HC Deb 06 December 1950 vol 482 cc491-500

10.4 p.m.

Lord John Hope (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

I am obliged to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for coming to the House tonight. He did not have very much notice that I wished to raise this subject, but as you know, Mr. Speaker, that was not my fault. The subject was changed because it was no longer necessary to raise the original subject on which I balloted for the Adjournment as the Government gave way on every single point about which I had asked them.

Some of us have felt for some time—certainly I have felt it very strongly—that foreign policy has been pursued and publicised by the Government in an ad hoc fashion, with little apparent recognition of the pattern to which our enemies have been working and with little effort, therefore, to work for the inevitable pattern on our part which alone can ensure our survival. Therefore, it is not surprising that the public does not know exactly what is going on and, more important than that, why it is going on.

The Government have never explained, but have always hedged when it has come down to a question of what exactly the enemies of the free world are doing. The Government had a great chance in the debate on foreign affairs last week to explain to the people just what this Communist master plan consists of, and to put the events as they occurred in the correct setting of that background. They failed to do that and I think it was a great pity, because, after all, however much back benchers may make up for the Government's deficiencies, it is never the same thing in terms of publicity, and that means so very much.

For instance, I wonder how many of the people of this country know that Stalin has quite openly said—and, in so doing, has followed Lenin, who said it equally openly—that war between the Communist ideology and the capitalist society is inevitable. Stalin talks about the war with the capitalist countries which is inevitable— but which may be delayed either until proletarian revolution ripens in Europe or until the Colonial revolution come fully to a head, or, finally, the capitalists fight among themselves over the division of the Colonies.

Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

What is the date of that?

Lord John Hope


Mr. Elwyn Jones

But has not Stalin since then said that they can live together?

Lord John Hope

I will complete the quotation for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman. Stalin said: Therefore, the maintenance of peaceful relations with capitalist countries is an obligatory task for us. The basis of our relations with capitalist countries consists in admitting the co-existence of two opposed systems. That is simply a cynical warning to his own followers on the tactical necessity of maintaining peace until it is time for this inevitable war to come off. I do not mean to say that I think that war is inevitable. All I am saying is that it is no good trying to pretend that the Russians and their system have not looked upon it as such.

I wonder how many of the people of this country read the words of my noble Friend the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) in the debate last week, in which he quoted the words of a leading French Communist leader, M. WaldeckRochet, who said at Limoges: You will say, 'Why does not the Soviet Union intervene in Korea?' It is certain that if she did the war would soon be over and the Americans thrown into the sea. That is true, but it would start a world war, which, for the time being, is contrary to the peace policy of the Soviet Union."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 1272–3.] All these things ought to have been told to the people by the Government a very long time ago, but they have never yet said a word about this Communist key plan, and what I am asking the Government to do is to initiate a campaign of information.

Like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I spent a certain amount of time during the war on the General Staff, and I know that, if you have to ask people to undergo privations, discomfort and unpleasantness you will not get them to be prepared to do so unless you tell them exactly and precisely why, and that is what the Government have not yet done. If they do not do it now, then, in my opinion, more and more decent people in this country—but ignorant people, because they have never been told the facts—will begin to lose their nerve and fall into the Russian trap of peace at any price.

I want to bring to the attention of the House an example of what I believe is Government softness towards Russian propaganda at its worst. The Under-Secretary has had notice that I was going to bring up this point. I refer to the pamphlet issued under the aegis of the Soviet Embassy called "American Armed Intervention in Korea." It was the subject of a Question a few days ago. Before I go into that side of it, I want to remind the House that this pamphlet of 28 pages, well printed, was sold at 1d. and that that, in itself, makes it quite clear that it was being subsidised by someone. It is circulated by the Soviet Information Bureau. It is surely clear from the title of that pamphlet—"American Armed Intervention in Korea"—that its circulation by a foreign Embassy in this country must be a breach of diplomatic privilege. The Under-Secretary was asked about this specific point during Question Time the other day, and he went so far as to say: My right hon. Friend has no legal power to interfere in such publications. Of course, we consider that there is a limit to which diplomatic privilege can be extended, and we consider that it should be observed in such cases."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 788–9.] Will he tell us tonight—because he did not on that occasion—whether he considers that that limit was passed by the publication of this pamphlet, and, if so, what action he proposes to take? If he does not think that limit was passed, will he say what exactly was the point of his remark on that occasion?

There is another publication to which I wish to draw the Minister's attention. It is called "The New Central European Observer." That piece of Communist propaganda is subsidised, I understand, by the Czech Government, and we allow it to be circulated at will in this country. I am fully aware of the strength of the argument that in a free democracy the more stuff of this kind that the people are allowed to see the quicker they are likely to be disillusioned about its contents.

