HL Deb 12 December 1939 vol 115 cc202-22

3.34 P.m.

LORD NEWTON had given notice that he would call attention to a statement recently made by a member of this House with regard to the Ministry of Information and the Bureau of Censorship; and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this Motion, I ought to begin by explaining that the Peer referred to is my noble friend Lord Raglan, and that the statement to which I call attention appeared in the Daily Express of November 27. I happened to notice this article, and was so struck by the peculiar circumstances narrated that I wrote to my noble friend. I told him I thought public attention ought to be drawn to it, but that if I or anybody else did so, it was absolutely essential that he should appear himself and make his own explanation. My noble friend has responded. He has come here this afternoon, and I need scarcely observe that what he has to say is of infinitely greater importance than anything I can say. We are all aware of the fact that when a war is going on all sorts of rumours circulate all over the place, and one Ministry after another is charged with crimes and carelessness. Every kind of charge is made, and as a rule it turns out either that these charges are not fully justified or else that they have been made on second, third, or even fourth-rate authority. In this particular case, which I admit is not one of great importance, the person chiefly concerned is a member of this House, and therefore it is a case of getting information from the source.

The case, which is a very simple one, is as follows: My noble friend Lord Raglan took service with the Bureau of Censorship, and received the somewhat generous remuneration of £750 a year. I say "generous" because, as far as I am aware, he had never done any work of the kind before. His work chiefly consisted, apparently, in examining the illustrated Press. He found, after a short time, that he could not manage to consume more than an hour a day in this occupation for which he was being paid £750 a year. Anyhow, much to his surprise, he received an intimation of some kind, from some person whose name I am unable to obtain, that if he liked he would be provided with a secretary. Lord Raglan naturally wrote back and said that as he was only able to occupy one hour of the day in his work, the provision of a secretary was entirely unnecessary, and he proceeded to resign. Here I would like to say that my noble friend has done a very considerable service in acting in this manner. I am afraid a certain number of people in this country would have been very content to continue on those terms and think they were performing a very clever and valuable service.

In this particular case, which as I say is not one of great importance, there are certain matters that ought to be cleared up. Who, for instance, was the person who made this offer, and for what reason was this offer made? If this statement is correct, and if it is not founded on misconception, it does seem to me a most extraordinary thing, at a time when we are all being urged to be careful, that a public Department—as to which Department I am somewhat vague—should practically urge a man to add to the public expense by taking a secretary when one was not wanted. My noble friend will make his explanation, and perhaps the matter will be cleared up, but it is a matter that ought to be cleared up. Nobody knows at present who is responsible. There is one person who does not appear to be responsible, and that is the Chief Censor himself, Sir Walter Monckton, who apparently knew nothing about it. As far as I can make out, Sir Walter Monckton's powers are considerably less than is generally supposed.

In the article to which I have referred, my noble friend Lord Raglan made other statements relating to the Ministry of Information. They are of the usual kind, and I do not propose to go into them, because my noble friend will be more capable of dealing with them than I am; but although I have a very limited acquaintance with the Ministry of Information, it does strike me as a very remarkable fact that there should be so many people enjoying very high salaries, quite disproportionate, I believe, to the work they are called upon to perform. Many of them are people who have no particular training in this particular work. What strikes me as a curious anomaly is that there are great numbers of people, amongst whom I might include myself, except that I am now looked upon as having entered second childhood, who are only too anxious to be employed, and are ready to offer their services for nothing or, if they do not offer them for nothing, are prepared to serve the Government to the best extent in their power for nominal remuneration. Why are these offers not made more use of? I know from my own experience that there is no difficulty whatever in unpaid officials working with paid officials. In my experience I never knew it to cause any trouble, and I cannot conceive why more unpaid volunteers are not occupied in the Ministry of Information. Perhaps the Minister of Information, who is present this afternoon, will answer this particular point.

