HC Deb 22 January 1941 vol 368 cc185-90
Mr. Gallagher (by Private Notice)

asked the Home Secretary whether he has any statement to make on his reasons for suppressing the "Daily Worker"?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

Yes, Sir. Defence Regulation 2D provides that if the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is in any newspaper a systematic publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue, he may by Order apply the provisions of the Regu- lation to that newspaper. In pursuance of that power, I have made orders applying the provisions of the Regulation to the "Daily Worker" and to a news letter entitled "The Week," of which the policy is similar to that of the "Daily Worker." As a result it becomes an offence for any person to print, publish or distribute either of these newspapers or any newspaper published under any other name which is in continuation of or in substitution for the prohibited papers.

This action has been taken not because of any recent change or development in the character of these publications, nor because of the appearance therein of some particular article or articles, but because it is and has been for a long period the settled and continuous policy of these papers to try to create in their readers a state of mind in which they will refrain from co-operating in the national war effort and may become ready to hinder that effort. It is my firm conviction that freedom of the Press should be maintained even at the risk that it may sometimes be abused. If in newspapers which share the national determination to win the war there is occasionally published matter which, though not intended to be harmful to the national interest, may nevertheless have a prejudicial effect, I recognise that the inestimable advantage of maintaining a free Press far outweighs the risks which such freedom may sometimes entail.

There is, however, a wide difference between accepting such occasional risks and allowing the continuous publication of newspapers of which the deliberate purpose is to weaken the will of our people to achieve victory in this the greatest and most momentous struggle in our history. Since the end of September, 1939, when the "Daily Worker" reversed its policy, it has refrained from publishing anything calculated to encourage co-operation in the struggle which this country is waging against Nazi and Fascist tyranny and aggression; and has by every device of distortion and misrepresentation sought to make out that our people have nothing to gain by victory, that the hardships and sufferings of warfare are unnecessary and are imposed upon them by a callous Government carrying on a selfish contest in the interests of a privileged class. With similar falsity it has represented that the Governments in alliance with us are inspired by equally base motives, and that the United States of America is assisting the Allied Cause not for the purpose of defending freedom and democracy but merely for the purpose of profiteering from every extension of the war.

The object of this propaganda is to bring about the downfall of democratic and constitutional government, regardless of the consequences to the fate of Great Britain and her Allies in the present war. All other considerations are subordinated to the fantastic hope that the weakening of democratic institutions may provide an opportunity for the substitution of a Communist dictatorship. In fact, as the history of European States has shown, the overthrow of democratic institutions would not lead to such a result but to the triumph of Nazi and Fascist reactions. Small as may be the prospects of such propaganda making headway in this country, the Government would be failing in their duty if in time of war—when all liberties and the whole future of democracy are at stake—they failed to exercise the powers with which they have been entrusted against papers which are conducted for the purpose of weakening our war effort.

There has been a long period of forbearance. In July last the attention of the "Daily Worker" was called to the provisions of Regulation 2D, and the hope was expressed that the paper would be so conducted as to prevent the necessity of action under that Regulation. That hope has not been realised, and after careful consideration the Government have decided that it would be unjustifiable to allow these newspapers to continue any longer the persistent publication of matter which the Regulation is designed to prevent. Any step which has even the appearance of a departure from our traditional policy of allowing freedom for the expression of minority opinions must be a matter for regret. The policy of the Government is to make the minimum use, even in time of war, of methods of repression, and to confine such action to those forces, all of them agents or allies of reaction, which would consciously or unconsciously place impediments in the way of our war effort and thus help the enemy.

Mr. Gallacher

Having listened to this propaganda statement, may I ask the Minister whether it is not the case that this action coincides with, and is meant to suppress all opposition to, the conscription of labour proposal which was made in this House yesterday?

