member is entitled to courtesy from other Members. I have always shown courtesy to other Members, and I expect it from them, and these gibes at a Member who happens to serve in an inconspicuous and very modest way in the war effort—so far as I am permitted to do so—are extremely uncalled for and extremely undesirable. It departs from the issues before us, which are 2213 matters of fact. It is not a question of what I am or of what are my opinions. On the document as read, I say definitely that the B.B.C. ought to have made up its mind that it was unsuitable matter for broadcasting. On the face of the evidence contained in the document, it was an unsavoury and insinuating description of a Debate. I guarantee that any Member of this House could, if he cared, by using certain inflections of language in reading that document as a broadcast, make out a case, not for the Home Secretary, but for setting free people who are not innocent. As a matter of fact, in its later terms the document insinuates that with the exception of a few people all those who were interned in the Isle of Man were innocent.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am prepared to quote the words. It definitely creates the impression that the Home Secretary has imprisoned innocent people, although there might be an odd one or two who would be fifth columnists. I therefore say the criticism is against the B.B.C. I think the Ministry of Information should not have officially consulted the Home Office, and if it did consult the Home Office or any other Department, it should not have brought that before the House as any reason for prohibiting the broadcast. The Ministry should have come before the House and said frankly, "We made our decision that this was an unsuitable broadcast, and we are prepared to stand by that and defend it." It is extremely reprehensible that this Debate should have been spread over several offices, and that the Ministry of Information should not have stood by its decision without involving other Departments.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
The House is indebted to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) for having read the script of the proposed broadcast, which script was submitted to the British Broadcasting Corporation by the gentleman who was to have delivered it. I think the hon. Member read it with very great care and in a tone of voice which, I thought, put it in an impartial way.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, and I think my hon. Friend succeeded. I hope I shall have 2214 the pleasure of hearing that pleasant voice speaking one day from the B.B.C. The present discussion has arisen, as the right hon. Baronet for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has said, from the Question which was put in the House to-day. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information has put the case for the Ministry clearly and fairly. After listening to what he said, and from what I know, I should like to tell the House the series of events, as I understand it. It is well that it should be shortly recapitulated.
The British Broadcasting Corporation, or someone there, thought that it would be a good thing if an impartial statement in regard to the I8B controversy were broadcast. Now one of the most difficult things in the world is for anybody who is keenly interested in any subject, as this gentleman obviously is, to be impartial. I freely admit that it would be equally difficult for me, being naturally interested keenly in that subject, to be impartial. Some people can do it better than others. I have no doubt that the gentleman concerned made every effort to be impartial, but it must be remembered that the whole basis of the invitation of the B.B.C. so I understand, was that the broadcast should be an impartial statement of the case. The House has heard the recital of the script, which now appears to have been written by the same gentleman who signed an article "By a correspondent" in the "Economist." I read that article. I have no reason to quarrel with the "Economist" because, on that matter, the "Economist" editorial did, generally, support my view regarding I8B. They published a signed article by the correspondent, and it has been argued that the article was also impartial. I read the article and I am bound to say that I did not think it was impartial. In a material particular, although not in all particulars, it was inaccurate.
As one who is as entitled to his opinion as any other of the hon. Members who are now in the House, I suggest that it would be wise for us to read the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow. Whatever may be said as to the merits of the proposed broadcast, if it is appropriate that I should say anything, it would have been essentially a partial broadcast. In at least one particular it is grossly inaccurate as to the history of the matter. I am 2215 entitled to that opinion, and indeed the fact that it was partial came out in the course of the recital by our hon. Friend, because the partiality of some of the remarks was enjoyed very much by hon. Members who have held certain views for a long time. [Interruption.] I hope my hon. Friend is not going to be intolerant. I hope he will not object to my stating my point of view. The fact that there was enjoyment, and even applause, at some of the observations was an indication that they were appealing to a certain point of view which is strongly held by some hon. Members at the moment in this assembly.
