HL Deb 22 July 1943 vol 128 cc750-4

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I do not intend to follow Lord Strabolgi on to the rather controversial ground on which his speech ended, as to the most fruitful breeding ground for Quislings. That no doubt is an extremely interesting topic, but I do not think it really comes within the terms of the Motion which your Lordships are discussing this afternoon. I therefore propose to confine myself to the specific point which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour. On the earlier occasion when this subject was debated, he was good enough to say at the end of the debate that he was satisfied with the reply that I then made, and he has repeated that to-day. I am most grateful to him.

In raising this matter a second time he is actuated, so I understand from his speech, not by a desire that I should elaborate my earlier statement but by somewhat different motives. He considers, at least if I understand him aright, that his earlier speech and my reply have not received sufficient publicity in the quarters for which he intended them. If that is indeed so, I am of course delighted to repeat the assurance which I then gave to the noble Lord. Whether it will produce the desired result I am, I confess, a little doubtful. We are, my Lords, in this country fortunate in that we enjoy the blessings and benefits of a free Press. But what does that in fact mean? It means that, subject to security considerations and to suggestions which I believe my right honourable friend the Minister of Information occasionally ventures to offer, newspapers use their own judgment in deciding what to publicize. News print at the present time, as your Lordships know, is very strictly controlled and the selection of items for reproduction in news print is a subject of anxious scrutiny by those concerned with these matters on the staffs of newspapers every day. The noble Lord said himself in the previous debate that the impression which he says has gained currency as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government—namely, that they are abetting certain sectional elements in occupied countries—is both untrue and absurd. I am afraid that newspapers may well have come to a similar conclusion and therefore have decided to omit all reference to the debate as lacking the necessary news value. One can only hope, for my noble friend's sake, that on this second occasion they will revise their opinion.

The noble Lord also, I gather, is not altogether happy about the steps which have been taken by our foreign propaganda to dispel this illusion which he has described. He says, and I do not question it, that this erroneous impression is widely entertained and should be refuted. He put forward two propositions, as I understood, for this purpose. The first is that a booklet should be produced giving a reprint of the Atlantic Charter and an interpretation of the various clauses of the document. There are very real difficulties about that. If the noble Lord will look at the speech of the Prime Minister when he came back from his visit to President Roosevelt, he will find that my right honourable friend made it perfectly clear that he could not undertake unilaterally to interpret the meaning of a bilateral document. That document has now become not only bilateral but multilateral, and I think if every Government concerned were to begin to produce booklets giving their own interpretations of the various clauses, it might possibly lead ultimately to some considerable confusion. The second proposition which Lord Rankeillour put forward was, as I understood it, that greater publicity should be given to today's debate and to the reply which is given on behalf of the Government.


I do not think I said that. I said that broadcasting as to the meaning of this clause of the Atlantic Charter should be insisted upon more by the B.B.C. in foreign propaganda.


I accept the noble Lord's correction: that there should be more constant broadcasting as to the meaning of this particular clause in the Atlantic Charter to which Lord Rankeillour has referred. I will certainly put that suggestion forward to the authorities concerned. But I would remind the House that in too frequent repetition there are also dangers which one must not forget. In no field of life is the old truism Qui s'excuse s'accuse more true than in the field of propaganda. By constantly reiterating in broadcasts all over the world that some accusation is a lie, that accusation tends to be given a much wider circulation than it would otherwise have had. It is heard by countless people who would not otherwise have heard it and who may end by believing that it has some, perhaps not very great, but some substratum of truth. Propaganda to be successful must, I believe, be predominantly positive. The main purpose of our propaganda must be not to reiterate what our policy is not, but to concentrate on saying what our policy is.

Last month when we had our former debate on this question I tried to define what the policy of His Majesty's Government is in relation to the subject which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour. I am sure he would not wish me to repeat in full all that I said on that occasion. I therefore would like to state quite briefly, but I hope unequivocally, that the immediate desire of His Majesty's Government is to bring encouragement and hope of liberation to the enslaved peoples of Europe, to support those elements who are prepared to act at the right moment against our enemies and to encourage them to unite for that purpose. That is our immediate aim, and I would add—it is really a repetition of what I said to your Lordships last time—that when the Allied countries are liberated it will be the aim of the United Nations, and in particular of His Majesty's Government for whom alone I can speak with authority, to apply the principles enshrined in the Atlantic Charter and to re-establish Governments representative of the wishes of the peoples concerned. I hope that this statement which I have repeated makes the position abundantly clear, and that the noble Lord will now feel that it is possible for him to withdraw his Motion for Papers.


My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for what he has said. There is only one point I would make. I did not suggest that the B.B.C. should go on saying "We want to deny a mendacious report," but merely that they should when occasion offered enlarge on the principles of the Atlantic Charter positively. They might not even mention that there was such a mendacious propaganda about at all. As to the rest, I have nothing more to say except that I think there was very considerable justification for bringing this matter before the House in the latter part of Lord Strabolgi's speech. I certainly do not wish to be kind to Hungary, but I want more people in Hungary to lay aside their fears that they will not have a free choice when the time comes. That was my sole purpose and it applies to all other countries. I again thank the noble Viscount for the reiterated declaration at the end of his speech, and I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned.