HL Deb 21 December 1937 vol 107 cc535-55

, who had given Notice that he would draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to the methods and influence of foreign propaganda in Great Britain, and move for Papers, said: My Lords, I have ventured to put on the Paper a Question as to the methods and influence of foreign propaganda in this country. It is a difficult and an obscure subject, and I do not know that I should have chosen this late day in the Session had it not been for the undoubted fact that our people's minds and attentions are now directed towards foreign affairs to a degree to which I do not remember a parallel. Not even in the months before the Great War was the attention of the public so fixed upon our foreign relations. I think this is as if we had claimed that, under a wise, beneficent and, of course, Conservative Government, the prosperity of Great Britain had risen to such heights as to challenge the attention of the whole world, and at the same time to make us feel that it would be difficult to fly higher and become more materially prosperous than we are already to-day; that challenge, as it were, in the face of the world—a challenge which cannot be rebutted—had been met by a small voice which said: "But what about your foreign relations?" and that the people had sighed, and had owned that our foreign relations were not so satisfactory, shall I say, as our internal situation. In any case it is a sound instinct of the people to busy themselves with this all-important subject. We do not, and never shall, alas, live wholly in a world apart. I sometimes wish we could, but we must have some social, economic and political contacts with the outside world.

Whether or not as a nation we attach much importance to these contacts, it is a certainty that the rest of the world view them as vital, and looking back over the last fifteen years I cannot help tracing a certain amount of disillusionment and even bewilderment as to British foreign policy. It was expressed to me the other day by a citizen of one of the smaller European nations, who said: "We rather regret that world policy appears to be made in Paris, nowadays, instead of being made in London." That is as it may be, and I do not, naturally, endorse what he said. At first sight the blame would appear to attach to the statesmen who have controlled our foreign policy during the last fifteen years, but in a democracy a statesman serves as well as leads his people, and if there has possibly during that period been a lack of leadership from above, there has equally been a great want of pressure from below and from within. I say advisedly "from within," because whilst we have been doing very little indeed to form public opinion in this country on foreign matters, there has not been wanting a ceaseless stream of propaganda from abroad, which has filled this vacuum and sought to do what perhaps we ought to have done ourselves. The result has been the inevitable result. In the absence of all other teaching, and of the evidence on which that teaching is based, our people have been allowed to absorb a wholly one-sided view of the state of the world, and that to a most dangerous extent. My Lords, an uninstructed democracy, you will agree, is always a danger. A democracy which is instructed on one side only can surely never hope to keep its balance.

I am not, to-day, and I want to make this clear, dealing with the kind if subversive propaganda which seeks to attack our own internal institutions. I am trying to confine myself to propaganda whose aim is to misrepresent to us the thoughts and activities of foreign nations and foreign Governments, and to do that in the interests of the propagating country, to which some other nations may be hostile. The expectation of course is that when our minds are well poisoned we shall rally to the propaganda thesis and in our turn become hostile to the countries so attacked. I will not deny that there is a close relationship between the two types of propaganda. I will not deny that the same persons and the same bodies may be carrying on both. On the other hand, there is a totally different sort of propaganda, which derives from certain coun- tries whose official output is enormous, and who send out propaganda which bears on its face the mark of its origin. NO doubt that propaganda is also one-sided. It mostly deals in praise of the country which is sending out the news. It also finds time to find fault with countries with differing ideologies, but the object is so obviously that of the particular Government from which it emanates, that although our letter-boxes and waste paper baskets are filled we are not entitled to resent, in the same way, what is after all a portrayal of a particular Government's case.

The kind of propaganda to which I wish to call attention has quite a different object from this, and is far more subtle. It starts by making a careful study of the pet institutions, of the favourite attributes, of what I may call the slogans, of the country whose public opinion it seeks to pervert. For instance, in our case it has soon found out that we pride ourselves upon our representative system of government, based on the ballot box; that we pride ourselves on our liberty and on our humanitarian character; on our sympathy for the under-dog and for the oppressed minority. Very good. The next step is to adopt some high-sounding title for the particular organ which it is proposed to create, and under this title to masquerade not as a foreign society or organ, but as a British society promoting a British organ, and incidentally promoting, apparently, all that is dearest to the heart of the rather self-satisfied Briton. By an even more subtle development of this idea different organs of different societies with deceptive titles are founded, so that one may appeal, shall I say to the working man, another to the intellectual or the student, and another to the country squire and so on. This plan saves both men and money, for you get most of the work done and most of the money put up by people who are champions of liberty or champions of humanity, and who feel that at last they have found the inspiration and organisation for which they have been looking for so long.

