HC Deb 17 December 1945 vol 417 cc916-8
47. Mr. Maurice Webb

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make on the future of the Government Information Service.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. The Government have had under consideration the information services which should be maintained at home and overseas in peace. They are satisfied that, while these services should be on a substantially reduced scale as compared with wartime, they have an important and permanent part in the machinery of government under modern conditions. It is essential to good administration under a democratic system that the public shall be adequately informed about the many matters in which Government action directly impinges on their daily lives, and it is in particular important that a true and adequate picture of British policy, British institutions and the British way of life should be presented overseas.

In the view of the Government, the responsibility for the information policy of a Department must rest with its Minister, but there are various technical functions, notably on the production side, which it would be uneconomical to organise departmentally, and which can best be performed centrally as a common service. For this purpose we propose that departmental information services shall be supplemented by a central office performing certain common technical and production functions and making specialist services available to Departments for both, home and overseas purposes. To be effective, this office, like the Government information services generally, will need a highly qualified rather than a large staff.

There must also be effective machinery for co-ordination, especially as far as overseas publicity is concerned. Neither of these purposes, however, requires a separate Minister exclusively concerned with information matters, and the Government have, therefore, decided to bring the Ministry of Information to an end. The Ministry of Information will, however, continue until the new organisation has been set up, and opportunities of transfer to the new services will be offered to members of the Ministry's staff with the requisite qualifications. Detailed arrangements are now being worked out and will be made public in due course.

In conclusion, I think that, whatever opinions may be held about the future, the House generally would like me to take the present opportunity of placing on record appreciation of the services which the Ministry of Information has rendered since it was formed in 1939, and of the conspicuous success with which, after it emerged from its original teething troubles, it performed its important and difficult task during the war.

Mr. Webb

Could the Prime Minister now state to which Ministers hon. Members will address their Questions on general matters of information policy, when the new central organisation is established? Could he state also whether he is satisfied that the new central organisation can achieve the purposes which he set out so admirably in the first part of his answer?

The Prime Minister

In reply to the second part of that question, I am satisfied that the new organisation will operate effectively. As regards Questions, they should be put to the Ministers concerned, rather than to one Minister solely concerned with information.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

Will the Prime Minister allow my hon. Friends and myself to associate, ourselves with the tribute that he has paid to the Ministry of Information? Could I ask for further information on the matter referred to by the hon. Member? What we want to know is which Minister will be responsible for the new central organisation which is being set up. Surely some Minister will be responsible?

The Prime Minister

I may be more precise about this matter later on, but the general idea is that there should not be a Ministry of Information but an information unit, which would be drawn upon by various Ministers for the information they want. As to whether there would be a Minister precisely in charge of that administration and on what Vote it would come, I would rather make a statement later.

Mr. Thurtle

Under the new scheme, who will answer for the B.B.C. in the House of Commons?

The Prime Minister

That point is under consideration. My hon. Friend will remember that in peace time certain technical questions with regard to the B.B.C. were answered by the Postmaster-General. The B.B.C. Charter will come up for review, I think, next year and the question whether there should be any further Ministerial responsibility will be considered. The general rule has been that programmes should not be the subject of Question and answer in this House..

Mr. W. J. Brown

What is the impact of the Prime Minister's statement on the British Council, if any?

The Prime Minister

There is no direct impact, but the position of the British Council and generally of that kind of service is under consideration, and a statement will be made later on.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

In view of the fact that the new organisation is to be concerned with internal publicity, what exactly will be the relations between it and the B.B.C? Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that the independence of the B.B.C. will be in no wise altered?.

The Prime Minister

I can give that assurance.

Mr. Michael Foot

Can the Prime Minister say whether such information services as those in the United States, which Have done very good work under great difficulties during the war, will in future come under the new organisation or under the Foreign Office?

The Prime Minister

Broadly speaking, those services will come under the Foreign Office, but the matter is under consideration. The general idea is that overseas information, which I think needs to be correlated not only with regard to foreign countries but also with regard to the Dominions and the Colonies, should be under the general supervision of the Foreign Office.