§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Lord John Hope (Midlothian and Peebles, Northern)
British Information Services is the agency in the United States which is primarily responsible for disseminating information to the people of the United States about what goes on in Britain. I should like for a moment or two to extend that definition in order to give the Minister who is to answer time to arrive, because he, of course, will know exactly what British Information Services are.
The headquarters for general policy are at Washington, but the real nerve centre of this organisation is New York, and there are subsidiary branches in Chicago and San Francisco. Those of us on this side of the House who have been over to the United States and have seen their B.I.S., as it is called, at work, will pay a tribute to the courtesy of the staff there and their readiness to show 835 anything and everything that one wants to see. What I shall have to say will not be directed personally against the staff of British Information Services, but it will be directed against the responsible authority, which is His Majesty's Government. The cost to the taxpayer, which is really a relevant theme throughout my argument, is considerable——
§ Lord John Hope
Just wait. For the year up to March, 1949, the Government's estimate for the New York Agency is £240,786. The actual function of this organisation is to distribute reports of speeches and broadcasts, to arrange for broadcasts and so forth, and also to arrange for the distribution of films. I believe that there are arrangements in hand connected with television. It also publishes its own material. Now that the Minister of State has arrived, I can tell him that he has not missed anything so far, that he did not know. This organisation publishes its own pamphlets. That is a material part of the argument which I shall put to the House. I wish to quote from a speech made by the Minister of State and also from an answer which he gave to a Parliamentary Question. The speech, which he made on 8th February, 1946, contains, I think, an extremely good definition of what British Information Services once were and what I think they should still be. This is what he said:… the Foreign Office is zealously concerned with this business, not of pushing out propaganda, not of ramming stuff down people's throats, but of answering questions. That was the secret of B.I.S. I think B.I.S. did an excellent job during the war, and that was the essence of its success. It said loudly enough and plainly enough, We are here, but it invited questions, it did not offer answers. That will be the basis of the Foreign Office attitude on this matter. There is no propaganda that succeeds the day after, unless it is based on fact. I am sure that my hon. Friend did not mean that Dr. Goebbels was the most successful propagandist. …That was a reference to a previous remark.He was a huge and lamentable failure. because he achieved results in 1939 which contributed substantially to bringing his country down in 1945. We have never competed in that kind of business"—meaning of course false propaganda— 836we have never competed in that kind of business, we never will as a country, and this country and this Office which I am serving most certainly will not in the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 2115–6.]Later than that the right hon. Gentleman gave a pledge in answer to a Question asked him on 20th January, 1948. The Question asked by what principle the British Information Services in the U.S.A. were guided when distributing copies of speeches in the B.B.C. series of political addresses. The right hon. Gentleman replied:It is a principle that the British Information Services should not be used for party purposes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1948; Vol. 446, c. 14–15.]Then the right hon. Gentleman said that they could, of course, issue party comments so long as they made it perfectly clear that what was being issued was a party comment. That is the pledge to which I shall draw the attention of the Minister—the principle that the British Information Services should not be used for party purposes.
In what I have to say, the House will see just how far the definition which I previously quoted has been adhered to and how far the right hon. Gentleman's pledge has been honoured by this Government. His Majesty's Government and the Socialist Party have inevitably a very great advantage in the United States of America. They can, by written and spoken word, defend what the Socialist Government are doing in Britain. There is no convention to stop them doing that. We on this side of the House, whatever lapses there may be—and to my regret I think there have been one or two—are constrained by convention, and encouraged to obey this convention by the Leader of the Opposition, not to attack our own Government outside our own borders. I believe that convention to be right and that it should be obeyed.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I happened to be in New York at the end of last year and I saw the film version of the Leader of the Opposition at the Llandudno Conference. There was a full report of his speech. Would the noble Lord try to explain how he can justify that being shown all over America—an attack on His Majesty's Government shown in every big cinema?
§ Lord John Hope
I should have thought that the fallacy of the hon. Gentleman's argument was obvious even to him. Surely he is not suggesting for one moment—and if he does, I really could not accept it—that audiences who saw that film of the Conservative Party Conference at Llandudno did not know that it was a Conservative Party Conference. I wish to come to the question of examples.
§ Mr. Fairhurst (Oldham)
Would the noble Lord tell the Hosue what would be his reaction if his party were in power at present? What action would the Conservative Party take?
§ Mr. Fairhurst
The suggestion is that the Socialist Party is using its power as the dominant party for its own political purposes. What would happen if the Opposition—the Conservative Party—represented the dominant factor?
§ Lord John Hope
If the hon. Gentleman will listen to my speech, he will see that it deals with the question of principle as well as with specific examples. The short answer is that I should be just as much against the Conservative Party using British Information Services as an organ of party propaganda, and thereby being unfair to the Socialist Opposition, as I am in present circumstances against this agency being used to favour Socialist propaganda against us. What is sauce for one is sauce for the other. I refrain from using the usual words in connection with that proverb.
I wish now to deal with an extraordinary case that arose from the publication in an American magazine of an article by a man called Dr. Kessler. The magazine was "Mass Transportation." It is the trade journal of the American transport industry. In its issue for June, 1948, there was a highly controversial article about the nationalisation of transport in this country. Its publication was encouraged, indeed, was really caused, by British Information Services. I want to read just one typical gem from this otherwise rather dull article, which is, nevertheless, a very important article. This is the sort of thing which Dr. Kessler says in boosting the decision of the British Government to nationalise transport: 838Thus, many of the natural misgivings on the occasion of drastic changes in old-established economic organisations, such as were expressed a year ago when coal was being nationalised, have not been entertained in the case of transport. But there are two more considerations making for a confident approach regarding the ultimate success of the reform. The one is the coincidence of the beginning of transport nationalisation with the remarkable recovery in coal output which must be ascribed in part to the effect coal nationalisation has had on miners …The publication of that article under the auspices of B.I.S. was the reason for a Question put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), who asked the Foreign Office under what authority the B.I.S. in the United States provided an article on Government policy on nationalising inland transport for the American magazine "Mass Transportation," whether Dr. Kessler was paid for the article by the British Information Services, and what the policy of His Majesty's Government was regarding the use of public services for the dissemination of political propaganda of this type. The answer of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will bear investigation by the House. He said:The article by Dr. F. Kessler to which the hon. Member refers was produced by the Central Office of Information primarily for Switzerland and India.These are the operative words:As a careful factual survey, it was considered by British Information Services to be suitable for use in the United States.He went on to say that no fee was, in fact, paid by B.I.S., and his answer concluded:It is part of the duty of B.I.S. to supply material calculated to inform opinion in the United States of America on Measures approved by Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th September, 1948; Vol. 456, c. 198.]Then, as a result of further correspondence between my hon. Friend and the Government, my hon. Friend received the following letter from a noble Lord who was deputising for the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and I hope I am in order in reading the noble Lord's letter. He said:The question you raise is whether it is not just as much the duty of the Information Services to arrange publication of articles arguing against the national monopoly for inland transport, as it is to arrange the publication of articles in favour of nationalisation. I think the answer is that it is not.I do not see how that claim made by 839 the noble Lord can square with the pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman which I quoted at the beginning of my speech.
I now come to one or two further examples. First, I would remind the House of the occasion when the hon. Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) asked a Question about a statement issued by British Information Services to the effect that there was really no difference at all between the party opposite and the party on this side of the House, a statement which no doubt annoyed both sides, but a statement which, nevertheless, was made by British Information Services. The Government, as they had to do, climbed right down over this, and the Under-Secretary of State said:My right hon. Friend has instructed His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington to have an unequivocal correction published."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 1310.]There was another question which I came across in a pamphlet called "Educational Notes" published in the Autumn of last year. No. 1 of this publication described the educational set-up in this country, but there is not one word describing the part which all parties have played in the educational position as it is now, and the unmistakable impression is given from reading this pamphlet that the party opposite was entirely responsible for the state of education in this country today.
§ Mr. Scollan
Would the noble Lord tell the House if there is any statement to the effect that this production is the product of a party or is it worded to the effect that it is the product of the Government?
§ Lord John Hope
I have told the House perfectly clearly that, in my opinion, the unmistakable impression is given by this article that the educational set-up in this country is entirely and only to the credit of the party opposite.
§ Lord John Hope
No, the party. I have the advantage of the hon. Member in having seen this publication, while he has not.
§ Lord John Hope
The impression upon anyone who did not, in fact, know what a tremendous part all parties in the country have played in the development of the present educational set-up.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
Can the noble Lord identify the B.I.S. document to which he refers? I have read some of these B.I.S. documents, and they do not bear out the impression which the noble Lord has given, if that is his impression.
§ Lord John Hope
I have said that it was No. 1 of "Educational Notes."
There is another pamphlet called "Labour in Industry in Britain." I have something to say about several articles which have appeared in the course of publication of this quarterly review, and I refer now to Volume 6, No. 4, dated December, 1948. It has something to say about the economic outlook in future, after going through the capital re-equipment and investment programme and the various experiments being put through to increase output and so on. It makes this statement:Labour is co-operating to the full.It may be the opinion of some hon. Members that labour is co-operating to the full, but it is the opinion of some others that it is not, and that one of the Government's major headaches is to get labour to co-operate to the full. Therefore, this statement should not be made at the taxpayers' expense as indicating what is going on in Britain, because it is not true. [Interruption.] I know that what I have to say may be disliked by some hon. Members, but I am going to say it, nevertheless, and I hope they will allow me to make my speech and speak for themselves afterwards.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)
Will the noble Lord not agree that that general statement is virtually true, when compared with the position after the first war, and, indeed, after a period of uncertainty, before the recent war? We have had spots of bother, but generally the argument is sound.
§ Lord John Hope
If all these qualifications which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned had been in the statement, it would have been a different, matter, but it was given as a bald statement which I have quoted and which was going to be read by people who could not have been aware of what the hon. Gentleman has just said.
Next, there is another comment in this issue about the direction of labour headed "How Wide is the Direction of Labour?" Anyone present at the debate on the Control of Engagement Order the other day will realise that the statement which I am about to read is far from the truth. It talks about the vast placing operation carried through under this Order. It says:Unquestionably the power of direction must have played some indirect part in achieving this vast placing operation, but for the most part it has been carried through in an entirely voluntary spirit.The Conservative Party and the Liberal Party attacked the Control of Engagement Order during the Debate on it, as a fundamental enemy of individual freedom and spiritual freedom in this country. Whether they are right or wrong, that is the opinion held by the two parties on this side of the House.
I come now to a publication called "Economic Record" of 7th January, 1949. I wish to give an example from this publication. In that issue the following statement is made about the coal target:The target would probably have been reached if there had been the desired 25,000 more miners in the pits. The most noteworthy feature of Britain's coal trade in 1948 was the resumption of exports to overseas markets. Including bunkers, British coal exports last year were near the target figure of 16 million tons compared with less than 5½ million tons in 1947, of which the bulk was for bunkers.That ex parte statement does not appear reasonable or right when it is compared with what was said by the Minister of Fuel and Power on 4th October, 1948. He said:Unless there was an immediate increase in coal production the country could not fulfil its contracts for foreign bunkers and exports without drawing one to two million tons of coal from stocks. This could be done only once.As the statement was printed by B.I.S. it gave a totally wrong impression of the state of affairs in the industry in this country.
842 Let me take another article. Hon. Members will want to know which pamphlet it was. It was the pamphlet "Labour and Industry in Britain," Volume 6, No. 3 of September, 1948. The right hon. Gentleman has had notice of this. An article which is called "Coal —the First Year" includes the following statement:… The output from each man each day at the coal face was nearly back to the pre-war level, and in some parts of the country was constantly above it. …But surely the significant factor about that year was that in 1941 some 12,000 fewer miners, with less mechanisation to assist them, produced 17 million tons more of deep mined coal than was produced in 1947. That is a sort of situation which could not possibly have been defined by anyone reading that ex parte statement.
Finally, there is this further example:From the manifold employees of the industry in their various occupations, from the highest to the humblest, there came a real response.
§ Lord John Hope
It is all very well for hon. Members to say, "Yes." But they must set that statement against the fact that in this 12 months there were no fewer than seven speeches by the Minister of Fuel and Power telling the miners that they were not doing well enough. That is the fact, and that is the point.
There is an article in the September, 1947, issue of that magazine called "Nationalisation." It contains the following statement:The scope is limited. The aim is economy and efficiency. Compensation is fair.
§ Lord John Hope
It is the opinion of hon. Members opposite that compensation is fair, but it is the opinion of a great many other people, including hundreds of thousands who have been compensated, that compensation is unfair. I am merely suggesting that it is not the function or the duty of B.I.S. to publish as a fact at the taxpayer's expense what is only a question of opinion. The article goes on to produce the old chestnut about there being only 20 per cent. of the country's economy in Socialist hands after the Government have carried out the election programme, while the remaining 80 per 843 cent. will remain under private ownership and free enterprise. Anyone who heard the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) during the Debate on steel nationalisation will know exactly what the position would be if the whole of the Government's 1945 manifesto were carried out, including the nationalisation of the steel industry, and any statement that the vast majority of British enterprise and industry will be left free at the end of that programme is simply mendacious and nothing less. Another quotation is:One assurance that nationalised industries will be run with the accent on efficiency is the persistence with which this whole question is discussed in Britain.The taxpayer is paying for a factual statement of that sort to be broadcast in America and it becomes ridiculous when we set against that statement the limitations imposed upon us so far as the responsibility of Government Departments in answering for nationalised industries is concerned.
Those are examples which have come to my notice and which I can quote in a limited time. I believe that the Government, no doubt unintentionally but nevertheless effectively, have in fact dishonoured their pledge, which I quoted at the beginning of my speech, and I believe the Government are carrying out what is party propaganda at the taxpayers' expense by trying to show that Socialism is successful in Britain when, in fact, it is failing in Britain. I know that Mr. Hoffman paid a great tribute to the efforts Great Britain is making and I know that if I had not referred to that tribute, the right hon. Gentleman would certainly have done so. Of course things are looking up in this country. Of course Britain is a good place. I will not listen to nonsense from anyone who may suggest that what I have said in my speech will do Britain no good at all. I maintain with complete conviction that Britain's recovery is due entirely to private enterprise and that it is the nationalised industries of this country, whatever hon. Members opposite may say, which have been a drain on our economy and which will continue to be a drain. Let hon. Members opposite show me anything in published figures from B.I.S. or anywhere else to show that I am wrong about the 844 nationalised industries and their effect upon the country's economy.
Anyone can make constructive suggestions as to what should be done to remedy the state of affairs. I think the idea of B.I.S. is good and sound but that the Government should do what they said they were going to do—that is stick to the facts, if they are to use B.I.S. If they are not willing to do that, let them give us equal facilities to put the anti-Socialist case through B.I.S. If the right hon. Gentleman has changed the Government's tune, well and good. I hope the Govern-will do something to redeem what I believe is dishonourable and discreditable, if typical, conduct.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I think the House will agree with me when I say we have just heard a most astounding speech which I think on reflection the noble Lord the Member for Midlothian and Northern Peebles (Lord John Hope) will regret having made. I think he fails to understand the whole cause and object of British Information Services and the necessity for publicising in America the work this country has done since the end of the war. It so happens that I was in America for a short time a few months ago and I had an opportunity to learn something of the value of British Information Services and to learn something of the deep interest which is taken throughout America in the achievements of this country since the end of the war. The noble Lord has accused the Government of bias and partisanship in some of the statements put out by British Information Services. In my view, he has entirely failed to make out his case in any of the illustrations he has given. I believe that on a fairminded, objective analysis of every statement that has been published by B.I.S. it will be found to be factually correct.
