Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £40, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting, and certain services connected with Propaganda for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1943, namely:
|Class X., Vote 7, Ministry of Information||£10|
|Class IV., Vote 12, Broadcasting||£10|
|Class II., Vote 1, Foreign Office||£10|
|Class II., Vote 2, Diplomatic and Consular Services||£10|
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information (Mr. Thurtle)
Of the four Votes which the Committee has agreed shall be taken together today, my Department is responsible for two, one of them directly and the other, the Broacasting Vote, indirectly. I think it would be in accordance with the wishes of the Committee if I were in this opening statement to make some comment on these two Votes. The Minister will be here quite shortly; he has asked me to open the discussion, and he will take part in it later, I think on the good military principle that you always keep your really heavy gun in reserve until you know the direction of the main attack.
Taking first the Ministry of Information, the estimated expenditure for the present financial year is, in round figures, £8,600,000, which represents an increase of £2,435,000 on the figure for last year. The greater part of this increase is due to the growth of expenditure on publicity services, both abroad and at home. Practically all the Ministry's posts abroad have found favourable opportunities of increasing their activities during the past year, and a further growth in this direction is expected. Some part of the increase relates to publicity services at home, and they are undertaken by the Ministry as an agency for organised publicity on behalf of other Departments. 653 The Ministry of Information now does little or no Press advertising on its own account, but increased use is being made of its machinery by other Ministries for campaigns to assist and direct the war effort by such means as the recruiting of labour, food production, salvage and fuel economy. The cost of such campaigns falls on the Vote of the Ministry of Information. This work for other Departments represents almost entirely the whole of the Ministry's large expenditure on Press advertising.
A further part of the increase which I have mentioned is to be attributed to the extension and widening of the operations of the postal and telegraph censorship. This has been naturally brought about by developments in the war. This branch works outside the glare of publicity, and the nature of its work ordains that it must continue to do so, but, in view of the monotonous and often exacting nature of the work performed by the staff, I should like to be permitted to pay a tribute to their zeal and diligence. I have visited a considerable number of their centres of activity and have invariably been impressed by the high quality of their work. When the time comes for the full story of the work of this branch to be told I feel certain that it will be found to reflect great credit on all concerned. On this matter I should like to be able to add that the censorship work is being directed now in the closest collaboration with the American authorities. The British censorship has played a very notable part in dealing with the activities of enemy agents both in the United States and in Central America. These activities are set forth in an article in to-day's issue of "The Times."
I want to make clear that much of the Vote which is shown against the Ministry of Information is due to Departments which are not directly under our control. It should be noted that the total figure in the present Estimate for postal and telegraph censorship is £2,923,000. This branch is not directly connected with the work of the Ministry but has been attached to it for administrative purposes. Its expenses are, therefore, borne on the Ministry's Vote. Consequently the effect of this in the current year is that the Ministry of Information Vote is swollen by nearly £3,000,000 over and above the Ministry's own estimated expenditure. I am sure the Committee will be good 654 enough to bear that material fact in mind. It will be noted that the summary of the Ministry's Vote shows a figure for publicity of £4,000,000. That will be found on page 43 of the Votes of Credit. I am not in a position to give the Committee the exact figures of the analysis of this global total of £4,000,000, but I can tell it that the main items are Press advertising, expenditure on posts abroad, films, posters and photographs. I can also tell the Committee that of this total more than one-half is spent either overseas or on production for overseas. It will be seen from what I have said that when there has been deducted from the gross figure of the Ministry's Vote the sum of about £3,000,000 in respect of postal and telegraph censorship and more than half of the publicity item in respect of overseas activities, plus the cost of Press advertising and other campaigns for other Government Departments, to which I have referred, the figure left as representing expenditure at home by the Ministry is reduced to comparatively modest dimensions. All things are comparative, of course, but I think I am entitled to say that, so far as our gross Estimate is concerned.
The Committee will be familiar to some extent with the work of the Ministry at home. There is a regional organisation in each of the 13 regions into which the country has been divided, and I think it will be generally agreed by people who have knowledge of them that our regional offices are doing a very useful work. Having had the opportunity of visiting them all, I certainly formed the opinion that they are a useful and necessary part of our war-time organisation. It can fairly be said that the regional information officer and his staff are an important link between the Ministry and the people at home. Their function is to keep the public in their regions in close touch with national policy, to assist in maintaining morale, to make known how best the people in their areas can assist in the national war effort, and, so far as is possible, to deal with difficulties which may arise from time to time owing to lack of knowledge or understanding.
§ Mr. Thurtle
It is certainly the work of the Ministry of Information. It may also be the work of Members of Parlia- 655 ment, and I hope we are not in competition. These officers have been allotted special functions in the abnormal conditions which may follow intense air raiding or which would arise if invasion were to take place. They maintain friendly relations with over 1,000 weekly and daily newspapers, and as a result of this local publicity is obtained for much material calculated to promote the war effort and particularly for Government campaigns.
I come to the question of meetings. Meetings are held in all regions where there is a demand for them. They vary in type from meetings addressed by national figures to small open-air meetings. I would like the Committee to note the following three points in connection with the Ministry's public meetings policy. First, we do not encourage what are known as "pep" talks.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I am not sure myself, but I believe that the word has entered sufficiently into common usage for most Members to understand what is meant by it. Second, meetings are held only in response to a demand for them from the locality. Third, subjects dealt with by speakers, apart from meetings in support of specific departmental campaigns, are generally war commentaries and topical subjects directly connected with the war. By arrangement with the Ministry of Home Security and the Ministry of Health, emergency information officers are being appointed in every town of 5,000 inhabitants or over. These appointments, let me hasten to add, are all voluntary. The function of these officers will be the countering of rumours, the dissemination of information and instruction after heavy air raiding and, under more serious conditions, the dissemination of news should the normal channels be interrupted.
§ Mr. Thurtle
They are selected by the Ministry in co-operation with the local authorities. Throughout the country there are some 420 information committees. These committees assist in publicity matters, public meetings, the 656 distribution of literature, exhibitions and film shows, and they help the regional information officers in many cases in times of special emergency after heavy raiding. I think that it is fair to say that the regional information officer has been called upon to play an ever-increasing part in carrying out campaigns on behalf of Government Departments. His organisation functions as a publicity instrument for all Government Departments in need of help in the regions.
I will turn to the question of films, because this represents a considerable item in our publicity expenditure, and I would like to say something about our work in connection with that potent modem instrument of propaganda and education. No doubt Members will have seen many of the films produced by the Ministry, but I should like to point out that films that appear on the screen in this country represent only a part of our work in this field. There are large numbers of films with commentaries or spoken dialogue translated into many foreign languages which are sent out each week by sea and air to our Allies and the neutral countries, to convey to them by means of this medium an impression of the British war effort and of the courage and determination of the British people. News reels, documentary and feature films all play their part, and all branches of the film trade deserve thanks for the way in which they have co-operated with the Government in this work. British film production has necessarily fallen in quantity during the war, but I think it can be fairly claimed that it has risen in quality.
A special word of praise should be given to the Crown Film Unit, whose zeal and skill were responsible for the production, among many other excellent films, of that great popular success, both here and in America, the film of the Bomber Command, "Target for To-night". The Crown Film Unit and the Ministry may, I think, rightly take pride in the fact that this film received the award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Holywood as being the best film of the type in 1941. The Ministry has recently successfully co-operated with the film industry in the production of an outstanding British film, "49th Parallel." This film has broken distribution records both here and in North America, and for those who may be worrying about our 657 finances I am glad to be able to say that the Ministry have found this venture not unprofitable. Our original capital investment was under £60,000. We have got our money back, plus a profit up to date of about 50 per cent., including dollar receipts, and the receipts are still coming in.
§ Mr. Thurtle
From the one picture, "49th Parallel." In addition to the films produced by our Films Division for the theatres, the Committee may like to know that there is a scheme in operation whereby Ministry films can be shown to organisations in their own halls or in factory canteens. This consists of 100 16-mm. mobile units operated by the Ministry on a regional basis and with a central film library. The central film library, besides providing the regional offices with all films for showing in mobile units, lends these films free of charge to all organisations possessing their own projectors. Films of the 16-mm. width consist of subjects specially made for this scheme, including a large number of instructional films made for other Government Departments, and copies of films which have finished theatrical distribution. Bookings for these mobile units are made by the Film Officers working under the Regional Information Officers. The units are allocated to the regions in varying numbers, and those which have to work in rural areas are equipped with petrol generators, so that shows can be given where there is no electricity supply. Nine hundred shows a week are given at present, to an audience of 170,000.
The units show films to three main types of audiences. First, the people in rural areas who are cut off from ordinary cinemas—and there are many such. Where a women's institute meets in the afternoon a film show is given to them and to the village as a whole in the evening. Programmes shown in villages last about 80 minutes and include films of the Empire, the Allies, the Fighting Forces and the home front, besides films dealing specially with country problems. Units work as far as possible on regular circuits in the country, coming back to the same place every two months. The units are also shown to factory workers in their meal break at midday and midnight. A 658 year ago only about 50 shows a week were being given in factories, but now 250 a week are given. The programmes never last more than 25 minutes and are shown after the workers have had their meal. The Ministry has had many requests to show films linking industry with the Services, and a start is being made with the "Life of a Tank," and a special magazine, "Worker to War Front," is also being made for these factory shows, which are given at least once a month. Films are also shown to specialist audiences in town and country, to whom a programme of instructional films is shown on the subjects in which they are particularly interested.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
While I do not like to stop any of these fascinating spontaneous details which we are having, is it not true that by utilising the Ministry's own film units and cutting down existing studios we are in the process of strangling the film industry in this war as we did in the last war? Would it not be better to use existing studios more and give them a better chance to exist?
§ Mr. Thurtle
I understand that our relations with the film industry are of the happiest character, so I do not think I can share the gloomy forebodings of the hon. Member. I think the hon. Member might make his point in the Debate and allow mc to make my statement. [Interruption.] Someone says that I am reading this statement, and I would submit to those who draw attention to that fact that I am really only doing so out of courtesy and respect for this Committee, because this is a Ministerial statement, and I want it to be exact in every respect.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
But there is no reason why the reading should not be interrupted.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I was saying that instructional films are shown to specialist audiences, and I was going to give an illustration of this. They are shown at the request of Government Departments, and the showing of them constitutes a very important part of the Ministry's film work. The Ministry has produced instructional films for farmers, at the request of the Ministry of Information, on such subjects as silage, hedging and ditching and ploughing. These are shown to farmers with the help of war agricultural commit- 659 tees and the Ministry of Agriculture's divisional inspectors, and to the Women's Land Army. Instructional films on gardening, covering all the seasons, are shown to allotment and produce associations, during "Dig for Victory" weeks, and in the general programmes to town and country audiences. Instructional films are being made at the request of the Ministry of Home Security for Civil Defence and National Fire Service personnel. They will shortly be ready, and the Ministry will provide a mobile service to show them to Civil Defence and National Fire Service units, in co-operation with the regional training officers and the chief fire officers. It is worth mentioning that a non-theatrical film, "Fire Guard," produced by the Ministry of Home Security to help in the training of fire guards, which has been shown to fire guards specially invited by the Civil Defence authorities and to Civil Defence personnel, has in three months been seen by no fewer than 1,250,000 people, all of whom have come to the shows particularly to see this film. Other instructional films made for the Ministry of Health on "Diphtheria" and for the Ministry of Food on "Fruit Juices" and "War-time Diet" have been shown to mixed audiences all over the country as well as to women's audiences in welfare centres and at cookery demonstrations. That finishes all I want to say about our film activities and, broadly speaking, about the activities of the Ministry of Information.
I now turn to the Broadcasting Vote, for which this Department is answerable to Parliament. The Committee will recall that the arrangement by which the British Broadcasting Corporation received a specified percentage of the receipts from wireless receiving licences ceased on 31st March, 1940. As from that date the Minister of Information is due to pay to the Corporationsuch annual sum as from year to year the Treasury on representations made by the Corporation to the Minister shall approve as sufficient for the conduct of the services provided by the Corporation.Under war-time arrangements the Vote for Broadcasting from 1940 onwards has been in the form of a grant-in-aid to the Corporation. These arrangements between the Government and the B.B.C. are designed to preserve, so far as it is possible, the Corporation's status as an 660 independent administrative body. The details of the arrangements have recently been subject to consideration by the Treasury, the Ministry of Information and the Corporation itself, and a revised code of procedure has been agreed in principle. This will give the Corporation such measure of financial autonomy as is permissible, consistent with the need for the control of expenditure from public funds. The Estimate under consideration is for an amount of £10,000,000 as a grant-in-aid. This figure represents an increase of £3,100,000 on the total amount provided for the year ended 31st March, 1942, which included a Supplementary Estimate of £1,300,000 granted in February last.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
My hon. Friend has referred to a new code of procedure which apparently has been drafted as between the B.B.C. and the Ministry of Information.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
If, as presumably it does, this covers the method and the extent of the control of the Ministry over the B.B.C, it would be very interesting to have it published, and I would ask whether it is intended to do so.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I think my hon. Friend will agree that it is right that I should have notice of that question. I am not in a position to answer it at the moment. The considerable increase in the amount of the Estimate to which I have referred is attributable to war-time requirements and conditions. Principally it is due to a programme of development approved by His Majesty's Government, of the Corporation's services for overseas countries, including the countries of Europe. This development provides for a further strengthening of the B.B.C.'s broadcasting resources in the form of transmitters and other facilities. Another factor in the increase is that during the present year the full effect will be felt of the measures which have been taken to guard against interruption as a result of air raids, such as the provision of reserve plant, premises and facilities, the protection of existing premises and the dispersal of staff and services. On the extension of foreign broadcasting the Committee may remember that full details were given in a statement dealing with the Supplementary Estimate on 17th 661 February last, and I do not propose to repeat those details now. The Committee may, however, wish to be reminded that at the outbreak of the war there were broadcasts in nine foreign languages, whereas at the end of last month we were broadcasting in no fewer than 43 foreign languages. Similarly the broadcasting hours devoted to foreign languages rose from 44 hours a week at the outbreak of the war, to 275 hours a week by the end of last month.
§ Captain Plugge (Chatham)
Of those hours how many cover short waves, which cannot really be termed broadcasting, as against medium waves, which can; and is not the hon. Gentleman's statement, from that point of view, most misleading?
That again is a question which I could not answer without notice, but I will endeavour while the Debate is proceeding to find out the actual facts. I think what I have said covers all I wish to say on the two Votes with which I am dealing at this stage. If, in the course of the discussion, further information is required, my right hon. Friend and I will do our best to supply it. In the meantime, I hope that the Committee will not feel that I have trespassed too much on its patience.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I have always tried to be a docile disciple of Mr. Speaker in the matter of "cut and thrust." But, quite honestly, I think it is necessary that there should be a little "cut" from the Front Bench if there is to be any "thrust" from the minor characters in the Chamber. It is not easy to find very much to reply to in the statement to which we have just listened, and, without any disrespect to the Ministry of Information, I suggest that the questions which were put by way of interruption might have been foreseen. They were not very difficult questions. There was, for instance, the question about the short waves which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Captain Plugge) always asks, and very properly asks. There was nothing particularly new about it. Really, all that we had was a statement of the most adjective kind, in the lawyers' sense, with nothing substantive at all in it, about what the Ministry is trying to do in this country or in other countries. The only thing of that kind 662 that we were told was the negative statement that the Ministry is not encouraging "pep" talks—a term, apparently, beyond definition.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I shall return a little later to the point with which I have just been dealing, but I would begin by saying that those of us who try to take an interest in this matter have to act under considerable difficulties. I think it has been rather less than courteous that we have been told so often by the Minister that if we want to know what is being emitted by radio, all we have to do is to listen in. It is clear that few of us can spend very much time in listening in and there are not many of us who know a great many languages sufficiently well to be able to take down in shorthand what is said in them. That method is not open to us, and that is one difficulty with which we are faced. Towards the beginning of the war and when the present incumbent of this office, my right hon. Friend who is now on the Front Bench, came into office various questions were asked, such as whether we could not have typical scripts or synopses of scripts. That has often been refused to us, but we have been told from time to time that we are entitled to call for specific scripts when we want them. It is not a very easy matter to judge when to call, and when you do call for specific scripts there is always delay, and you do not always get them. Therefore we are under a somewhat considerable difficulty.
There is another difficulty, which anybody speaking from this side of the House has in this matter. It is a double difficulty. I do not go quite so far as the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett), who felt his life to be at an end—I think it was in the year 1937—and that the world ought to know about it, and who wrote an autobiography. He then said that he had—I do not know whether I am using quite the same adjectives as he used—a profound and ineradicable hatred of propaganda. I do not think I should go quite so far as that, but most people of my sort of political prejudice do not really think very much of propaganda. It seems to us enormously exaggerated. From that point of view what we wish to talk about we rather begin by 663 denigrating. Another difficulty is that the tendency of our propaganda to enemy countries has been, and still is, largely Leftish in character. I could give quotations from our wireless talks to Germany in the last few days, in which, I think I am entitled to say, this war is assumed to be a war of the working class against Fascism; and sometimes it seems to be a war for and against Socialism.
On this side of the House we have just as much respect and affection for the working class—so far as that class is distinguishable in this country—as there is on any other side of the House. Most of us have a prejudice against Socialism. In any case, it is an unfair account of this war. That is not what this war is, or what it is about; and when we criticise that account we run a serious risk, in criticising what is done by way of propaganda to enemy countries, of exciting the prejudices of hon. Gentlemen opposite who may think that we are attacking their party or their political philosophy. I beg them to believe that in anything that I may be about to say I have no such intention, and if I slip in anything which has that effect, it is by inadvertence, which I regret. I have no party feelings in this matter at all. I do not think that any of us ought to be interested at the present time in anything except the defeat of the German State, and there cannot be any excuse for the existence of the Ministry of Information except the hope that it may assist to that end.