I think that is a strong argument, but, in this case, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that to allow a Government—I mean the Czech Government—which refused to allow the British Council to continue its extremely good activities in Czechoslovakia and which refused to allow our Foreign Office Information Service to continue its services in that country, to publish Communist and, therefore, anti-British propaganda in this country, is really going too far. I would suggest to the hon. Gentleman that even if we have no other weapons, we could at least use the weapon of retaliation in this and other similar cases to persuade those who are so keen to circulate nonsense of this sort in this country to allow us to circulate what they consider is our nonsense in their country. If that were done, I know who would win.

I also want to ask the hon. Gentleman about the East, and I propose to ask him that only very shortly because I want to give him plenty of time in which to reply. We have, I understand, a broadcasting station for counter-propaganda in Hong Kong. I am informed that that station is so powerless in terms of strength as to be virtually useless. I want to know whether that is so, and, if it is, what the Government are doing about it. Is there any alternative source or potential alternative source of broad- cast propaganda in the Far East through which we can broadcast our message, particularly to the Chinese people?

I also want to ask the hon. Gentleman whether there is any tie up with the Americans over the question of broadcasting counter-propaganda against the Communist lies.

Mr. Orbach (Willesden, East)

We do not want any of their advertising.

Lord John Hope

I think the hon. Gentleman's intervention does no service whatever to the cause of anti-Communist propaganda. I thought that, apart from one or two, we were all against that sort of thing, but it would appear that I shall have to amend that point of view with regard to the hon. Gentleman.

I would suggest to the Government that they should inaugurate a carefully planned and co-ordinated campaign to inform the people of this country just what is at the back of Russian diplomacy in all its aspects at the present time. They have never done it, but I hope that they will.

Secondly, I suggest that they must make an extra effort to increase the amount of newsprint in this country because, short of the B.B.C. which is doing excellent work in its way, the public must rely upon the Press. The Press, in its present emaciated state, cannot possibly give enough space to a general survey of how this Communist plan is built up and the steps taken by the free world to overcome it. I was impressed by a remark made in that excellent booklet "Defence in the Cold War" brought out by Chatham House. Its writers told us how impressed they were by evidence from many people that they had to go to the American Press for actual objective information as to what is happening throughout the world, because they cannot get it from the British Press.

There is no question of panic in this country. There never has been and there never will be, but, at the same time, the situation is gravely urgent. I do not think that any hon. Member would deny that. Tell the people the facts and trust them to see the job through.

Mr. Nally (Bilston)

I would not have intervened at all except for one comment by the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope) which, if I may say so, marred a speech with which I found myself in a good deal of agreement. That was his introduction of the point about newsprint. It is really sheer hypocrisy to pretend that the policy of the broad, popular British national Press, or its lack of policy, in exposing the range of the great Stalinist conspiracy, is governed by the newsprint allowance.

If the noble Lord were to take last Sunday's newspapers and take a rule measure to find out how many columns were devoted to "sexy" serials, to football pool advertisements, and to crime and sex in their manifold aspects, he would find that those made up the bulk of the popular national British Press. I make no complaint about this, but simply state it as a matter of fact. To introduce into a matter of this kind the caricature that His Majesty's Government, by withholding newsprint, are preventing the Press Lords from flooding their columns with information about the conspiracy we face, is quite silly and handicaps the noble Lord's case. There is nothing to prevent the Sunday newspapers next Sunday from abandoning the "sexy" serials and football pool advertisements and printing this information.

Lord John Hope

The hon. Member knows quite well that if a newspaper has four or five pages only and devotes most of them to Stalinism rather than to sex, it will not sell a copy. Give the newspapers 30 pages and then one gets just the right dose of each.

Mr. Nally

If I interpret the noble Lord rightly, what he means is that photographs of semi-clothed chorus girls are an essential part of a newspaper's technique in keeping people interested in the Communist plot.

Lord John Hope

I was not thinking only of the "Sunday Pictorial."

10.20 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Davies)

In spite of the kindness of the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope), in informing me of some of the points he was going to raise, I must confess that I am not altogether clear about what is his complaint. As he well knows, we are completely aware of the nature of Soviet propaganda and we consider that through our information services we do all we can to counteract it. I must confess that I am not altogether clear what exactly he thinks we ought to do that we are not already doing in connection with the propaganda which comes from the other side of the Iron Curtain. He referred to this pamphlet on American intervention in Korea, about which there were certain Questions in this House. If he wants people in this country to be aware of what Soviet propaganda is, surely it would be a mistake for us to prevent any Soviet propaganda from being distributed in this country.