I believe there has been recently, if there are not now, as many as thirty-five such societies promoted by the Bolshevist international in this country. Having created an organisation and endowed it with ample funds, advantage can be taken of every opportunity as soon as it occurs, and the supreme gain obtained of being first in the field. It is well known and proverbial how difficult it is to overtake a lie. This sort of organisation is in full swing in our country, and it is this, to a great extent, which is poisoning our relations with foreign countries. This is the grave development to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention. I think it was the Prime Minister who said that we have to make up our minds, if we want to live in peace, to recognise the differing ideals of other countries. I thought, if I may venture to say so, that those were extremely wise remarks, appropriate to this moment. Does it help to live in peace with such differing peoples when their aims, their modes of thought and their actions are continuously misrepresented on our bookstalls, and very often, I regret to say, in our Press?

We have lately seen our Government at last react to a direct hostile propaganda addressed to our own address. There were questions about it, I think, in another place last night. I am not dealing here with that class of propaganda, though I am glad to see that action taken. However, in passing I would say that it is more than possible that we should never have suffered that infliction if we had not allowed our public opinion and our Press to be steadily corrupted from interested foreign sources. If the particular institutions of a country which takes great pride in those institutions are labelled scornfully and held up to ridicule for years and years, it cannot be expected that that country will not sooner or later react; and if the Foreign Secretary's action has been necessary it is, I think, partly because we have been to blame in the past that he has had to take this step to-day. It is a, most notable departure from our usual practice. Are we then going to see the Government take further steps, and control the public expression of opinion about foreign Governments and foreign countries? That, of course, is done in quite a number of States. There is no difficulty about it. The Government could do it. I very much hope they will not. I very much hope that we shall not be reduced to that lame way of meeting what is undoubtedly a great difficulty. It is not too much to say, however, that we have to re-estimate your world in the terms of the forces which are at work. The kind of world that we live in to-day is something quite different from what we thought it was in, we will say, 1930.

To whom, then, if the Government are not to take further action, are we to turn for unbiased, objective information about foreign countries and their affairs? Hitherto we have relied on our Press. We have boasted that we have a free and independent Press, and that therefore it could be relied upon to furnish us with independent and objective information. Included with the Press, I suppose, we must add the various news agencies which serve it. A very great responsibility rests on that young man in the corridors of Geneva, or in similar quarters at the Quai d'Orsay—that young, very often rather inexperienced, rather poorly paid young man who is the first origin of the news that reaches us through the Press. Undoubtedly, there are a number of newspapers which do their best to give us a true picture of the state of foreign opinion and of the forces at work in foreign countries. We have seen quite lately some splendid work put in by war correspondents at the various fronts—correspondents who have not been afraid to go up into the front line or close behind it, and who have not relied on what is told them at a very safe distance behind. But I begin to have grave doubts whether the sources of information available to the average newspaper are entirely adequate, in view of this great flood of imported propaganda to which I have drawn attention.