§ Earl Winterton
May I ask a question about that? I did not wish to take part in this controversy, but the right hon. Gentleman has just made so startling a statement—so illogical and inconsistent a statement—that I can hardly believe he made it. This document was read out, and some hon. Gentlemen who take a strong view cheered some of the comments which were made. Does the fact that they cheered the presentation of their own case, show that the document, in itself, was partial? What does he mean?
§ Mr. Morrison
My point is that a document is read out which it has been argued by the opener of the Debate, is an impartial statement of the case. I said in my observations that in my judgment it is not impartial, and I felt that there was evidence contributory to that view in the way in which parts of that document were cheered. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is my view.
§ Mr. Morrison
I should not go to my hon. Friend for an impartial weighing of evidence. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and the document can be read in cold print to-morrow morning in the OFFICIAL REPORT. My view is that that statement, whatever the intentions were— and I do not question the intentions— was essentially a partial argument, even allowing for the fact that the author did seek, in certain paragraphs, to put the view of the Government. I am bound to say that I do not think he was particularly successful in stating the views of the Government, but he did state very 2216 fully the views of the critics of the Government and finished with criticism by himself. That is the first point with which I am concerned. He was invited to make the broadcast on the basis of impartiality. He then went to the British Broadcasting Corporation, for which, of course, I am in no way responsible. The Minister of Information is answerable in this House for the B.B.C., and I am bound to say that he has a difficult life sometimes because of the varying points of view which some hon. Members take about the good or bad deeds of his Department.
To-day it is argued by some hon. Members that the Minister of Information ought not to interfere with the B.B.C. But only a few weeks ago the unhappy B.B.C., and the not very unhappy Minister of Information—although he would be unhappy if he let these things get on his nerves—were being very strongly criticised because Mr. Christopher Stone was permitted by the B.B.C. to send birthday greetings to the King of Italy. There have also been other questions in this House as to why the B.B.C. did so and so, and why did the Minister permit it. To-day we have the opposite argument—and it is curious how these opposite arguments usually come from the same familiar quarters on both sides of the House—that the B.B.C. ought not to be interfered with. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] That is, in principle, the argument that has been made.
§ Mr. Morrison
If it is held, as it has been held in time of war, and in time of peace when the Postmaster-General was answerable for the B.B.C, that somebody has to be answerable to this House for the deeds, right or wrong, of the B.B.C, then by that very fact there must be a right of Ministerial intervention. The next question is, who is the Minister who should intervene? That Minister is the Minister of Information, and, broadly, the B.B.C. is responsible to him. He, speaking broadly but not meticulously, is responsible for the administration of the B.B.C. to this House. At any rate he is the channel through which criticisms and complaints can be made and answers given. The manuscript went to the B. B.C. The Corporation on their own volition had invited the broadcast. According to my hon. Friend, there was 2217 delay in the B.B.C. for which, I have no doubt, he is sorry. I know I am, too, because otherwise there would have been more time for consideration of this matter. At a certain time, some hours before the broadcast was to be made, the appropriate B.B.C. official queried it, and sent it to the Minister of Information, evidently on the basis that he himself having read it, had some doubt about it [Interruption.] Clearly, if he had no doubt about it, he had no occasion to submit it to the Ministry.
§ Mr. Silverman
I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that there was some mischance which resulted in the document not being sent to the Minister of Information for three or four days. From that, I gather that the normal practice of the B.B.C. where a matter of public policy is under discussion, is to send it to the Ministry of Information, not because there is any question or doubt, but because it is the normal course? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information indicated that that ought to have been done three or four days before, and that, by accident, it was not done.
§ Mr. Morrison
We are both right. I think the hon. Member has put it quite accurately, that where a question of public policy arises, it is the usual routine that the Ministry of Information is consulted. It is equally true that it is always the case if public policy is involved and there are elements of doubt, that there is discussion as to whether the broadcast is quite as it ought to be. It is the case that there was delay in sending it to the Ministry of Information and it did not get there until some hours before it was due to be broadcast.