The Censorship, as we all know, is no longer controlled by the Ministry of Information. The Censorship is now under the control of the Home Office, and I confess I often wonder why the Home Office should be selected as the responsible authority. The Home Office has nothing whatever to do with what goes on abroad, it has nothing to do with fighting, and it is quite obvious that those other Departments are in just as responsible a position in reality as the Home Office. When I say that the Censorship is controlled by the Home Office I think it would be more correct to say that it is really controlled by a sort of multiple authority consisting of various Departments which I need not enumerate. The result is unsatisfactory. I know that to be so from my own experience because I was in the same position myself. The Censor is in the position of being responsible to four or five different Departments, and the chief complaint that is made against the Censorship is that it is always behind with its news. That I think is the principal complaint made against it. I observed only a few days ago that The Times in a leading article commented on the fact that the Germans were able to produce their news far more quickly than we are able to do. Is that surprising? If the Censor here has to go and get the consent of the Admiralty to this, and the consent of the Air Ministry to something else, not to mention the War Office and the Foreign Office, it stands to reason that the news must be held up. In such circumstances news cannot be handed out as quickly as ought to be the case. I do not suppose that Dr. Goebbels before he issues any of his fantastic utterances has to consult anybody at all.

It seems to me that there is a perfectly obvious and simple remedy to this, and I cannot think why it has not been suggested. What I venture to suggest—but no one pays any attention to what I do suggest—is that the Censor should not be subordinate to any Department Or combination of Departments. If you appoint a man to the office of the Censorship you presumably appoint that man because you will have confidence in his judgment. The present Censor, Sir Walter Monckton, is a man of whom everybody speaks well; I have never heard a word said in disparagement of him from any quarter. If he is as good a man as I believe him to be he is manifestly a person whose judgment can be relied upon. If the Censor were independent of the Departments, subject of course to an appeal to the Cabinet, he would be able to decide on the smaller questions at once, and if there was any doubt upon a subject he would, of course, consult the Cabinet. Being an eminently sensible man, I do not think he would be likely to take any step that would be considered objectionable by any of the Departments, but he ought, it seems to me, to have the power, except upon immensely important occasions, to decide for himself and to act without delay. I make these suggestions because I am convinced from my own experience of the working of this Department that that is the only way in which you can obtain celerity of action and at the same time satisfy the public and everybody concerned. I beg to move.

3.45 P.m.


My Lords, in a speech that was made in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Camrose, he told us that the muddle at the Ministry of Information had been cleared up by the transfer of the Press section to another Department. I never understood how that had cleared up any muddle. The Press Bureau and the Ministry of Information are at present in the same building; they deal with exactly the same material as the War Office, and they are faced with exactly the same general problem and results as other Government Departments. There seems to be no case at all for having them in a separate Government Department of State. Lord Camrose went on to say: The investigation of this (shall I say?) ridiculous staff has taken some time. That was the staff of the Ministry of Information. But the effect of the transfer was that the staff of the Censorship Department was never investigated at all.

Your Lordships have heard from my noble friend Lord Newton a word or two about Sir Walter Monckton. The last thing I would wish to do would be to criticise Sir Walter Monckton in any way. I believe that if he had been entrusted with full powers when he was appointed things would be very different from what they are now, but he was, so far as I can learn, given quite inadequate powers to carry out a very difficult task. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, spoke about the salaries. The staff who were appointed before the war were nearly all retired officers of the Services and I for one was very much surprised when I was told what my salary was going to be. I have very little doubt that nearly all of them would have served—perhaps not for nothing (I do not think it is fair to expect people to serve for nothing), but at any rate at a salary which would cover their expenses and a little over. Your Lordships might suppose that a Deputy Chief Censor at a salary of £740 a year was a fairly senior official, but I can assure you that is not so. A Deputy Chief Censor is hardly more than a senior clerk. There are a very large number of Deputy Chief Censors, and over them there is a whole hierarchy of Deputy Directors and Principals and various high officials with whose names, titles and ranks I, for one, never became fully acquainted. There are, besides, people who are lent by other Departments of State. There are, I think, at least twenty—I am not sure there are not many more—in the Censorship Department receiving a salary of £740 a year and over.

