HC Deb 04 December 1950 vol 482 cc13-6
34. Mr. Peter Thorneycroft

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware that one of the films referred to in paragraph 5 of the Second Annual Report of the Transport Commission for the year 1949, and entitled Transport, deals with matters of a controversial political character; and whether he will take steps to secure that this film is withdrawn from circulation.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

I understand this film was sponsored by the British Transport Commission and was shown some time ago to Members of the House. I have heard no general complaint, although some Members would perhaps regard as political any film dealing with the activities of a nationalised undertaking. Similar films are being produced in the same series dealing with the activities of large private enterprises. In any case this is entirely a matter for the British Transport Commission and I have no powers to give them any instructions concerning it.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Would not the right hon. Gentleman consider it very improper for public funds to be used for the production of a film which at least half the Members of the House of Commons would regard as intensely controversial political propaganda?

Mr. Barnes

I do not accept that implication. It was shown to Members of the House, and, as far as I know, if other Members wish to see it arrangements will be made for it to be shown again. I have seen this film, and in my view there are no political implications in it.

Captain Ryder

Is not the Minister aware that the authority responsible for this film is not shown when the film is being exhibited, so that one cannot see who is responsible for it?

Mr. Barnes

I do not suppose that that applies to the other films in this series. I am sure that when hon. Members have all the facts before them they will find that their suggestions are unfounded.

Mr. Renton

Is the Minister aware that the Chairman of the British Transport Commission is himself the principal star of one of these films? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Is he further aware that this gentleman is not a very good film actor, and will he kindly advise him to stick to the transport job which he is supposed to be doing?

Hon. Members


39. Mr. McAdden

asked the Minister of Transport to what extent a check is placed upon the amount of money spent by the British Transport Commission on the production of films for the general public, as referred to in paragraph 36 of the Second Annual Report of the Transport Commission.

Mr. Barnes

This, as I indicated in a reply given to the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) on 27th November last, is a matter for the British Transport Commission.

Mr. McAdden

Are we to understand that, as this is a matter of day-to-day administration, in the opinion of the Minister, he exercises no control over how many films they produce and at what cost?

Hon. Members


Mr. P. Thorneycroft

On a point of order. We have tried, Mr. Speaker, for many months, to put down Questions about the film policy of the Commission. Those Questions have been ruled out by the Table, I am sure quite properly, on the ground that the Minister says they are a matter for the Commission. Then the Lord President comes to the House and says we can ask Questions arising out of the Commission's Report. We put them down and they are accepted by the Table, whereupon we are told by the Minister that it is a matter for the Commission. Does not this make it quite impossible to exercise any control whatsoever?

Mr. Speaker

There is no point of order there for me. It is entirely a matter of ministerial responsibility.

Sir Waldron Smithers

On a point of order. Does the right hon. Gentleman remember the quotation from Kipling, that A servant when he reigneth Is more than ever slave"?

Mr. Speaker

To ask a question of the Minister of Transport is not a point of order.

Mr. McAdden

Can I have a reply to my supplementary question? As a point of order intervened, I will repeat the question. If it is true that, as the Minister says, he has no responsibility in this matter and that it is a question of day-to-day administration for the Transport Commission, are we to understand they can produce as many films as they like, costing as much as they like, and that he cannot do anything about it?

Mr. Eden

I rise to ask for a little guidance from the Treasury Bench on this matter. If we have been instructed, by the Lord President, as I understand we have, to put down Questions on this matter to the Minister so that we can get a reply, would the Minister be kind enough to reply?

Mr. Barnes

I have stated already that this is a matter for the Transport Commission. I understand that this comes strictly within the understanding which the Lord President read out to the House, and if I said in my original reply that this is a matter for the Transport Commission it would not be proper for me to be drawn into discussion of the matter through supplementary questions.

Mr. Eden

Exactly what did the Lord President mean if he instructed us, as I thought he did, to ask the Minister Questions on this subject? It is slightly bewildering, with the best intentions, to know what to do next.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give some evidence that I said that. I do not recall it.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

The point the Lord President raised is within the recollection of the House. He produced an analytical list of the Questions which could properly be addressed to the Minister, and some of us thought it rather widened the previous position. Quite apart from that, this is a Question arising out of the Annual Report of the Transport Commission. It is a matter of very great importance, which was previously ruled out of order, and which, we thought, very properly came within the Lord President's ruling. Now the Minister comes along and says that it is a matter for the Commission. It is useless to give undertakings like that.

Mr. H. Morrison

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman, who is well known as a propagandist on this matter—and not a very good one—puts a Question down referring to my specific statement on this matter and then we can consider it.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

If the Minister of Transport asserts, and continues to assert, that this is a matter for the Transport Commission, will he undertake to give directions to the Commission, as provided under Section 4 of the Act, stressing the interest of the House in this matter?

Mr. Barnes

Certainly not.