HC Deb 06 February 1941 vol 368 cc1073-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

45. Mr. Mander,

— To ask the Prime Minister on what dates, and in what circumstances, representatives of the "Daily Mirror" and "Sunday Pictorial" were officially interviewed and warned about the political attitude they were adopting; what was the precise objection taken to their attitude; and whether any other papers, apart from those recently suppressed, have received warnings?

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)

As the Prime Minister is unavoidably detained, though he will be present a little later, will you, Sir, allow this Question to be repeated at the end of Questions?

Mr. Speaker

I can take that course under the Standing Orders.


The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

Sir, I am not prepared to give any information about confidential communications passing between His Majesty's Government and those who control or conduct newspapers. I must ask the House to support His Majesty's Government in this decision, which is necessary for the effective prosecution of the war.

Mr. Mander

Is it not the case that unofficial representations were made through certain newspaper proprietors to the "Daily Mirror," on the strength of which it obtained an interview with the Lord Privy Seal and was told that its activities were subversive, but when asked in what way they were subversive, the Lord Privy Seal was unable to give any information? Is it not reasonable that a newspaper should be told in what way its activities are considered prejudicial to the public interest?

The Prime Minister

I do not at all accept this one-sided account of what was undoubtedly a confidential conversation. I do not accept it. But who has ever heard of its being suggested that the Government are not entitled to have confidential conversations with persons connected with the newspaper Press or almost any other form of legitimate activity?

Mr. Bevan

On the other hand, is it not extremely undesirable that the editors of any newspapers should be under a misapprehension as to where they offend? Is not the main complaint here the ambiguity of the charge brought by the Government against the newspapers? If the Government think the newspapers are behaving improperly, why do they not prosecute on specific charges, so that the newspapers may know where they are, and not use this weapon of secret terror?

The Prime Minister

I do not at all accept the version which has been given. As far as I can make out from the hon. Gentleman's Supplementary Question, the Government would only be entitled to prosecute newspapers, and would never be entitled to have, even unofficially, confidential conversations with their owners or controllers. Such an idea is altogether foolish and has no relation whatever to the way in which affairs are conducted in this country.

Mr. Shinwell

But does not this make the position of the Press somewhat uncertain, because they are unaware whether their contents are pleasing to the Government or not, and are only made aware when they receive a friendly visit, not from the police, who are directly responsible, but from others?

The Prime Minister

I think that contention is utterly absurd. Persons, whether Ministers or otherwise, are fully entitled to talk to newspaper people, and very considerable latitude should be allowed on such occasions.

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