For that purpose, I make bold to suggest that in the stuff which is addressed to Germany there is still far too large an ingredient of what you might call Leftish propaganda. It is difficult to prove that without listening a good deal, and it is even difficult to prove it by giving lists of speakers. I do not wish to read out a list of speakers, and I agree that, of course, any list could be more or less countered, but I do not think anybody can make so long a list of speakers who have obviously tried to give a Right tendency to their propaganda as can be made of those who have obviously tried to give a Left tendency. That has been so under all Ministers and is so still. It was certainly so in the month of June. I went through the list for June a couple of days ago. I do not think there is anything to deny about that.
664 Take another point of view. The Labour Party Conference was plugged—[Interruption.] I do not mind the Labour Party Conference being plugged, or the A.E.U. Conference, the other day. These things are plugged all the time, but nothing is plugged in the matter of speaking for England—I will not even say from the Rightish side, but I find it difficult to put this matter shortly—not speaking for some section of England, whether employers or employees or whether from Right or Left. It hardly ever happens. In reading "Soviet War News," it is amazing to find how infinitely more national its propaganda is about themselves than ours is about ourselves. The contrast is almost ludicrous.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Is that not because there is only one political point of view in Soviet Russia? Is not the explanation of the tendency to which the hon. Member objects, of speaking to the Left in Germany, that there are potential allies there, and that they are the people to whom we are talking?
§ Mr. Pickthorn
It is true that these things are much simplified in a one-party State. But in this country, however numerous the parties, 90 per cent. of the people have 99 per cent. of their convictions and sentiments not in a party, a trend or a tendency, but in a profound national feeling. When the hon. Lady interrupted me I was about to say that what was more surprising than the national character of Russia's own propaganda was how much more national was what the Russian propaganda had to say about us than was our own propaganda. In "Soviet War News" four or five days ago they were boosting a great Shakespeare festival which they had. It is a very good thing to have. We might perhaps have a great Shakespeare festival. The rather surprising thing was that they drew attention to the elements of national defence and of traditional patriotism in some rather surprising plays, "Cymbeline" and "Lear," and "Othello." Naturally, they said, the play which attracted most attention and which created much the greatest enthusiasm was "King Henry V." The sort of spirit, or language, which is in "Henry V," this country has almost been apologising for during the last 25 years. Nor in the last 25 665 months can I notice very much less deprecation and apology than there had been in the years before that. Four or five days before, in the "Soviet War News," they were publishing a list of omnibus editions, the sort of edition into which you put the whole works of an author in one volume, which they were publishing for Russian soldiers. Dickens was the first in the list, and I think the second was G. B. Shaw—not a particular admiration of mine, which I daresay he will survive. Then there were Chaucer and Mr. Rudyard Kipling. I do not particularly want the Minister of Information to publish a special edition of Mr. Rudyard Kipling's works. The Russian publication is a very remarkable contrast with the continued tendency to the defeatist and apologetic tone about all that is national and imperial here. On another occasion in "Soviet War News," also, I think, in the last 10 days, there was an article by Mr. Ilya Ehrenburg, who has, I am told, an audience in the Russian Army that is larger, proportionately, than Lord Beaver-brook has in Scotland. He asked how London was defended, and how London managed to stand up: He answered that it was not so much machinery or organisation and that it was not fundamentally even the Straits of Dover, but was hundreds of years of tradition.
Perhaps this is "pep" talk; but that is the kind of spirit and the kind of line which ought to be encouraged. My right hon. Friend is rather fond of telling us that he is not Dr. Goebbels. Personally, I have never confused the two characters. He said the other day—I cannot find it in the OFFICIAL REPORT at the moment, but he will correct me if I misrepresent him—that if anybody suggested that he ought in any way to indicate what he wanted published or what he did not want published, that would be making him a very bad Minister of Information. It is no doubt his duty to follow his grand exemplar, the apostle to the Gentiles, the first great Minister of Propaganda, who had to be all things to all men. At the same time, he has the duty of Caesar's wife of being above reproach. It is not always very easy to combine the two characters; but I think that some protestations of chastity almost draw attention to the conceivability of an alternative explanation. I do not in the least want the Minister to be a Dr. Goebbels, but, quite honestly, surely it 666 is part of the function of the Minister of Information to suggest and direct to some extent what is published by even newspaper proprietors, although they dwindle so fast that I am not sure that one should put them in the plural. Almost the only thing we have been told to-day in any detail was that elaborate machinery exists for influencing what does or does not get on to the screens, and I cannot believe that there are not also methods of influencing what does or does not get into public discussion in other ways.
This may have seemed irrelevant, but I beg hon. Gentlemen to reflect before they consider it irrelevant. I believe that what is fundamentally wrong with our propaganda to Germany—although I seem to have been talking about propaganda on the home front—is this: The word "propaganda"—if I may be forgiven a moment of pedantry which I am almost always obliged by my situation to inflict on the Committee—comes from the committee which was set up by I forget which Pope, "De Propaganda Fide," i. e., for propagating the faith. That committee knew what faith they had to propagate; it had been defined and refined and redefined by the great councils, and so on, right up to its systematic summation by the stupendous Aquinas. They knew what they had to put across; but at no high level, I mean the sort of level of the three directors or that of those in charge of separate countries, can one be sure from what leaks out that anyone really has a national message, and who knows what England ought to be saying to foreigners. Until it is perfectly clear that there are men who are certain in their own minds about that, there will be difficulties, and some people will say that there are too many people speaking from a Leftish point of view while others say that there are too many speaking from a Rightish point of view, and so on. That is the relevance to my main point of what I have just been trying to say.
There is another criticism I have to make about what is sent to or directed at Germany. It is necessary to remember that we do not know how many people in Germany listen, and I do not care what Ministers tell me about their methods of investigation, I do not believe that they know how many people in Germany listen. I do not myself believe that there are very many thousands of people in Germany to whom it is any use our saying 667 anything—except one thing, and that is news. We ought to broadcast news to Germany, and to make sure that it is absolutely true and expressed in completely dignified language. There should be no attempts at scoring. I could give some instances from the last few days of what I think ludicrous attempts at scoring, such as the statement that American pilots are arriving in England in spite of the alleged U-boat blockade. We know that in a legal sense it is not a blockade. I could quote rather twaddling, nasty, little school-boy jokes. If they must be allowed in the argumentative part of the programme, let them for heaven's sake be left out of the news, which should be plain, straightforward and in simple and dignified German or English as the case may be.
Apart from that, I doubt whether there is anything which it is worth while saying to any Germans except a very few thousand. I am quite sure that this continual attempt to distinguish between the Germans and their leaders is wrong. We have rather dropped references to "Nazi" and now talk about "Hitlerite." We talk about Hitler's war machine, Hitler's army, Hitler's navy, etc. I cannot believe that that is anything but a mistake or that it does anything but strengthen Hitler in Germany. It would certainly do nothing but strengthen whoever happened to be the leader in this country in time of war if he were treated in that kind of way. The attempt to distinguish between the party and the army I believe to be largely out of date. I am certain that anybody who listens to much of this stuff cannot fail to get the impression—my right hon. Friend's advisers will tell him if I am being unfair, although I do not think I am—that there is a general impression that the German army must not be attacked, but that if it is mentioned at all, it should be done with respect. The same thing seems recently to have spread to the industrialists. There appears to be a kind of tendency to think that perhaps the industrialists are not such bad chaps, and that perhaps they might be easier for us to get on with. Surely that is a completely false calculation.
Imagine, to take a completely lunatic hypothesis—my right hon. Friend will see how ludicrous it is because he is one himself—that the British newspaper proprietors seemed, to the present regime in 668 Germany, to be the most likely people to be induced to work for some sort of compromise peace. It is a most improbable hypothesis—I cannot imagine it ever being so—but concede, if you can stretch your mind so far, that case being made by some eminent adviser of Dr. Goebbels. Would he be wise in that case to say, "Do not attack the newspaper proprietors whatever you do"? The same thing is true about the working classes.
§ Mr. Harold Nicolson (Leicester, West)
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but at one moment he says that our propaganda is too Leftish and the next he is saying that we are trying to propitiate big business.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I do not think that that argument is very difficult to deal with. We are living in an extremely incoherent world, where to be following simultaneously two absolutely irreconcilable policies is not very uncommon. And actually the two things I am talking about are not irreconcilable at all. It is perfectly possible simultaneously to make the mistake that the German working classes can be somehow conciliated, at the same time making the same error about the industrialists, but if it is true it cannot be good policy to keep saying it so openly in Germany. Who were those people (Maas, etc.), who were shot the other day? Our wireless talked about their being martyrs, and allies of ours, and so on, but does that make it any more likely that others will do whatever it is they have been doing? I really cannot believe that there-is any logic in that sort of behaviour.
I will now pass from Germany to Austria, and what I began with about England is true to some extent about Austria. What I have been able to learn about our propaganda to Austria makes it seem to be extraordinarily partisan. It is addressed to the Reds or the Blacks, or the Blues or the Pinks, to the followers of Dolfuss or the sequelae of Schuschnigg or someone else. I do not believe that the thing can be done in that way. First of all, none of us knows anything much about Austria; even my right hon. Friend's best advisers know very little about the Austria of even three years ago, and what the country is like now we do not know. To try to make propaganda by addressing particular parties in Austria must be a mistake. About Hungary too; I feel quite sure that there is a general 669 impression of treating Hungary, and even the Hungarian regime, always with particular friendliness. I am not asserting that there is such a general direction; all I am saying is that many who listen cannot help feeling that there is. There is certainly nothing very democratic about that, and we must remember what I began by saying, that nobody knows who listens. I cannot believe that the sort of stuff we are addressing to Hungary does much good there, and I am quite sure that it must do us infinite harm in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere.
§ The Minister of Information (Mr. Brendan Bracken)
The hon. Member is making some rather serious assertions. First we have heard about our propaganda to Germany, then Austria, and now Hungary. I wonder if he can give us a few examples of the pernicious propaganda he talks about.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
My right hon. Friend would be in a much stronger position if he had' made more available the burden of our propaganda broadcasts. There have been continuous requests since the war began for facilities to make it easy for Members of Parliament to know what is being emitted. Those facilities have not been provided.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I get my information in the way which is really the only way open to people in my position, from people whom I believe to be honest and competent, and who have listened to these broadcasts. I have already laid stress on the difficulty in making one of these speeches, that one is bound to use evidence which is second-hand, not good court-of-law evidence. All I ask is that my right hon. Friend should make sure that these things are untrue. I find it very difficult to believe on my present information that is so. There seems to qualified listeners to have been a definite tendency to treat the Hungarian regime with a great deal of friendliness. The greatest mistake that has been made in this matter of propaganda to Europe seems to me to have been not using Hitler's last Reichstag speech a great deal more than it has been used. It is said that this is not a war of nations but of 670 ideologies. In my view that is a mistaken view; nationality is in fact ideology. The ninety-nine per cent. of one's ideas which one does not talk about are one's nationality. In so far as this war is one about ideologies as contrasted with a war between national governments, it is a war not for or against Socialism—there are Socialists of various sorts on each side; the same is largely true of democracy; it is a war for or against the rule of law, the belief that human beings ought to be governed by law, that there ought to be predictable rules.
This is where we are all agreed, and where everyone on the Continent likely to help us agrees with us, and where we agree fully with the religious criticism, both Catholic and Protestant, of the dictatorial régimes. That is the great point, that is the controversial purpose, at which we should always hammer. It was a most enormous gift to us that Hitler, in his last Reichstag speech, had to say he had abolished all that. Previously he had only done it on occasion as, when justifying the "Night of the long knives," he said that for 12 hours he was the grand justiciar of Germany. But now for 24 hours in every day he is the grand justiciar of Germany. There is no predictability about human relations in Germany except the will and whim of that single man. That is the point at which we ought to hammer. That is where we bring together religious feeling, all the decent Leftish people, all the people who are all right although they are Leftward, and the educated classes, the educated civil servants, judges and lawyers. But there has been insufficient hammering at that.
§ Mr. Bracken
I must protest against that statement. I know something about this subject. Hitler's speech was reported time after time; special daily or weekly extracts were given time after time and incorporated in various broadcasts, including the religious broadcasts. I do not think that any speech made by Hitler has been more extensively used in our services. I must say to my hon. Friend that he must not malign the officials responsible for this work by saying that they have not made proper use of this material.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
I have listened to several of these speeches to Germany, and I have found most excellent propaganda 671 of the very kind which my right hon. Friend has indicated.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am sorry if there is any misunderstanding, or if it appears that I am saying that there is not good propaganda. The only useful kind of speech one can make on an occasion like this, I think, is to point to where one thinks there are weaknesses or defects. I am not suggesting there is not much that is good in our services or that this speech of Hitler's has not been used. All that I am suggesting is that so far as I can tell it has not been used anything like sufficiently. It should be the leit motif for the rest of the war, on this side. I believed that there was a special programme that was addressed more or less to the civil servant, lawyer, and that sort of stratum of the German population and that has, I believe, been dropped. I daresay that is a good thing. I daresay it is better to amalgamate these attempts to get at a particular stratum one at a time so long as it is then remembered that you must think of each stratum on different days. But that a programme aimed at that particular stratum should have gone just before or just after Hitler had given us the whole thing on a silver plate seems to me a legitimate ground for criticism. I am not in any way attacking, and certainly not maligning, officials.
I apologise for speaking far longer than I had intended, and there is very much else about which one could speak. I do ask my right hon. Friend to believe that I am not trying to criticise officials. I would recapitulate very shortly what I have said. Let us have less broadcasting to Germany. Let our news, when we are speaking to Germany, be clean news, neat news. Do not let us have propaganda saying that working men, on one day, or industrialists, on another, are very nice types or that those who do not work wholeheartedly with the régime are really with us. I cannot believe that that is going to help. Ali we can hope for is to have a reputation for honesty, dignity, sincerity, and to hope that if there are Germans who are prepared to start a revolution—that hardly happened last time—they shall be able to count upon us to be able to see that they are not treated as the attempted revolution was treated at the end of the last war by Noske and Pabst, and the rest.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)
I do not often find myself in agreement with the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). On many details of his speech he and I would be in irreconcilable opposition, but I agree with that important part of his speech in which he pleaded for something like the spirit of "Henry V." I feel that the greatest defect in our propaganda to-day is the lack of something of a religious quality. There is not sufficient offensive spirit. I very much hope that that part of his speech will be taken to heart. While I am expressing agreement, may I also recall to his mind the saying of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who found this defect in Universities—" the frequency of insignificant speech." I would not like him to take that criticism as applying to himself, but I wish to express my agreement with his statement that we are putting out far too much propaganda from the B.B.C. The result is a general debasement of the coin of our propaganda currency. We should not speak to the peoples abroad unless we have something really worth saying.
It is possible to exaggerate the value of propaganda. That is very largely the result of books written by propagandists themselves, who naturally like to advertise their own trade. If some members of the silent Service were gifted with a ready pen they might make out a very much stronger case for the effect of the blockade in the last war as compared with propaganda. It is true that in the history of Rome the cackling of geese once saved the republic, but I do not think that the cackling of our propaganda Departments is going to save this country; and while the walls of Jericho fell down to the blast of trumpets and a great shout, it will need high explosive to raze the walls of Berlin.
I have a great deal of sympathy with our propagandists at the present time. They are batting on a very sticky wicket. Of course, one way of dealing with the situation is to keep silence. There are occasions when the best propaganda is to say nothing at all. What our propagandists need more than anything else is a great victory. That would be the best propaganda that we could possibly have. Nevertheless, with all its limitations, propaganda still is a powerful instrument of war when it is properly used—that is to say, when it is properly co-ordinated 673 with policy and with strategy. These are two of the great fundamentals of success. I would say that there are four conditiones sine quibus non of propaganda. It must be based on policy. It must be co-ordinated with strategy. It must be based on the best intelligence. Finally, in the case of British propaganda, it must be absolutely truthful. I do not think that that necessarily applies to German propaganda, because their hopes were based on a short war; but, if we are to win, it will be a long war, and untruthful propaganda will be found out. I put a Question to the Minister of Information on this point some time ago and he answered it very satisfactorily. But it was a written answer and may not have attracted the attention it deserved. I believe him when he says that he attaches the greatest importance to the reputation of the B.B.C. for veracity, and I very much hope that that will be maintained, and that the additional publicity given in this Debate will be regarded as an instruction to his officials to maintain that reputation for truthfulness.
There was a great deal of truth in the interruptions and in the aspersions made upon the Parliamentary Secretary for the manner in which he presented his case, but I am bound to feel a great deal of sympathy for him. He was rather like the senior prefect making a speech with the headmaster and the provost sitting behind him, and it was inevitable that his speech should take the line that it did. One reason is the difficulty to which the senior Burgess for Cambridge University referred—a very real difficulty—and that is, the unnecessary secrecy with which all this work is shrouded. A great deal of this work must be secret, and the secrecy must be absolute. But there are far greater secrets in the keeping of the Admiralty, the Air Ministry, the War Office and the Foreign Office than there are in the propaganda departments, yet these are departments in London and we know far more about them than we know about our propaganda departments. A great deal of the mystery in which the propaganda departments have been shrouded is unnecessary and really arises from a desire to avoid criticism.
In order to make my remarks as brief as possible, I will deal with two points only under the heading of secrecy, and would like to make a few suggestions. 674 One concerns leaflets to enemy and enemy-occupied countries, and the other, broadcasts to those same countries. I cannot for the life of me see why Members of this House should not know what every German and Italian is allowed to know. I do not claim that we ought to know beforehand what is to be put out by the B.B.C. or what leaflets are to be dropped, but once leaflets have been dropped and broadcasts have been emitted, Members of this House, and for that matter the public, should have the right to know what is being said in our name to the peoples of Europe. It cannot be said that we are giving away information useful to the enemy. They have the information already. The only serious objection I have heard to such a scheme is that it might reveal the plan on which our propaganda is based. I am glad to hear that there is a plan, but if it were possible to deduce from that evidence the plan on which our propaganda is based then the Germans and Italians have the evidence already and they can form their own ideas. One reason why it might be undesirable to publish in this country leaflets and the scripts of talks would be if some of them were untruthful but the Minister has given a categorical assurance on that point and I rule it out of court. The only explanation I can think of for this secrecy is a desire to avoid criticism. If the Minister at the close of this Debate can give an alternative explanation, I shall be glad to accept it.