Not only is the Department in my judgment overpaid, but the staff is in itself much too large. It has been said in this House in defence of the size of the staff that it works on the three-shift system. So it does, but, if it is really limited by the Press, the Press only functions from about 10 a.m. till 11 p.m., and the night shift, except for one or two people, does nothing at all. If you go into the Bureau and poke about into odd corners you find a large number of camp beds, and a large number of censors roll into the Bureau just before midnight. There is no work for them to do, so of course they do not do any; they simply go into the camp beds and remain there till the following morning. That accounts for the third shift in the Censorship Bureau.

In my own department—this is an example of how money is spent—we had two assistant censors who had recently been appointed. One day we were told they had been promoted to censors. We do not know why that had been done, and we never found out. They had been recommended for the appointments. They had not applied for appointment as censors, and their work was really only that of junior clerks, yet they would get £100 a year or more suddenly for nothing. Also, in my department, after we had been going a few weeks, we were suddenly told we were to have four lady examiners. We were never told what they were supposed to do, and they did very little. In fact they did nothing except a few odd jobs which the censors could perfectly well have done for themselves. These ladies attended the office from half past nine in the morning until four o'clock in the afternoon without doing anything at all. I mentioned this fact on several occasions to senior officers in the department, but the only answer I got was the appointment of a fifth lady. This department was the photographic and books department. It had a staff of nineteen. I reckoned that I could have run it very comfortably with a staff of eight. I was supposed to be the senior official in this department, but nobody ever asked me what staff I wanted, or whether the staff was adequate or was excessive.

It would not have mattered so much if the staff, when they were working, were doing work of national importance. Your Lordships may suppose that in the photographic department they were stopping photographs of military importance from being published, photographs which might give information to the enemy. The sort of work we were really doing was to stamp "Not to be published" on pictures of Lady Astor playing with children. It happened like this. On the outbreak of war an order was given by somebody—I do not know who it was, we never did know who gave orders—that the name of any place to which children had been evacuated was not to be published. The censors, or at least the more conscientious censors, spent hours each day striking out with blue pencil such names as Brighton, Bognor and Bexhill, but when they got a photograph of Cliveden it was no good striking out "Cliveden" when Lady Astor was in the picture, so they had to stop the photograph altogether. This order was repeated several times—it was not an order given by accident—until eventually Her Majesty the Queen visited a settlement in Essex where there were evacuated children. That photograph was given wide publicity in spite of the ban, and next day the ban was removed. I take this example because now, if any of your Lordships see an evacuated child at Brighton, you may say so with impunity. I could give many other examples of even more absurd prohibitions, which as far as I know are still in force.

While we were hard at work stopping these photographs from being published in the London newspapers they were being published by all the provincial newspapers without any let or hindrance. Even the London newspapers often published things which we had stopped. Let me say that I have no complaint to make about the Press, because when we stopped a thing for one particular newspaper we never saw it published in that newspaper, but it was the commonest occurrence, after we had stopped it from one newspaper, to see it published next morning in half a dozen others. So far as I know no action was ever taken. Since the beginning of the war I think there has been no prosecution for any infringement of the Defence Regulations.

The noble Lord, Lord Newton, was not quite correct in his reference to my secretary. After the photographs and books department had been working two and a half months it was suddenly decided to create a new section for books and I was selected to take charge of it. I was never informed why, and nobody ever took any steps to find out whether there was any work for that section to perform. I could have told them that the work would only take about half an hour a day. I had been doing the job as a spare-time job. I did not actually apply for a secretary. All I said was that if I had chosen to apply for an assistant and a clerk I should have got them. All I have to say in conclusion is that during the time I was a censor I stopped a great deal from being published in certain newspapers, but I stopped very little indeed that was not published in some newspapers, and I have grave doubt whether I stopped anything the publication of which would have been of any use to the enemy.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate and I desire to say only two or three sentences now. In consequence of having brought forward this matter on a previous occasion I found myself deluged with communications from various classes telling me of other things which might be condemned equally strongly, although perhaps not so entertaining a story could be told about them as that which has been told by my noble friend who has just sat down. I want to make an appeal to the noble Earl the Leader of the House. This is not a question on which I wish, or I think your Lordships would wish, to be reassured by the Minister of Information. The time has come when it should be clearly stated that there is deep indignation in this country in many quarters at the utter squandering of money on these and similiar appointments. There is no member of your Lordships' House who is not willing to make any sacrifices necessary for the conduct of the war, but I consider, and I believe other people consider, that every thousand pounds or every ten thousand pounds which is squandered in some of these Ministries means directly taking money which should be made available for the war. The time will come when it will be felt that the enormous demands now being made on the country are not being fairly made if the money is being so applied. I am most anxious not to say anything which can be misinterpreted or turned to ill-effect by those who are hostile to us, but unless I get a pledge from the noble Earl the Leader of the House that this question will be taken up—and taken up and dealt with—I am afraid I shall have to make one or two disclosures which will have a very unhappy effect in certain quarters, and most important quarters, as to this want of economy on the part of the Government.