The noble Lord has failed to appreciate the whole object of this propaganda in America. The House and the country should know that the people of the United States, who, after all, are engaged at their own expense and at some self-sacrifice in providing this country with substantial sums of money at this time. are interested—and naturally interested—in knowing the policy of His Majesty's Government. They are really not particularly interested in the views of the 845 noble Lord. I think the country should know that apart from the literature which the Government sent to America through British Information Services they also arrange for a series of visits by Members of Parliament, to tour the United States from time to time, and that those visits are not confined to Members from the Labour benches, but include visits by Members from the Opposition benches. The noble Lord himself is one of the Members who have been selected since this Government have been in power to go to America to explain what is happening in Britain, and he was given a perfectly free hand in doing so.
§ Lord John Hope
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here when I began my speech, but one of the things I dwelt on for a moment was the disadvantages against which we have to labour, as compared with the advantage that supporters of the Government have. I did my best, and was particularly careful, as, I think, some of the Government know, not to launch a frontal attack in public on His Majesty's Government. Of course, it cramps my style in many ways. but I did not think that it was right to do so. There may have been individuals who have gone farther. I should regret it. I think it is wrong. However, it does not in the least alter for one moment the principle on which I am standing.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I give the noble Lord full credit for having personally always put forward the case with the fullest impartiality. He said he suffered from disadvantages; but, of course, the only real disadvantage from which he suffered was the fact that he does not appreciate the immense benefits which Socialism and this Labour Government have conferred on this country. That is really the disadvantage from which he suffered. He, like all the Members of the party opposite, is jealous of the achievements of the Labour Government, and jealous that the American population should know of those achievements. He fails to appreciate that what the American people are interested in is what this great Labour Government are doing, and how it is that their policy and Socialism have produced such immense benefits. That is what they are interested in knowing, because Socialism is something with which they are not yet familiar. They are relatively a new nation. They are an 846 intelligent nation; they take an interest in what is going on in Great Britain; they are interested in understanding the objects of the Labour Government.
It is veryimportant that the House and the country should understand—and it is a very remarkable thing in the world to-day—that the American people, who are, in a sense, completely obsessed with the menace of Communism, should, nevertheless, be contented and anxious to give the fullest possible assistance to this country, under our Labour Government, in building up our strength and resources.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Because of the Labour Government. Therefore, it is a very natural object of curiosity and interest among the American people to understand exactly for what the Labour Government stand, and why we find such great advantages of nationalisation, and so forth. They view it with a certain amount of ignorance, but they are really keen to understand the significance of nationalisation in Great Britain and to learn about the great advantages it produces. They are glad to learn of the great measures of social reform that this Government have introduced — the National Health Service, and our methods of securing full employment and banishing insecurity. They learn with pleasure the fact that we have had this tremendous co-operation in industry, that we have had a complete absence of those strikes on a large scale and labour upheavals, that broke out after the 1914–1918 War when there was a Conservative Government in power.
Those are the kinds of things about which the American people are interested to hear. It is quite impossible, i believe, to give the American nation the information it seeks and divorce the achievements of the country from the record and policy of the Government. They know about Conservatism. They have heard about that in the past for generations. They know what the Conservative Party stands for. They are not particularly interested to know how many votes were cast against the Transport Bill. They are anxious to know about the philosophy which underlies the policy and programme of the Labour Government, and for what they stand. I found wherever 847 I went that they were appreciative of all the information that was given them on that score. They were indeed also interested to know how the Opposition took it, but that was not their fundamental interest.
I think the British Information Services and the Foreign Office would be failing in their duty—and it is an important national duty at this time—if they did not fully explain the policy of the British Government to the people of the United States of America if they did not give them all possible information about our achievements. I am convinced by the questions I heard when I was there that they are impressed with the complete impartiality and factual objectiveness of the figures and information which they are receiving.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I have seldom known any speaker in a Debate to give away his case to the other side more completely than the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) has done. Almost everybody in the House looked happy during his speech. Hon. Members opposite on the back benches looked happy because they did not understand what was happening. Hon. Members on this side looked happy because it was a peach of a give-away to answer. The only person who looked completely miserable and still does is the right hon. Gentleman who has to reply to the Debate. I have a great admiration for my noble Friend the Member for Northern Midlothian and Peebles (Lord John Hope), but, honestly, the case was made better by the hon. Member for East Islington. This was the whole purport of his argument. He said that the job of the British Information Services is to tell the United States of the glorious achievements of the Socialist Government. He said, "Let the British Information Services tell of the great joys and pleasures which everybody is enjoying under the Socialist Government at the present time." The idea that anybody in the British Information Services should say anything about the Conservative Party was another thing. "No," said the hon. Gentleman, "not that. That is out-of-date stuff. They have heard about that before. Keep that in the background."
848 That is exactly the case which my noble Friend was making on this side of the House. Let me make perfectly plain to the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply what our case is. We are not complaining that a Socialist or pro-Socialist article is published by British Information Services. That is not the burden of our complaint. We think that is perfectly fair; that there is nothing wrong with that. We are asking only for one thing, and that is that the other side should be put over, too. That is all we are asking. That is the position that the hon. Member for East Islington is not prepared to concede. We want the right hon. Gentleman when he replies to say that, as far as he is concerned, he will use all his influence to see that both sides of the case are put over, and that there is no prejudice in favour of only one side being put over by information services supported by Government funds. If the right hon. Gentleman will concede that, I think we shall have achieved the purpose of this Debate.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
Could the hon. Gentleman say what is the Tory policy that is to be put over?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
As a matter of fact, perhaps on the broad point which my noble Friend raised—that on the question of transport policy—I could speak for a long time, but I do not want to turn this Debate into a discussion between the rival policies of the Socialist Party and the Conservative Party. We are not discussing that. What we are discussing is how the British Information Services, supported by public funds drawn from people who belong to all parties in this country, can properly be used. I am not complaining about Socialism being put over; I am only asking that the other side should be put over too. I do not want to attack the British Information Services as such. I know them. The only thing on which I agree with the hon. Member for East Islington is that I received very great help from them when I was in the United States. I think that they are well staffed, and I have no complaint about the British Information Services as such. It is about the way in which they are being used and the directives that are being issued that I am complaining. The criticism which always used to be made about information services supported by public 849 funds was that in the hands of an unscrupulous Minister or of an unscrupulous Government they could be used for party propaganda only. It is against that criticism that we wish to safeguard the British Information Services at the present time. On the evidence which my noble Friend adduces, they are open to that criticism through what has transpired.
We do not believe that it is right to use them for party propaganda. Let party politics stay in the House of Commons or on the hustings. The United States is not the place to argue the Conservative cause or the Socialist cause or any other party's cause. We owe too much to America to do that. Let it be remembered that no country in the world has sunk party politics more than the United States have—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me on this—particularly on foreign policy and for the assistance of this country.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
An election was fought recently in the United States, and in elections in all countries, feelings run pretty high, but I did observe in that election that there were precious little party politics, so far as the international situation was concerned. Both Republicans and Democrats, however much they may dispute at home, were both extraordinarily helpful to us here in Europe. John Foster Dulles and General Marshall were on our side, as well as Vandenburg. It did not matter about party politics then. I think that we might attain the same level of political morality in the use of our British Information Services. Once one starts this particular wrangle, there, is no end to it.
I have been to the United States, and it was not an officially sponsored mission. I was there about a year ago. I met as many people as I could in all walks of life. I was asked to places, and I was asked questions which I had to answer. I did my best to defend the interests of Great Britain. I did not go there as a Conservative to put over Conservative propaganda. I was asked 850 a lot of questions about His Majesty's Government, and I think that I had to stretch veracity a little far on occasions. One day, it may be, I shall have to answer for these things; but I did my best. I emphasised the moderation of the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply to this Debate. I emphasised the rather Right Wing views of his Chief, the Foreign Secretary, and the moderation of the Lord President of the Council. When I was asked about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I hastily changed the subject. I did my level best, I can honestly say, to look at these things from a reasonable angle.
I now find that during the whole of this time—which I did not know at the time—the British Information Services, who were giving me great assistance, had been told that in so far as certain fields of their activities were concerned—the distribution of articles and so forth—they were to take a purely party line. I can substantiate that statement with letters which I have. I do not think that it was very wise or in the interests of His Majesty's Government. I do not think that eulogies on the glories of nationalisation are going over particularly well in the United States. They have a lot of prejudice against nationalisation. I am not saying that they are right or wrong. I have talked to John Lewis, the miners' leader, for whom I have a great respect, and I often wished that I could bring him over here to give his views about nationalisation in this country. I think that he would do so in a much more forthright manner than anyone on these benches.
I think that it would be a terrible thing if the British Information Services were to try to put over what is popularly known as a balanced view. There is nothing duller than a balanced view. All I ask is that both sides should be put over. My noble Friend quoted an article on the nationalisation of inland transport in Britain. All the resources of the British Information Services were placed at the disposal of Dr. F. Kessler, whoever he may be. probably a most admirable man, to help him to write this extraordinary article on transport, which is much the sort of stuff which the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) might have written. Perhaps he did. I do not know. It is the sort of stuff he has put over regularly. I am not say- 851 ing whether it is right or wrong. It is the view of a particular section of people about the transport industry of this country, and it says what a magnificent thing this State monopoly is because Britain is a country in which cheap and efficient internal transport is absolutely vital. It does not say anything about the fares going up steadily. It says that the clash between public and private interests involved in a change of such enormous dimensions is obvious, yet the transfer is being widely accepted not merely as the inevitable consequence of the election programme of the present Government, but as a further logical step in her economic development. That is all right.
One is entitled to take that particular point of view, but when the article was sent to me I wrote to the Minister and said very humbly, "Could we put over another point of view?" I suggest that there is another way of looking at the transport problem. I think that even the hon. Member for Enfield would admit that there is another view about it. I was told, "No, certainly not." Until the Act had been passed, apparently I was allowed to do it, but once the nationalisation of transport Bill had become an Act of Parliament then, according to the view at the present time, it is the job of the British Information Services to put over what is the accepted view of the British Government.
No doubt hon. Members opposite would face the future, so suppose we consider the year 1950 when the Conservative Party are in power, as no doubt they will be; suppose the Conservative Party then pass an Act of Parliament to de-nationalise the road haulage industry of this country, as no doubt they will Are we to use the British Information Services and upon that Act to hang an article attacking Socialism? I think it would be a grossly improper procedure if we did such a thing.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If the hon. Member will just pay attention for a few moments I shall try to persuade even him of the case I am arguing. Perhaps he will not interrupt, but will just listen. We are not here concerned with whether Socialism or Conservatism is the right way of governing this country. We are not concerned with that at all.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
No, we are not. At any rate we on this side of the House are not. What we are concerned with is that the British Information Services, which is a Government service available to everybody and supported by everybody, should put over both sides of the question; that it should be available to those who argue for the great historic traditions of freedom just as much as to those who argue, as they are entitled to argue, for a rather different approach to the subject. That is all we are asking. I am not here saying that the nationalisation of transport is a good thing, a bad thing or an indifferent thing. That is irrelevant to my argument. All I ask is that both sides should be put over.
Let us consider another case. Suppose when a Conservative Government are returned they reverse the decision to nationalise the steel industry. Now, it would be quite possible to write a very savage article upon that; it would be possible to make a bitter attack upon the Socialist movement, about the divisions in the Cabinet and the use of a particular industry for nationalisation to satisfy the Left wing of a political party, putting party politics above the interests of a country. All those things could be used; but I think that it would be wrong to use them. The right place for that sort of argument is the House of Commons not the United States of America. What we want to do, as far as foreign countries are concerned, is to minimise our internal differences and maximise our national unity.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman when he replies not to debate the merits and demerits of particular proposals with which we are not concerned. All I am asking is that the present decision, that once an Act has been passed we are not allowed to use the British Information Services for distributing a publication or anything which criticises, should be reversed, and that in future the great 853 tradition of this country, that both sides of the argument can be put forward, should be extended to a Government service supported by public funds.
§ Mr. Fairhurst
Before the hon. Member concludes will he answer this point? The party opposite is the aggrieved party and the complainant in this matter. Will the hon. Member tell the House of any responsible authority in America which has protested against what has been published by the British Information Services—one single authority?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I have had a complaint about this very letter. They thought it a very odd thing that only one side should be put over.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) who, while suggesting that controversial questions should only be discussed here, seemed to want to carry those controversial questions into the British Information Services. He really should make up his mind. Why does he want to carry the controversy into America? The service rendered by the British Information Services in the United States of America is excellent and impartial, and no evidence has yet been produced in this Chamber that the Service is not impartial.
§ Mr. Wallace
Let us consider the question of nationalisation. The B.I.S. does not argue for or against; it simply explains; that is one of its objects.
§ Mr. Osborne
Is it not fair to say that if the person explaining is either for or against what is being explained, he puts a colour on his explanation, and that, therefore, if a direction is given with an emphasis on one side, the explanation is not, and never can be, fair?
§ Mr. Wallace
I have often listened to the hon. Member, and I am sure that he finds difficulty in giving an explanation which is not coloured by his political views; but that is not the inability of the B.I.S. The case for or against nationalisation can be stated without introducing party politics. I have listened to the right 854 hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) make out a case, and a pretty good case, for nationalisation.
§ Mr. Wallace
The right hon. Member for Woodford talked about the nationalisation of railways. I would point out to hon. Members opposite that the Americans told me that the first thing to be nationalised in the United States of America would be the railways.
§ Mr. Wallace
All of them. They are not afraid of nationalisation. They want to understand it; they are interested; they will, I think, adopt it, just as the President has adopted some suggestions on social security. In explaining what this country has been doing, the B.I.S. has rendered a service to the United States of America, as is illustrated by the vote of the American people for a President of their own choice, irrespective of party. I am glad that both sides of the House agree that this service should he continued.
§ Mr. Wallace
That is another point. I am glad, too, to hear the statement that the personnel of the British Information Services is good and renders satisfactory service. The only suggestion up to the moment is that both sides of the case should be put. But that is not the object of the B.I.S. The object of the B.I.S. is to state what is being done in this country, irrespective of party.
§ Mr. Wallace
It is no use the hon. Member shaking his head. There are hon. Members of the party opposite who have visited the United States and said the most atrocious things.
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
I could name one or two hon. Member opposite who are not even allowed inside the United States.
§ Mr. Wallace
I have the same respect for the traditions to which the hon. Member has referred. There are one or two 855 people from the benches opposite whom I would keep outside the United States They do not do us any good.
I have only two more points to make, and then I will sit down. Since 1945, Labour in this country, although it can be criticised and though there may be disappointments, has done better than was done after the 1914–18 war. My test for that is not a general statement, but the number of days lost in strikes after the 1914–18 war and after the 1939–45 war.
§ Mr. Wallace
Hon. Members opposite did, and if they were in power today they would do the same thing again.
§ Mr. Shurmer
What about the ex-Service men? Who was responsible for starving them when they came home after the last war?
§ Mr. Wallace
What about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford and the restoration of pre-war gold parity?
§ Mr. Wallace
Then we get the sentiments of the noble Lord about private enterprise. Who owns private enterprise? The worker, the manager, or the man who just holds the shares and receives the 40 per cent. dividend, but who does nothing for the industry? Let us get down to the people who do the work. I am not talking of one kind of worker but of all the people who work. Hon. Members opposite cannot deny and, indeed, they will admit, that the people of all sections in this country have responded splendidly to the nation's need in rationing, taxation, work and so on.
In conclusion, I would say that it would be disastrous if the B.I.S. did not explain to the United States what this country is doing. It does not explain the party view 856 —neither the Labour nor the Conservative point of view—but it explains the Measures which have been carried through, and why. I found that one of the things which interested the Americans most was the National Health Act. They have people who die, because of want of medical attention. I found the poor people in New York very interested in rationing, because they cannot afford to buy butter and bacon. They never see them.