I am fortified in this belief by what happened at the beginning of the war. The first leaflet" dropped over Germany was published in the OFFICIAL REPORT and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) who was at that time the Lord Privy Seal stated that he saw no reason why this procedure should not be adopted continuously, except in special circumstances. That leaflet led to a great deal of criticism. No doubt much of the criticism was tiresome, and the procedure was not in fact subsequently adopted. I do not think that that procedure could to-day be adopted, as far too many leaflets are being dropped for them to be printed daily in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but my suggestion is that once leaflets have been dropped, a file should be kept in the Libraries of Parliament, so that Members can see what is being done. Leaflets should also be made available to the Press, I do not say that they should 675 all be given to the Press, but a file should be kept at the Ministry of Information, and, if representatives of the Press feel any special interest in any particular leaflet, they should be supplied with copies. As for the talks over the B.B.C., it is out of the question to publish daily the 150,000 words put out by the B.B.C. in the foreign service, but Members of Parliament should have the right to be supplied with the script at short notice. It would be to the advantage of the Government themselves. It would save many awkward questions in this House based on inadequate evidence. I hope that this suggestion will meet with a reply at the end of this Debate.
We do at least know a little more about the propaganda Departments than we did a few months ago. We do at least know now who controls the Departments, for example, but the position revealed is still not entirely satisfactory. I am saying nothing in criticism of the particular individuals concerned, and I hope that they will not take my remarks personally. But I do not like the idea of two or four Ministers, as the case may be, being in control of one Department. When more than one Minister is in control, no one in fact can be in control, and the permanent officials are bound to be the persons really running the machine. Propaganda to enemy and enemy-occupied countries must be based on policy.
That leads, in my mind, to this conclusion—that propaganda to those regions ought to be under the control of the Foreign Office. As the Foreign Secretary is a very busy man, I suggest that the proper procedure would be the appointment of an additional Under-Secretary of State, who would have the daily responsibility of looking after it. This would correspond with the practice in the last war, when the very successful Department of Propaganda in Enemy Countries was entirely under the control of the Foreign Office, with a separate Ministry of Information. I think there are many lessons we can learn from propaganda in the last war. Not the least is the fact that the Department was not set up until the last nine months of the war, when the atmosphere was favourable for pr9pa-ganda. There is another point of administrative detail on which I would like to dwell for a moment. It is well known that much of this work is conducted in 676 the depths of the country at a place which, in order to conceal its location and indicate its nature, I shall refer to as Hogsnorton. I think that weakens ministerial control; the work ought to be done in London. There is a very good case for dispersing many Government Departments, such as the Ministry of Food, the Board of Trade and so on, but our propaganda Departments should be centred in London, at the point where the war is being conducted. It is a weapon ancillary to the Fighting Services and ought to be near the Fighting Services. I believe the Minister has the problem in mind and to some extent has done good work in cleaning out the Augean stables to which I have referred.
It has been the fashion in recent years to refer to propaganda as political warfare. All metaphors are infected with errors but they also enshrine some truth, and I think there is a great deal of truth in this metaphor "political warfare." I would like to see those in control of it carry out the metaphor a little more fully. Propaganda, if it is political warfare, ought to be run according to the principles of war, and the first principle of war is the concentration of decisive effort at the right time and place. A corollary, of course, is that economy of effort in other directions, which is what I meant when I spoke of the "too great frequency of insignificant speech." Putting it in homely language, political warfare ought to go for the soft spot of the enemy, and that is not being done by our propaganda today. The senior Burgess for Cambridge University quite naturally devoted a great part of his speech to propaganda to Germany. To my mind the greater part of our propaganda to Germany is a waste of time and money. The defences there are far too cast-iron. There may come a times, when Germany is on the point of collapse, when propaganda will hasten that collapse, but at present I am sure that our propaganda to Germany is of as much value as their propaganda to us—that is to say, of no value at all. On the other hand, there is a fertile field of propaganda in Italy, which has been much neglected in comparison with Germany. Propaganda to Italy, whether by leaflet or by radio, will bear a return out of all proportion to the expenditure upon it, and I suggest that a very great deal more than is being done now ought to be done in that direction. I realise, of course, the difficulties of dropping leaflets in a 677 region so far from our bases here or in North Africa, but as soon as circumstances make it possible I very much hope that will be done.
It is very difficult—in fact, almost impossible—to talk about the content of our propaganda, for reasons which have already been stated. I am not sure that I should not be offending the Official Secrets Acts if I referred to the content of oversea broadcasts to which I have listened. At any rate it would be contrary to the desires of the Government, as things stand at present, that I should refer in detail to the content of such propaganda, and I shall not do so until we are released from the ban. But I can say that this propaganda will be no good unless we can be clear on the objective at which we are aiming. Our objective ought to be to stir up revolution and sabotage in enemy and enemy-occupied countries. Recent months have shown us what a wealth of courage and devotion there is in enemy-occupied countries, and to some extent even in Germany and Italy. It ought to be the object of our propaganda to stir up disaffection until the time comes when, with our assistance, people in occupied countries will take their own part in freeing themselves from the chains that now bind them. Therefore, to some extent I think our propaganda must, despite the observations of the senior Burgess for Cambridge University, be directed at Left circles. If we are to get any support in those countries for the overthrow of the rule of Hitler and Mussolini, our appeal will necessarily have to be mainly of the Left because these are the circles which are most likely to indulge in revolutionary activities. Having mentioned some administrative details, may I go on to say that, as in the last war, I do not think our propaganda machine will be complete until we have an inter-Allied propaganda body. If I may make a suggestion, the person I should like to see running that body would be Mr. Harold Butler, who has very great experience of international labour movements and whose present appointment in the United States is, perhaps, grooming him for stardom, if I may so put it.
In conclusion, let me say that while our propaganda can only be an ancillary weapon of war, a very large number of people abroad set great store by it. It is true that we cannot know the numbers who listen in Germany, Italy and the 678 occupied countries, but from time to time we read in the Press of those countries of people who have suffered imprisonment, and in some cases, death, for listening to the B.B.C. or picking up leaflets. This proves that there is a response to our propaganda, that there are people waiting for us to give them the call and ready to make every sacrifice, even the supreme sacrifice, if the demand should come. I suggest to the Committee and the Minister that nothing short of the very best is worthy of the devotion of these people in enemy and enemy-occupied countries. I feel that there have been considerable improvements in our propaganda compared with the beginning of the war, but there is a tremendous opportunity for still further improvement and, I repeat, nothing should be put out to those countries which is not of the very highest standard.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
I hope previous speakers will forgive me if I do not follow any of their arguments and I hope the Committee will forgive me if I do not make a speech which contains oratory, wit or anecdote because I know that a great many others want to speak and I want to be brief in making a few definite and practical suggestions. I must say that in my opinion the present Minister of Information is far and away the best we have had. He has achieved a very great success but there is a certain "back-handedness" to the compliment because I think that, to some extent, he has too often avoided criticism by lying low and saying nothing—and I hope there will be no misunderstanding of my use of the first of those verbs.
I think that sometimes he misses opportunities. He has the greatest opportunity that any man could have to stimulate the interest of the people of this country in all the great problems that will have to be faced in the next few years, and although I shall speak only of the broadcasting side, I suggest that one has only to listen for a few minutes to the sentimental, sloppy muck that goes out hour after hour on the Forces programme to realise that we are not using this very good opportunity of educating our people so that they will be really worthy of democracy and able to make the machinery of democracy work in all circumstances. But I would like to pay a tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for the vigour with which he prevents hon. Members from using the machinery of the 679 Ministry of Information for grinding their own axes. He has in the past made a strong defence, for instance, of the autonomy of the B.B.C., but I suggest to him that it is just that desire not to interfere unduly with the B.B.C. that results in the B.B.C. being even more timid than otherwise they would be, and much more susceptible than otherwise they would be to the influence of other Government Departments and the bureaucrat with the blue pencil.
I should like to illustrate this by referring to the programmes that go overseas. I shall not speak about the programmes to Germany and Europe, except to point out that the Senior burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) was unjust to the B.B.C. when he accused them of referring now to Hitlerite Germany. After all, that phrase appears in the Atlantic Charter and the B.B.C. officials responsible for broadcast talks cannot neglect a phrase deliberately chosen by President Roosevelt, the Prime Minister, and Mr. Stalin. I suggest that, on the whole, the broadcasts and propaganda that go out to the occupied countries of Europe are very good indeed. This is partly because there is a long-term planning committee, the Political Warfare Executive, and although there is inevitably a certain conflict between the Political Warfare Executive and the B.B.C, the people in charge of the European services at any rate have carefully thought out long-term and short-time direction. There is also for the European services a diplomatic correspondent who goes around and tries to get news in the same way as the diplomatic correspondents of newspapers. The European editor of the B.B.C. also holds two conferences daily with members of his staff to put forward the directives and discuss with them how those directives can best be translated into propaganda to the different European countries. In other words, the services to Germany and Italy and the occupied countries are satisfactory, on the whole.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to turn his attention now to the very important, and increasingly important, propaganda to the Empire and the United States. For some reason which I do not quite understand, broadcasts to North America come under the Empire services. As far as I can find out, there is for the broad- 680 casts to the United States and the Empire no proper planning committee equivalent to the Political Warfare Executive, which deals only with enemy countries or enemy occupied countries. It seems to me that this is a very serious gap, because obviously what the Empire thinks is becoming increasingly important in its influence upon what this country can do. In regard to these broadcasts, there is no equivalent to the Political Warfare Executive, there is no diplomatic correspondent, there is no daily conference at which all the people who have to issue these different programmes are given a chance of expressing their opinion, and, as far as I can gather, there is no regular contact with the Foreign Office News Department.
I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I point out that many of the people I am compelled to criticise are my personal friends; I hope these friends will not misunderstand me. Many of the directives to those of us who make broadcasts in the Empire and North American services, seem to come from young and rather inexperienced officials who, because they are sitting inside B.B.C. buildings all day doing other things, cannot possibly have the necessary contacts with Government Departments and the necessary knowledge of what is going on. These officials, not getting the necessary directives, become more and more timid. One cannot blame them. I think the blame, if it lies anywhere, lies on the Ministry of Information. The result is that there is intolerable interference with the expression of opinion and sometimes even with the issue of news. Not long ago there was, I believe, a case in which the B.B.C.'s own correspondent in Egypt sent back a despatch which contained preliminary warnings of the troubles and disasters we have had recently, and that despatch was suppressed in the Empire services, with the result that when the news really did come, people were much more shocked than otherwise they would have been.
§ Mr. Bartlett
I understood it was suppressed by a fairly junior official inside the B.B.C. Perhaps I am wrong. What I want to do is to find out from where these suppressions of the expression of 681 opinion come. I hope we shall be told that in the course of the Debate. Not long ago a commentator who was to broadcast to America was told that he must not quote a despatch from India that had appeared that morning in a London daily newspaper. Recently, a commentator, in connection with a broadcast sponsored by the Candian Broadcasting Service—so that the B.B.C. were only acting, as it were, as a post office—was advised not to refer to, and not even to quote, the actual words of the Foreign Secretary's statement in the House of Commons when ho used, in regard to the Anglo-Soviet Treaty, the phrase about opening up a second front in the year 1942. That request to the commentator was subsequently withdrawn, with apologies. But it is extremely difficult to make these broadcasts if one is hampered all the time in this way.
I will give one example of my own. A week ago I was to broadcast to the Empire and North America, and I suggested that the Japanese attack on Soviet Russia, even though it had not started, probably would start, and that we' must keep it in mind. I also referred to the Japanese invasion of some of the Aleutian Islands, and said that it was probably a preparatory move to a Japanese attack on Siberia. When I came to make the broadcast, I found that the whole of that passage was crossed out. It was only the expression of a perfectly normal opinion which had appeared in one form or another in newspapers all over the world. I will give one further example, because I think it is right to give specific instances in support of arguments. There are now rather more Independent Members of the House than there were. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Reakes) and another hon. Member were elected on the same day as Independent Members. The question of whether it is advisable that there should be Independent Members is quite irrelevant at the moment. What matters is that those two hon. Members were elected on the same day and the news was sent all over the world, and was liable to misinterpretation.
I, as an Independent, was broadcasting that day, or a day or two afterwards, and not surprisingly I wanted to broadcast about it in order to explain that not one Independent candidate who has obtained more than two pennyworth of votes has obtained them for reasons other than that 682 he was going to do everything he could to speed up war production and emphasise our force in carrying on the war. It is important that that explanation should go out throughout the world. I was told that it was inadvisable, and that other broadcasters had been told they must not play up this idea. My right hon. Friend is not responsible, because I tackled him on the subject, and, indeed, he expressed a certain amount of indignation. I want to know where the directives come from.
I am convinced we shall never get that closer contact with the United States, for example, which is one of our vital needs at the present time, unless we give out the maximum of news and maintain the maximum freedom of expression. We shall not get the great American net-works to relay British propaganda unless it stands on its own merits. I beg my right hon. Friend to ensure that, if necessary, still more care is taken in the choice of commentators but to see, once they are chosen, whether more discretion cannot be left to them. I ask him whether there cannot be some Committee for Empire and North American broadcasts equivalent to the Political War Executive which deals with broadcasts to Europe. Would it not also be advisable for the Empire and North American services of the B.B.C. to have a diplomatic correspondent who would go out and try to get the news, in the same way as the diplomatic correspondent of a newspaper, so that we need not have undue delay? And lastly, will he remind the staff of the B.B.C. that their job is to overcome bureaucratic control in order to use information as a weapon of war, and not to outdo those bureaucrats.
§ Mr. Harold Nicolson (Leicester, West)
I am indeed glad to follow by hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) and to congratulate him on a speech which was an example for its shortness and its authoritative and well-informed content. I have to echo what my hon. Friend has said in the tribute he has paid to the Minister of Information. In the last 14 months he has done most remarkable work. I should not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater in saying that the real value of the work was negatived in the sense that he has managed to avoid trouble. I should say rather that he has progressed in two very definite and important ways. Firstly the 683 machine of censorship, which is a very difficult machine, now works almost without friction; and, secondly, my right hon. Friend has managed to convince the Press that the Ministry of Information exists for their assistance and for their service and does not seek to exercise over them any form of masterdom. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be the first to say that these effective foundations of Ministry policy were laid down, if not perfected, by his predecessor who is now the Chancellor of the Duchy, I think he would also be the first to say that although he himself has done much he also owes much to the astringent intelligence of his present Director-General, Mr. Cyril Radcliffe; and that the working of the censorship and the relations with the Press owe an enormous debt to the ineffable charm of the latter's predecessor, Sir Walter Monckton.
I shall not trouble the Committee with any criticisms or defences of detail in regard to our propaganda. I wish to indicate to the Committee certain general tendencies along which our propaganda is developing and certain general principles which it is ever increasingly following, and to say a word or two on the important results which I think are already beginning to be obtained. Looking back on these two years since I have been interested and sometimes concerned with propaganda, I would say there are two great lessons we have learned. One relates to home propaganda and the other to foreign propaganda. In the short time at my disposal I will examine these two great lessons in, I hops, their true proportions.
The first great lesson we have learned about home propaganda is that the British people do not like it. We always knew that the British public had a certain distaste for propaganda, but we did not realise that that distaste was not merely a natural repugnance but was actually an allergic condition in the medical sense. There are some people who dislike strawberries and some people on whom strawberries have a definitely malignant effect; but the strawberry of propaganda brings out a raging rash upon the British public. This is a healthy distaste, and we should congratulate ourselves that the public are allergic to propaganda instead of being subjected to it, as the Germans are and to a certain 684 extent the Italians, becoming drug fiends who require alternately the stimulation of self-dramatisation and the narcotic of untruth. If it be true on the home front the British public are allergic to propaganda, that faces the Minister of Information with great problems, since it is evident that the Ministry must concentrate not upon what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary called "pep" talks but upon information and instruction.
In regard to information, we are immediately up against difficulties which the Committee and the House as a whole fully recognise. There is the difficulty which is incorporated in a phrase, of which hon. Members are unjustifiably and even unintelligently suspicious, namely, the phrase "conveying information to the enemy." When in war this phrase is used, as for instance in the case of the sinking of the "Barham," it is said that the Government are with some malfeisant intent "denying information to the public" but the fact is that when a capital ship is sunk the enemy are often unaware of it and the immediate disclosure of such information would be of essential value to them. It is the task of the Ministry of Information—and I think my right hon. Friend and his really admirable staff are fulfilling that task with extreme alertness and intelligence—constantly to review bans which have previously been placed, on references, for instance, to some weapon of war, and to go through their lists to see when they can release as much as is possible without conveying information which is of value to the enemy.
I now come to instruction. There must be a great deal of jam around the powder, but the public must not be allowed to suppose that the jam is all that is intended. I do not know whether hon. Members heard last night the "Next of Kin" broadcast on the wireless. It was very well done. They said "This is a propaganda film to prevent people using careless talk"—that is the way to do it, to say "There is a lesson to learn but I think you will like it," and not, in any circumstances, to attempt to hide the powder in the jam or trick the British people. You cannot do it.
I now pass from what we have learnt on the Home front to the lesson which those interested in the matter have learned from the activities of the last two or three 685 years on the foreign front. It is a lesson of the profound difference that exists between the principles, the purposes and the methods of our propaganda and those of German propaganda. It was the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Thomas) who rather sneered at my right hon. Friend for repeating so often that he was not as Dr. Goebbels is. But, the very foundation of the problem is this very difference between the two conceptions of propaganda. If we do not realise from the start that we must aim at an exactly opposite goal; in our every function, method and conception of propaganda, we shall not apply to this difficult, intricate and variegated problem that fundamental certainty of purpose which is essential for its understanding. I said that we were different from the Germans, in principle, conception, and I should add methods, and certainly intention. By principle I mean" the question of truth. I mean that the German disregard for truth is one of the few really consistent faults of that great country. They have a far greater disregard for truth than we have ourselves. From a practical point of view it is a great error to enter into competition with anyone whose capital is more extensive than one's own: and no one could dream of playing poker with a man when he possessed but ten shillings in his pocket whereas his opponent was prepared to lose immediately £100. If we were so foolish as to enter into a competition of untruthfulness with the Germans we should be out-gunned every time. So that actually, from the point of view of expediency, apart from that of ethics, the ingenious propagation of untruth is completely opposite to what we should ever try to do. We should never try in our propaganda by any means to toy with veracity.