3.59 P.m.


My Lords, may I be allowed to ask the noble Marquess who will reply if he can enlighten us on a matter which has a bearing on the subject matter of this debate? I should like to ask what is the position now with regard to Sir Walter Monckton. There have appeared in the newspapers statements that he was about to resign, or that he had offered his resignation, or that he would resign unless, apparently, he could get information which was desirable from the Service Departments. That is the story put about. I do not know anything about it myself, but it is a matter of great interest and if the noble Marquess could give some enlightenment I am sure your Lordships would be glad to know the truth about the matter. There are two Censorships, I believe I am right in saying. There is the one in which the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, served for two and a half months, and if I may be allowed I would like to congratulate him on the action he took. I am making no attack on him. That Censorship deals with newspapers. It deals with the noble Lord, Lord Beaver-brook, whom I see opposite, and his publications. That is an entirely different body from the one that sits up on Aintree Racecourse and deals with our correspondence. They apparently adhere to two different Departments. I do not quite know to whom Sir Walter Monckton adheres, but apparently the one on Aintree Racecourse, which deals with all the correspondence in and out of the country, adheres to the Secretary of State for War. Where the Home Office comes in I do not quite know; but I think this matter should if possible be cleared up, particularly about Sir Walter Monckton.

The other question, if I might venture to ask it, is this. Once or twice I have made inquiries about who is responsible for the news bulletins of the British Broadcasting Corporation. At one time I believe the noble and learned Lord had something to do with them, and at another time the Postmaster-General had something to do with them. I do not know quite who is responsible now. But whoever it is, I must renew in a sentence the complaint about the repetition, dullness and paucity of the news given in the British broadcasting programmes. I have heard the same items of news in the last twenty-four hours repeated five different times in identical language. It gets very monotonous, and my complaint is only one of many thousands of complaints from people all over the country. They really want to know what is going on, especially people in country districts who cannot get evening newspapers. The news bulletin should be expanded and made more interesting. The news is obviously there, but for some reason or other it either does not reach the B.B.C. at Hogsnorton, or wherever the place is at which they are supposed to be, or they are not allowed to use it. Whichever it is, I really think that matter should receive attention.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, it is quite obvious that this debate has strayed very far beyond the bounds set to it by the Motion to which I was asked to reply, in which my noble friend Lord Newton called attention "to a statement recently made by a member of this House"—who, to the great surprise of all of us, has turned out to be Lord Raglan—about the Ministry of Information and the Bureau of Censorship. I hope Lord Strabolgi will forgive me if I say that the questions he asked me in his speech hardly come within that compass. I am sorry that I can afford him no information at all about how to improve the B.B.C. programmes. I also have heard the same complaints that he has made, but that is not what we are discussing this afternoon. We are discussing the action of Lord Raglan in resigning from the Ministry of Information and leaving the Censorship. I hope I may be forgiven if I feel that some of your Lordships have not stuck very closely to the subject, and on the other hand have been inclined to make jokes which in any other place would be considered a little cheap.


No, no.