§ Mr. Wallace
It is not rubbish, and the word "rubbish" used in this connection by the hon. Member is just nonsense. There are millions in America who cannot afford butter.
§ Mr. Wallace
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) says "Rubbish," but he knows nothing about it. When it comes to housing I can refer to my own borough of Lambeth. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, when she was here, expressed appreciation of what we have done for housing, and said there was nothing like it in the United States.
§ Mr. Osborne rose——
§ Mr. Wallace
No, I am not going to give way again, because I have finished and the hon. Member can then get in his own shot. The argument from the other side seems to be that they want the B.I.S. to be used for Tory propaganda.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
From the heat that has just been given out by the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. H. Wallace), one would think that the Americans were in such a bad condition that they were applying to us for Marshall Aid and not we to them. If they are so shockingly short, if they are so shockingly underfed and badly housed when compared with this wonderful Socialist paradise, why is it that we are going on our hands and knees to beg our daily bread from them? This is important to the issue that has been made. In Command Paper 7275 which we are going to discuss on Thursday, we are shown going cap in hand to the American Govern- 857 ment for assistance, and saying to them that if they do not give us 940 million dollars we shall have mass unemployment and starvation in this country. If hon. Members opposite would like to look at the paragraph, they will find it on page 64 of the White Paper. The hon. Member for East Walthamstow has the impudence to say in this House that it is——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) must withdraw the word "impudence."
§ Mr. Osborne
I beg your pardon. I do not know the Parliamentary term for such an enormity, but I will withdraw at your instruction, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The last thing I should like to do would be to disagree with your Ruling. I come back to the fact that we are shortly going to debate a Bill which is formally putting into words a begging appeal to this poor, underfed, under-housed and half-starved America to give us 940 million dollars. That is what the Socialist Government are compelled to say in the White Paper, and they go on to state in the last paragraph on page 64 that if we do not get that money the results in this country will be too dreadful to think about. It is monstrous that such nonsense should be talked from the benches opposite, because it will do great harm on the other side.
Let me return to the B.I.S. and the Debate which my hon. Friend the noble Lord the Member for Northern Midlothian and Peebles (Lord John Hope) initiated. Three years ago, on 8th February, 1946, on the Adjournment I raised the question of B.I.S., and I asked the Government not to cut down its allocation of funds, because I felt it was doing such a good job. I said then that I believed that Anglo-American understanding was of such vital importance to the peace of the world and to our own prosperity that the more money we spent on B.I.S., the better. I still stand by what I said three years ago.
Since then I have had the opportunity of seeing B.I.S. work, for I have been in America twice—in 1947 and 1948. I have seen the main offices in Washington, New York and Chicago. I want to pay my tribute to the great body of officials and to the fact that they apparently know their job backwards, for they are in close touch with American newspaper men, which is their main job, and they are 858 doing very good work. The nation is getting very good value for the money we are spending on B.I.S. Whatever complaints may be made by my noble Friend, they should not reflect personally upon the officials who are carrying out the policy over there which is laid down for them, because obviously the B.I.S. officials are merely putting out propaganda, which is being issued by the Socialist Government. One thing which the Americans dislike and distrust is propaganda. They do not want it. They have had enough from Dr. Goebbels. What they want are the plain facts.
§ Mr. Osborne
If the hon. Member would just sit and listen it would be a great help. I am sure that the Americans are not getting the whole of the facts which would give a true impression of the position in this country. It is only a few weeks since I was at the B.I.S. offices in New York and saw the pictures and the pamphlets there. To those Americans who do not know the full details, they would give a highly coloured picture of the success of Socialism in this country, and certainly a much more highly coloured picture than the facts warrant. That is the complaint which my noble Friend is making.
I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth who says that he wants both sides stated. I would rather have neither side stated. I would rather have the bare facts put in front of the American people. I would remind the House of the success of the B.B.C. during the war with its European Service. The people in occupied Europe came to trust the B.B.C. broadcasts because they could rely on the facts as they were not coloured one way or the other and there was no propaganda in them. That is the job which the B.I.S. should be doing. It would be a shocking thing to use this instrument for whatever Government is in power. While hon. Members opposite jeer with rather extravagant optimism about the impossibility of a Conservative Government coming in next time, they may one day face what Jimmy Maxton prophesied in 1945—a Communist Government—and surely they would not like the B.I.S. to be used for Communist propaganda. The trade union chiefs would not. It is therefore utterly foolish 859 to use this organisation, which the taxpayers of every class help to maintain for party purposes.
I will give the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply an example which I had in Washington. Obviously I cannot give the name here, but I will give it to him privately afterwards. As a result of B.I.S. propaganda, three or four of us in Washington were discussing the nationalisation of coal and this very responsible British official said to me, "Of course, it has been a huge success.' I said, "Do not talk such nonsense, man." His proof was that output had gone up so much. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] He said that the output was greater now than it was before the war. I again said, "Do not talk such nonsense." There was no stopping his argument until I insisted on his sending to another department for the monthly statistical abstract and looking at the facts which the Lord President of the Council produced there which showed that production per man was lower today than it was pre-war. I will give the right hon. Gentleman that official's name in confidence if he wants it; it would not be fair otherwise. That official had received that impression from the flow of half propaganda, half statistics that comes through the B.I.S. He had a too highly coloured impression of what was happening. That ought to stop. All the facts ought to be given so that when, with the political swing, hon. Members opposite are sitting here they will have no more to complain about than we ought to have tonight.
An hon. Member opposite said to my noble Friend that the statements given out by the B.I.S. were virtually true. I am not quite certain what "virtually" means. It is a qualification which might mean anything. It is because he has to put that qualification in that I object. I want it to be true and not "virtually" true. That is the reason for our complaint. The hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) said that the Opposition were jealous of what Socialism had done for the people of Britain. If hon. Members will read the White Paper on the economic situation issued last March and the latest White Paper, they will find that the amount of food we are consuming is about 75 per cent. of what we had 860 before the war. If they think that is a wonderful success, they can keep their success.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am dealing with food at the moment. Let us stick to one point. According to the Government, we are today importing 75 per cent. of what we were before the war in basic foodstuffs. Last year we had an average of 67 1b. of meat per person, rich and poor alike——
§ Mr. Shurmer
That is what is the matter—rich and poor alike. Hon. Members opposite do not like that.
§ Mr. Osborne
—as compared with 110 1b. before the war. If that is Socialist progress, the sooner we go into reverse the better. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth said that at the election in the United States recently, party politics as regards foreign affairs were entirely eliminated, and his statement was challenged. I was in Chicago the night of the presidential election. I went there to learn some political lessons and I learnt a lot. It is monstrous to say about the American scene things which are so obviously untrue. The one grand thing about the American situation today from our point of view and the point of view of all freedom-loving people is that two great American parties have agreed to take foreign affairs out of the arena of party politics. That was what my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth was asking should be done in the B.I.S. The hon. Member for East Islington said that all the Americans—I challenge the word "all"—were in favour of the nationalisation of railways.
§ Mr. Osborne
I put it down as he said it and HANSARD will prove it tomorrow. If he said what I have him down as saying, that is just about as much nonsense as the other stuff he talked. He ended by saying that the people of this country had responded splendidly to the Socialist 861 appeal. That is largely true and we should say so, but we should also tell the American people that in the last six months in the relatively small coalfield of Yorkshire, 600 miners have been dismissed by a Socialist board for persistent absenteeism. We should tell them the whole facts.
All I plead for is that the whole facts should be put to the American people because it is of such vital importance that they should understand what we are doing, what our difficulties are and how heroically our womenfolk at least are behaving, despite what some of the men are not doing, and let them judge for themselves. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman does or does not do as a result of this Debate, I hope he will at least bear in mind that the Opposition have a high regard for the work the B.I.S. is doing and for the men who are staffing the service. All we ask is that they should give the facts, the plain facts and nothing else.
§ Mr. Tiffany (Peterborough)
Where does the hon. Member get the figure of 600 miners dismissed for absenteeism in Yorkshire?