The second difference—and it is more important than the difference of principle—is, I think, the difference of conception. By that I mean that the German conception of propaganda is above all a military conception—a soldier's conception, It is a conception of political warfare, it is war by some other means. Whereas our conception is, and should remain so in spite of all temptations, a civilian conception, a mercantile conception, a shopkeeper's conception. In other words the Germans aim at inspiring fear. We aim at creating confidence. The German's is necessarily a short-term policy. Ours 686 is and must remain a long-term policy. As against their "smash and grab" policy we can and ought only to aim at a slow construction of that network of confidence and credit which has in the past proved so enormous a success in the commercial history of this country. If the Committee keep that essential and to my mind vital difference in their mind they will be less inclined to become impatient, as we must all become impatient, of incidental terrors and deficiencies and of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) called the "timidities" of the B.B.C.
If we admit that our conception, principles and purposes are entirely and fundamentally opposed to those of the Germans, then it follows that the methods must also be different. Our method must always be not to try to win cheap verbal victories, not to try to score off, not to evade immediate difficulties, but always to concentrate on a long-term policy, and always to feel that we have one great, asset we possess in foreign propaganda which the Germans have not, in that the world knows perfectly well that if the war lasts another year or two years we are certain to win and that unless the Germans achieve victory before the end of this year they are certain to lose. That is a great asset for us. Therefore do not let us encourage, even by our criticism or by suggestions, either to the Ministry or any other agency of propaganda, the idea that we should ever concentrate upon more short-term methods, more direct and more immediate dramatic results, than we are following at present. And let us not nag too much at those who are carrying out a very slow and cumulative task, who are seeking by various means to build a wide network of confidence and credit, and cause them discouragement by telling them that they are more stupid, more ignorant, more unaware than is in fact the case.
Propaganda must always be judged by its results. There is an English habit of disparaging all our actions and being convinced that they are done much better by other people. It is an unsavoury habit which I am afraid is affecting every branch of the British race. I remember that in the last war we were convinced, even more than we are now, that our propaganda was perfectly idiotic and wholly ineffective, that it was governed, ruled, directed and executed by zanies. 687 When the war was over, Hitler wrote a book describing the appalling effect upon himself personally and his comrades of this terrific propaganda. Many professors of Harvard and Yale and, I regret to say, even Princeton, have devoted months of study and work to the publication of books showing the American public how the great white soul of the United States was entangled in the octopus of British propaganda. Let us remember, therefore, that last time we thought we were doing it badly while we were not; let us bear in mind that propaganda cannot be judged by its incidents but only by its results. And what are the results? There is hardly a single disinterested person in the occupied countries who does not long for our victory, hardly a single person in enemy countries who, in spite of all the torrent and thunders and bombardment of propaganda to which he is exposed by every agency of German publicity, does not disbelieve in a German victory and dread it as the greatest evil on earth. The Germans have not been able to inspire the peoples of the countries which they occupy, although every agency of propaganda is employed to acquire any confidence in themselves.
The most useful function that Members of this House can exercise in regard to propaganda is not to pick little holes but to be vigilant—and for that I wish it were possible for them to have far more material at their disposal—to see that we maintain the principles of confidence and credit which are our central principles of propaganda and to leap upon the Ministry or any other agency of propaganda which in whatever circumstances, under whatever temptation, departs even by the smallest millimetre of an inch from absolute truth.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I must ask the Committee most respectfully for the indulgence which I gather is usually extended to these first efforts.
I must first say that I cannot altogether agree with one thing which the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) said in his eloquent speech. Indeed, I think that the latter part of what he said to some extent offset what he said at the beginning. I do not believe that British people or any other people are allergic to propaganda. I think that they are only allergic to bad, crude propaganda. When propaganda is 688 imperceptible as such, or good of its kind, I think that the British people react very favourably to it. A good example of that is the admirable film which has been mentioned to-day, "Target for To-night." It was certainly propaganda, but equally certainly neither the British people nor the American people were allergic to it.
The word "propaganda," which seems to trouble some people, is definable quite simply as the most effective presentation of all the truth that can with due regard for security be published. I feel that in some branches of our propaganda effort we have failed both in fullness and in effectiveness of presentation.
One hon. Member alluded to the intervention of the Minister of Information in last week's Debate. An hon. Member was criticising the Ministry because, as he said, the story of the Cologne raid had been over emphasised a few weeks ago, and the right hon. Gentleman intervened to point out very properly that he was not responsible directly for any emphasis that the Press might put upon this story, that we had a free Press, and so on. He was correct, of course, in what he said, but the implication was perhaps misleading, because, as every journalist knows, the Press is subject not only to a nominally voluntary censorship, but also to constant daily guidance in such matters. Air correspondents and military experts attend frequent conferences, and no newspaper now published would venture to handle a major war news event without knowing pretty thoroughly what was in the official mind about it.
What interests me about the right hon. Gentleman's disavowal of responsibility is that it seems to imply a fundamental weakness in his organisation. My complaint about the Ministry of Information is not that it is too large or too interfering or even that it is too slow, but that it is not strong enough. It is not strong enough to overrule the Service Departments, which have frequently been responsible for some of the worst delays and muddles of the censorship and also for the publication of exaggeratedly optimistic reports of the kind which have been rightly criticised. It is not strong enough to overrule the Ministry of Home Security, although on the home propaganda front the dissemination of rumours which do infinite damage to morale, and which the Ministry of Information through its 689 regional organisation is constantly trying to catch up with, is often directly attributable to the excessive addiction to secrecy of the Ministry of Home Security. A city—shall we call it Barchester—is blitzed. Twenty people are killed. Their names and the details of the casualties are posted next day outside the town hall, where all the citizens can see them. They are not published in the newspapers yet. Twenty miles from Barchester you hear next day that 200 people have been killed. Thirty miles away you probably hear that 2,000 have been killed. Probably most hon. Members in their own neighbourhoods have had examples of the way in which this kind of rumour is spread and magnified. But the various highly reputable and efficient local represesentatives of the Ministry of Information are not allowed to contradict the rumours in the only way in which they can be effectively contradicted—by telling the facts of the situation at Barchester. All they can say is, "No, it is not true that 2,000 were killed," They cannot say, "I have it officially on record, although it is not to be published in the newspapers, that only 20 or 24 were killed there yesterday."
Another matter which I may mention in passing, since it also concerns the Ministry of Home Security, is that one valuable weapon of home propaganda still remains unused, although it Would cost the Ministry of Information nothing to use it. I refer to the "Daily Worker." I should like, if it is within the scope of this Debate, to say that——
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
I do not think that that matter is within the scope of the Debate.
§ Mr. Driberg
I bow to your Ruling. I have said that the Ministty of Information is not strong enough to overrule either the Service Departments or the Ministry of Home Security; nor is It strong enough to contend against certain powerful influences in the Foreign Office. I believe it was largely the Foreign Office that was responsible for the belatedness and, to a great extent, the ineffectiveness of our propaganda effort in America. I had the privilege recently of making an extensive tour of the United States, for five months. Wherever I went I found that the Americans were full of admiration for the people of London and other blitzed cities, as they had heard of them from their correspon- 690 dents here. They were completely ignorant of the facts of our war effort on the production side, and doubtful about our war effort on the military side; and a large proportion of them were filled with suspicion of our intentions towards them, both now and after the war.
It seems to me that this nation-wide, coast-to-coast inadequacy of presentation of the British case must mean some grave defect in our machine and personnel there. Our information services in America have recently been drastically reorganised. I believe that, on the whole, the reorganisation has been on the right lines, especially in the direction of decentralisation and in the opening up of bureaux in cities far from New York and far from Washington. The root trouble there has been that most of the official people who have been sent there, mostly by the Foreign Office—I am sorry to harp on this, but it is true—have not been the right type of Englishmen to impress or get the liking of our open-hearted and open-handed American Allies. In one city I asked an American friend what he thought of one of our representatives there who had been well spoken of to me by English friends. "Yes," said this American, "he freezes you with his charm." I suggest that is not the right type of person to have sent to America, and that the Foreign Office system of routine promotion, by which a man whose personality and talents may be perfectly well suited to an archaic Balkan court is sent to Washington merely because that is the next step up for him, is not suited to the present Crisis. It is one of the anomalies of current affairs that the personal prestige of the Foreign Secretary himself stands high among the free peoples of the world—far higher than the reputation of his Department.
I am not suggesting a strengthening of the Ministry at the expense of the Press. I believe that most pressmen would welcome a stronger central co-ordination of censorship and public relations services which would speed things up, cut out time-lags, and cut out also the often unseemly scrambles for publicity between the Service Departments. I am not suggesting a more rigorous censorship. On the contrary I believe a really strong Minister—a good Goebbels, if one might say so—would often overrule purely security objections on grounds of broad propaganda importance, thus frequently releasing news which under the present 691 system tends to toe held up indefinitely. I am suggesting something on the lines of the re-organisation of the American information services which has recently been put into effect under Mr. Elmer Davis, who now has power to instruct other Departments both what they are to publish and what they are not to publish. It is too early yet to say how this will work out in practice. In America, as here, we have to fight against the attitude of "brass hats," if I may use the term, who say, "We don't want amateurs and civilians messing about with our war." I believe that attitude is harmful to the conduct of the war generally, nullifies official tributes to propaganda as "the fourth fighting arm," and fails to realise the immense and ubiquitous scope of propaganda. It also shows a failure to realise that it was propaganda alone which gave Hitler his long start in Europe.
I would like to say a final word, though I am afraid I am trespassing on the time of the Committee. Like several earlier speakers I would say that propaganda, to be of long-term effectiveness, must be related to truth, to the facts. That refers to propaganda both on the home front and abroad. It is no good preaching about equality of sacrifice if every housewife and every soldier knows that there is not, yet really anything approaching equality of sacrifice. It remains true that the best propaganda is a victory, but as we cannot have military victories every day, let us have another kind of victory to proclaim to the world, a victory over the old impulses of private greed and profit, a victory over old prejudices and fears—fear of Bolshevism and of what it may do to Europe after the war, fear of yielding up our privileges in case we never get them back. I believe it is only in that way that we can convince all our own people and all our friends in other countries both that we are invincible and that we deserve victory.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
I have always looked forward to the opportunity of following a maiden speech when I could really speak my mind and speak the truth, and happily to-day is the occasion. Many of us have read for years past the wise, shrewd and witty comments made in one of our most popular morning papers by the hon. Member who has just spoken and possibly did not foresee that one day those written 692 words would be reinforced by the more direct spoken word. To-day I am in the happy position of telling the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) how much I personally appreciate his straightforward analysis of the problems connected with propaganda, and his very sincere views on how the propaganda position should be dealt with. I hope he will be spared long, despite his growingly popular position as an Independent, to contribute to our Debates, and I can only regret that he has found himself, as I understand, in some divergence with the political views of the paper whose ranks he adorns.
Coming to the subject before us, propaganda, I find myself faced with one issue: Is our propaganda good or is it bad? In trying to decide that issue I have to divide it up into home and foreign propaganda. To deal with the home front, and I am making only a few and friendly criticisms, not in any way hostile, not in any way unconstructive, I think that on the whole our propaganda, as far as I am allowed to know what it is, is good. There is the question of the balancing of reports of speeches and discussions and debates. I am well aware that Mr. Speaker, in his wisdom, has decreed that minorities should always be given an even better chance than the majority in Parliament. That is wise, and the result has been very good for our Debates. If that practice is followed, as I think it has been followed, by the. B.B.C. of giving minorities a better chance than the majority for the expression of their views, that may be all right at home and may be perfectly understood at home, but it may not be so wise as regards the effect abroad, because it may give a misleading impression of the general views held in this country.
I am dealing only briefly with the points I wish to make, because so many others wish to speak. I should like to make one point about the B.B.C. announcers, whose voices charm us every night. They are good voices, though sometimes the stuff is not so good. They have, I think, a habit of announcing a disaster which mortally afflicts the British people cheek by jowl with some comparatively unimportant success. They give the comparatively unimportant success a sort of note of triumph so as to appear to offset the disaster just announced. It really does not matter, of course, and probably it is human, but it is very trying for some listeners. Would 693 it be possible to have a panel of technical experts to go to the factories, shops and works and, perhaps in co-operation with the management, give explanatory talks about the war or about lags in production existing possibly in that or in a neighbouring factory? I am certain that the workers and the management, understanding the difficulties, would not get disheartened when something might be going wrong.
§ Mr. Thurtle
May I tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman that that is already being done to some extent?
§ Sir T. Moore
I apologise that I was unable to hear the greater part of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I go further than that, and suggest that the Minister appoint a panel of speakers, consisting to some extent of Members of this House, to go round and give war commentaries, which I have found from personal experience in my constituency are the most important and the most popular method by which the war and its developments are made known to the people.
I will leave home propaganda and come to foreign propaganda. I hate the word "propaganda," but it is always used. Is our foreign propaganda successful or is it not? Again I come back to the point that very few of us can judge the answer to that question because we have been prevented from seeing the script of speeches and talks that are given abroad. I would reinforce what one or two speakers have already said, that it might be an advantage, after the talks have been given, to put them either into the OFFICIAL REPORT or into the Library, so that we can follow the gradual evolution of what is happening. We could then visualise how this type of propaganda, this method of telling and presenting the truth, is affecting many of the people whom we have known in foreign countries in the past and expect to meet again at some time.
I want to stress the point about our modesty, referred to by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). Is it right that we should always present our case in the most modest light? We have a lot to be proud of as a nation and very little to regret. It is time that, in our propaganda, we reminded neutral countries especially that it is not by accident that the British flag still flies over one-fifth of the globe, 694 that our democratic institutions and Constitution are followed by all free countries as well as by those seeking to be free, that we were the only people in the world who did not recognise that we were defeated in June, 1940, that it is not by accident that all subject races are looking to us to-day and to these Islands for hopes of deliverance from the Nazi yoke. We should drive home those things to neutrals. We should let them know that it is our character, built during 900 years of battle for social and religious freedom, which is responsible for all this. As the hon. Member for Cambridge University said, we have something to sell to the world, and we should not let the world try to find out for itself what we have to sell.
I would like to know what my right hon. Friend is doing about M.O.I, films. I understand that they are to be cut down or in some way restricted. They are one of the best features that the Ministry has started, and they should be used in North and South America and in neutral countries. I am wondering whether the Ministry have perceived that possibility for their extension. What about the lecturers who were sent abroad to represent British character and British views to foreign countries that are still neutral and are our friends as well? The other day, we sent a very old friend of ours, or we allowed him to go. I want to know why. I do not want to make any personal remarks about an old colleague and trusted friend, but the Ministry ought to be more careful, when exit visas are given, about the people who are going abroad to spread what are supposedly our views among friends and Allies in America.
We are told that there are 50,000,000 people in America still hostile to Britain. If so, something must be done about it. There must be some way of overcoming that position, whether by propaganda or not, and we should propagate the truth to North America and the United States, as well as to other people. There is some queer inhibition in this House and in Government Departments that for some reason we should not try to propagate the truth in the United States. Why not? They are good friends of ours, born of the same stock in many cases and with the same traditions, way of life and outlook. Those are the people whom we want to make sure are our friends, and 695 we should not leave 50,000,000 hostile people. What about Eire? Are we doing anything to show Eire that the best of her sons are fighting in the British Forces and the second best are working in the farms and factories, and that only those who sit at home are supporting their Government in neutrality and in the inexplicable idea that British sailors should lose their lives bringing food to Eire while Eire retains the ports which might save those lives? Those are points to which the Ministry of Information might devote their attention.
What is being done to develop understanding of Britain in Russia? We believe in Russia, we believe in her capacity for armed force and in her inherent determination to defend her own soil. We are giving her every support. We are developing Anglo-Russian societies all over the country. We are having pro-Russian speakers in every town. Are the Ministry ensuring, with the co-operation of the Russian Ministry of Propaganda, that the same thing is happening in Russia? I hope so, because we have to work together alter the war. After the war we have to build the new world about which we have been talking. It would help Russia and us, because we are both Europeans—to some extent.
Finally, about Germany. I will not talk about the Dominions. They do not want propaganda. They only want the truth. They do not understand propaganda. We all know that, at the beginning of the war, the German people supported the Nazis because they believed the Nazis were on the road to success and therefore it would end the war most quickly if the whole of Germany supported the Nazi régime. That situation is changed. People now support the Nazis through fear of what may happen to the German people, after the war has been won by the United Nations. They know that there is a night—if not a year—of the long knives waiting for them. Would it be possible, in our talks to Germany, to let them know that the sands are running out? There still must be some decent German people; if they will turn and eliminate Hitler and his Nazi gang, there is still hope for them, and the night of the long knives may possibly be averted. I believe that there may be something still to be done in separating the Nazis from the Germans; I am doubtful, but there 696 may be something to be done, and so much depends upon the fifth arm, this very powerful weapon of war we have in the Ministry of Information. The greatest brains and the most powerful determination should be co-ordinated in that Ministry to make quite sure that the efforts of our soldiers, sailors and airmen are not wasted by any inefficiency in our propaganda methods.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I would like to say that I agree wholeheartedly with many of the points that have been made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). Like him, I think that something might be done about the B.B.C. announcers. I agree with him that their voices are extremely attractive, but frequently one longs for a voice perhaps not quite so charming as their voices are. As a matter of fact, in my own home we occasionally have a competition, guessing the name of the announcer from his opening sentences because the voices are so much alike. Possibly Mr. Bruce Belfrage's voice has a little more port in it, but apart from that there is very little to choose between them. I think it would be an advantage occasionally if we could hear over the radio announcers who showed that this country has many dialects, all of which are good in their way and have something to commend them.
