HC Deb 02 May 1949 vol 464 cc652-3
65. Mr. Thurtle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if any inquiry was made into the political views of Mr. A. P. Johnstone, until recently editor of the paper printed in Russian called "British Ally," before he was appointed to this post; and what reports had been received, before his resignation, as to his suitability or otherwise for the position of editor of the paper in question.

53. Mr. Wilson Harris

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on what grounds Mr. Archibald Johnstone was appointed to the staff of the paper "British Ally"; what were his functions; what was known of his political views at the time of his appointment; and what report has been received in regard to them since.

Mr. Mayhew

Mr. Johnstone had good technical qualifications and experience. His functions were those of technical editor and he was in charge of the preparation of the paper for printing. He was not responsible for its editorial policy, nor was he in a position to influence its political content. Reports on his performance of his duties during the two years since his appointment were satisfactory.

At the time of his appointment, Mr. Johnstone's personal political views were known to be somewhat extreme, but there was no sign of his having any Communist associations or tendencies. Nor, according to my information, was there any indication of any change up to the moment when he absented himself from the Embassy and his letter appeared in "Pravda."

Mr. Thurtle

Is my hon. Friend aware that the most exhaustive inquiries ought first to be made before anyone is appointed to such a responsible position as this? Is he also aware that this man, by the manner of his resignation, has completely betrayed the interests which he was sent to Russia to promote?

Mr. Mayhew

The answer to the first part of the question is that since the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last year inquiries are made about the loyalty of applicants for such posts. On the second point, my answer is "Yes, Sir."

Mr. Henry Strauss

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it was well known in Fleet Street at all material times that this man was a notorious Communist fellow traveller, and can the hon. Gentleman account for the fact that what was well known in Fleet Street was not known to the Foreign Office?

Mr. Mayhew

I should dislike holding against a man what Fleet Street says of him.

Mr. Norman Smith

Would my hon. Friend agree to substitute the word "reactionary" for "extreme" as applied to Mr. Johnstone?

Mr. Mayhew

That is a very suitable alternative adjective.

Major Beamish

Since the dividing line between Socialists with Marxist views and Communists has never been definable, was it not most unfortunate that a man known to have Marxist views should have been appointed to this position? Further, is the Minister of the opinion that this is a good example of the Left working with the Left?

Mr. Mayhew

I am well aware of the political backwardness of hon. Members opposite, which makes it impossible for them to distinguish between Communists and democratic Socialists.

Mr. Harold Macmillan

Would the hon. Gentleman regard it as extreme to thank the Communists for helping hon. Members in their election?