§ Mr. Silverman
The Minister said he presumed from the fact that the B.B.C. submitted it to the Ministry of Information, that the B.B.C. reader himself entertained doubts about this specific broadcast. That is the presumption which he told us he himself had drawn.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not see that there is a great deal in the point in any case, because the reason it goes to the Ministry is that there are elements in such broadcasts of disputable public policy, on which Ministerial advice or guidance or, if necessary, direction should be given. The Ministry of Information, in their discretion, 2218 asked for the opinion—for the views—of the Home Secretary. I think they were entitled to do so as mine was the proper Department. Let me put it to the right' hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green that these things have happened in peace time. Evidently the view was taken at the Ministry of Information that this was not impartial, that it was a partial document; they had great doubts about it and they came to us for advice. This kind of argument has arisen before the war as well as during the war. Someone has broadcast a political speech, and at once there has been great criticism from political opponents of that kind of speech, that either it should not have been made at all or that it should not have been made without an opportunity for reply. Suppose there was to be a broadcast on the merits of the Liberal party and of its policy. Suppose a man said that he would speak on that subject and that he would be non-controversial. It would be quite normal, I suggest, for either the B.B.C. or the Ministry of Information to say to my right hon. Friend, "This is something about which there is a lot of bother; would you look at it, and see whether it is impartial?" Clearly, if it was controversial, my right hon. Friend would demand the right to reply.
I suggest that on such a highly controversial matter—and there are few subjects which have been more controversial for some time than this particular Regulation—there are two things which could have been done. One was to find an absolutely impartial statement of the issues. If that were done, I should not have had anything to say by way of comment; and I do not suppose that anyone else would. But if you did not succeed in doing that, the obvious thing would be to give the other side the right to reply. The Ministry of Information asked what was our view. We did not give a decision. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) has charged me with interfering with the B.B.C. and with the Ministry of Information. He was quite wrong, and he should have known it, because my hon. Friend made it perfectly clear, both at Question time and now, that the decision was with the Ministry of Information, and not with the Home Office. But, our opinion being sought, we gave it. I tried to be as fair and impartial as I could. Perhaps I did not succeed. 2219 I am not so confident of my impartiality on a highly controversial issue as some other hon. Members are. My hon. Friend said that I did not like the broadcast and, therefore, I expressed a view against it. I did nothing of the kind. I said that, in my view, it was a partial statement, and that, therefore, I thought that the fair thing to do was either, if possible, to have it made impartial or to have another broadcast commenting on this one, to balance the thing up. That was a view that I was perfectly entitled to express.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think I was. I expressed that view without heat, without anger; and it was the job of the Ministry of Information to decide. They could have disagreed, because all the power is with the Minister of Information. He could have said, "I reject the view of the Home Secretary, and I think the broadcast should proceed"; and it would then have proceeded.
§ Mr. Morrison
My hon. Friend should be perfectly serious. He knows that nothing of the kind would happen.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think I am entitled to be asked, because mine is the State Department concerned with this Regulation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not see anything remarkable in that point of view. In any case, I was asked for my opinion and I gave it.
§ Mr. E. Evans
The right hon. Gentleman has attributed to me something that I did not say. I did not complain about the right hon. Gentleman being consulted, but I asked when he was consulted. It 2220 is no use attributing to me things I have never said.
§ Mr. Morrison
It is all on the record—I hope correctly. My hon. and learned Friend said that I had interfered with the Ministry of Information. He clearly implied that this decision was my decision. He ought not to run away from the statement he made. Let him withdraw it by all means, but he ought not to run away from it. The decision was properly the decision of the Minister concerned, and that Minister was free to disagree with me. It is implied further that the Minister of Information was acting in a spirit of camaraderie with me in this matter—that it was a case of one Minister helping another out of a hole. I was not in a hole. Would the world have come to an end if this broadcast had been delivered? Would the world come to an end if many other matters in this House were discussed in one way or another? There are heaps of things that come before Ministers which are not going to involve the continuance or discontinuance of the world. Ministers have, however, to face the questions that are put day by day in this House or otherwise, and they have to be answered, and this was one which was answered.