§ Mr. Hall
Yes, I certainly like to listen to Mr. Pickles, partly because he uses the dialect of those in the area which I represent, which is both a very good area to represent and a very good dialect to listen to. I also agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs when he said that he did not like the word "propaganda." It is indeed an ugly word, but I do not know what other we can use in its place. Originally it had a religious significance, and it would perhaps be a good thing if to-day we could put into our propaganda some of the religious fervour of its earlier practitioners. We as a race instinctively dislike the use of propaganda, perhaps partly because we have always felt so secure. I read somewhere the other day that it is a sign of a high civilisation not to like propaganda of any kind; whether that is so or not, it is true that we have almost 697 to force ourselves to use this weapon to-day. That we have to use it, I have not the slightest doubt. There is an old saying, familiar to all of us, that." the pen is mightier than the sword." That is now completely outmoded. It is the tongue that is mightier than either the pen or the sword. The human voice now achieves in a short time over the wireless what it might take some thousands of tanks to accomplish on another field.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I listened carefully to the speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I think I am correct in saying that it is his first appearance as a Minister at that Box, and if I may say so in passing, I should like to congratulate him upon it. [HON MEMBERS: "No."] At any rate, it is the first time I have heard him open a Debate from that place, and perhaps I may take this opportunity of congratulating him upon his appearance there to-day. Running throughout his statement, I felt, was a note of apology on behalf of the Ministry for having spent so much money. In these days when we are spending many millions a day it does not appear to matter very much how much the Ministry of Information is spending, provided that it is spending it in the right way and is getting results from what it spends. We should ask ourselves, firstly what is the aim of the Ministry when it spends this money, and secondly whether those aims are being achieved.
I take it that the avenues open to the Ministry in its efforts towards carrying through its propaganda are the platform, the radio, the Press and the cinema. I was very glad indeed to hear the Parliamentary Secretary devote an appreciable part of his speech to the work which is being done through the agency of films; I think it is the first time that a Minister at that Box has done such a thing. Some of us are apt to forget what a potent and comparatively new weapon the film is, particularly since sound has been wedded to it.
So far as my information and experience go, the speakers whom the Ministry of Information has sent to various parts of the country have been on the whole good. So far as the area I know best is concerned, the speakers who have come to us have been appreciated; they have not been highbrow, they have spoken 698 —if I may use a Quaker phrase—to the condition of the people who came to hear them. More often than not their meetings have been crowded out, and overflows have been held. That, I think, is evidence that what is being done in that direction is acceptable, and is fulfilling a useful purpose towards enheartening and informing the people of these Islands.
I will say nothing about the Press, partly because the Press can take care of itself and partly because my time is naturally limited, but I would ask whether the Ministry have considered the possibility of getting articles of one kind or another into what I might call the subsidiary Press. I know that journals of every kind have been drastically cut, but nevertheless there are still small trade journals, trade union journals and other specialised periodicals of one kind and another published, which circulate in a modest way within the homes of the people, and which are read by the womenfolk in-their kitchens, or by the menfolk before the fire on a Sunday. Articles in those papers, calculated to keep up morale and to instruct ordinary folk, form a medium which I suggest should not be overlooked.
May I now quite briefly refer to the cinema and the use of films as propaganda? There are in this country about 4,000 cinemas, with a seating capacity of something like 4,000,000. That is terrific in terms of the number of times which those seats can be used in the course of a week, a month or a year. There is in to-day's "Times," as doubtless most hon. Members have seen, a letter from a well-known producer—the producer of "Next of Kin," which I think a majority of us have seen—in which he points out that before the war commercial producers in this country were turning out about 200 films a year.
When the war broke out that number naturally diminished. A, number of studios were, commandeered by the Government for other purposes; a certain number of men were called up; others went voluntarily; and in one way and another there was a natural diminution in the output of British films. Last year about 75 films were produced, I think, and how many will be produced this year is, at the moment, difficult to say. It is variously estimated at from 40 to 60. I was delighted to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say, what is undoubtedly true— 699 for I have for quite a long while taken a keen interest in films as a medium of propaganda and for the spreading of British culture—that although there had been a drop in quantity there had most certainly been a rise in the quality of British films. That advance is very well worth while preserving, but it cannot be preserved unless we, as a House of Commons, see to it that this industry is helped to keep alive.
At the end of the last war the British film industry was practically dead. It was because of the short-sighted policy of the Government at that time that Hollywood became the household word it is to-day, and that American films found their way into almost every comer of the world.' It is a fact that American ways, American culture, and the American method of looking at things, have permeated in ways which perhaps we hardly understand, into many countries, including the British Dominions, simply and solely because during the last war this nation was not sufficiently alive to the extreme potency of this weapon for spreading a way of life which we think precious and which should be demonstrated to the world. I am glad to see that the Ministry of Information at any rate is fully alive to the fact that the British film industry is of importance and should be kept going.
I see on the Front Bench representatives of other Ministries, but the one Ministry that is not there, which should be there at this time, is the War Office. It seems to me that the War Office, at the present time, is not sufficiently alive to the need for assisting, as far as it can under the stress of the national emergency, to help the British film industry. Films cannot function unless you have people to play in them, and it is a fact that the filmgoer likes to see young people in films. So far as male artists are concerned, those are the very men likely to be called up to the Forces. The Minister of Information is not here at the moment, but I would like to say that he, at any rate, is fully alive to this and is also fully alive to what is undoubtedly the case, that you should not keep young men who are Ai and of military age out of the Forces purely to act in films. Accordingly he, in consultation with the industry, evolved what I think was an excellent way out of the dilemma. That 700 was that these men should go into the Forces and should from time to time be liberated temporarily to act in films as their services were required. This solution not only helps British films but also helps to earn dollars when those films, as we hope, reach the other side of the Atlantic.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
Is not that actually taking place now? Are not soldiers taking part in that stimulating, helpful and inspiring production, "Next of Kin"?
§ The Chairman
I must point out to the hon. Member that had he put his remarks in a slightly different way there would have been no objection to them. But as he specifically referred to the War Office, and to no representative of the War Office being present, I must point out that there is no War Office Vote down today.
§ Mr. Hall
I, of course, note your Ruling, Sir Dennis, and if I may reply to the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon), I would remark that I was trying to say that the present Minister of Information was fully alive to this dilemma and had hit on a way of meeting it, and had not only, with others, hit on the way of meeting it, but had actually put that way into operation. The difficulty' is that the last word does not rest with the Minister of Information; it rests, and possibly quite naturally, with the Service Departments or rather with the particular Service into which an individual actor has gone. I had an instance brought to my notice quite recently which I use as an example and which accounts for my reference to the War Office. A certain well-known British actor was in the Army. He was an entertainment officer but had been liberated for a certain war film.' He was about to go back when both the Ministry of Information and the Home Office indicated that they were anxious that he should act in a film dealing with the heroic work of the London Fire Service. One can have imagined no better film in which a man of that kind could be used. It would be entertainment; it would show not only our own people but the world just what fine work ordinary, men and women of the London Fire Service did 701 during the intense aerial bombardments to which we were subjected some time ago. But although the Ministry of Information and the Home Office made representations, the War Office put its foot down, and this entertainments officer who, by the way, was carrying on his Army work as an entertainments officer between his appearances on the "set," was not allowed to perform this very useful piece of service. I hope that the Ministry of Information will not allow the Services to interfere in this way with what must be considered work of great national importance, and that it will, if need be, take the matter to higher authority.
Finally, on the general question of propaganda may I say that I agree with what has been said as to the great need to choose the right people to represent us abroad? Some months ago there was a suggestion that a prominent Member of this House, who has been a trade union leader, should go to Washington as a Labour representative. I for one was sorry that that suggestion was not followed up. We send—though not always—the wrong people abroad. To what extent the Ministry of Information helps to choose those who go I do not know, but it is quite likely that they are consulted in the matter. The films division of their Ministry is staffed by some very excellent men, and they have, so far as films are concerned, sent some very excellent representatives to America. In other directions there are gaps. I gather there is a good deal of ignorance on the part of the American public as to just how much we, for example, have helped the United States, even within the last few months. One hears such stories as this, that it was published widely in America that the barrage balloons which were protecting the Panama Canal were much better than the British. Apparently the American public did not know that this country had provided those balloons, that they were manufactured here, and were the same as we had been using throughout the worst blitzes. That is one instance, and one could give others. If that is so, it is an indication that although we have made very great strides in the use of propaganda as a weapon, we have still a long way to go. I am one of those who believe that we shall not achieve very much in enemy countries by propaganda. One good victory will do far more to weaken enemy morale than all the broad- 702 casts to Germany, necessary though these are. Our foreign broadcasts can do much to enhearten our friends abroad, but if through our propaganda we can keep the morale of our own people high and encourage our friends wherever they are and if, in addition, we can sustain, in so far as we can through this weapon, those who are fighting in the field, on the sea and in the air, we shall have done much to achieve that victory we all desire.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)
I would like to add my bouquet to the Minister of Information along with those of other Members. He has been by far the most successful Minister of Information we have had. His position is a very important one. Whether we think propaganda is important or not is another thing, but the Minister of Information and his Department have a very important part to perform both in this country and abroad. I am glad that under his management there seems to be less criticism and difficulty, and that his Ministry is running more smoothly than it did at first. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) said that one should judge propaganda by results. It is not so much propaganda. I am told by those who remember the Press in the last war that in this war at any rate the Press has been very much more critical and hostile on many occasions with regard to Ministers and to the Government as a whole than was the case in the last war. I do not deprecate criticism. It is desirable, but I wonder whether part of that criticism is not due to what I may call bad mechanics in the Ministry itself. I do not want to criticise any individual officers at all, but I wonder whether in the past there has not been a tendency to accept officers in the Ministry to deal with the Press who are not necessarily the best that could be obtained. There are some very distinguished journalists in this country to-day who are not being made use of, and I. wonder whether the Government might not sometimes have had a smoother passage and the public have understood better what the Government were driving at if some of the first-class men who can be found in Fleet Street had been invited to join the staff of that Ministry. That might also apply to some of the more junior posts. One still hears a number of stories of rather haphazard methods of filling posts in the Ministry. I would 703 ask the Minister, when he replies, to state whether he is satisfied that he always obtains the best appointments for particular positions.
Is he satisfied that the Ministry does not sometimes encourage wishful thinking and undermines the public confidence in the B.B.C., in communiques and in military spokesman and others? He would no doubt make a very good case that the Minister of Information has, very little to do with presenting the news. I am not clear whether the Ministry of Information has a staff in the Middle East or not, but I understand that a service is attached to the Cairo headquarters, who, in addition to the official communiques, give out information to journalists employed by individual newspapers. The Ministry and the public relations departments of the Service Ministries give a considerable amount of direction to the Press. I understand that sometimes the optimistic atmosphere which later turns out not to be justified is due to the fault of the Press. They may take, a cautious official statement or a Press conference, which is reasonably well balanced and cautious in its tone, and write up the most encouraging aspects, and, if things go wrong later, the Ministry or the public relations departments of the Services are blamed for what in fact is a Press mistake or the newspapers' own gloss. It is a difficult question. What encouragement should be injected into the tone of the news both for ourselves at home and abroad is a difficult question.
The hon. Member for West Leicester stressed very greatly, as have other hon. Members, that the most important and fundamental thing in British propaganda and news is that it should be very close to the truth. But the matter is not as simple as that. You can give a false impression by weighting news and giving too much emphasis to a small item of good news and very little attention to the bad news which may exist. It is not enough simply to say that the only guiding principle must be the absolute truth. With that we all agree. The Ministry and the Service public relations departments should be more careful and not encourage the Press and the B.B.C. to take too rosy a view of situations. That has undermined the faith of people in this country more than anything else in our 704 news. If that is so of our own home listeners, it must be even more true of people listening in the occupied countries, and in neutral countries, 4f there are any left. There is no point in discouraging people unnecessarily, but, on the other hand, the confidence of the public as to whether they are being told the full facts or not can often be traced back to bulletins or to a tendency in the publication of news, which, while being factually correct, gives too optimistic a view.
The only other point I want to raise refers to foreign broadcasts. I hope that the Minister will tell us something about the policy of broadcasts, about the kind of reception, the number of people who can listen in, and the place that he considers that broadcasting and other methods of spreading news can take in the war effort in Europe. It is obviously coming to the time when broadcasting and other methods of spreading news will be of increasing importance. At one time, I feel, there was a tendency on the part of the Government as a whole to regard this sort of propaganda as of very little importance in war, but with the development of sabotage, the slowing down of production, which is rather a different thing, actual acts of war in which people in occupied countries do engage in now, and the possibility of a second front in the near future, broadcasting to occupied countries is increasingly important. I would like here to say that I hope our rather amateurish policy of the V-campaign is completely at an end. I do not think it did any good; it came at an unfortunate time and resulted for a time in Russian broadcasts being looked forward to even more than British broadcasts by persons on the Continent, because they seemed much more realistic and downright than our broadcasts. Can the Minister tell us whether there is any sort of co-ordination between our propaganda in Europe and Russian propaganda? I understand that there are American broadcasts to the Continent now and if that is so it means that America, Britain and Russia will all be broadcasting to the Continent and it is vitally important that their points of view should, if possible, be co-ordinated. I do not know whether anything has been done in this connection, but if so I shall be very glad to hear about it from the Minister.
Several speakers, including the senior Member for Cambridge University (Mr. 705 Pickthorn), have spoken about Germany. He said he thought there was very little we could say to the Germans. I wonder whether that is true. The first thing in broadcasting or propaganda policy is to know in what state of mind are the people you wish to approach. All public relations work ought to be two-way. When dealing with the German public you must know their attitude to present problems. There is a large section of the German public which is utterly disillusioned and discouraged, and whose morale is not high as a result of the hardships and setbacks of last winter. I am told that the Russian campaign had a tremendous effect on civilian morale in Germany, starting about October. That is also borne out by the fact that it was only in the spring, I think, that Goebbels for the first time began using the argument that however disagreeable were the war and conditions for the German people, it would be worse still it they were plunged into another 1919. He was appealing with almost the last argument one would have imagined he would use—that, difficult as the war is, to lose it would be far worse as regards practical living conditions. I do not want to be over-optimistic about the morale of the German people, but there is a good deal of evidence that older civilians in Germany are getting very hopeless and that the only thing they care about is how they can survive through into some sort of tolerable period of peace.
I wonder whether, in these circumstances, it would not be the best thing for us to take up the attitude that our victory is inevitable, that the longer it is put off the worse it will be for them and for the powers that rule Germany and who persecute, execute and starve the subject peoples, and that the more terrifying and ferocious will be the revenge of those people when the end comes. It should be suggested that the only way out is to bring the war to an end quickly. Maybe the time has not yet come, but I do ask the Minister to tell us what information, on behalf of the British people, the Ministry of Information and the B.B.C. are putting out to Germany and the occupied countries. I think we deserve to be told. There is a high responsibility on those who conduct propaganda to Europe. They will play a very big part in shortening the war. We as a country have not taken a very great interest in European affairs in the past. We have the reputation of 706 trying to isolate ourselves as much as possible, but there is a great opportunity, in co-operation with our Allies, of taking the leadership of Europe, and my final request, therefore, is that the Minister should not only give us as much information as he can to-day, but that he should consider whether this secrecy with regard to leaflets and other activities is necessary and whether we ought not to be informed of what is being done.
§ Sir Malcolm Robertson (Mitcham)
I have had some doubts as to whether I should intervene in this Debate at all. As I understand it, it is about the Ministry of Information and Allied Propaganda, and I propose with the permission and patience of the Committee to say something about an allied organisation, namely, the British Council and its work. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am very grateful for that approval. Propaganda, as it is usually understood, is not really the work of the British Council, and yet, I think my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information will not deny that the work of the British Council is complementary to, and indeed, to my thinking, an essential foundation for, the work of the Ministry.
I do not suppose that any travelled Member of the House will deny the very general proposition that there are no two countries in the world—and I do not care where they be—the peoples of which understand the first thing about each other. We here, as has been our practice for a number of decades, invariably eat humble pie on this proposition. We admit the complaints of other nations that we know nothing about them. I carry the attack into their camp, and I tell them that they know just as little about us. That, to my mind, is a fact, and a most deplorable one. The people and Governments of this country through the decades have taken no interest in explaining to foreign countries the attitude of mind, the mentality, the general make-up of the people of this country. The result has been that our whole case has gone by default, and we are generally misunderstood throughout the world, even in those countries where, surely, we should be best understood—the countries with which we have traded and with which we have been in friendly official relationships for a great number of decades. Nothing was done on our side until six or seven years 707 ago. Previous to that we allowed Germany and Italy, with millions of money spent by each of them, to spread about under the name of culture their pestilential political doctrines. France did much the same. We did nothing until the British Council was formed.
Without detaining the Committee too long, I would like to insist on the objects and ends of the work of the British Council. Soon after I became Chairman, I circulated to all hon. Members a copy of our annual report, but I would like to point out that our idea, the whole object of the work of the British Council, is devoted to two ends. In the first place, we are trying to show foreign countries what the make-up of the British people is. We are trying to explain to them what our Parliamentary institutions are, what our local government system is, what our social services are, what our Labour movement is, what the trade unions are, what our arts are, what our sciences are, and even what our games are and mean in our national life and make-up. We are explaining ourselves to foreign nations, but—and to all those who have travelled abroad this is of vital importance—we are not laying down the law, we are not saying to them that we in Britain and in the British Empire live in this way and unless they live this way, they are uncivilised and will never amount to anything of importance. We merely say, "This is our make-up, this is our mentality and outlook towards life; now we beg you to come over and tell us what your outlook on life is, how you are made up, what your Parliamentary and other institutions are. and what your recreations are." It has to be a two-way traffic, to which one hon. Member alluded.