Well, your Lordships think not—jokes at the expense of what we all agree to be a national Aunt Sally. We all know that jokes at the expense of the Ministry of Information have got us through the first three months of the war. They have been a national pastime, and I confess that when I have not been standing at this Box I have taken part in them and contributed my quota to the various rumours that have gone round the town. But we are now trying to be serious, and we are discussing whether Lord Raglan was justified in resigning because he had not enough to do. That, I would remind your Lordships again, is what we are debating this afternoon, and nothing else. The history of Lord Raglan's appointment he has already told you. He has told it to you accurately, and I am sorry to say that my noble friend Lord Newton has told it to you inaccurately. Lord Raglan was appointed on August 27 to the Ministry of Information, and he worked there in the picture department until November 6, when the book and picture departments were separated. When that separation took place and the censorship of pictures became separated from the censorship of books, it became apparent that my noble friend's great talents would be better employed in censoring books, of which no doubt he has read many, than in censoring pictures, which necessarily involved certain technical details concerning aeroplanes and the like for which his training and upbringing did not fit him or equip him equally well. Therefore, on November 6, he was transferred to the book department and was asked to censor books.

I think he has already said—and I would be the first to believe him—that when he went to that new job there was comparatively little to do. That very often occurs in new Ministries, and it equally occurs in old Ministries. My noble friend, on finding that he had little to do, might have taken one of several courses. He might have gone to Sir Walter Monckton and clamoured for more work.


I never clamour. Also, he was not my direct chief.


Sir Walter Monckton was, I think; at any rate my noble friend might have made it clear to responsible quarters that in his opinion he had not enough work to do.


I did, to the Chief Censor, who was my chief. Sir Walter Monckton is not the Chief Censor.


My noble friend surely knows perfectly well that he had it in his power to make representations——


He did.


—to make it clear that the work was not sufficient. If he tells me that he did make those representations, I accept it. That I have not been informed about. But equally he might have said to himself: "This is a new Ministry, this is a new and difficult job; I may as well try to do something about it; I may as well look round and see what is lacking." He did not choose to do that; instead of that he chose, as was within his right, to resign at a day's notice. He did not even exercise the ordinary month's notice which normal courtesy would require, with the result that his successor, I am told, had to work for twelve hours a day for several days, clearing up the books.


I must protest. I did not leave one single book to be cleared up when I left the department. I did half an hour's work the last day, and left an absolutely clean sheet.


My noble friend's conception of a clean sheet and mine are obviously different. I understand—and I have no reason to disbelieve what I have been personally told—that there were a dozen books to be censored that day. It may have been that, hearing of Lord Raglan's departure, every publisher in the country poured his books in to try and get them by the new boy. But the fact remains that there were twelve books to be censored by the man who succeeded my noble friend. And he will forgive me if I go into these personal details, because, after all, he has made an attack on the Ministry, and I can only defend it by going into the actual details of his career in that Ministry. My noble friend will also realise that in a job like that which he was given it is possible that you cannot be bound by hours, turning up from ten till five. Publishers do not work like that, and authors unfortunately do not. The stuff comes in rushes, and if my noble friend expected a regular job, with regular hours, obviously he was bound to be disappointed.

But there was one aspect of the work which he might have done with advantage and that is this. It is all very well having this voluntary censorship, having a comparatively few volumes submitted by publishers from time to time, but that is no good unless the publisher who does not submit a book but publishes it and takes the chance, gets caught out, and caught out pretty regularly and pretty often. I do not think I am giving away any secret now, but that is where my noble friend's successor has found a very profitable outlet for his energies, because he has been going round the libraries and reading those books that have not been voluntarily submitted, and making sure that they are not exceeding the proper bounds of censorship. I only give that as an example of the sort of way in which a job can be properly done. And it takes time. It takes time to read a great number of books when they are not just put down on your desk and you are told to censor them, but when you have to go out and look for the sort of books in which trouble might occur and to scrutinise them carefully in a public library.