Mr. Morrison

There is not the slightest connection between the two. As a matter of fact, when the decision was reached to suppress the "Daily Worker" and "The Week," I had not the slightest knowledge that the proposal referred to by the hon. Member was coming forward, and I do not think that my colleagues as a whole knew that that other proposal was to be made.

Mr. Gallacher

Would the Minister be prepared to receive a small deputation on this question?

Mr. Morrison

I must consider that when the application is made.

Mr. Thurtle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this action of his will cause great disappointment—in Berlin?

Mr. Mander

Does my right hon. Friend propose to prosecute and bring before the courts any of the persons involved in this matter?

Mr. Morrison

The question of prosecution and of bringing people before the courts is a matter for consideration in the light of specific provisions of the Regulation concerning individuals. I have acted under the Regulation which relates to the suppression of a newspaper, and that Regulation is not concerned with individuals.

Mr. A. Bevan

As this is the first opportunity the House has had to consider this matter, will an opportunity be given in the very near future for the House to discuss it? If no opportunity is provided for a discussion of this very important matter, it will be necessary to move the Adjournment of the House for that purpose.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

If there is a sufficient desire to debate this matter, and if that is made known, the Government will, naturally, give an opportunity for a Debate. I suggest that the usual processes should be set at work. Then, it would be necessary that the Debate should take place at the earliest possible moment, namely, on the next Sitting Day. That would mean, of course, the postponement of the War Damage Bill; but the House must accept that as a consequence.

Mr. Bevan

Does the Prime Minister consider, in view of the fact that all parties in this House are involved in the Government, that opportunities for debate should depend upon representations through the usual channels? If no opportunity is to be given by the Prime Minister for Members of the House to discuss matters of this kind except by representation through official channels, there is nothing left for us to do but to move the Adjournment of the House, and hope to secure the support of 40 Members.

The Prime Minister

If I thought that the hon. Member had the support of anything like 40 Members, I should certainly agree; but if it were only six or seven Members, the interest of the country must be against such a course.

Mr. Bevan

May I suggest to the Prime Minister that if there are only six or seven, or eight, Members of the House of Commons who wish to discuss it, it is important that the matter should be discussed? There have been occasions when the Prime Minister has represented fewer Members than that. I respectfully submit that the Prime Minister will not be able to prevent six or seven Members discussing the matter at some time or another, and it is far better that we should do it in an orderly and proper fashion now. In what way can we inform him as to how many Members actually wish to debate this matter unless we move the Adjournment of the House?

Sir W. Davison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the great majority of the Members of this House think that this action by the Government has been far too long postponed?

Sir Richard Acland

Will the Home Secretary look at the discussion which took place in this House when the Regulation under which he has acted was challenged by a large number of Members; and will he find out whether my memory is correct when I say that the only justification advanced by his predecessor for insisting on that Regulation being used, rather than the other set of Regulations providing for warning, prosecution and then suppression, was that it might he necessary to use these powers suddenly in the event of enemy action dislocating the ordinary procedure? If he finds that that is correct, will he, as soon as possible, satisfy many members of the public who will be disquieted by this action by taking the damnable indictment which he has—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member cannot make a speech.

Sir R. Acland

What the Home Secretary has said must be tested in the courts.

Mr. Magnay

Might I respectfully suggest to the Prime Minister that he should allow this appeal in order to show to the country, as well as to this House, which hon. Members are in favour of Communist propaganda?

The Prime Minister

I think that where there is the slightest doubt the decision should be on the side of the minority. But I do not think that the matter can be arranged for the next Sitting Day. We have arranged to take the War Damage Bill then, and we must get on with that. Millions of people are interested in that Bill. Perhaps later it may be possible to arrange for a day, or perhaps a half-day. We have a good deal of business to do before Easter, but I will give an opportunity for the matter to be raised. I hope that if it is raised, it will be debated, not on the Adjournment, but on a Motion moved either by the Government, or by someone opposed to the action of the Government; and I hope that the matter will be pressed to a Division, in order to let us clearly see what is the balance of opinion on the matter.