I will take an example of how the public ought not to be served. At the beginning of this month a prominent London daily newspaper devoted its principal page to excerpts from a book recently published in Spanish entitled Doy fe ("I bear witness"). Some of these excerpts were quoted by the newspaper in the following passage: Just how far has Franco relied upon the good will of the countryside is revealed by another unbiased observer named Antonio Luis Vilaplana in a book called Doy fe ('I bear witness'), which has just reached me. Senor Vilaplana was a Spanish magistrate in Burgos during the first year of the conflict. It fell to him to officiate at inquests held on 'sudden deaths'…. His testimony is frank indeed. 'On the day following the establishment of Martial Law by the rebels' he writes, 'all the heads of labour organisations in Burgos and the surrounding towns were arrested and shot. Not even the least important escaped. A mere accusation of suspicion expressed by an officer is enough to send a man to his death without trial … He is taken to a lonely part of the country …. Next morning we, or similar representatives of the judicial authority, recover the body' … Hence, it may be supposed, the good will of the countryside. The writer goes on to say: A year of this sort of thing sickened Señor Vilaplana. 'No social or political necessity' he writes, 'could justify the secret and savage sacrifice of so many unfortunate workers, of the hundreds of poor, uneducated peasants whose bodies I myself examined. During my working hours, during these long and hopeless nights, I was tortured by one constant and fixed obsession—to get away from Nationalist Spain Well, we shall see what torture of Señor Vilaplana had created the obsession which made him wish to get away from Nationalist Spain. Inquiries were made into the credibility of this witness and the following information was produced: Luis Vilaplana, former Secretary of the Burgos Law Courts, is now resident in Republican territory. After abandoning his wife and children in Madrid, he lived with a variety artiste as man and wife in Burgos, during which time he contributed nothing towards the maintenance of his family. He was an enthusiastic member of Nationalist organisations in Burgos from the beginning of the movement. On June 26 last Vilaplana asked permission to go to France to meet his family, for whose evacuation from Red Spain he had been negotiating. Shortly after he left it was discovered that he had embezzled 51,000 pesetas from the Law Courts' strongbox. The Burgos authorities, without any knowledge of the pro-Red declarations that Vilaplana was to make at a later date, immediately issued a warrant for his arrest, and the Gazette published a notice demanding his presence on August 16—a date which was prior to the publication of his book and his anti-Nationalist statements. Vilaplana is well known in Cordova, where he left his trail of shameless behaviour and swindled people, eventually departing from the town without paying his hotel bill.

If that is the sort of stuff which one of the most prominent London daily papers serves up on its leading page as information about the state of Spain, based on a witness whose credibility is no more than that, what can you expect the reaction to be in foreign countries? It is a bad case, and I will freely admit that the Press does not often sink so low as that; but is it fair to the public to teach them hatred of the leaders of what is, after all, two-thirds of Spain on the evidence of a man like that? How can we expect our people to understand the foreign situation if they are served with news of that character and if they are not given means to understand what is going on in foreign countries? In the end how are we going to avoid being embroiled in hostilities which a very moderate degree of mutual understanding might have averted? I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, it is really difficult to imagine—and happily I am not called upon to do so—what the Foreign Office will feel they have got to reply to on this occasion. I had hoped that the noble Lord was going to give us something a good deal more specific than that which he has provided. But behind it there appears to be a suggestion that the sympathies of the British public are being traded upon and their good nature and kindliness being appealed to by scheming persons in some way or other, so that the public are thereby placed in a false position, and led astray by the cunning propaganda of thirty-five Bolshevist societies, and much more of the same general and (to me) entirely vague character. I cannot imagine to what this charge relates, if it is a charge. We had only yesterday the Foreign Secretary making some very serious statements as to propaganda, which I am sure most of us were very glad to see, but I gather that the noble Lord does not share that view, because he seemed to me to defend propaganda by foreign Governments which set out by oblique means to state their point of view in this country. His words were that "we cannot resent it." I thought that was what he was resenting. It seemed to me that the whole gravamen of the charge of the noble Lord was that he resented this insidious foreign propaganda. As far as I am concerned it is equally objectionable and un-British, whether it emanates from thirty-five Bolshevist societies or is the kind of propaganda to which the Foreign Secretary was referring.

But I am still at a loss to understand what the noble Lord wants the Government to do. If I am correctly informed, he gives considerable assistance to an organisation known as the Friends of National Spain. I have no doubt that it is a very worthy body, though personally I know nothing about it except its title. It appears to be busy. The Marquis del Moral has twice addressed meetings on its behalf at the House of Commons, and addresses are being circulated to Members of Parliament. I am sure the body over which the noble Lord presides is an active body, but what is it doing? It is clearly propaganding in this country on behalf of the point of view of a foreign Government. In this case it is not the Bolshevist Government nor the Italian Government; it happens to be Franco's Government. What is the difference? I cannot see any. I can understand that if the noble Lord were to repudiate all the doing of the Friends of National Spain he would have a case, but so long as he remains Chairman of that body I wonder what it is he is complaining about? We have to bear in mind that if we are to have the truth presented to us about what is happening in Spain, or anywhere else, it is perfectly right and proper that some others should take the opportunity to point out, as I have done and hope to continue to do, that the only reason why Franco is in occupation of two-thirds of Spain, as the noble Lord says, is that he has been helped to get that control by Moors, Italians, and Germans. If it were not for the aid he has received from these Moors, Italians and Germans, it is perfectly evident he would not be in possession of two-thirds of Spain. That being the case, whose point of view is it that the noble Lord wants us to repudiate? Is it the point of view of Franco, or of the Moors, the Italians, or the Germans who are helping him?