Therefore I do feel that my noble friend's protest is ill-advised and ill-founded. The job that my noble friend has resigned from is a job of the very greatest importance. It is perfectly obvious that we could not have stuff produced which was not going to be censored. Someone has to take the trouble to make sure that people are not publishing books without submitting them to voluntary censorship, and as a result I feel confident that the work that my noble friend Lord Raglan has resigned from is a work that needs to be done, and ought to be done well. And if my noble friend felt that his salary was too great, it was after all only in accordance with the normal scale of Government servants. It was a work which involved great responsibility, and very considerable personal initiative, and I do not feel that, whatever other bricks you throw at the Ministry of Information, you can really pick on this brickbat to hurl through the windows of the Censorship Department. On the contrary, it is perfectly clear to anyone who has seen that Department at work and has studied its hours of work—and when I said cheap jokes I had in mind my noble friend's joke about camp beds, because after all no one knows when news is coming in and people are going to be on duty all night, and you have to get the news through quickly—that the Censorship Department is working at a greater pressure probably than its present staff can support, and I do not feel that your Lordships would be justified in taking this particular instance as justifying an attack upon a particularly hard-working Department.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, as the Ministry of Information is mentioned in the Motion of my noble friend Lord Newton, and as some topics which have been raised, not precisely on that Motion but relating to the Ministry, have been mentioned, I should like to add a word or two. There are two ways of stimulating the efficiency of a Government Department. You may stimulate its efficiency by abuse, or you may stimulate its efficiency by praise. Both of these methods have their defects. If the method of abuse is adopted the Government Department then always appears upon its defence, and is occupied most of the time in defending itself, instead of attending to its proper duties. If, on the other hand, its efficiency is sought to be stimulated by praise, the danger is that the Government Department may sit back in complacent self-satisfaction. I cannot say that the particular Ministry which I have the honour to represent has suffered unduly from the latter method of stimulus, but on the other hand it has been subjected to a very considerable amount of the other form of stimulus—some of it, if I may say so, quite well justified, and I am happy to think that many of those drawbacks which attended its early days have fortunately now been remedied.

With regard to the particular matter of the Censorship, which has been discussed to-day, that is no longer in my hands, but during the first few weeks of the Ministry I had charge of it until it was severed from the Ministry of Information and placed under Sir Walter Monckton, and I would like to say this for the consolation of the House, that it is a peculiarly difficult Department. Noble Lords will know that, in anticipation of the war, there was issued a book of orders, for which the Censor himself was in no way responsible but which emanated from the various Departments and which contained the instructions to the censors. Any of your Lordships who have studied that volume will find that it is an exceedingly difficult volume to apply, because it contained a whole series of directions as to what the censors were to do in the discharge of their duties. Naturally at first, before there was any experience of war conditions, these orders were of the most rigid and searching character. They placed upon every individual censor who had to handle a vast amount of material the duty of applying those orders.

Those of us who have had experience in the Law Courts and elsewhere of applying orders of that sort have not always found the task an easy one, but these censors, called upon suddenly to undertake this duty, practically overnight, charged with the duty of administering a most elaborate code, not of their own creation but created in the public interest after careful consideration, and applying it to a vast amount of miscellaneous material, had genuinely a task of the highest difficulty. It is not in the least surprising that the material submitted to so many different minds—because it was impossible of course for one person to cover the whole of the material—caused them to arrive occasionally at different judgments, and that caused the dissatisfaction which in the early days attended the exercise of the Censorship. There were undoubtedly differing judgments pronounced upon similar material by different minds. One of the most difficult tasks is to secure an absolute uniformity of judgment upon material by a number of different persons. That has been to a large extent remedied.

But one of the points which my noble friend Lord Raglan has emphasized—namely, that there was not work to do at certain times—is inevitable in a Censor's Department, because the material comes in intermittently. His own section may have been particularly unfortunate because, at the time when he found it in the public interest to be his duty to resign, there may have been a complete lull for some days, and consequently he may have felt that his time was not being fully or profitably occupied. But it is of the very essence of the Censor's Department that its work is intermittent; it comes in in batches and has to be dealt with quickly, and there must be an adequate staff there to deal with the peak load. If you take the really peak hours of the news section, they are from six o'clock in the afternoon onwards, and from that time you must have a staff adequate to deal with the material, because if the material is not dealt with at once it loses its whole value. There are therefore other times when there is a comparative lull in the business, but that is not to say that the staff must not be maintained at that strength. Indeed, the Department of the Censor has only recently come under the most careful scrutiny, not of our Department but of another Department which has been charged with the duty of going through the various offices; and, so far as the Censor's Department is concerned, their recommendation is that it is essential that there should be an addition to the staff of the Censor's Department if its work is to be adequately carried out. It is much more important that the work of the Censor's Department should be adequately carried out than that of almost any other Department, certainly, under the roof beneath which my work is carried on.