What have we done so far with the money at our disposal? We have sent abroad lecturers of eminence on many subjects, and we have founded British and Anglophile institutes all over the world—that is to say, in peace-time. We have been informed by the Greek and Yugoslav Governments that it was in large measure due to the work of the British Council in their country that they decided that the British point of view was one that was worth something in civilisation and the advancement of morality in the world, and that they decided to put up the fight that they did so gallantly put 708 up against Italy and Germany. Those were definite statements that were made to us by the statesmen of those two countries. We have these institutes in the Middle East, we have them in Central America and South America, in Spain, Portugal and Sweden, and shortly we hope, as opportunity offers, to start work also in the Commonwealth and Dominions, where we are exploring the ground. The whole point of our work, as I have said, is to try to make peoples understand each other.
§ Captain Plugge
Can my right hon. Friend say how it was that the British Council did not succeed in the same way in the three other countries, Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria, especially Rumania, which was at the time our Ally?
§ Sir M. Robertson
Because, unfortunately, at that time—I speak subject to correction, because I was not Chairman then—I am afraid we had not started work there. That applies notably to Bulgaria. The Council is only a few years old. The great opportunity which we have now—I do not mean only the British Council, but the people of this country—is that here among us are the numerous representatives of peoples that have been driven out of their own countries, whose whole intellectual and cultural life it is the object and end of the enemy to suppress. Surely it does not need much emphasis to realise that, unless something can be done to help the Poles, Czechoslovaks, Norwegians, Belgians, Yugoslavs, Greeks and the Dutch who are here among us, with their people at home and their whole civilisation at stake, the morale of their Fighting Forces must, in the nature of things, fall very low. It was thanks to the imagination of the Government, working through the British Council, that we were able to step in and help.
We have founded in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Polish, Czechoslovak, Greek, and Belgian Institutes, we are founding others, and we have also helped to found a Halkevi, a Turkish People's House to keep in touch with Turkey. AH these movements will ultimately become foreign institutes to help us understand the respective point of view. We are teaching these people English, providing books and periodicals, and helping them to study our various organisations. We have to begin, as every 709 hon. Member will understand, by teaching the English language. We begin everywhere with this, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end, and we try to employ teachers who have some hobby of their own which must be of a British conception. The whole idea of the British Council is to bring about understanding between the peoples of the world, and I am perfectly convinced after long experience in foreign countries, that that is the only way in which we shall be able to build up a real peace by understanding between peoples and not only between Governments. I hope that I have not detained the Committee too long. I have spoken a few words about the work of the British Council in the hope that hon. Members will take an increasing interest in it. I believe that it is through the work, conception and ideals of the British Council that we shall build up the better world for the future to which we all look forward.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Would my right hon. Friend add one or two observations on his experience in Latin America, as no one knows more about this subject?
§ Sir M. Robertson
With the permission of the Committee, I will gladly add a few words. Some years ago, when I was Ambassador in Buenos Aires, I was instrumental in starting an Argentine Association of English Culture. At that time the Alliance Francaise, and also the Germans and Italians, had been working very hard in this respect, whereas, as usual, we had done nothing at all. The Alliance Francaise, which was very popular, had about 2,000 or 3,000 pupils learning French, and I hoped that in some years' time the Argentine Association of English Culture might have perhaps 500 Argentines learning English. To-day there are over 4,000 Argentine pupils of the institute and 800 members. Other institutes have been founded in Argentina's other large cities, in various cities of Brazil, and other South and Central American countries. The point is that the demand there is for knowledge of the English language, of English literature and British culture generally. These nations really wish to know something about a great people who have had a great past, and who have a very great present and an equally great future. Let us cease decrying ourselves.
§ Mr. William Brown (Rugby)
With the permission of the Committee, I should like to say a few words about two aspects of propaganda which have come within my own experience during the last 12 months. The first is in respect of broadcasting on the home front, and the second is in respect of propaganda in America. If I put my remarks bluntly, I hope the Minister will not regard this as personal criticism of himself, because I share the view that the Minister of Propaganda is miles and away the best we have had so far. He will not claim, however, that his organisation is perfect in every respect, and, therefore, he will not mind my saying bluntly that I do not believe the broadcasting weapon on the home front, is anything like as powerful and as dynamic an instrument as it could be for sustaining morale during this war.
I began by asking myself in what respects I have found that instrument to be defective. My experience is that it takes an inordinate amount of time to get a script which is submitted to the B.B.C. accepted or rejected. Secondly, too long a period elapses before a script is put on the air. In these days this can be a serious matter, because history is being made at a very rapid rate. A script written to-day may be out of date within a fortnight, or at least less effective than it would have been had it been delivered when it was written. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend says 24 hours, but if we could get script passed within a week, it would be an immense improvement.
The third difficulty is the type of judgment which is brought to bear on scripts. Do not let these remarks be regarded as an attack on the men in the B.B.C. My relations with them are very friendly, and I know how difficult is their job. I am not trying to hurl a trick or two at them, but it is a fact that there is a tendency to judge the effectiveness of a script by the number of letters which come in after it has been delivered. This is all right if the script is of a particular kind. If it is designed to appeal to the intellectuals, then the number of letters which come in may be a good standard of judgment, but the fact remains that three parts of the country is inarticulate when it comes to writing letters. [An HON MEMBERS: "Thank God for that."] I do not know why we should drag the Deity into this part of our discussion. Broadcasts which 711 create a great impression in factories and workshops may produce very few letters, whereas broadcasts which appeal to the letter-writing section of the population may produce them in great numbers. I doubt whether the make-up of the B.B.C. is sufficiently proletarian to enable that factor to be understood in judging scripts.
The fourth difficulty is this: We have heard it suggested that the Minister must have less to do with the B.B.C. than in the past. I think he must do one of two things. He must either have much less to do with it, or much more. The situation at present is that, although he is nominally not responsible for the programmes that are put on—he says that to the House and to some of us individually, and I take that to be the case—nevertheless an immense amount of pressure of all kinds is brought to bear on the B.B.C. as to what they should or should not include in broadcasting. I think the poor fellows at the B.B.C. are between the devil and the deep sea. The Minister must either take full power and say, "I will be responsible to the House for what goes in the programmes, and I will defend the B.B.C. administration on that basis"—or——
§ Captain Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
Will the hon. Member tell us where this immense amount of pressure comes from? We are not aware of it. We try to judge fairly, and we are not subject to an immense amount of pressure.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. and gallant Gentleman speaks as a Governor of the B.B.C, and I do not say that he is the recipient of the pressure. I say that the civil servants in the B.B.C. are. [Interruption.] It is no good the hon. and gallant Gentleman shaking his head. I have had practical experience of this thing, and an ounce of practical experience here is worth a ton of theory. The B.B.C. find that there are certain men that they must put on the air whether their stuff is good, bad or indifferent, and they do. There are people who are put on the air, to the infinite boredom of Britain, for no other reason whatever than they occupy a particular position in the Governmental set-up.
§ Sir I. Fraser
The only compulsion is in regard to members of the War Cabinet. Members of the War Cabinet represent all 712 parties and, I think, have the general good will. There is no-other compulsion.
§ Mr. Bracken
No member of the Government broadcasts without my knowledge, and I have never suggested the name of any member of the Government to the B.B.C.
§ Mr. Brown
I did not say members of the Government but "people holding positions in the Governmental set-up," which covers a much wider area. Equally there are those whose words are listened to all over England who are not put on the air because their presence is resented by people who do not share the same political outlook. [Interruption.] I know what I am talking about on this matter, if on nothing else. No one can challenge me that in my broadcasting I have ever attempted to import my own political views. But it is a shame that men like Priestley and the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) should not be on the home programmes, and that I myself should have considerable difficulty in getting on to the home front. Broadcasting is one of the contributions that one tries to make to the national effort. It is wrong that good material should be kept off while Britain is bored. If Members lived in working-class homes, they would find by practical experience that, when nine o'clock comes, the news is turned on. People listen to the summary in the first two or three minutes. If there is something interesting in it, they keep it on. If not, they turn it off. Even when there is something interesting in the news most people turn it off long before the postscript. The average level of the postscripts is low, because of some of the factors that I have mentioned and for another reason I will shortly mention. I think the wireless should be a much more dynamic instrument, and I ask the Minister to take complete responsibility himself or, alternatively, free the B.B.C. to do its own job in its own way. Any half-way house gives you the worst of both worlds and 713 the best of neither. I hope the Minister will direct himself to that point when he replies. There is another suggestion that I want to make. You must keep a certain amount of free time on the air every week. Goebbels can respond to the pressure of facts within 24 hours in his propaganda. One of the difficulties about responding to the pressure of facts in our propaganda is that we are booked up for weeks ahead, and we have reserved no free time. You could not run a newspaper on that basis. You have to keep a stop press column, and you must have a stop press column, so to speak, in the use of British wireless.
Now may I say a word about American propaganda? When I went to America last September to bring the Americans into the war—with the fortuitotus aid of the Japanese I was pretty successful—I was staggered by our propaganda service—parsimony in money, inadequacy of staff, whole areas of America neglected. In Chicago, the centre of a population of about 40,000,000 people in the steel and coal district, the British propaganda set-up consisted of one officer, three typists and an errand boy. I could not get the services of a shorthand typist for half-an-hour a day. I believe that has been amended. The problem of America now is not what it was, but if anyone believes that the problem of our relations with America is less difficult now than before America came into the war, he misreads the situation. The job of maintaining good relations between Allies in a Confederation is an even more difficult job than keeping on good terms before the Confederation was formed. History proves that again and again dictators have had great successes precisely because of the difficulty of keeping a Confederation together. The job of keeping American public opinion in line is more important than ever.
I do not say this for political reasons, for I am prepared to subscribe wholeheartedly to the blackest Conservative reactionary in Britain going to America if he can do good work for this country over there. I am not moved by political motives on this point. But the Committee must recognise that America looks with a distinctly sniffy nose at many aspects of social life in Britain. The essence of successful propaganda is that you must 714 be able to identify yourself at least to a degree with the point of view of those with whom you are talking. That is the foundation from which you must start. America does not like British Imperialism. You may think it is wrong in that view, but it does not like it. It does not like what happens in India. You may perhaps retort that the only difference between us and them in respect of coloured populations is that our coloured population is outside our centre and on the circumference and that theirs is in the centre. You can make any reply you like, but it is a fact that they do not like our attitude to India. They do not like our social set-up. When we send out there pseudo-intellectuals, pip-squeaks, various of the lesser forms of human life in which our country specialises, we do harm to the British war effort and British propaganda. When I was there the most successful spokesman for England was a miner, Will Lawther. Every American listened to him, not because he was Right or Left or Centre, but because he was a warm-hearted human being. It is the warm-hearted human being type of Englishman who should be sent to America, if we want to get the best propaganda across.
I hope that the Minister will reply to my point about his relations with the B.B.C., because I believe that they are of first-rate importance! I hope, too, that he will give us an assurance with regard to selecting men for America—and women too. A very successful woman over there was Jennie Lee, who also spoke as a warm-hearted Englishwoman. I hops the Minister will give us an assurance that he will not be motivated by any such argument that because he sends five Labour men he must send five Conservatives, but that he will send Liberals, Tories or even celestial anarchists like me, on the basis that what they say in America will help the war effort.
§ Mr. Lakin (Llandaff and Barry)
May I ask the Committee for that indulgence which it so generously and always gives to a new Member? I would not have taken part in this Debate unless I had thought that I- had something constructive to offer both from my own experience as a newspaper man and from my experience in broadcasting. I have the greatest sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information. He 715 received a damnosa hereditas. It is getting worse every day, and the longer I listen to this Debate the more sorry I am for him. As regards newspapers, he has certainly created an exceedingly good impression. Indeed, the relations between Fleet Street and Bloomsbury have never been so affectionate, and I am sure they will never be so again. We are not concerned with these parochial affairs. I am more concerned with the effect of our propaganda in America, in Russia and in the European countries. No Member of the Committee will deny, least of all my right hon. Friend, that the most important thing in the world to-day and perhaps of the greatest moment is that we should maintain and promote Anglo-American understanding. I think my right hon. Friend will agree that in that the newspapers can play an enormous part. The British newspapers, I think I can say without exception, have been of one accord in pursuing that object and they have avoided nearly always every form of offence or the slightest criticism of our great Ally the United States.
Let us be frank about it, however. Unfortunately, that is not entirely true of the American Press. It is true of the vast majority of the newspapers of America. They, equally with our own Press, are determined that not merely now but in the future there shall be complete Anglo-American understanding. But in certain cases there have been serious mistakes and indeed, some disastrous comments in the American newspapers in the last months. The Prime Minister himself referred to certain correspondents here who pour damaging tales into the ears of American listeners and, unfortunately, Australian listeners. I want to point out why this is so. I am sure there are one or two things that we can do about it. My right hon. Friend knows American newspaper correspondents better than I do and knows that they are for the most part extremely friendly and only want to help, but I find that they have great difficulty in getting direct news of home affairs. As regards foreign affairs it is quite simple. A correspondent can go to the Foreign Office department of the Ministry of Information and get his information straight away, but if he wants to find out something about home affairs—which after all are most important to America, and it is important to us that 716 they should be properly reported—the American correspondent has to go to half a dozen different Departments. He is pushed about from pillar to post and possibly gets no answer at all. To a newspaper man no answer is the worst kind of answer. I suggest that it might be possible to set up some central office where American correspondents could get news of all branches of home affairs. I understand that home affairs are grouped under the Lord President of the Council, so I do not see why, instead of having to go to half a dozen different Departments, a correspondent could not go to one central source for authoritative news on any particular question.
I would like to make another point about American correspondents. It is one which concerns this House, and I will therefore treat it warily. It is important that the proceedings of this House should be reported as widely as possible in the United States. What is the position? I am told that for the Budget Debate, for instance, in which the Chancellor make some important references to Lend-Lease there was one American correspondent here, and he was here by mistake. For those Debates recently, which caused the headlines in America about which the Prime Minister complained the other day, there were four correspondents here, although there were places for 18. In not attending here those American correspondents often lose what they call "a good story." The Debate a week or two ago on Colonial affairs was one of great, interest to Americans, but it was so inadequately covered in America that, except for one paper, which did it very well, the interest in it was completely lost. I know the difficulties and I know what my right hon. Friend has done already to encourage American correspondents to come here, but I do urge upon him that it is necessary to give them every facility we can. He should promote as far as he can, and I know he does his best, among American and British Lobby correspondents, that good feeling which will have a tremendous effect. Let us also give them as much help as we can in covering Debates in the House of Commons. But American correspondents are newspaper men, and twisting the British lion's tail is still regarded by them as a fair game, and as long as they can "get a crack at us," even if it means losing the best part of the story, they are going to do it. Still, 717 we know how friendly they are at heart. We should do everything we can with all our might to encourage them.
I pass to the B.B.C. The B.B.C. has come in for a great deal of criticism, including a great deal of unfair criticism. The Minister of Information—and I do not blame him for it—often hides behind the skirts of the Director-General. As a matter of fact they are divided skirts now, because there are two Directors-General. Probably it is to the good that there are two Directors-General, because I think that now those B.B.C. young men have changed their tinge. They are not the red young men they used to be. Perhaps, as Gilbert might have said, they areA greenery-yallery, Grosvenor GalleryA Foot and a Graves young manYoung men. Certainly they are much better. But I want to talk about the Empire service, first, because I know that service well, and, believe me, it is not properly appreciated. It is appreciated in the Dominions and in the Colonies. The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) wanted more interference and more direction. I am sure that is quite wrong. The service is admirably led under its young editor, who has never seen the Inside of a newspaper office, but is a natural-born editor. There is a wonderful team there and they work very hard—indeed, they are overworked, and are not overpaid. They are doing very brilliant work. I believe that this Empire and North American service will, in time to come, have a tremendous effect in holding together this British Empire, and I beg my right hon. Friend not to make any further inroads, if he can avoid it, into their staff. Those young men are doing as vital work for their country as they could do in any other sphere. Of that I am perfectly sure.
As regards propaganda, when we come to the European service it is a horse of a very different colour. I want to find out who is really responsible for the European news. Is it the Foreign Office? Is it the Ministry of Information? Is it the Political Warfare Department? Is it the B.B.C? Until we know that, we can never really assess the responsibility and we can never complain with any certitude that we are complaining in the right place. It does seem to me that this dual control is a fatal thing. To my mind foreign propaganda is obviously an arm of the 718 Foreign Office, and it would be much better if we could give the whole thing over to one Department. It seems to me that we always think that two men must do one job—except in the case of the Prime Minister, and there we object because he does more than one job. But let us make sure, whoever is in charge of this department of European news, that the instructions are carried through. I feel convinced that with this diarchy, and the B.B.C. and different controllers interfering, you can never be sure that your actual directions and instructions are carried out by the man on the spot. It is most difficult in the case of "hard news." No newspaper can really control its actual man on the spot at midnight, who decides what goes into the paper and is responsible for it, but as regards news and comment surely it ought to be comparatively easy, to sec that the right thing is being said to Germany and the rest. I urge upon my right hon. Friend to consider carefully whether we cannot make some rule whereby our foreign broadcasts are under one authority, and one authority only.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
It falls to me to express, as I am sure the Committee would wish to do, its congratulations to the hon. Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Lakin) on the able and thoughtful contribution which he has made to our discussion. The Committee expected some specialised knowledge from him, and I think to that was added an indication of sound judgment which will make us hope to hear him again. I was particularly interested in the hon. Member's remarks about the control of the B.B.C. broadcasting services. Two views on that subject have been expressed to-day. Some have wished for more control by the Minister and others for less. I think something is to be said for both those views, but very little for the present state of affairs, in which it is not at all clear who has control over what is said through the microphone. There were controversies even across the Floor here to-day. We had the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), who is a Governor of the B.B.C, stating that in no case was there any compulsion laid upon them to admit any speaker to the microphone, except in the case of a member of the War Cabinet. I do not know whether it is possible that that compulsion has by-passed the Gov- 719 ernors, because the rôle of the Governors themselves is subject to a good deal of obscurity. I heard the Minister himself intervening to say "No Member of the Government broadcasts without my knowledge and I have never submitted a name to the B.B.C." Those two very selective statements do not give us any indication of where the authority lies as between the right hon. Gentleman, the Governors and the executive authority of the B.B.C. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do something to clear up the matter. In the speech made by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) we heard that a new code of procedure had been devised. Why can it not be made crystal clear what authority the Minister of Information has over the Governors, and over the day-to-day administration of the B.B.C? It may well be, as the Minister frequently tells the House, that it would be improper for him to intervene in the daily affairs of the B.B.C. but if he be the arbiter of details, then he should be uniformly so, and should announce to the House what the exact procedure is.