Quite frankly, I am unable to see what the noble Lord is getting at, what it is he wants to get the Government to do. I hope that behind it all there is not an oblique attack, shall I say, upon those of us who on various occasions have championed what we believe—perhaps mistakenly—to be the cause of liberty. I do not know anyone who has taken a part in these different meetings held up and down the country on behalf of Spanish medical aid, and for other purposes, with which I have helped a good deal, who has been influenced or is likely to be influenced either by Bolshevist propaganda or Italian propaganda. We were confronted with the spectacle of a country deprived suddenly of a large proportion of its skilled services, and a number of people of different kinds were appealed to, to do what they could to help. What is wrong about that? It is entirely in accord with British tradition. It is in accord with the best British tradition, and I hope the noble Lord is not recommending the British Government to do or say anything which would prevent British people from expressing their views freely on this matter. We are entitled to do so, and if we think it is right and fair that our fellow-citizens should help to give medical aid to people in Spain suddenly deprived of their best and most skilled services, or to assist little children, then all honour to the people who do so.

The noble Lord will forgive me if I am using a word he does not think fair, but innuendo seems to be the only word that fits what he has said against those who in this country are championing some of those causes, perhaps mistakenly but sincerely. It is an attack upon those who are taking this course of public action. If it is wrong why not tell us in what respect it is wrong? What mistake are those of us making who are championing, for instance, the cause of the people of Spain, in our view set upon by a military group aided by foreign troops and supplies in a very generous measure? We believe that not only British interests but public liberty is at stake in this contest. We may be wrong, but does the noble Lord suggest we shall not be allowed to say so? Is he really making an attack upon free speech?


Oh, no.


Does he want the Government to limit free speech? If not, what does he want the Government to do? I hope that the noble Earl who replies on behalf of the Government will understand what it is he is wanted to do. For my part, except that it is an oblique attack upon one of our most cherished British institutions—free speech—I cannot imagine that it is an attack on anything for which the Government are to blame or for which any material body of British citizens may be to blame. We have a lot of mistaken propaganda. There is not one of us, as we have heard earlier to-day, but has suffered—some of us have suffered pretty considerably—from what we have felt to be wrong statements in the Press. But we have to take the rough with the smooth in public life, and nations do the same. What we have in this country which they have not got in Franco's territory, and which they have not got in Italy and Germany, is the right to say what we think about both sides of the question with complete safety to ourselves.


What about Russia?


Or Russia either, I entirely agree.


And Barcelona.


I do not know so much about that, though I would not defend it. So far as I can make out the only thing that the noble Lord is aiming at is that somehow or another the Government of this country should be made a party to an attack upon the liberty of British people to say what they think. If that is what it means I believe it would be opposed from all sides of this House, and, so far as I am concerned, I think the Government will be able to satisfy the noble Lord but not in the way he seems to wish. Although I have opposed them, and no doubt shall continue to do so to the best of my ability, I believe myself that the Government have stood by the principles of free speech in this country, and all honour to them for doing so. This kind of sniping will, I believe, have no effect upon the Government, and so far as the British people are concerned, once it is made clear to them that there is any suggestion of their liberties of free speech being attacked I believe such an attack would be met with universal resentment from one end of the country to the other.


My Lords, I only propose to detain you for a very few minutes, because it seems to me that the discussion arising on this Motion is in danger of being diverted from its proper objective by suggesting that there is any question involved of the right of free speech, which I am sure the Motion was not intended to convey. The Motion of my noble friend is restricted by its terms to the influence of foreign propaganda in Great Britain. I do not imagine, however, that he would have wished to exclude from its purview the influence of propaganda not only in Great Britain itself but in the British Empire and beyond. It is a subject with which I have been for some time occupying my thoughts and on which I have felt pretty strongly. It is exactly three years since, in a very brief address in your Lordships' House, I drew attention to the gravity, as I saw it, of the Asiatic problem which at that time seemed to me in peculiar danger of being influenced by foreign propaganda owing to the stimulation given to its activities by dissensions existing between the Western Powers. A few years before—in fact I think ten years ago—having been asked to write what I may call a pamphlet on diplomacy, I remember pointing out then that it seemed to me that in the coming time the work of diplomacy would be very much increased and the need for specially trained observers would become more and more urgent owing to the introduction during the period of the War of that very dangerous instrument for perverting opinion, general propaganda.

