HL Deb 13 June 1940 vol 116 cc575-82

4.18 p.m.

LORD NEWTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government why the sale of the Daily Worker in this country is not prohibited. The noble Lord said: My Lords, as the House is aware, we have been engaged for some time upon a very vigorous and animated campaign in favour of interning alien refugees and other people, including British subjects. The British subjects who are objects of attack belong, principally, to the Fascist Party. I do not profess to understand anything about Fascism. I do not know what they are aiming at, and I am not at all sure they know themselves; but it has always seemed to me they are something in the nature of political mountebanks, with a passion for dressing themselves up and persecuting the Jews. Apart from that, I cannot see any particular motive for their existence, and I rather share the opinion which was once expressed by Signor Mussolini on the subject of British Fascists. On some particular occasion the chief mountebank here was in Rome and had an interview with Mussolini. In the course of the discussion questions were raised as to the number of Fascists in this country. Some people said there were five, others said there were ten, and others said there were as many as 50,000; but the discussion was closed by Mussolini himself who remarked: "Whether it is five or ten, or 50,000, it does not matter in the very least, because in England they are not required." That is an obvious truth which most people will recognise, though I do not suppose that Fascists do themselves.

I have never been able to take them seriously, and I should think no one was more surprised than the Fascists themselves at being taken seriously at the present time. Amongst the Fascists I have no doubt there are a number of very foolish people, but I decline to believe off-hand that all these people are enemies of the State. I believe they have been led away by silly ideas about the beauty of totalitarianism and so forth, but I cannot believe they would, in an emergency, act against this country, and I should be prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt in most cases. It seems to me that we are wasting a great deal of time and money and effort in taking all these people, and we are deliberately leaving alone the really dangerous people. The Fascists are no danger to this country, neither are 99 per cent. of the refugee aliens in this country. The real danger in this country consists of the Communists. The Communists are represented by a paper called the Daily Worker. It is a paper of small circulation, but it makes up for the smallness of its circulation by the bitterness and venom of its comments and its attacks upon individuals. Representing the Communist cause, it is, of course, no respecter of persons and attacks all sides impartially. It attacks perhaps for preference members of the Unionist Government, but it is equally ready to attack trade union leaders, and it boasts of the fact that, having practically no money, it is in an impregnable position because nobody can get any damages out of it. There is not much to be proud of in that fact.

As regards the war, this particular paper, representing the Communist people, has done all it can to impede the war effort of the Government. It is always representing the war, so far as I know, as what it is pleased to call a capitalist war, waged for the advantage of the capitalist at the expense of the proletarian, and I suppose there are people in this country who are foolish enough to believe it. As I have said, it attacks everybody, each Party in turn, and makes the most ridiculous and unjust accusations in order, I suppose, to show its versatility. A few days ago a scandalous attack was made upon Lord Gort, who was charged with having deserted his troops at Dunkirk, and that was accompanied by an insulting reference to the Duke of Northumberland, who was killed a short time ago in Flanders. It is an amazing thing to me, when a paper deliberately sets itself to impede as much as it can the Government effort, and adds to that the grossest insults and charges against individuals, that we should not devote some attention to it and stop it, in preference to worrying and harrying refugees and people of that kind.

I suppose I shall get the stereotyped Government answer. I have ceased to hope for anything from the Government which coincides with my own wishes. I expect I shall be told that this is a paper of very limited circulation and very small means, and therefore we can very well ignore it. I do not see that that is a reason for doing nothing at all. If it is in a bad financial condition and its circulation is very poor, you can attack it with less danger. What is there to be afraid of? I understand that the view is that recently it has become more moderate and that perhaps it would be as well to leave it alone. Why should you leave it alone? If you have a domestic pest to contend with you do not leave it alone; you get rid of it as soon as you can. I would ask what is there to be afraid of? Clearly there is on the part of the Government fear of some kind, because the sale of this paper has been prohibited abroad. If it is contrary to the interests of this country that this paper should be sold abroad, surely it is worse for us if it is allowed to promulgate its doctrines here. I am afraid I shall get some answer of the kind I have indicated, and probably a vague promise that the matter will be attended to and dealt with, if necessary. All I will do in conclusion is to give two reasons why the course I suggest should be adopted and the paper suppressed. In the first place, I am perfectly certain that at least 90 per cent. Of the population of this country are in favour of the disappearance of this paper, and secondly, I am equally certain that no other civilised country in the world would tolerate a similar publication at the present moment.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I will not follow the noble Lord into a general discussion as to the activities of people whom he may or we may regard as pernicious. I will confine myself to the issue which he has put before us. I would only say that I would agree with him, as I am sure your Lordships do, that the Fascists are very foolish people. The probability is that there are a great number of them who, when the war came, became British in instinct and are supporting their country in every way. I would also say with regard to the Communists, to whom he referred as stating that this is a capitalist war, that I think any argument like that must bring ridicule in the country upon those who use it, because we have not noticed so far any accretion of wealth to the capitalists as a result of the war which is being fought. But I would say also that it proves how very foolish are these people to whom the noble Lord referred.