The subject of the attitude of the American Press compared with the attitude of the British Press in the United States has been referred to by the hon. Member for Llandaff and Barry. It is no use blinking the fact that Americans in general permit themselves much greater freedom of criticism towards Britain than the British people and newspapers permit themselves towards America. In searching for an explanation of that strange psychological phenomenon, if that is a suitable term, all sorts of reasons are found. We speak about the Irish-American population, or the German-American population, or at times we hear suggestions of another kind such as were made by the hon. Member for Llandaff and Barry. He attributed it apparently in no small measure to the fact that American newspaper correspondents were not given sufficient facilities to obtain news in this country. While all those factors may play some part, this attitude goes very much deeper than that. I do not think it will defeat the collaboration between America and Britain, but it is very important that the best advisers the right hon. Gentleman can find should ascertain what can be done to remedy this state of affairs.
720 It goes back a very long time. I was in the United States on a British flying mission for a year in 1918. I used, to be horrified—I must say that, in retrospect, I do not look upon it as so serious a matter—at the outspoken manner in which the American Press weighed out praise or blame to the British war effort. At the time, we had been in the war for years, and Britain and France together had lost 2,000,000 dead, yet in 1918, before a single division of United States troops was at the front and when some hundreds of British and French divisions were fighting deadly battles daily, it was possible for the American President to refer to the Allies as America's assistants in this war. We know that a certain amount of that kind of talk is for home consumption and therefore we are not too greatly disturbed by it, but that it persists may easily be ascertained by anyone who takes the trouble to compare the comments of the British Press about what happened at Pearl Harbour with the comments of the American Press about what happened at Tobruk.
I have had the opportunity of seeing a collection of comments—compiled, not strangely enough, by the Minister of Information, although most of v/hat appears in the news sphere is under his Department but independently—and it was interesting to note that object lesson in the dissimilarity of outlook between British critics and American critics in relation to each other's countries. I do not attach fundamental importance to this matter in relation to the war effort, but if this is to be a perpetual source of irritation between the two countries, particularly in the highly delicate post-war years, the most acute differences and friction are bound to arise between us and the United States. It is something to which, even now, the best advisers of the Ministry, in consultation with United States authorities, should give attention to see whether something cannot be done about it. In Soviet Russia, our propaganda problems have similar difficult features. Conditions in Russia are so different from those existing here that it would be hard to imagine the Ministry of Information obtaining in Russia anything like the facilities for propaganda, or even for the purveying of straight fact and information, as those which the Soviet authorities have gradually built up and accumulated in this country. I should not lose a lot of sleep 721 about this disequilibrium between Soviet Russia and ourselves in that sphere, but it needs careful consideration about what our attitude is to be. I do not say that justice does not demand reciprocity; on the other hand, a case can be made out to the contrary, and I -hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be careful how he proceeds in that direction.
Let me say a brief word about policy. I admit that this is not directly the concern of the right hon. Gentleman. He is supposed only to interpret and administer the policy prescribed by the Foreign Office. I believe that the Foreign Office are always extremely jealous of any interference in matters of that kind. Of course there is the authoritative and special machine for the prescribing of policy at the Ministry of Information, and it allows itself a considerable amount of latitude in its interpretation and expression. Something more should be done to crystallise into a practical policy the actual purposes for which we are fighting the war. It is said that the Prime Minister is greatly opposed to that course. He suggests that it would be a waste of time and effort and that the thoughts of all of us ought to be concentrated on the war effort. If the Prime Minister persists in that attitude—and I know that he is advised closely in this matter by the right hon. Gentleman—I would point out even to-day you can hardly find two or three men gathered together who will agree upon any fundamental aspect of post-war reconstruction. Unless we attempt, by tolerance and thought, to arrive at some sort of policy, both within Britain and as between our Allies, which will secure some general commendation, when the war is ended we may find that we have only won the war in order to arrive at a veritable Tower of Babel. I know the difficulties in the approach to that matter. We have many conflicting considerations, and if we were to attempt to resolve them now, particularly as between the free nations or even as between the main United Nations, we might very well precipitate differences. Nevertheless, I think that some such attempt ought to be made.
There is one final remark I want to make. I have been very glad, if I may respectfully say so, to hear so many hon. Members emphasise the necessity for truth in our broadcasts. I, myself, am very doubtful, and so are those who have been concerned with propaganda before, about 722 the amount of effect obtained by propaganda as opposed to straight statements and the logic of facts. Oil the other hand, I believe that the virtues of honesty, good faith, courage and justice, which are characteristics of the British character and the British nation, are, far and away, the strongest standby of our cause. Anything we do by way of departure from those standards, such as by presenting our case to different sections of the world from irreconcilable angles, anything which places in hazard that reputation for good faith, is not worth the effect it gains. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that we are not fighting Germany primarily to destroy the German army clique, although I daresay that that may be a by-product of the conflict; the conflict is primarily a conflict, as the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said, between those who believe in good faith and the rule of law and those who do not. I believe that that is the main pillar of our cause and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will never lose sight of the fact.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I would depart for a moment from the question of general policy. As the point of British-American relations has repeatedly been raised during this Debate, I think it would be worth while to draw attention to one aspect of it which I think is being increasingly borne in upon us. That is the difficulty in this country to get information about the United States themselves. That of course is primarily a matter for the United States, but I do hope that it will be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to make some representations to his opposite number on the great interest the people of this country have, not in the Hollywood aspect of the United States, but in the day-to-day activities of that great nation—the great State universities, for instance, of which practically nothing is known over here, or the great industrial efforts which are being made. For one person here who knows the name of the T.V.A. and the Boulder Dam, a thousand know the name of the Dnieper Dam. It is quite right that we should know the names of great Russian achievements and the work they have done in recent years, but it is right too that we should have some information about the great engineering achievements and social experiments which have been conducted in the United States.
723 Quite recently, some friends of mine wished to give certain information about the United States to some of the youth leaders in this country. They held a meeting of these young people and for this purpose asked for U.S.A. information. They asked particularly for any films available. Surprising as it may seem, there are no short documentary films available giving descriptions of the work and life of the United States. The only thing we could get for a group consisting largely of East-End Londoners, boys and girls, was a film of soil erosion in Minnesota, which did not interest them very much, and another film called "New World Metropolis," mostly devoted to the assaults of the police upon the gangsters in New York. That, though very interesting in itself to the East End, reminds one of the comment of the school girl on the Ten Commandments—that they contained no constructive proposals but merely put ideas into people's heads.
I would suggest that the United States might consider the necessity for instituting some bureau in this country, and still more, of preparing some raw material for that bureau, particularly in view of the great numbers of United States soldiers who have already arrived on this side and the many more who are to come. The difficulties facing two nations living in each other's houses are very great indeed. Those of us who lived in France during the four years of the last war know the infinite opportunities for friction which arose. This is the first time in history that any great nation has come to settle in quantity—it may be for years—in the homes of our people. Information as to the ordinary people of the United States, their educational work, their social work and their day-to-day life is actually concealed by the success of Hollywood in putting over a glamour-world in which nothing real ever actually happens. Pictures of Dorothy Lamour and her sarong are not descriptive of the life of the ordinary citizen of the United States. I would, therefore, strongly press the great desirability of starting now on the other side to produce the materials for such a bureau, because, as we all know, production has to be begun months before the stuff is actually available here. I greatly fear that this autumn and winter, when we are looking around for something to put across to complete the admirable 724 efforts of the Soviet Union to make available information as to its actions, we shall find that the material does not exist, and a great and necessary opportunity for enlightening the people of this country about the United States will be totally lost.
§ Mr. Storey (Sunderland)
My right hon. and gallant Friend has just referred to the necessity for greater knowledge of the United States in this country. I want in a few moments to direct the attention of the Committee to one aspect of making our own case better known abroad. The Prime Minister began his great speech last week by reminding the House of the unbridled freedom of our Parliamentary institutions, which allowed criticism of every kind to be poured out in all parts of the world, and he appealed to the House to apply the necessary corrective. The House did apply that corrective, but it will not have its full effect in bringing about a proper understanding abroad of the confidence which the nation feels in the Government and in the country's efforts if the answer does not receive as wide publicity as the criticism did in the first place. It is probable that as criticism is much more sensational than sober facts which answer it, the criticism will receive wider publicity. It is, I think, one of the main tasks of the Ministry of Information that they should make it possible particularly for neutral countries, the United States and the Dominions to have a proper presentation of world news as seen through British eyes.
I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee by saying very much about two of the main channels by which world news is distributed, that is, the B.B.C. and Empire and foreign correspondents. The B.B.C. Overseas News Service has earned praise in many quarters, and I think we can assume that it does to a very large extent satisfy the requirements of listeners overseas. It is true also, I think, that the great majority of Empire and foreign correspondents do the same service for the reading public abroad. It is true that the conduct of some correspondents has been questioned, and has been the cause of tightening up the censorship recently. But I think we can say that Empire correspondents, with very few exceptions, have done a really good job of work since the war began in making known the British viewpoint abroad, and I hope that the Minister will take this 725 opportunity of saying so, because I know that some of the best of them feel that his pronouncements at the time of the censorship restrictions were unwarrantable criticism of the work of the whole body.
If the country wants its position properly understood abroad by the reading public, it cannot afford to rely upon the work of correspondents alone, because however good the intentions of correspondents, even Empire ones, they are bound to colour the news with their own national outlook and the scale of news values in the school of journalism in which they have been trained. It is therefore essential that there should be available for newspapers in all countries a service of world news, collected and distributed through British channels, a news service which is straight, well-informed, complete and accurate, a service which sets out in the right proportions our aims, our efforts, our failures, and our achievements. I advocated in several Debates which took place before the war that the Government should provide transmission facilities which would make possible such a service, and that those who were attempting to provide it should be able to compete with the Government-subsidised news agencies in European countries and the rich American agencies in the Western hemisphere. It has taken a war to convince the Government of the need of such transmission facilities, but now that they are convinced I wanted to pay my tribute to the breadth of vision and the high technical skill with which the Ministry of Information and the Post Office have made available such facilities that it has been possible to speed up, to extend, our news services abroad and adapt them to the special requirements of the countries for which they are intended.
But there is one step further which I think the Government should go. Due to the lack of facilities in the past, the distribution of British news services in most countries has not been direct to the newspapers but has been through some foreign news agency. Even in one of our Dominions the newspapers of that Dominion receive the whole of their world service of news, not through British channels, but through foreign channels. But now we have the emission facilities in this country which make it possible, I think, that the Ministry of Information should take steps to ensure that the news services which are emitted here are picked 726 up through British channels in neutral and Allied countries and in the Dominions, and offered direct to the newspapers. It is well worth doing this. Where it has been tried experimentally it has been the means of securing long British reports of important events in some of the leading newspapers, and I feel it is a practice which, if it was extended, would do much to secure the proper understanding of this country's position throughout the world. Apart from facilities for distribution, the Ministry of Information, while in no way interfering with the selection of the news, for it is by that non-interference with the selection of the news that British world news services receive their ready acceptance abroad, can help in the compilation of these services by providing the utmost possible guidance and background, so that those who handle these services can do so with real knowledge. They can also help by providing the widest possible facilities for the collection of the news, but always subject to the public interest.
I fear that the public interest has not been fully considered in the facilities given recently to war correspondents. I was sorry for the way in which the Prime Minister referred to the matter last week, when he told us that never before had such liberty been given to war correspondents, but it was what the Press had asked for and what they had got. He pointed out that as war correspondents had nothing else to do but to send news, they were more speedily, more fully, and more colourfully informed than the Government—but, he added, less accurately. He added too that it was not proposed to make any change. I hope that that is not really the considered view of the Prime Minister. What an abdication to the clamour of the Press for licence—"What they asked for, and what they have got." What about the public interest? After all, what the public interest demands is accuracy, and it is much better that we should wait and get a complete picture than that any correspondent should be allowed to send over his impression of some particular incident at which he happens to be present. The shock which the public has suffered during the course of the battle of Libya has been largely due, I think, to our failure to inform and instruct the people of this country as to its position and its prospects 727 during recent months. The failure of the enemy to initiate the offensive as early as we expected, the pre-occupation of Japan with China, the thousand-bomber raids on Germany, the talk of a second front, and the way in which these matters have all been dealt with, both in the Press and on the platform, have lulled the country into a false optimism.
How much better it would have been if our information services had set out constantly to remind the public that the decision to send supplies to Russia had placed a great strain on our resources, that while the resources of the United Nations would, in the end, be overwhelming, there is a danger period which will be indefinitely prolonged while our shipping losses continue as they are, in which defeat may come before the means of victory. These are hard truths. They are the kind of truths which I think Milton had in mind when he wrote of:Truths for want of which whole nations fare the worst.I feel that these are the kind of truths which the public needs, and which the public expects. Let us have such truths. If the people are told, they will, I am sure, only be spurred to greater efforts, and will produce just that little extra that will mean we will be able to bridge the gap between defeat and victory. I hope that our policy in the future will be to present the country with the hard truth and nothing but the truth, and that we shall not attempt to encourage a false optimism among our people.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
I have promised that I will not speak for more than about four minutes, so that my right hon. Friend may have plenty of time to make his reply, but I would very briefly like to put two suggestions forward. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) pointed out how desirable it was that the English and American people should be enabled to know each other as they really are, and that at the moment the people in England are apt to get a Hollywood picture of American life and the people of America are apt to judge British life by the films they see about England, very largely films of high life and so on, which are quite unrepresentative. I would submit to my right hon. Friend that it would be well worth while 728 exploiting the possibility of exploring a system by which, both in this country and in the United States, there should be, to start with, say, once a week, an hour's programme on our respective radios giving a picture in America of the life of the people here, of factory life, home life, Service life, theatre life, and cultural life, and that over here we could give a radio hour on one of our programmes, direct from America, giving a picture of American life.
I believe that that would be exceedingly interesting and very good entertainment over here, and that if it were started, there would be a demand to extend such a proposal so that we might get, maybe every day, half an hour or an hour of material on the programme direct from the United States, giving a picture of life there. Such an arrangement would be exceedingly important, if not essential, in post-war years when we are going to try and understand each other and not work in small watertight compartments, but with an international mind. It is exceedingly important that such a proposal should be exploited now because of the large number of American soldiers over here. We want to make them feel at home. People are doing their best. I do not think that anything would make them feel more at home than listening at regular times to programmes coming from their own home country typical of life in those areas.
The other suggestion that I want to put forward is the desirability, in our relationship between England and America, of the utmost frankness and understanding on all matters. That is far more important than any other considerations. A great deal of misunderstanding which has arisen between the peoples of our two countries has been due to the fact that we have not been frank with each other. We have not known what the Americans have been saying about us, and the Americans have not known what we have been thinking sometimes about them. Very often the misunderstanding arises from the most worthy purposes. We try to flatter the United States by emphasising certain points in the news. That is all right for the moment, but there follows a period of disillusion. Take, for example, what happened in Libya. There were some American tanks there. We emphasised in our news out of all proportion to the reality the work being done by the 729 American tanks and the number of American tanks, until the Americans began to think that our armour consisted entirely of American tanks. Again, we emphasised, merely through a desire to be flattering and to appreciate, the work done by the soldiers from the Dominions in the Libyan campaign. The end of it was that the American public came to believe that the battle in Libya was being fought with American tanks and men from the Dominions and hardly anything or anybody from this country. That was very largely the basis, in this one incident, of the abuse which was being poured on us in America. I suggest that that sort of thing is most undesirable; it is done out of the best of motives, but it has bad, and not good, results, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman, in all his propaganda work and conversations with his opposite number in America, to emphasise the necessity in our relationship, in the news that we give to each other—of frankness and honesty, even if at the moment it is temporarily embarrassing, as the keystone of our propaganda and policy in this respect.
§ The Minister of Information (Mr. Brendan Bracken)
I must say that this is a singularly peaceful atmosphere in which to conduct a Debate on the Estimates of the Ministry of Information. I have received many suggestions to-day, which I shall deal with so far as I can, but first of all I think I ought to make some form of central review of the work being done by the Ministry and also of that mysterious body the Political Warfare Executive, which has excited so much interest in this House. In fact, more attention has been given to the Political Warfare Executive in this Debate than to the Ministry of Information. However, I had better start with the Ministry of Information, which is, of course, a natural object of criticism. It is, after all, the only Government Department that everyone in this country is qualified to criticise, and while I welcome criticism I hope I may be forgiven for saying that some of our critics are singularly lacking in understanding of the real functions of the Ministry of Information. They may be forgiven for doing so, for even the founder of the Ministry has shown that he does not understand its scope.
Perhaps the Committee will here allow me to make a digression. My right hon. 730 Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) has always suffered under the imputation that he was the creator of the Ministry of Information. Only last week did we discover our real founder's name, and I know not why he was rash enough to break the secret. It is none other than my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Midlothian (Colonel Colville) who told a most interesting tale of the burden of the Ministry of Information. In 1935, when Mussolini was threatening war against Great Britain, our fighting strength was rather low. So Lord Baldwin thrust into the breach a Ministry of Information. As war was averted one can never know what effect that Ministry would have had on the enemy, but we do know, to our unbounded sorrow, how the Ministry struck the public when it was resurrected in 1939. If there is one man in these Islands who should know the scope of the Ministry, it is my right hon. and gallant Friend. But, alas, he does not know for he has been complaining about the Ministry of Information for its failure to control the Press, a point which, I think, was reechoed to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey). Now, the Ministry does not, and will not, try to control the Press, Of course, one of its main objects is to obtain every possible facility from Government Departments, the Armed Forces and other newsworthy sources for a variegated, lively, and, above all, free Press.