The necessity for taking very considerable notice of it, think, has been brought home to me personally of late, because on one or two occasions when I have addressed your Lordships' House on the necessity, in my view, of bringing the Western Powers into line, burying the hatchet and terminating those dissensions with Germany and Italy which have been so long looming on the horizon, I have had an experience which in forty years of public life had very seldom occurred to me before. In fact I think only once when certain events occurred had it happened. Otherwise I have never received anonymous letters in this country. But whenever I have raised that point, during the following few days I have received quite a number of typed anonymous letters of a more or less abusive character criticising everything I had said about the necessity of the coming into line of the Western nations.

The question, however, of the new form of diplomatic intervention which has been introduced by the creation in various countries of special Government Departments for the dissemination of propaganda is a much more serious one, and a very difficult one to combat; in fact I do not quite see how it is to be combated. It has been suggested that it might be countered by officially adopting its own weapons and responding with the same methods of procedure, criticising other countries from this country itself; but that is a method which would not at all commend itself to me, because I think it is quite contrary to the national instinct and all that we care for in this country, which prides itself, and justly, on standing up for methods of fair play and international honesty. It has, therefore, to be left to public speakers and to the Press, but the difficulty they have is that anything which they can advance in refutation of misleading statements that have been made about this country abroad, or any comments which they make, are seldom able to pass to where they are most needed, that is into the countries whose Press is officially controlled.

It is a relatively easy thing within the borders of any country to guide public opinion into certain channels. I think we have seen even at home the well-intentioned but most mistaken effect of the propaganda which commended the people of this country to give the world a lead in disarmament, which it was perfectly obvious other countries had not the least intention of following at that time. It led many people astray, and brought—I am not afraid to say so—our own country and the Empire very near to the threshold of danger, and certainly did a great deal to diminish our influence for peace in a community of nations in very different stages of social and moral evolution, where national interests will generally not fail to weigh down the scales against international obligations. You may secure a world's tribunal to give a verdict on the rights and wrongs of certain international issues, but the enunciation of principles will not bring you any nearer to the adoption of that verdict in any form of action. In a world of such diverse elements, as Cosmo de Medici once crudely put it, "Men are not ruled by paternosters." The better prepared we are for our own defence the less likely we are to be made the objective of prejudiced estimates and of propagandist aggression elsewhere. We, for our part, I think, must also endeavour very thoroughly to understand the point of view of other nations, and, when timely concessions can be made without any real disadvantage to our own best interests, to dismiss sentimental considerations and prejudices and consider only how far existing differences can soonest be adjusted. If there is any other remedy with which to combat this growing spread of foreign propaganda, not only private but especially official, I for one should be very glad to learn of it.


My Lords, I only wish to detain your Lordships for a few moments. I have taken no part at all in the debate over Spain, either in your Lordships' House or outside for the very good reason that I think it is very difficult to assess the rights and wrongs when people in a foreign country are fighting their own quarrel and because I think that the time may come—indeed will surely come—when your Lordships' House may have to give an opinion on the whole subject of how the affair is to be carried on, or how, possibly, it is to be ended. The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, made, if I may say so, an extremely brave speech, because he attacked the Press, or some of the Press, which is always a hold thing to do. At the same time, I thought he was rather indefinite because, if I may say so without disrespect, I do not even now know what he was driving at. I agree absolutely that there has been a lot of propaganda—more than anything I can remember since the days of the Home Rule controversy—and it emanates, of course, from both sides. Most of us are old enough to have been through the War, or at any rate to remember the War. Does the noble Lord really mean that there was no propaganda at that time?