We take a very definite line on this matter. We take the attitude that if we take action to prevent the circulation and dissemination of propaganda, through the Soviet Embassy, the "Soviet News" and the other methods which are available for the propagation of Communist propaganda in this country, then quite clearly the country will not be aware of the propaganda which they are carrying out. The point is that it is far better for the people of this country to be aware of the Soviet line and to be aware of what they are trying to get across to our people. We have sufficient faith in the intelligent democracy of this country where people are able to judge for themselves whether what are put across as the facts by the Communist propagandists are facts or not. In other words, we consider that the democracy of this country is able to judge for itself what is truth and what is not.

We think that far more harm would be done if at this time we took any action to prevent the dissemination of propaganda by the Soviet Union and their satellites and to prevent the circulation of the pamphlet to which the noble Lord referred. The noble Lord referred to the reply I gave to an hon. Member opposite about this pamphlet, in which I stated that there was a limit to the lengths to which it was possible to go. I consider it is for the foreign embassy concerned to decide what is that limit; it is up to them to decide how far they should go, and we do not want to be driven to take any action. I cannot say that at the present time we see any justification for taking any action whatsoever.

The noble Lord referred to one or two matters on which he wished me to reply. There is, for instance, the question of the "New Central European Observer." He may recall that some time ago there were Questions in this House concerning this publication, and that in reply to those Questions we said that we were considering what action could be taken. I am sure he will be gratified to know that, following that reply, action was taken and that, as a result of the intimation we gave to the Czechoslovak Embassy, the publishing offices of the paper were removed from the premises which had diplomatic immunity to other premises, which is precisely what we expected would occur if we took any action against them.

In other words, as long as we have freedom of the Press in this country, as we have, if we suggest to any embassy that they should cease activities in the propaganda field, it is within their competence to see that commercial firms carry on the publication of such papers or periodicals. That is precisely what has happened in the case of the "New Central European Observer." We have no power to close down any papers which are operated under British law and by British citizens. I do not think hon. Members would desire us to take power to close down periodicals in this country. We prefer to maintain the freedom of the Press and to allow people to publish and disseminate whatever views they wish to publish or disseminate rather than to take action in imitation of totalitarian countries.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the Hong Kong broadcasting station. He appeared to be disappointed that this station did not have a wider range. I should like to point out to him that it was never intended that the Hong Kong station should have a range wider than that necessary to serve the area of Hong Kong itself. It does serve that area, but it is not regarded as one of the stations serving the whole of the Far East.

There are other stations in the area—in Ceylon and in Singapore—which are broadcasting and, as I said in reply to a Question put to me today, are serving the whole of the Far East. The Hong Kong station is purely a local station and there is no reason why the hon. Member should show concern about it. It is serving the purpose which it is intended to serve. We are satisfied that there are adequate facilities at present, or that other facilities will be provided—and they are now being prepared—for covering the whole of the area.

We are conscious all the time of the propaganda being sent out by the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. There is a system whereby all the broadcasts and all the published material of those countries is analysed and assessed by the appropriate Government Department. I think the noble Lord is aware of the B.B.C. monitoring service, which listens to all broadcasts in all languages from the Soviet Union and its satellite countries and which prepares a report which is published daily, which is circulated to Government Departments and which is also available in the Library of the House. From it any hon. Member who wishes to do so can ascertain what is the propaganda line of the Soviet Union and its allied countries. I do not see, therefore, what the complaint is, if there is a complaint.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Quis custodiet—?

Mr. Davies

We consider that it is quite possible today for anybody to know what is the propaganda line of the Soviet Union. After all, the "Daily Worker" is still published in this country and any[...]body who wants to know their attitude can read the "Daily Worker." They can read the "Soviet News," which is published from the Soviet Embassy, and other Soviet Government publications in this country, and there is no difficulty whatsoever in ascertaining what is their line. With these and other sources available the Government are well able to ascertain what the line is and to take counter propaganda measures, if they are considered desirable.

Hon. Members opposite sometimes attack us for the expenditure which we incur on the overseas information services. The expenditure we incur on the overseas information services and propaganda is an essential factor in counteracting this foreign propaganda. Next time the hon. Member or his colleagues suggest that that expenditure is excessive, I hope he will refer back to his speech tonight and remember that, on this occasion, he said we are not taking adequate measures to counteract the propaganda which comes from the Soviet Union and her satellite countries.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.