I am exceedingly sorry that Lord Raglan should have been dissatisfied with his experience. I think we all felt, in undertaking this quite novel task, that it was difficult to fit ourselves to it. I confess that there were moments when I myself found it difficult to understand precisely what I had to do. I have learned my job, I hope; at any rate I am learning it every day; and I think perhaps if Lord Raglan had had a little more patience it might have been that we should still have had the advantage of his assistance. He took the course he did, as he was quite entitled to do, but I can assure him that his successor has found ample occupation and is in no sense an idler in the Censor's Department. However, that is outside my own immediate duty, as I say.

Turning to the Ministry of Information, one or two topics were raised, particularly by my noble friend opposite, Lord Strabolgi, with regard to the B.B.C. I had hoped that it was now understood that the responsibility for the programmes of the B.B.C. rests with the B.B.C. and is not in the hands of the Ministry of Information. The Ministry of Information have the right to insist upon the B.B.C. broadcasting any Government material which it is necessary and proper to issue, but they do not control the ordinary programmes of the B.B.C. We have the advantage of being able to make contributions to their programmes, but the ultimate arrangement of the programmes is a matter for the Corporation itself.


Might I ask a question on that?




Can the Censorship Department prevent the B.B.C. giving out news which they think is contrary to the public interest?


Oh, yes. The Censorship Department have a control in that sense, that they can issue a "stop" if they receive instructions, let us say, from the War Office that a particular item should not be incorporated in the news that day because it would be of comfort to the enemy. Then that affects the B.B.C. as well as our newspapers and everybody else.


Then the B.B.C. must send its programmes to the Censor's Department in advance, I suppose?


They have an officer in the Ministry of Information with whom they are in daily contact and the news programme is compiled with the assistance of this officer. Some of the material, I am glad to say, we are able to contribute. If we have anything of interest which is suitable for dissemination in that form, we contribute it through our officer, the B.B.C. officer in the Ministry, but they themselves obtain the great bulk of their news from the news agencies in the usual way. It is then compiled and brought together; it is a composition, so to speak. I think my noble friends do not complain of the repetitive character of it, because the theory now is that the announcer tells you when he is giving the news whether there are any new items. He says, "The news to-night is very short and there are no new items"; or he will say, "Those who have heard the six o'clock news need not listen to the first part of this because they have already heard it." The news is distributed over the day at intervals so that people who have not heard it at one hour can hear it at another. If I may say so, for myself I practically never hear the four o'clock or the six o'clock news, but I can hear the nine o'clock news and I want then to hear the news of the day. But you are warned generally by the B.B.C. that a certain amount of the news they are going to give has been given already earlier in the day and that therefore you need not listen to that part of it. I think it is valuable that it should be repeated, because, if it were not repeated, large sections of the population who are engaged in their occupations would not hear the news during the day. I quite agree it is rather tiresome to hear the same thing several times, but one has to remember that other people have not heard it. That is the explanation of that matter.

There is only one other comment I would like to make, and that is that I can assure noble Lords that the Ministry of Information is certainly not a home of idleness, and I hope that your Lordships will not take the unfortunate experiences which in the early days of the Ministry have been suffered by Lord Raglan as in any sense a sample of what happens in the Ministry. I wish some of your Lordships would come to see for yourselves the Censorship Department at work. It is almost like a wizard's parlour, if you go down and see all the telewriters and other machines working and messages coming in and so on. It is a most remarkable place. It hums with activity. There are times, I agree, when the machinery is not working, because it is not like a factory which turns out its products all the time, but it is an exceedingly busy and responsible place.