I believe that even a respectable nation like Great Britain put out some propaganda, and in that propaganda there were a good many things that were not quite true. The more respectable a nation, the more effective probably is what it says abroad in time of war, even if it is very seldom truthful. When you have a case of two Latin nations, it is too much to expect that propaganda emanating from them for the purposes of war—which is a perfectly legitimate weapon of war—should stick too tightly to the truth. I do not think the noble Lord should complain too much about propaganda, emanating from people in Spain, erring against truth. The main thing is to believe as little of it as possible on both sides, unless you get facts proved to you. To say that propaganda should be only on one side, and that you should only believe certain things, instead of looking around for yourselves and reading both sides, is, I think, rather rubbish. In this particular instance I think the noble Lord's speech shows how good a propagandist he is himself on one side. In saying that I do not want to decry his speech, because I think it was excellent from his point of view for that purpose. I get a lot of anonymous letters from Service Clubs and other sources, and so do other people in my household. Just before I came to your Lordships' House to-day I saw a letter from a Service Club, in which my wife is accused of accepting large bribes from the so-called "Red" side for making certain speeches, which, incidentally, she did not make. You must expect this sort of thing, and personally I relegate such letters to their proper place.

I want to put it to the noble Lord that he has a method, and I think a good one, of countering some of this propaganda. I have here a cutting from a certain publication in which reference is made to an organisation called the "Friends of Spain." A list is given of the supporters of that organisation. Some of them seem to belong to the News Chronicle. I do not agree always with the News Chronicle but I do not see any reason for putting my wife in the pillory with the Editor because they support the same non-party association. Nor is it wrong to write on one side or another from the point of view of one denomination or another. On both sides there has been a great deal that is denominational. I personally immediately discount both sides. The publication which I have in my hand—no doubt the noble Lord knows it, because it mentions him freely—says that no real Conservative could support such a movement as that of the "Friends of Spain." Well, I have been a Conservative for longer than I care to remember. I was a Conservative when I sat in another place, and I am still a Conservative, and I shall continue to oppose, on principle, noble Lords opposite, unless of course, they see the error of their ways. Because people take one view of happenings in another country, which in a sense have nothing to do with us, that does not mean that they have ceased to be Conservatives or that they have ceased to be anything else. The proper thing to do is to keep our minds clear.

To go back to my suggestion that the noble Lord has a method of dealing with this propaganda, may I remind your Lordships that there is one method of treatment which is advocated for curing disease, and that is giving the person who is sick more of the poisonous matter that made him sick. I notice, at the end of the article in this publication to which I am referring, these words: There is, however, an antidote to the above poisonous emission"— that is, from the "Friends of Spain"—" in the form of an association called 'The Friends of National Spain,' details of which were given— and so on. It ends: "The office of this much-needed antidote," is at a certain address. I believe that the Chairman of that "much-needed antidote" is sitting here, almost beside me.


My Lords, it seems very difficult even in this House not to be on one side or the other, and it must be exceedingly difficult for newspapers in this country in dealing with Spain not to take either the pro-Franco view or the pro-Barcelona view. But there is one point which I particularly wish to mention, and one only: I think the people of this country hope and expect to get straight and unbiased news from the British Broadcasting Corporation. I feel that it is my duty to mention that on November 26 last year—I did not hear it and therefore I have only known of it lately—a Mr. Voigt, who is the foreign affairs commentator of the British Broadcasting Corporation, was talking about the Anti-Comintern Pact and about the Spanish war, and he said: That war really has nothing to do with Communism, and would have broken out if Russia had never existed and the Communist International had never been invented. Russia, by the way, is following the example set by Germany and Italy in interfering in exactly the same manner as they are, only on the other side. That was broadcast to all listeners by the foreign affairs commentator of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

That is, of course, a view of one side. Now I am not taking either one side or the other. I am not a member of the Friends of either one-third of Spain or the other two-thirds, and therefore I am trying to put this point as fairly as I can. On the other hand, in 1933, in entire disagreement with Mr. Voigt, the present French Foreign Minister, M. Delbos, paid a visit to Russia. After he came back to Paris he had a book published by Au Sans Pared, Paris, 1933, in which—if I may interpret as well as my French allows me—he said that he paid a visit to the place that is called the Red Museum, and continued: Lastly, a special room is consecrated to the future Communist Spanish Revolution, with numbers of journals—La Bandera Roja, La Palabra, etc.—portraits of Castilian Bolshevists, and scenes of strikes and industrial disputes; from which it appears that the Soviets are counting on their first success of contagion among our friends on the other side of the Pyrenees. There you have two accounts which plainly rather differ. All I want to say is that, not taking one side or the other, I think it is very important that as far as they can the Government, with what connection they have with the British Broadcasting Corporation, should see that when news is given out by the British Broadcasting Corporation it should, as far as possible, not take one side or the other.


