HC Deb 15 April 1943 vol 388 cc1500-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain McEwen.]

Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)

I gave notice some time ago to the Secretary of State for War that I would raise the question of certain publications distributed by the War Office to His Majesty's Forces. This matter arises out of a certain Question that I had on the Order Paper as far back as December. There are three publications, as far as I know, available for the Forces. One is called "United Services Review," the other is "Blighty" and the third "Reveille." The "United Services Review" and "Blighty" are distributed freely by the War Office. I am not sure that they are available for sale; but, if they are, it is in very small numbers. "Reveille" is exclusively sold by the publishers and has, I understand, a circulation of about 20,000, sold on the bookstalls to the public. The War Office, for some reason, refuses to distribute it on the same basis that it distributes the other two. I raise no complaints whatever about the quality of these papers, or even the distribution of them. They are, to the best of my knowledge, good publications each in its particular way. The "United Services Review" has had contributions from Members of this House, which is a testimony to its quality and standing. My objection was based on information given to me by certain people who had been induced to place advertisements with the "United Services Review" and "Blighty," and it is to those two that I wish to apply my remarks from now on. I could not do better, perhaps, than read a few extracts from letters which have come to me from very substantial business concerns since the question was raised in the House. The Minister seemed to doubt the information that I gave on my own authority, and I thought he might like to have it confirmed by substantial business houses. I do not want to mention the names of the firms, but they are at his disposal afterwards if it is of any interest to him. This is from the first company: The statement you make that the income brought from advertisements is fabulous is in no way an exaggerated statement. The circulation of this publication is in the vicinity of 4,000 copies per issue. It was once a monthly issue, but is now a weekly issue. I should reckon that a publication of this nature, issued in the quantity mentioned, should not involve a total cost of more than £100 to £120. In a recent issue the revenue from advertising is in the vicinity of £2,000. If this figure is maintained weekly you will see that the publication has a revenue of £100,000 a year. 'Review Publications' have advertised recently in the 'Daily Telegraph' for ex-officers to work on this publication, offering as an inducement that up to £1,000 a year could be made. The distinguished officer who called on us had an introduction from the Ministry of Supply who, in my judgment should not have given this introduction, especially since we have large contracts with the Ministry and we were naturally more than sympathetic. In addition to this, 'Review Publications' wished us to pay for the six advertisements on the issue of our first advertisement. He concludes by saying: Trusting that when you raise the matter again in the House you may get a more satisfactory answer from the Ministry of War. It is for that purpose that I raise the matter, in the hope that I may get a more satisfactory answer. Here is a letter written by "United Services Review" to me after the question was raised. I want to call attention to the official names which are published here, which might lead people to suppose that it is a very reliable concern and give the impression, when canvassers get advertisements, that the profits from the publication are going to the benefit of the Forces. They are influenced considerably by these names on the letter paper. The first is "Services Advisory Committee, Admiral of the Fleet the Earl of Cork, Field Marshal Lord Ironside, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Salmond." There is a list of an Executive Committee, all officers of the Forces, and all adding weight to the plea of the advertisement canvasser. The next letter is from one of our big industrial manufacturers' unions. There are Members of the House on the Executive Committee, mostly on the other side. Your Question in the House of Commons on December 15 caused interest among members here whose advertisements appear in that journal. I am told that a Noble Lord is interested in obtaining such advertisements. The advertisers are under the impression that the profits go to the Services. The size of the advertisement is not more than half it was originally, thus doubling the revenue. Of course, in these days the advertisement is of no value whatever. They are taken up simply for the benefit of the troops. Sir J. Grigg's assertion that the Chancellor takes 100 per cent. of the excess profits may be true, but 20 per cent. is to be returned as a statutory right after the war. If the profits per annum are £100,000, £20,000 would come back per annum The House will see that it is not a trivial matter. £20,000 each from two advertisements is a very considerable sum of money to be accumulated for the benefit of one or two people who are running this business, I say very deliberately, as a racket. I said that when I put the Question, and I think it will be agreed that it is nothing more or less than a racket, which should be stopped. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for the Minister, since I raised the matter first there has been a court case. One of the men connected with one of these publications was involved in police court proceedings, and the story that I told the House originally was repeated in court by the police, so I do not think there can be any doubt that these people are obtaining, I think under false pretences, very considerable sums of money. When the Minister told me he thought it was of no importance that they should be making these huge profits, even if it was true, I thought he was saying something that was very dangerous. The Treasury have always taken the view, through the Production Departments, that they were not to be influenced at all by how much came back to the Government through Excess Profits Tax and that everything must be based on a fair price and subject to costing.

Both the newspaper trade and the advertising profession feel that they have been done an injustice by the Minister allowing this thing to go on, well knowing that people were obtaining advertisements, and therefore money under false pretences, by making people believe that the money was going to the benefit of the troops when nothing of the kind was happening. I have not one word to say about the publications themselves. They are quite good publications. My only point is that if the people who put these advertisements in should as a result of what the Minister says to-day stop giving their support, I ask that the Government should find ways and means of taking over the publications so that the profits, which amount to not less than £150,000 a year, might go to the benefit of the troops and offset perhaps some of the injustices suffered by the troops from N.A.A.F.I. or provide them with benefits which they do not get from N.A.A.F.I. I hope that the Minister will be able to make that statement on the lines I have indicated and stop the racket, so that the troops will get the benefit of the profits.

The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

My hon. Friend has raised a question concerning two periodicals, "United Services Review" and "Blighty," which are the subject of free distribution through the War Office and other Service channels to members of the Services. Perhaps I might give the House some information before I deal with the point which he has raised. I will first deal with the "United Services Review." The free distribution of this magazine was started in September, 1941, and distribution is affected through the medium of the Services Central Book Depot. The arrangement is that the War Office pays for the rail consignments at home and for shipment abroad. The numbers of copies distributed are somewhat irregular, varying from 500 to 2,000 per week. As my hon. Friend stated, no complaint can be made of the contents of this magazine. It has contained interesting articles, some of them contributed by hon. Members of this House, and the magazine itself is well got up.

The paper is owned by a company called the Review Publications (Great Britain) Limited. It was formed on 14th January, 1942, with a nominal capital of £10,000, of which, I understand, three £1 shares are paid up. The company was formed and is apparently controlled by a Mr. Howard, and this gentleman was and is largely responsible for the running of the magazine. On 11th February of this year Mr. Howard was sentenced to three months' imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of £300 and £50 costs after he had pleaded guilty to taking part in the management of a company when he was an undischarged bankrupt, contrary to Section 142 of the Companies Act. On appeal the sentence of imprisonment was remitted, but the fine remained, and no order was made as to costs in the circumstances. In the light of these facts the War Department have not considered it desirable to continue the arrangement with the company for the running of which Mr. Howard is largely responsible. The free distribution of this magazine has, therefore, been terminated from the end of this month.

As regards the other magazine, "Blighty," the position is that free distribution started in January, 1940. At first distribution was confined to the B.E.F. in France. Later it was distributed to the troops at home, but latterly, owing to paper restrictions, it has been largely confined to the troops abroad. There is a regular quota of 31,500 copies per week, averaging 1,600,000 copies per annum. This magazine is popular with the troops, and we are certainly not anxious to deprive them of this substantial quantity of reading material. It is a paper which, in our opinion, helps to fill a real need for the troops. It is obvious, I think, that having regard to the large numbers of our men who are serving in Africa, India, the Middle East and other parts of the world, there is a real need for suitable reading material. Indeed, there is a real need for suitable reading material for our troops serving at home. In these circumstances we are not prepared to sacrifice such supplies except for good reasons.

My hon. Friend has referred to the enormous advertisement revenues which, he alleges, not only "United Services Review," but "Blighty" are enjoying. I am afraid that the War Office is not in a position to go into the finances of either company. If such papers are making undue profits that is a matter for the Inland Revenue. I understood from my hon. Friend that the suggestion that the profits that are derived from these advertisements were going for the benefit of the troops was made by those who were acting on behalf of "United Services Review" and not "Blighty."

Mr. Edwards

I said that the impression given in canvassing is that the profits go to the benefit of the troops in some way. That applies to both cases.

Mr. Henderson

If my hon. Friend will supply me with actual proof that those who canvass on behalf of "Blighty" for advertisements are in any way misleading those they approach by suggesting that the profits from advertisements are applied for the benefit of the troops, I will certainly be more than willing to have a proper investigation made. On the other hand, if at any time the management of a paper to which the War Office have accorded free distribution facilities is such as to bring it into conflict with the law, then we would undoubtedly consider whether free distribution facilities should be continued.

Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

If the War Office are going to distribute free to the troops periodicals which are run for private profit or otherwise, where do they draw the line? How do they select them from periodicals, such as "Picture Post," the "Daily Worker," the "Daily Express" and others popular among the troops?

Mr. Henderson

So far as "Picture Post" is concerned, the company which owns that magazine has from time to time given us large numbers of its publication which we have distributed to the troops as we do these other magazines.

Mr. A. Edwards

The Minister did not make any reference to the other paper, "Reveille." Is there any good reason why "Reveille" should be denied distribution? I think it is equally popular, as is confirmed by the fact that it has a circulation of 20,000, which neither of the others can boast.

Mr. Henderson

The matter did come to a head some time ago, when it was decided that "Reveille" was not suitable to be distributed.

Mr. Edwards

Because they criticised the War Office?

Mr. Henderson

I do not think that is so.

Question: "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.