§ Mr. Osborne
From the National Coal Board. If the hon. Member will wait until Thursday, I am asking a Question of the Minister of Labour as to how many of them are drawing the dole.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
I listened with great interest to the noble Lord the Member for Midlothian and Peebles, Northern (Lord John Hope) who raised this question, and I cannot make up my mind how the three Members who have spoken from the Opposition benches on this matter fit in. The noble Lord started by castigating the whole of the British Information Services as being used for one purpose and one purpose alone, as a propaganda agency for the Labour Party, and because it was being used for that purpose, he could not find that the Government were justified in spending £240,786 on the New York agency. That was the noble Lord's case. He then pointed out that the function of the British Information Services was to publish speeches, to show films, and to have them distributed in the United States. As he put it, the impression that was gained 862 from both the films and speeches was that of purely Labour Party propaganda.
§ Lord John Hope
That is quite wrong. What I said was that they also published their own material. It was with that material that I dealt specifically throughout my speech, as the hon. Member well knows.
§ Mr. Scollan
If I am wrong, would the noble Lord please tell the House what was his objection to the distribution by the British Information Services? Was not his objection based on the fact that it was being used as a propaganda agency for a particular view? Did not the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) follow that up by asking why, since it was being used as a propaganda agency for a party point of view, it should not be used equally as a propaganda agency for the Opposition point of view? On the other hand, the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) made it quite clear that he was satisfied that they had done a good job. As a matter of fact, he went out of his way to pay tribute to the efficiency of the staff and to the manner in which they had done their work.
§ Mr. Osborne
Will the hon. Member allow me to correct that? It is perfectly true that I said they are doing a good job and that I asked for more money to be given to them. I think they are good men and they are working hard, but I said that the half statements, of which my noble Friend complained, were not their work but were sent to them by the C.O.I. in London.
§ Mr. Scollan
Now that we have heard an explanation, I think it is even worse than the statement. One thing I would deplore and that is that any hon. Member in this House, irrespective of the party to which he belongs, should rise to make the point that this nation, after the heroic efforts we have made, is at the point of bankruptcy where we have to beg from anybody, and it is not true. Let the hon. Member for Louth read tomorrow's HANSARD and be thoroughly ashamed of himself. When he stated that this Government has to borrow——
§ Mr. Scollan
Yes, it is true, but the amazing innocence of the hon. Member for Louth is such that he does not know that this is the one country in Europe that is solvent. If the hon. Member for Louth would pay attention he would learn something. The only reason why we have to borrow the 940 million dollars is due to the currency and exchange—and this is something for the champions of Capitalism—the monetary system of the capitalist world having broken down completely and because we have not found a solution for it.
§ Mr. Scollan
That is not the point. In the hard currency areas and in the Southern States of America and Canada, the dollar has an entirely different value from what it has here in Great Britain. I think the hon. Member for Louth will know that. Under the international money exchange the amount of soft currency that had to be frozen because of the war has prevented it from reaching par with the hard currency; but in this country, if he looks at any balance sheet or reads the Chancellor's statement on the progress of the nation and its imports and exports he will find that, judged by the 1938 rate of exchange, we actually show a surplus. Probably the hon. Member for Louth cannot follow that, but if he gives me some time during the week I will explain it to him privately.
§ Mr. Scollan
The answer is not long at all. It is even simpler than one would imagine.
One of the main criticisms against this service was that it was being used for Socialist propaganda in the United States. I could not for the life of me follow the reasoning of the hon. Member for Monmouth. He said, "Let us keep the propaganda in this country. Do not send it to America." As a matter of fact, I should oppose the Government if it used its agencies for propaganda for Socialist policy in this country, because that would be prostituting its power over the electors at the next General Election.
It is said that the Government's propaganda is doing harm in being taken 864 to the United States. Let us try to remember the opposition to us in 1945 when the people of this country took the plunge for the first time and returned the Socialists to power. Many people all over the world wondered what would be the result. I can remember Lord Halifax telling us about the effect it had in the United States, where a very high dignitary of the Government had said to him, "Well, this means civil war." They obviously believed it. In 1945, when that very serious step was taken by the electors in Great Britain, many countries watched, some with alarm and some with sympathy, what would happen here. At that particular period it was generally accepted by the people who matter in the United States that the last war had made Great Britain bankrupt. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]. That could be read in the Press of 1945. The general consensus of opinion was that this country was finished and down and out.
§ Mr. Scollan
The right hon. Gentleman did not know any better. That was the general consensus of opinion. The Government which was elected in 1945 had to establish in the minds of its friendly neighbours that they had a completely wrong conception of the state of this country and the Empire. It was perfectly true that these people saw India, Pakistan, and other parts of the Empire leaving. They naturally jumped to the conclusion that it meant the bankruptcy of this nation. British Information Services had the difficult job of translating into understandable language in the United States and other countries what was the position here and how the Government were tackling it. That was the job which faced these Services. They have done it well.
What did they do? They had to make the American people understand that this country was not a bankrupt down-and-out and that our people were not an irresponsible people who had taken an irresponsible step that might create a bloody revolution or something of that kind. They had to go step by step and show the American people what was happening. To give an example of the measure of the confidence of the United States in this country in 1945, I would 865 remind my hon. Friends that its first action immediately after this Government was elected was the cutting off of Lend-Lease. It is quite an easy matter to run the country and keep the people well fed and well clad when someone else is giving Lend-Lease and pouring it into the country. The first thing that happened was that Lend-Lease without notice was cut off. Any Government of this country is responsible for the feeding, clothing and housing of a population of 50 millions. It had to be obtained somewhere and this Government was compelled to go to the United States for a loan. Many hon. Members opposed it, and I did not like the loan but I knew that "needs must when the devil drives."
One thing we could not do was to establish confidence to get a loan unless they knew that there was a reasonable chance of our becoming solvent, and consequently, the British Information Services, using every Act passed by the Government and every Order issued, had to explain to the people of the United States, especially the people in power, the reason why it was necessary and what the effect would be. The Minister of State has nothing for which to apologise. This is one of the finest services we ever had and no case has been made against it, but for contradictory statements from three different sources in the Opposition.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker (Dagenham)
I also have been in the United States recently but my impression was very different from that of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne). In fact I heard complaint to the opposite effect, namely, that trade unionists and others who wanted to find out certain things happening in this country found it difficult to obtain the information even when they went to British Information Services and asked for it. Frequently it came very late after the time they wanted it. In many instances that was the burden of their complaint. On the whole, I do not think that complaint was justified, but I met with it.
A lot of false information about this country is circulated in the United States and put out deliberately by the Press of the United States. The great mass of the Press is owned by Big Business there, anxious to see that the people 866 of the United States do not copy things done in this country, and therefore to discredit everything done in this country. The impression is widely put round that we have a slave State in this country and that everyone is forced into a particular job whether he wants it or not and so on. Continually I had to face that charge and give the explanation of what is happening over here.
The story is put out that conditions are extraordinarily bad in this country. I attended a dinner of the Scottish people in Detroit and to my surprise a woman got up and made an appeal for the starving people of Scotland. She went on to say it was very necessary to collect large sums of money and food and arrange to have vans going round the streets of Glasgow and other big towns in Scotland to serve soup to people who had nothing to live on and were practically at death's door. Having been in Glasgow before going to America and having also been there in 1938 I was able to explain exactly what the circumstances now were in Glasgow, and the big change in the health of the school population during that period.
§ Mr. Parker
When I had finished explaining the position accurately and told them fully of the shortages, this woman got up and said, "Of course you have destroyed the value of my appeal," but the chairman of the meeting definitely paid tribute to this country saying he appreciated hearing that we were doing something to help ourselves. That is an important point and requires bearing in mind.
People in the United States want to know what we are doing in this country. If they think we are doing things to help ourselves they are far more likely to show appreciation of this country than if they get the impression that we are entirely down and out and are making no effort to help ourselves. That false impression is being put out by a large section of the American Press, and it is only right and proper that British Information Services ought to give the full facts of what the Government are doing, and an explanation of why they are trying to do these things, thereby 867 benefiting this country and its reputation in the United States.
I was very struck by the large number of what one might call "British refugees" who spend their time going round the States trying to undermine the reputation of this country and what it is doing. There are too many people of that kind, and I think it is a disgrace that people of British origin should attack their own country when they know that the country happens to be in difficulties, even if they may disagree with the Government of the country at the present time. I was told by a number of people in the United States that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) had been invited over on a number of occasions in the hope that he would make a speech attacking this country. To his credit he had always refused to do anything of the kind. That I think is very much to his credit. But it is a pity that other people, some of whom share his political views, have not also adopted that line when they have been in the United States.
At the present time there is a very keen interest in the United States in some of the things happening here from the point of view of Americans wishing to know whether or not it is worth while copying us. For example, there was great interest in our housing policy. Housing is a very serious problem in America. There are very bad slums in many parts of the big cities of America and in the south. It is still true, as President Roosevelt said, that a third of the people in the United States are definitely "under privileged." Housing is very important to them, and, rightly or wrongly, they are interested to know what we have done to try and deal with the situation. They will not necessarily want to copy us, but they want full information to understand how and why we have tried to deal with the situation.
I found great interest also in our proposals for trying to deal with the medical services here. There were very violent attacks on those proposals by the medical people in America who feared that something of the kind might also be introduced over there. The high cost of health services in the United States, although their hospitals are of a very high character, is very real, not 868 only for the poor, but for a considerable section of the middle classes there. There was naturally quite a wide interest and endeavour to find out what went on over here and how far we had failed or succeeded, and to see whether they might do Something on the same lines.
That information has not been given to the American people in the American Press. It is only right and proper, and for our benefit as well as theirs, that when we have a big democratic country like America, anxious to make experiments in its institutions, they should be given the opportunity of knowing what we have done, so that they can learn from our mistakes and from our successes when carrying out things in their own country. British Information Services has been doing a good service not only to this country but also in helping the Americans and supplying them with the information which they want, so that they can make experiments on similar lines if they wish to do so. I consider that, on the whole, it has done good work, and I hope that that opinion will be shown by the general feeling of the House in this Debate.
§ 9.20 p.m.
The Minister of State (Mr. McNeil):
I am sure that hon. Members will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) for bringing the House back to the subject raised by the noble Lord. I, of course, do not intend to take any part in the violent battles which have been going on for most of the evening. It was an excellent opportunity for Members on both sides to get off some of the speeches they had not delivered at the week-end. I most heartily agree with the observations which the noble Lord made about the conduct of British people, whether they are Members of this House or not. I particularly want to say, in view of the criticisms which the noble Lord made about the British Information Services tonight, that I have reports of his speeches in the United States. I spoke to people in one town where he had spoken and they commented upon the generosity and fairness of the noble Lord in speaking of Britain and not of his party. I also want to say that that is the general attitude of Members of this House when they are abroad.
869 I am sure that the House will want particularly to associate themselves with the remarks offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham about these people, usually in my experience third-class business men, who, having no great ability to offer, spend their time seeking to sell short their own country in the United States. I am not a business man. I sometimes imagine that I would scarcely be less successful than some hon. Gentlemen opposite, if their commercial ability is to be judged from their political performance. I think I shall be fairly safe in saying that I do not believe for a minute that the business men of the United States are at all impressed by a whining story from a man, who poses as having something to sell that is British, almost begging for charity instead of orders. I am quite sure that the people of the United States respect the kind of attitude normally offered by Members of this House which is of pride in their own country and an anxiety to tell what they can do. Whatever else I have to say, I want to say that the noble Lord has upheld that tradition in his journeyings in the United States.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Western Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) has already pointed out, the attack opposite did not bear much evidence of coherence or collaboration.
It is better that an attack should be concerted. It might be convenient if I attempted to deal with the case offered by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) as distinct from the case offered by the other hon. Gentleman.
I shall not. I really was as anxious to protect the noble Lord from his colleague as to do anything else at this stage. If I understand the hon. Member for Monmouth, he separates himself sharply from the noble Lord——
Perhaps I was mistaken. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that his complaint was not that the British Information Services were used to display the Labour point of view in the 870 United States. I understood him to say that he was not asking for non-contentious articles. I thought I remembered him saying that. I thought he declared repeatedly that the other point of view should be given a show in this publication in the United States. I hope I am not unfairly representing him. Certainly his was a different point of view from that expressed by the noble Lord.
Well, of course, that is precisely what is done. I can give many examples of just how we have attended to this. Perhaps I should say that, before we were forced to cut the Estimates for this service—and I agree that the hon. Gentleman opposite protested at that time—we had a regular feature in which we summarised the speeches in all quarters of this House, and it had a very wide publication. I want to say that, despite the need for economy, we still ensure that important Debates in this House are impartially summarised and given a very wide circulation. When the Second Reading of the Iron and Steel Bill took place, we printed, I think in fitting form, keeping a balance of the speeches, a summary of the Debate and used the full resources of the B.I.S. [Interruption.] Surely, the hon. Gentleman does not doubt me?
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
If the right hon. Gentleman asks if I doubt him, I would say I can hardly do that, but, if that be the approach, why not allow B.I.S. to distribute an article by a transport economist which will give the free enterprise case, just the same as was done with the case of the nationalised industry? That is all I am asking, and, if the right hon. Gentleman does that, one half of what we are asking would be granted.
I thought when he made that statement he seemed unaware of what we had done. Perhaps I might offer another example. Last year, we took great care to see that there was an excellent publication reflecting the Debate and resolutions of the Labour Party's Annual Conference—an excellent publication, I thought. We sent out another publication dealing with the Conservative Party Conference, and if——
If it did not compare well with the other one to which I have 871 referred, it was not because of its treatment, though it may have been because of its substance. Further, I should not like the third party in this House to think that it was neglected, either. But I do not want to mislead the House. We feel that there is a point where the representation of Government activity must replace the reflection of party activity. That is the point made by the noble Lord the Under-Secretary in the letter from which the noble Lord has quoted. I have the letter here, and he went on to say that, when legislation secured the approval of the House of Commons, we thought we had an obligation to display that point of view.
I tried to make the point that we dealt with every point of view as long as it was the subject of debate
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me? This is an important matter. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman, what he is now saying is that the moment a Bill has been passed, or it has been decided by the Socialist majority in the House of Commons, to nationalise the transport industry not one breath of criticism can ever be put over by the British Information Services. We think that is grossly unfair, and that is the case which we are asking the right hon. Gentleman to answer.
It would be neither accurate nor fair to suggest that I said there could not be one breath of criticism—I have a copy of the letter here—or that no criticism is permitted. I want, however, to be scrupulously honest and to admit that, that stage having been reached, we do not permit the same extent of publication, because when a Measure has secured the approval of this House and reflects the approval of the majority of the people of this country surely it has become a British activity. It is no longer a differing party point of view. It is no longer an argument between two sides. It is, let me say, a British institution. It is quite true that that institution may subsequently be altered, replaced or destroyed altogether, but while it operates as a British institution, surely it is a primary purpose of the British Information Services to display that institution, to explain how it works 872 to describe its objects and, as fairly as possible, using yardsticks wherever there are yardsticks, to describe its degree of success or lack of success.
The noble Lord referred to one article of which he very kindly gave me notice. He tried to make the point that there was bias, that there was concealment of a degree of failure. I shall deal with that in a moment by reading the whole of the quotation. I do not think that is so, but obviously, although it is possible, it would be very confusing if, in attempting to describe how, for example the transport industry was operating in this country, we suddenly introduced an article criticising once more the premises upon which that operation was based. The stage for that has passed. If I might refer to the matter in Parliamentary parlance, it surely would make it impossible for us to proceed with our business at all if, the principle having been decided at the Second Reading, we resurrected the same arguments again at the Committee stage. Perhaps the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) does not think that is a good argument.