My Lords, this debate has ranged rather wide, but I do not think that anybody has attempted to answer the main gist of the argument of my noble friend Lord Phillimore. I do not think for one moment that anybody objects to propaganda as such. What, however, some people very strongly object to is that propaganda should take place in England on tainted witness. Lord Phillimore gave an example of a great London paper setting out a formidable indictment against the Spanish National Government's administration of the law which on examination appears to have come from the pen of a criminal fugitive. That is what is objected to. I do not know whether it is possible, in perfect conformity with neutrality and non-intervention, for the Government to do a little more than they do to stop the circulation of biased, if not wholly untrue, reports. Early in the war very severe criticism was levelled at the British Broadcasting Corporation. Sir John Reith addressed members of another place and, I think, made for the time arid for the moment an adequate defence. He said that he gave the news that came to him from Spain through the usual news agencies. At that time, however, the news agencies obtained their news from what I call the Red side in Spain at least twenty-four hours before they obtained it from the other, and therefore, merely as news and nothing else, it always had a certain bias and gave a certain impression to the public.

What I want to ask, though I do not ask for an answer now, because the matter is not exactly within the province of the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, is this: If through their diplomatic and consular representatives or through their agents the Government find out that the British Broadcasting Corporation is being entirely misled by the sources of its information, through no fault of its own at home, coming from one side, is it not within their power to do something to correct this mistake, purely where matters of fact are concerned and not where matters of opinion are concerned? I know that this is a very large question and I do not expect the noble Earl to answer it now, but until there is some greater knowledge of the sources of information for broadcasting there will be an uneasy feeling in many cases, not particularly with regard to Spain but in many others as well, that the public is unwittingly being misled.


My Lords, I must confess that I have found some difficulty in making preparation for this debate, as the question of foreign propaganda in this country is a large one and it was difficult for me to know exactly what aspect of that question would be mainly dealt with. As I understand him, however, the noble Lord who asked this Question is not so much concerned with what I may term direct foreign propaganda in this country, designed perhaps to undermine our own institutions and to favour or foster a policy which would have the effect of introducing a system which the particular country in question favours. He is concerned rather with the number of foreigners who come into this country and express interested views, which are accepted in other countries as the views of the public generally here at home. As I understand him, he fears that these people are attempting to influence the opinion of the mass of people here at home, so far as foreign affairs are concerned, to an alarmingly dangerous extent.

He has spoken of a want of leadership on the part of the Government and a stream of propaganda from abroad which in his view has been almost entirely one-sided. He used these words: he said that public opinion and the Press were being steadily corrupted by foreign interested parties. I cannot help feeling that there is some considerable exaggeration in that expression of opinion. I wonder if what he terms this "foreign propaganda" is having so much influence as he thinks. Although I know that this is not the matter which he wishes to stress, at the same time it is quite clear that the central point does resolve itself into whether or not we are determined to maintain a policy which has long obtained in this country—namely, of freedom of expression of opinion, and of freedom of speech and of our Press. There are obviously advantages and disadvantages in a policy of this kind. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, perhaps, referred to some of the disadvantages which may result from living under that system, but I know that he and everyone else in this House will agree that the advantages of freedom of speech and of liberty of opinion greatly outweigh the disadvantages, and that no Government would be prepared to impinge upon this principle.

It seems to me, therefore, that if we agree that this freedom in expressing our opinions is one of the most jealously guarded of our rights, it follows that it would be difficult to impose upon foreigners restrictions in that direction which we are not prepared to impose upon British subjects. I would point out that if the advocates of one particular policy are particularly vocal it is open to those who support another point of view freely to express their opinions through the medium of our Press or in speeches. But, as I see it, unless we are prepared to reverse this policy—and as I have said I do not believe that anybody in this House is prepared to follow such a course—I cannot see how the position can be very substantially altered. Furthermore, I feel that the events of the years that have passed have in fact proved the wisdom of the policy which we have followed. I myself greatly doubt if the great mass of the people in this country are very easily influenced, or very easily taken in, by foreign propaganda generally. There are a limited few who believe practically everything which they read. There are a greater number who swallow with avidity all that is said which fits in with any preconceived views they may have formed about some particular situation. But, speaking generally, I would say that obviously inaccurate reports of actual events which have been circulated are in actual fact contradicted and corrected in a very short time. Propaganda on one side is invariably corrected by propaganda in a contrary sense, and I think it is perhaps relevant to mention, when dealing with this aspect of the situation, that the Foreign Office does provide facilities as a result of which any news agency or newspaper can check the reports which they receive against the official information which is available to the Foreign Office.