The Minister took the view that it would be wrong for that broadcast to proceed. If the alternative argument is pleaded that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information was afraid to disagree with the Home Secretary, then any one who knows the right hon. Gentleman will know that he is not afraid to disagree with anybody. He was for a long time a private Member of this House before he was a Minister and everybody knows that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Information had opinions of his own and was never afraid to express them and that if he disagreed with other opinions he would disagree and act accordingly, as he was entitled to do. I could have discussed the matter depart-mentally with him or have taken it higher up if I had thought it worth while. In the absence of my right hon. Friend— because of temporary sickness which we all regret—I wish to say that he himself had requested that this Debate should take place later, so that he could be present, and I am sure that he would not be afraid to disagree with the Home Secretary. I really think that a mountain has been made out of a molehill in this busi- 2221 ness. There was at the beginning of the Debate and at Question time a sort of feeling that the whole freedom of the British people, the British Broadcasting Corporation and the British Press was coming to an end, as a result of the wicked activities of the present Home Secretary. Too much has been made of this matter. It is not such a vital matter as all that, despite the fact that some hon. Members have some strong views on Regulation 18B and some, not all those who have taken part in the Debate, will use every opportunity to discuss anything regarding it.
§ Mr. Morrison
No, not in the least. I am only pointing out the angle that certain Members have upon the matter. This is not material but it was said, in Debate, that following the recent Parliamentary Debate I was well reported in the newspapers and that the critics were not. I am not responsible for that, as I think the House will agree. In any case, the speeches of the hon. Member for Graves-end (Sir I. Albery) and the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) were well reported and weeks before that Debate began I was being chased in the country by representatives of a number of newspapers including certain papers of a Socialistic character who were very critical on this Regulation. You cannot always have your own way in the Press. There was a Liberal newspaper in the North saying almost every day quite untruly that the Defence Regulation had been so amended and that the Government meant that there would be an appeal to the courts. To say that the Government have had favourable and preferential treatment at the hands of the Press is not quite the case. It is not usual for a Government to get preferential treatment from the Press who rather like to criticise the Government, and it is not true that we have had preferential treatment from the B.B.C. I am sorry to say that I did not hear the broadcast of my hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley). It has been implied that he went out of his way to be very partial to me. As I understand it. Members of all parties give this Parliamentary sketch broadcast from time to time and they are expected to be as impartial as Members of Parliament can be. No one, I am sure, would 2222 think that this broadcast was a scheme on the part of the Government, so that my hon. Friend could say a good word for me.
§ Mr. Morrison
Then the hon. Gentleman implies that I or some other member of the Government arranged with the hon. Member for Clay Cross to do this broadcast so that Ministers could get publicity for themselves. What else can he mean?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is another line. What I am saying is that it was an accident that my hon. Friend happened to be making that Parliamentary sketch broadcast that week-end. The hon. Member has said that I was speaking with my tongue in my cheek—
§ Mr. Morrison
The only deduction I could draw I did draw. In any case, I do not think there is anything to get "het up" about. This matter had to do with an impartial broadcast; the Ministry of Information formed the prima facie view that it was not an impartial broadcast; they asked our view and we gave it and they themselves came to the conclusion which they did, having been under no obligation to me.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
It is necessary that the Sitting should be suspended for five minutes.
§ Silting suspended.
§ On resuming—
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," again proposed.
§ Earl Winterton
I have a suggestion to make to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and through you, Mr. Speaker, to the House, which may have 2223 the effect of curtailing the discussion and bringing it to. an end. I am authorised to put the case on behalf of several of my hon. Friends on both sides of the House with whom I have had an opportunity of communicating during the suspension, and to inform the Home Secretary—I think that he cannot, in fact, refuse—that we who are interested in this matter, about which I knew nothing until I came into the House and was shown the document by my hon. Friend, will seek an opportunity as early as possible in the New 2224 Year of discussing the whole matter on a Motion to reduce the salary of the Minister of Information. I think it right to say that some of us will certainly put down a Motion to reduce his salary and wish to have a full dress Debate. I do not propose to deal with the right hon. Gentleman's speech—
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present—
§ The House was adjourned till the next Sitting Day.