HC Deb 13 March 1941 vol 369 cc1427-9
Mr Henry Strauss

(by Private Notice)asked the Minister of Information whether the attention of His Majesty's Government has been drawn to the possibility of the enemy acquiring information of military value through the publication, in the Press and elsewhere, of the accounts, annual reports and chairmen's speeches of public utility companies and undertakings, many of which companies are holding their annual meetings in the immediate future, and what action they propose to take in the matter?

The Minister of Information (Mr. Duff Cooper)

Yes, Sir. The Government have this matter under most careful consideration, and a decision on this matter will be taken by the Departments of the Government concerned in the near future. I hope that, pending a decision, chairmen and directors of such companies and undertakings will postpone the publication of accounts and the holding of meetings. I am sure that shareholders and others who are waiting the accounts will realise that this request is dictated solely by reasons of national security.

Mr. Garro Jones

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at present the principle of voluntary censorship, established by the Government, is in operation? Is it quite fair, either to newspapers or to technical journals, to put them in the position of voluntarily censoring matter, and so depriving themselves of revenue? Will he consider, particularly in the case of technical information, the institution of a compulsory censorship?

Mr. Cooper

I think that the voluntary censorship has worked very satisfactorily hitherto; and I should deplore any departure from the voluntary principle in regard to censorship. Everybody has shown himself willing, in the national interest, to make the sacrifices referred to by the hon. Member.

Sir I. Albery

What need is there to postpone the publication of accounts, and even the holding of meetings, so long as no information is given which would be against the public interest?

Mr. Cooper

We have to take steps to make sure that no such information is given. It is feared that if the accounts were published at the present time, and if meetings were held, such information might, unwillingly, and perhaps unwittingly, be given to the enemy.

Mr, Naylor

Will the inquiry extend to the question of the desirability of stopping the publication in the Press of prices of gilt-edged securities?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That does not arise out of this Question.