The main facility required by the Press is guidance regarding the background of Government policies. Another, and, I think, perhaps more cherished facility is an opportunity for the Press to send its correspondents into action with our troops. Either through this Ministry or through the ever-growing tribe of busy public relations officers, or through the many personal contacts of journalists with Ministers, the Press know a good deal of the background of Government policies, and after a long and sometimes furious struggle, the Press have at last been given the opportunity they desired of sending their correspondents into action with the troops. A good example of this long-deserved and long-deferred chance will be found in the facilities offered by General Auchinleck to the correspondents accredited to his Armies. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland seems to think it was very 731 wrong of General Auchinleck to offer these facilities to the Press. I had a long discussion about this matter with General Auchinleck when he was last in England and he agreed to allow the correspondents to go right up to the front line, but he told me that editors must be prepared to risk the lives and liberty of their correspondents. The editors were willing and the correspondents were eager. The only thing that is clear about these battles in the desert is that they were the most fully reported in this war. This may seem little to the layman, but it means much to the British Press. In such a way can the Ministry of Information help the newspapers. In other respects the less we meddle in their affairs the better.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that there is no censorship of any of the correspondents' stories sent to this country from Libya?
§ Mr. Bracken
I must ask the hon. Member to reflect on his question. Of course, there is a censorship. If the hon. Member has read this newspapers, he will have read the stories, and he has heard the complaint by the hon. Member for Sunderland that these stories should not have been published on account of their extreme frankness. Of course, they were censored, but the censors have shown a good deal of sense. I had better deal first of all with the B.B.C. as a whole before answering points put by hon. Members. The responsibility of the Ministry of Information for the conduct of the B.B.C. is a divided responsibility. I will tell the House the reason it is a divided responsibility. It is because the House decided that it should be divided. If hon. Mermbers throw their minds back to 1939, they will find that the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain's Government swept away the Board of the B.B.C, and left on the Board the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman; and the Ministry of Information was, so to speak, the manager in possession. In 1941 there was a good deal of criticism in this country about too much Government interference in the B.B.C. I think many Members of the Government felt it was inevitable in wartime that there must be some interference, but they decided upon a compromise. They looked with sorrow on the two Casabiancas of the B.B.C. Board, and they decided to recreate the Governors, 732 to give them more company. That is the history of the arrangement, and I agree that it is an arrangement abounding in curiosities.
For instance, the European News Service, which is one of the most important transmissions of the B.B.C, is under the direct control of the Government, and I have to take responsibility for any mistakes made in the European News Service. Furthermore, let me say that I have to take Parliamentary responsibility for anything the B.B.C. does. If an hon. Member, as has several times happened, has not been allowed to broadcast, he writes me a letter and says, "This is monstrous." I receive regularly in the post or from representations in the House statements by my hon. Friends opposite that the B.B.C. is run by too many Tories. They say there is a banker on the Board, and, of course, he is always a wicked man, and is always a Tory. They say there are three Tories as well. I say that our position is that of trusteeship, but my Tory friends descend on me and say that the B.B.C's outlook is red, and that we had better get control of it, because they are sick to death of the Socialist propaganda which we are getting. I think there must be something right with the B.B.C in view of the fact that we have extremist critics from both sides.
The Ministry of Information were given general supervisory powers over the wartime activities of the resurrected Board of Governors. On the face of things these arrangements were loaded with trouble and confusion, but in practice they worked well, for it has been the policy of the Ministry of Information not to interfere, by Governmental control, over most of the vast ramifications of the B.B.C. I want to explain that a little bit more. I could, of course, point out that in my view the Minister of Information has a pretty hefty responsibility, and that I do not wish to manage all the B.B.C. in addition to that responsibility, although I would be prepared to do so if ordered by the House of Commons. I must also remember the relief expressed in the House when the Governors were restored to the B.B.C. Everyone said it was a typical British compromise. The Ministry of Information has some supervisory authority, but the good old Governors are back, and they are going to stop this political skul- 733 duggery. I think, as I said before, that the B.B.C. should be liberal, and also, I hope, enterprising. It may be that I have not entirely fulfilled what my hon. Friend opposite desired, but I do say that the House of Commons took a very illogical view of the resurrection of the Board of Governors, and the B.B.C. and I, as their humble servant, are doing our best to make it work, and on the whole I think it does work. The B.B.C, like the Ministry of Information, is a natural target for criticism, but I maintain that the work it has done in this war is worthy of praise. Few people realise the colossal task undertaken by the B.B.C. in this war. The B.B.C.'s broadcast output amounts to 3,000,000 words a week. In 1938 it had only one foreign language programme. It now broadcasts in 43 foreign languages, and 275 hours are given every week to these foreign broadcasts. It is not easy to estimate its audience, but those competent to form a judgment say it reaches something like 200,000,000 people every week. It is the largest, and, what is more important, it is the most trusted broadcasting instrument in the world.
§ Captain Plugge rose——
§ Mr. Bracken
I am not going to enter into any discussion on details of organisation. The Axis Powers look upon the B.B.C. as a mighty enemy. Anyone who doubts this need only read the wearisome repetitions in the German Press of sentences on German men and women for listening to the B.B.C, and the utterances of Dr. Goebbels and his propagandists, who, day after day, are harping against the B.B.C. It is worth while noticing that the Germans pay little attention to the broadcasts of other members of the family of the United Nations. The B.B.C. is, of course, expected to please everyone, and it suffers the fate of any organisation which tries to follow that idea. Its critics do not, I think, make sufficient allowance for the enormous burden of work which it is carrying at the present time. I dare say some programmes are stodgy and trivial, but taking all in all the B.B.C work in this war has been magnificent. I should like its overburdened staff to realise that its work is appreciated by Parliament and by the Government.
I shall say a little about this mysterious Political Warfare Executive, of which 734 I make claim to be the pious founder. Shortly after I came to the Ministry of Information I found several Government Departments engaged in propaganda to enemy or enemy-occupied countries. This was obviously unsatisfactory and wasteful. With the approval of the Prime - Minister and with the great encouragement of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, an organisation named the Political Warfare Executive was created to coordinate propaganda to enemy and enemy-occupied countries. Under a new scheme the responsibility for political warfare has been assumed as to policy by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and as to administrative control by the Minister of Information. As in fact the policy and administration interlock, the closest cooperation of the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Information is essential, and my right hon. Friend and I have always been in complete agreement. We can say that, with the aid of a most able staff, we believe that we now possess a propagandist tool of great cutting power.
Security reasons prevent me from saying very much about the policy of the Political Warfare Executive, but in general its main tasks are to try to break down the morale of the enemy and to sustain the morale and resistance of our Allies in enemy-occupied countries. The media by which the Political Warfare Executive conducts a large part of its work are broadcasting and leaflets. In view of the many demands for a policy of steady veracity in all our propaganda, I wish to assure the Committee that the Political Warfare Executive attach the greatest importance to giving facts whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. Obviously it is impossible to build up and hold a listener audience abroad without first establishing a reputation for honesty. These broadcasts are the main link between the victims of Axis aggression and the outside world. Leaflet production is on an immense scale. During the first six months of this year the R.A.F. dropped approximately 145,000,000 leaflets over enemy and enemy-occupied countries. There were 166 different leaflets, and nearly 61,000,000 were dropped on Germany. In order to ensure that the activities of the P.W.E. are always geared to the strategic conduct of the war, the closest relations have been established with the Chiefs of Staff organisation and Com- 735 bined Operation headquarters, and of course with the three Fighting Services.
So much for the P.W.E. As the Ministry of Information is working in all parts of the world, I will not weary the Committee by examining our operations in all quarters, but I want to deal with two countries which are of special interest to hon. Members, as judged by their speeches. One is the United States and the other is. Russia. I have read many criticisms of Britain's failure to undertake full-blooded propaganda in the United States. Propaganda of that character is a quasi-military activity. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of America can see that the Government of the United States would never tolerate this. Before the war the Isolationists were constantly clamouring for the expulsion of the British Information Services. Since December some of those Isolationists have declared that the British propagandists dragged America into the war. If they will believe that, they will believe anything. If Britain were to send to the United States an Army of high-powered publicity men instructed to force Britain down the throats of the American people, not only would this be resented by the Government and by Congress but it would almost certainly defeat its own purpose and earn ill will rather than good will for Britain.
I want to make it clear in view of certain statements made to-day that the British Information Services in the United States are not rivals to the American Press or the American Press correspondents in London. They supplement the fine work done by men of this kind. It would be impossible to exaggerate the demands made on the British Information Services in New York and Washington by politicians, by editors, by columnists, by broadcasters, indeed, by all sorts and conditions of men and women interested in public affairs. My main criticism of the British Information Services is that it requires too much work from its devoted staff, and I hope that its new head, Mr. Harold Butler, will be able to make arrangements which will relieve his overworked colleagues. I am tempted to say much more about British Information Services. I can pay no better tribute to it than quote what Mr. Gram Swing, who is certainly no mean judge of publicity, said of their activities up to the American 736 entry into the war. He said, "They were just right." I may say in passing that there is much exaggerated talk about anti-British feelings in the United States. An American with unrivalled knowledge of his own country estimates that less than 8 per cent. of the population are irreconcilable and can only be cured, he added, by an undertaker. The remainder, if not necessarily pro-British, want us to win because we are their Allies. Now that the opportunities of the British Information Services have been greatly widened, I am confident that their work in America will be of increasing advantage to our war effort and, indeed, to our war partnership in this fight for liberty and in the partnership that we hope to maintain with America in the future when the world will have to be rebuilt.
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) gave an extraordinarily clear analysis of the conditions which face us in Russia. It is absurd to talk about our publicity in Russia in the same' breath as we talk about our publicity in the United States. There is no point of contact between the countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) was the pioneer of our publicity efforts in Russia. At great self-sacrifice he went out just after Russia came into, the war, and when he returned he gave me some good advice. As the result of that advice we despatched a permanent publicity mission. The fate of that mission was rather a sad one. Before they left London they had accumulated a great amount of material which they needed for their work—films, a library and all sorts of things which are wanted by a mission of that kind. Unfortunately for them, they were torpedoed, and they lost all their equipment. We lost all news of them for a long time. They were fished out of the cold ocean and have now been established in Russia. They are in constant contact with the Ministry of Information, and we have great expectations of a modest success in Russia, always remembering the limitations imposed on foreigners who are attempting any publicity operations in Russia. As I told the House last week, we are on the verge of publishing in Russia a paper, which in itself will play a modest part in informing Russia about our war efforts.
I would like to tell the Committee a little more about the various depart- 737 ments of the Ministry of Information, because it is a fascinating story, but it is more important that hon. Members should get answers to the various questions they have asked me. They cover a wide field, and if I cannot deal with them all, hon. Members will realise that time alone prevents me. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) asked me about Italy. As far as I could discover, he thought we were not giving sufficient time to broadcasting to Italy. I have looked up this matter and find that we are giving 3 hours and 40 minutes every day to broadcasting to Italy, and I consider that on the whole that is very remarkable. I think no one in the Committee can object to that. He also asked me about scripts of leaflets. I will talk over this matter again with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and see whether we can accept the suggestion put to us, but I can hold out no hopes at the moment, because this matter requires very careful consideration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater said the Empire broadcasts, especially the North American, of the B.B.C. could be greatly improved, and that there was too much of what he called submission to bureaucracy in that Department. I shall draw the attention of the Governors of the B.B.C. to his remarks, but I would point out that the hon. Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Lakin) thought very highly indeed of the service. It is another instance of the eternal problem of anyone connected with either the Ministry of Information or the B.B.C. having to judge which person is right, the critic or the appraiser. Furthermore, now that Mr. Brockington has come to London as an adviser to the Empire Division of the Ministry of Information, he having been chairman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, I hope the B.B.C. will take a lot of notice of any advice he may be able to offer.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Harold Nicolson) made very searching examinations into propaganda and said with a great deal of truth that propaganda is like a dope, the more "shots" you take the more you expect to take in the future, and he was quite right in saying that the Germans now need a steady amount of propaganda, whereas on the whole the British public do not care very much for the wordy 738 missionaries who try to keep up their morale at home. The hon. Member also said some quite interesting things on what he called the timidity shown by certain people in relation to the B.B.C. I agree with everyone in this Committee who says to me, "This is a rather curious situation. Who really is in control of the B.B.C?" I make my explanation. To everyone I say, "Do not believe in any circumstances that I am responsible for telling the B.B.C. not to get involved in controversy." I do not see how the B.B.C. can do their duty without getting involved in controversy, but I do say, "I will protect you from your many critics—even your critics in this august Chamber."
I certainly must congratulate the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) on his speech. William Hickey speaks as well as he writes, and that is no small compliment. He said that more guidance should be given to the Press by the Ministry of Information. I can assure the Committee that the Press are quite willing to listen to guidance, but they do not necessarily take it. Editors and proprietors of newspapers are gentlemen who think they know a good deal about public affairs. Sometimes they think they know even more than the Minister who attempts to offer them guidance. He also, if I may say so, fell into the fashionable error of criticising the Foreign Office. It would not do for me to make a defence of the Foreign Office in the presence of the Foreign Secretary, but I can assure the hon. Member that when he has been here for a while he will come, like most of us, to see the essential merits of the Foreign Office and appreciate that it is a very effective and useful Department in this State.
He also, with the bravery of one who has won a by-election with a large majority, and therefore feels full of fight, gave me some advice which in my old age I do not feel inclined to take. He said for a beginning that I must overrule the censors, that these obstructive men were always holding up stuff for which the Press was waiting. But they cannot be brushed aside like that. What sort of position should I be in if I let out a military secret without having given the censors the opportunity of considering the implications of the matter? I assure the Committee that the job of censor is one that no man who likes a quiet life would seek, and if any politician is willing 739 to throw over the censors in order to get a little popularity with the Press, and let the editions get to bed earlier, he may be doing something which will give valuable information to the enemy regarding our war effort. But I must say I was encouraged by the robust approach to public affairs shown by the hon. Member for Maldon.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that some of the obstacles put in the way of communication in the Middle East have been in that category at all?
§ Mr. Bracken
No, Sir. I think the hon. Gentleman is confusing the issue. First of all, I am not responsible, thank goodness, for the censor out in Cairo. I have quite enough to do looking after such matters here in England.
§ Mr. Bracken
I have to meet quite a lot of other points which have priority over the hon. Gentleman's point. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) asked how posts are filled in the Ministry of Information. I reply that we have a simple rule: we choose the best man or woman. Another question was, do we encourage wishful thinking or colour the news? The answer to both parts of that question is "No." The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) gave a painstaking account of how to manage the B.B.C. in a more effective fashion than it is managed at the present time. He also asked me some questions about the B.B.C. and its relationship to the Ministry of Information, thereby showing the repetitive character of his oratory, because that point was touched upon by various other speakers in the course of the Debate. He asked a question about the sending of socialites to America. So fat I have sent very few 740 people to America, apart from the hon. Gentleman opposite. I never despatch any socialites to America. At the time I arrived at the Ministry of Information I laid down one absolute rule—no more lecturers to the United States because they did more harm than they could possibly do good.
§ Mr. Bracken
I do not know. We shall have to leave the definition of socialite until a more convenient occasion. The hon. Member raised another question. He said with considerable emotion that even he had not been chosen to make sufficient broadcasts for the B.B.C. He asked: "Where is Priestley?" and where was the hon. Member for Rugby and the hon. Member for Bridgwater? I ask the Committee to remember that you can be "too long on the halls" in relation to the B.B.C. The public get absolutely bored by repetition broadcasts by eminent public figures. They really cannot stand it, I assure hon. Members. More reputations have been broken by constant broadcasting than by anything else.
It falls to my lot frequently to be consulted by my colleagues on the desirability of their broadcasting. That is no sinister subterranean grip on the B.B.C. but it is Government discipline. The Prime Minister has suggested that before any of his colleagues broadcasts they should talk to the Minister of information. I always beg my colleagues to recognise that there are very few natural broadcasters and that the natural broadcasters ruin their reputations by a too constant approach to the microphone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Lakin) who made another admirable speech. The House of Commons is indeed recruiting a very fine supply of journalists and orators. He painted a rather sad picture of the American correspondents, and said that these gentlemen had no opportunities to get information on home affairs. They have the same information as is given to the British Press. I am certain that American correspondents are not ignorant of home affairs—far from it. He raised the question of providing tickets so that they could attend Debates in this House. That is a matter for Mr. Speaker. I am afraid I have not any responsibility for providing tickets. The hon. Member also made a rather remarkable suggestion. He said that I was hiding behind the 741 skirts of the Directors-General of the B.B.C. Not at all. I am telling them to take as strong and emphatic a line as they are willing to do. I hide behind nobody connected with the B.B.C, because I have a Parliamentary responsibility for all they do, and the House of Commons is constantly reminding me of that fact.
I think I have dealt with most of the questions that were put to me. I conclude by saying that in its beginning the Ministry of Information was a sort of Heath Robinson construction. I was the most assiduous critic in this House of it and of the plans of its designers. For a long time its main function was to serve as a lightning rod for the Government and it did that job quite well. In all its friction and troubles, it never wanted a supply of persons who doubted not that it could be reorganised so that it might play an effective part in our war effort. Those members of the staff of the Ministry of Information have refashioned the Ministry, and though it still has many curable deficiencies, it is now doing a work of considerable importance to the nation. I may remind the Committee that propaganda and military reverses go ill together, I foresee that when we gain a few successes, the Ministry of Information's artillery will play a good part in achieving victory.
§ Captain Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
I venture to intervene for one moment to confirm the statement by the Minister that 742 this curious arrangement of control between himself and the Board of Governors does in fact work very satisfactorily indeed. I do not mean to show complacency or to suggest that the arrangement is not open to criticism from various quarters, but it is understood and it does work, and we in the B.B.C. owe a debt to this Minister in particular for having stood up for us and for having not merely spoken of our independence but maintained it within the limits which are allowable in war time. I would venture to ask my colleagues in the Committee in all parties to help us to retain that degree of independence which is necessary by consulting us about questions when they are in their minds, rather than by trying to make the Minister accountable for all kinds of details which he tries to leave to us. If we can be of any help in that connection my colleague and I wish to be so.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again" [Major Sir James Edmondson], put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.