Reference has been made to the conflict which is raging in Spain at the present time, and the noble Lord in his introductory speech made reference to certain propaganda which had appeared in one of the newspapers here in London, which he conceived to be, perhaps, one of the worst examples of propaganda of that kind which he thought was doing so very much harm. It is unfortunately true that a considerable portion of the Press have taken violent sides in this Spanish conflict. Personally I regret it very much indeed, but that is the fact. One side presents the case to the public in as favourable a light as possible for the Spanish Government, and the other side presents the case in as favourable a light as possible for General Franco; but, I repeat, I do not believe that the great mass of the people in this country are very greatly influenced by that kind of thing. In my view they have not taken violent sides. They may have sympathies or leanings in one direction or another, but what they are chiefly concerned about is this, that the United Kingdom should not become involved in any complications which might result from what is at present going on in Spain.

My Lords, I really do not know what further I can say to deal with the points to which the noble Lord and others have referred. Lord Rennell has touched upon a somewhat different aspect of the situation. I entirely agree with him that he touched upon what was a very disquieting feature in recent developments in regard to international affairs, and there is not the slightest doubt that what I may call the Totalitarian or Dictator countries on one side and the other have a very great advantage in regard to the question of propaganda. Obviously in many ways —through the control of their Press, through the control of the public expression of opinion, and in various other ways—it is possible for them to see that their case is put in a more united and emphatic manner than that which is possible in countries where there is a greater liberty of expression of opinion, and this presentation of their country's case can be made through different channels and by different methods. But I understand that the noble Lord himself felt that the institution of a Propaganda Department, in fact the taking up of propaganda work in an intensive form on the part of this country, did not particularly recommend itself to him. We are aware of the difficulties that we are labouring under as the result of the position which obtains as far as this question is concerned, and I can assure the House that the Government will not lose sight of any possibilities that may present themselves with a view to correcting the position. With regard to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, I feel that I can add nothing to what I have already said, and I believe that the right policy in this matter is to trust to public opinion in the firm belief that the public are capable of finding out what the truth is.


My Lords, I should like to reply to the rather dexterous suggestion of the noble Lord opposite that I was really seeking for restrictions on freedom of speech. As a matter of fact I have consulted my very full notes, and I think this is what I said: Must we go further and ask the Government to take steps to control public opinion? I hope we shall not have to take this step. That, I think, disposes of that. As to my position as Chairman of the Friends of National Spain, it was of course an obvious thing to bring out. All I would say about that is that in the first place it is not foreign propaganda but my propaganda, and you will find my name at the foot of it quite plain; and, in the second place, that it was only begun long after the other side had already started the lies which it is so hard to overtake.


Which lie?


Several of them.


Perhaps you would let me know.


In answer to the noble Duke I cannot say that I relate myself in any way to any attack on the wife of any Editor, and I did not really understand from what he was quoting at that time. The noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, to whom I am very much obliged for his reply, after stating that he did not see what he could answer to my Question, did in effect admit my principal contention. He said, in what I thought were rather noteworthy words, that the Totalitarian countries have a great advantage in the matter of propaganda. I was very glad to note that he agreed with me, because of course it was to the Totalitarian countries that I was referring, not one more than another. But then, in another place he said that, although he conceived that public opinion could be trusted, it was true that large classes (I think he said) swallow all that fits in with their preconceived opinions. That is exactly what I said in my speech.

Noble Lords will remember that I drew attention to the way in which the foreign countries, through their propaganda in this country, make a study of our preconceived opinions, play up to them, and distort our minds as to what is going on abroad by means of that leverage. The noble Lord opposite felt sure, I gather, that he had never been influenced by this kind of propaganda. I was not wholly reassured by that statement, because the better the propaganda the less the noble Lord will know that he has been influenced. I trust, as I am sure he would never touch the evil thing in any other way, that he has not been attacked in that very subtle fashion. There are no Papers for which I can move, and I have only again to thank the noble Earl for his reply.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.