This publication to which the question is addressed, together with a number of other publications, is being kept under review with a view to considering whether action should be taken in pursuance of the powers conferred upon the Secretary of State by Regulation 2D of the Defence Regulations. This Regulation enables the Secretary of State, if he is satisfied that there is in any newspaper a systematic publication of matter which is in his opinion calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution to a successful issue of any war in which His Majesty is engaged. to prohibit the printing, publication and distribution of that newspaper. It is to be observed that the publication of the matter in question must be systematic. The Home Secretary has only been armed with these powers to which I have referred since May 29, but the House can be assured that a careful watch is being kept with a view to appropriate action against any newspaper if, in the Home Secretary's opinion, it should contravene the terms of the Regulation. It must be remembered that the Regulation was designed primarily for prevention purposes, with a view to checking mischievous propaganda, and a perusal of the Daily Worker in recent weeks since the date of the Regulation suggests that the Regulation has not been entirely ineffective for this purpose.

I would say in conclusion that the noble Lord referred to the fact that this newspaper, by order of the Minister of Information, or on the recommendation of the Minister of Information, is no longer permitted to be sold abroad. I think that the answer to his suggestion is probably this, that people in foreign countries may not realise that this paper cuts very little ice in this country, and in consequence it may be desirable that no publication of that description should go out from this country, although the fact that its real value is so small is appreciated among all the citizens of this country.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may say one or two words about the statement we have just heard. I am bound to say I never thought the time would come when I would find myself in agreement with the noble Lord who has just spoken—I suppose it is the influence of those with whom he is now associated that has mellowed him—but I do feel that the Government are really taking the right line in what they are doing. In this House we always listen with tremendous interest to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, because he is always amusing, always interesting, and seldom right. In this case I am quite certain he is wrong in supposing that the Fascists—in other words the Nazis—are not dangerous. I personally am very glad that the Government have seen fit to put under lock and key temporarily until trial takes place that well-known person who is to be what the Nazis call Gauleiter of this country, and that rather more dangerous person,.a member of another place, and another who I understand is nominated as Gauleiter of Scotland. There are one or two members of your Lordships' House who ought to have been similarly treated—those who have been closely connected with Hitler through their families or otherwise. Personally I think that that sort of people should not be allowed, if we have a Secret Session, to be present during the discussion which takes place in your Lordships' House on that occasion. I recommend to the noble Lord consideration of that suggestion.

As regards Fascists and Nazis in this country we do know that they have been guilty of such acts as signalling to the enemy, being in illegal possession of wireless sets, showing lights at night in places of military importance—all things which to my mind are exceedingly dangerous. I think the noble Lord, Lord Newton, cannot have been aware of that when he suggested they were not dangerous people. As regards the Daily Worker, a paper which I am afraid I never see, I understand that copies of it are now available in the Library of the House of Commons, and I would suggest that perhaps we might have a copy or two in the Library of the House of Lords so that your Lordships might have a chance of studying it for yourselves. I trust that you would not be corrupted thereby into support of any illegal activity. I think, however, that the Government are perfectly right in not suppressing that paper, for the simple reason that it does not represent the views of those who represent the people of this country. It represents the views apparently of an international organisation which will order those views to be changed whenever the international situation changes. As there are hopes arising from the wisdom of the present Government of a better understanding with the Soviet Union, not only in regard to trade matters but eventually, one hopes, in regard to action connected with the prosecution, of the war, it would be unwise to take action now on opinions which to-morrow or next week may be completely changed and may become expressions of opinion in support of the Government. That is why we on these Benches support the Government in the line they are taking.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend below me—whom I am more than delighted to see on the Front Bench—one question? Is the newspaper Action suppressed or is it only forbidden for foreign circulation? There is another paper the name of which I forget, but I think the word "Press" comes into it, with which I am informed Captain Ramsay is connected. If those papers are suppressed and this one is not, I should like to know the reason for the distinction. There can be no talk about the liberty of the Press now because habeas corpus has gone and the liberty of the Press too—quite necessarily—but on the face of it, it docs seem strange that action should be taken in one direction only.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he wishes your Lordships' House to infer that a certain foreign Power is behind this particular paper and that is why it should not be suppressed?


My Lords, if that question is addressed to me, I will say that it is not a foreign Power but an international organisation not connected with any Government which tends to direct the general policy of this sort of paper in various countries. In some countries we find the activities of the Communists are the same as those of the Nazis and the Fascists. That is particularly the case in the United States of America, where there is no difference at all in the objectives of these organisations in the promotion of what is called isolationism. In this country there is a not dissimilar position.


My Lords, may I by leave of the House tell my noble friend Lord Rankeillour that I have no information at this moment as to whether the newspapers to which he refers have been in any way suppressed, but I will ascertain the position and let my noble friend know on the earliest possible occasion? With regard to the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Marley, I would beg him to realise that never in my life have I ever suggested the suppression of any free expression of opinion in this country.


I did not suggest that.


In the circumstances I have mentioned in my answer, however, that may be necessary when we are fighting for our existence against an evil power such as this country is engaged against at the present time.


May I be allowed——


Order, order. The noble Lord has already addressed your Lordships' House twice. Only one speech is allowed on a particular question.


I merely rose to make a personal statement in connection with what the noble Lord has just said.