As regards the rest of the Ministry for which I am charged with the responsibility, I am glad to say that we have now got it, I think, in very fair working order. It is one of those Ministries which must adapt itself to changing conditions as we go along. I have different kinds of problems almost every day, and whilst some things are important at one time, other things are important at another time. One has therefore to invoke different kinds of help and different kinds of abilities at different times. I think it differs from almost every other Department in that respect. But I am happy to say that only the other day the Ministry received the most remarkable bouquet from an unexpected quarter—namely, from Germany. I do not know whether any of your Lordships noticed an article which was quoted the other day in the Manchester Guardian taken from the Berliner Boersen-Zeitung of November 22. In that German article a German writer, who occupies a high position in Germany in connection with the Press, wrote of his experiences in Holland. His complaint was that he found nothing but British propaganda throughout the whole of Holland. He said, as regards the newspapers, that hotel porters and street vendors offered only English papers and German papers were only to be found amongst the pile of returned copies. Another thing that he said was this: Taking the Dutch paper, the famous Standaard of November 11, just a month ago, out of twenty-nine items of foreign news fifteen were from Reuter, six from Havas, one from The Times, one from the Polish Telegraph Agency and six from neutral sources. In the Haagsche Post ten notices concerned happenings in allied countries and only one about Germany, whilst on the page entitled "Opinion in the great centres" no mention was made of Berlin at all. After describing a visit to a cinema at which the programme contained two British news reels he said: I left the cinema without having seen for one half minute anything which showed that there was any side in the war except the Allies. We may take it that that tribute to the efficiency of the Ministry of Information in seeing that English matter gets across, at any rate, to Holland is well established. There are many other items I could give you from that article. He said he found the English Blue-books standing on every bookstall, and all the pamphlets and leaflets stating the British case were found everywhere in Holland. That is an example, I hope, which will satisfy your Lordships that we are at least active.

I have to recognise, of course, that that was not intended to be praise of the Ministry of Information. It is designed to show that Holland was not neutral, but I am entitled to invoke it for my purpose as showing how efficient the Ministry of Information has been in that respect. I can assure your Lordships, without this testimony from the enemy, that the staff of the Ministry of Information as it now stands is not a redundant staff, and while I hope it is adequately remunerated, I do not think it is excessively remunerated. I can assure your Lordships that there are on the staff a number of persons who are giving their services entirely without remuneration. If I may say so, one whose services I value more than I can say, the Director-General of the whole Ministry, a very well-known business man, Sir Kenneth Lee, is giving his services without any remuneration whatever, and has left his very important business in order to serve his country in that position. There are others also who are doing that, but some are taking salaries who have left much more highly paid offices to do so. The class of criticism which my noble friend Lord Midleton has made can scarcely be applicable to the Ministry of Information as it has now been reduced, though that reduction is due in part to his own criticism and the criticisms of others of your Lordships. I think I have dealt with all the points which were raised.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, in asking leave to withdraw the Motion, I congratulate myself that we have had, on the whole, a fairly useful discussion. It was characterised, not without justice, by the noble Marquess who replied for the Government as being irrelevant, which is a very frequent fault here. I am afraid on this occasion it was my own fault, but I should like to point out that the irrelevancies were very much more important than the relevancies. The dispute between my noble friend Lord Raglan and the Ministry of Information or the Censorship Bureau, whichever it may be, I suppose we may now consider as settled, but whether my noble friend is satisfied with the information he got I do not know. I just want to call the attention of the two Cabinet Ministers present to the request I made with regard to the position of the Censor. I am perfectly certain there are many members present who feel the same as I do on the point that it is very desirable that further steps should be taken to regulate the position of the Censor. I sincerely hope the Leader of the House will be able to give me an assurance that he will place this matter before the Cabinet.


My Lords, I must remind my noble friend that I am not a member of the War Cabinet, which consists of nine members only, of whom none is present. I have no doubt that what has been said will be taken into consideration.


My noble friend says he is not a member of the War Cabinet, but he is a member of the Cabinet.


There is no other Cabinet except the War Cabinet at this moment.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.