It is totalitarian! It is totalitarian to submit the question to the hustings of the country, to have a secret ballot upon the subject, to send hon. Members here with a mandate, to discuss the subject again in public in the House, to discuss it three times in the House and to abide by the vote of the House! The hon. Member makes a ridiculous proposition.
§ Mr. Osborne
Suppose there were another election and another mandate is given, a mandate with a different decision, surely we do not want that different point of view to be explained again in America? Surely it is better to keep both points of view out and to give just a factual statement, as I suggested.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) for a 873 proposition which he made earlier. If we are to attempt to produce an anaemic, emasculated, colourless, vague, amorphous type of publication, not only shall we fail to represent what is happening in Britain but we shall fail completely to get any circulation.
§ Lord John Hope
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that his own definition of British Information Services—colourless, anaemic and amorphous—is different from the definition I read out when he spoke back to the time when they simply gave the facts they were asked for?
I do not go back on my definition at all. Does the noble Lord suggest for a second that there is not a great demand for the publication to which he referred, "Labour and Industry in Britain"? If I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham aright, the complaint was that it was not forthcoming in sufficient quantities quickly enough. The complaint was that British Information Services were not able to meet all the demands put upon them. I am not suggesting that British Information Services, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, should sit behind the closed doors of half a dozen offices and reply only when the telephone rings. Newspapers, local authorities, societies promoting lectures and discussions, universities, schools, trade unions, political parties—all make demands upon British Information Services. It is from them the questions come, and the publications are designed to answer some of the questions about British ways of living and British activities.
My submission—and I think it is a perfectly fair one—is that there is a stage, certainly in the view of the United States, when the operations of this Government are British. We cannot expect anyone to describe what has been happening here, for example, in the coal industry, without quoting some figures. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not find them very acceptable. As a matter of fact, the one quotation we were offered relating to coal, and to which the noble Lord took exception—again, I am indebted to him for giving me prior notice of it—was a paraphrase of a paragraph from the report of the National Coal Board. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not like the Coal Board. They may not like its method of presentation. However, they cannot 874 expect a service writing in the United States, attempting to tell the people of the United States what is happening in the coal industry of Great Britain, to seek out the hon. Member for Monmouth, or to prefer his opinions or figures to the figures given by the National Coal Board. If hon. Gentlemen opposite understand that kind of presentation, it is unlikely that the people of the United States will.
I do not attempt to argue for a second that there will not be slips, that there will not be examples of bias. Of course not I could not possibly do so. In the month of November—I have not the figures for December—B.I.S. published 278 separate titles in the United States. That takes no account of newspaper articles, hand-outs, lectures, films, interviews, oral replies to questions. It refers only to the separate publications of the British Information Services—278 in November. I, therefore, am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they are diligent enough, will be able to find quotations that look like bad examples of bias. The surprising thing is that none was offered. If someone had shown me a quotation which looked like anti-Conservative propaganda I might, as an individual, have been entertained, but as a member of the Government I should have been very disturbed. That would have been gross. It could not have happened by accident. That would have been a piece of propaganda designed for that purpose, and that would have been intolerable.
§ Lord John Hope
When the right hon. Gentleman asked for a specific example of bias, what more specific example could he want than the quoted statement which I gave him hat the "compensation is fair for nationalised industries." [HON. MEMBERS: "So it is; too fair."] That is amusing, but it is rather unworthy of the Front Bench opposite. Of course, it is a statement of opinion that it is fair. The reason why I gave that example was that it showed bias. At the best, it was a statement of extremely controversial opinion.
I find it difficult to accept that. There is stage 1, where a Debate between hon. Gentlemen opposite and ourselves is reasonably reported by the British Information Services. There is stage 2, where there is an Act, and now the noble Lord complains that compensation is unfair. By what standard? 875 By a standard perfectly acceptable to him; but is there any yardstick by which this subject can be measured? Market value? That is one standard. What your bank offers? That is another standard. What hon. Gentlemen on this side think should be paid? Many of them think that too much was paid. Surely it is not unreasonable to take this type of judgment—what do the people of Great Britain think? There is no doubt at all that the majority of the people of Great Britain approved this procedure and still do approve it, and, therefore, I think it was reasonable for the British Information Services to say that it was fair.
§ Lord John Hope
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would be surprised to know that, as a matter of fact, the author of that article and quotation, whom I met by coincidence and who was most courteous to me as I hope I was to him, when we discussed this agreed that the particular statement that compensation was fair was perhaps going a little too far?
If hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are making complaint, had given me an example of designed anti-Conservative bias, I would have said that was inexcusable and a gross abuse of public money. But that has not been said. No one has come forward to say that.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft rose——
The hon. Gentleman did not quote one example of a publication from British Information Services which was of obviously anti-Conservative bias. The noble Lord offered a quotation and drew my attention to it, and he quoted a part of it.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft rose——
It is because I do not want to bore the House with a speech which is not of major importance that do not give way further. [Interruption.] 876 I am not suggesting for a second that the British Information Service is not a highly important organisation; what I am suggesting is that the criticism offered is not of major importance.
The noble Lord did me the kindness of informing me about one of the quotations to which he was going to take exception. I profited by his kindness and courtesy, and I looked up the whole quotation. I am going to give the whole quotation to the House, although I know perfectly well that there will be hon. Friends behind me who will object violently to this, and say that I have no right or power to water down the Government's case. I quote from the October issue of "Labour and Industry in Britain":British Socialists believe strongly in the moral virtues of public ownership, just as British non-Socialists believe strongly in the virtues of private ownership.There is not much bias about that.The interesting thing, however, is that in Britain's present economic position neither side goes all out for its psychological beliefs, both being willing to adjust their beliefs to the realities of the situation. The Labour Party therefore restricts nationalisation to cases where it believes it is necessary for efficiency and increased production"—the hon. Member for Monmouth had better listen here, because this bit is precisely to make provision for his curious political position—while its political opponents accept much of the need for central control, and even in some cases of public ownership, and concentrate their criticisms on the method adopted and the exact limits set.No one could pretend for a second that the writer has not leaned backwards to make it plain that there is an opinionated, if not very expert, Opposition in the House of Comons.
The British Information Services have, I suggest, an overriding obligation to keep going a current picture of what is happening in Great Britain. I should be on dangerous ground were I to suggest that they had an obligation to put the brightest interpretation upon our activities, but it certainly would be highly improper if they "wrote down" what we are doing. They certainly would be doing no service to this country if they suggested that we were faltering in our opinions. that we 877 were flabby in the handling of our economic affairs, or that people were shy of working. Where there are different sets of figures such as those to which the hon. Member for Louth drew our attention, it is much more important that we should point to the fact that there were—here I am quoting from memory—19,300,000 people at work in this country last year—a higher figure than this country has ever achieved before—rather than that we should point to the fact that 600 miners were dismissed for absenteeism.
§ Mr. Osborne
Surely it was better to give them both. That is my contention, that the whole picture should be given, neither too bright nor too depressing. Why not give the whole story?
From my experience of journalism I think it a safe guess that there will have been one or two American newspapers which carried the story that 600 miners were dismissed for absenteeism; but I am not so sure that the best of the American newspapers—and their best are exceedingly good—will have carried the figures about our general working population. But even if every one had carried Those figures, we should still try to claim the maximum credit.
It is important that we should retain the confidence which the American people plainly display towards this country just now. It is important that we should strain ourselves to show how active our Government are, to show how much pressure is put behind them from the country, and to show that the majority of their actions have the approval of the majority of the people of this country and are in that sense British happenings: not Labour happenings and not Conservative happenings, but British happenings. I repeat, certainly there are slips. I gladly say that if hon. Gentlemen in front or behind me can show me examples of things which are improper and deliberately biased, I will take them up. The few quotations which hon. Gentlemen opposite have been able to offer and the fact that they have in at least one case to go back more than 12 months to get a good quotation shows that this service really deserves the reputation it has of being highly British and unusually impartial.