HL Deb 31 January 1945 vol 134 cc803-46

2.10 p.m.

LORD ELTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government, whether any plans are being made for setting up an organization to assume after the war the responsibility for spreading knowledge of the Empire, which is at present undertaken by the Ministry of Information; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in appealing, as I am about to do, for the continuance after the end of hostilities of a fragment of Government machinery which has come into being during the war, I am very conscious that I am attempting what for me, in your Lordships' House at any rate, is a somewhat unaccustomed role; but, although I have ventured once or twice to express alarm at the rigidity and comprehensiveness of the benevolent bureaucracy designed for us by some planners, I trust that I have never created the impression of not fully realizing that there are many Government activities by which the liberty of the individual is not curtailed but increased.

I should like to begin, therefore, by reminding your Lordships of the complete ignorance of public opinion in this country, in every class and at every educational level, up to and indeed after the outbreak of the war, as to the character and achievements, and therefore as to the prospects and opportunities and duties, of the British Empire Commonwealth. Perhaps I may be prejudiced, as one who has had a good deal to do with education, but it always seems to me that the most significant and sinister symptom of that general ignorance has been the almost total indifference of our schools, colleges and universities to Imperial history and Imperial affairs. For example, it has always been possible to obtain a first-class in the Honours School of modern history at Oxford or Cambridge without the slightest acquaintance with the Empire and its affairs. Candidates would be expected to have some knowledge of the political structure of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, or of the remote and meaningless intricacies of the War of the Austrian Succession, but they need not even know the difference between a Colony and a Dominion; and it has been the same, of course, all down the educational ladder. Indeed, I think it is possible—more than possible—that more has been known of the British Empire in German schools and universities than in our own.

Well, against that sort of educational background it has only been natural that the general public has remained in almost total ignorance of the potent League of Nations to which we belong. It remained in ignorance therefore of the most creative political force of to-day, and indeed, it is not too much to say, in ignorance of the very nature of the modern world. Owing to that ignorance, very large sections of our public have been too often the defence-less dupes of almost any detractor of our Imperial record, however ill-instructed or malignant. I need hardly say that more knowledge of the nature and achievements of the Empire Commonwealth is needed primarily not in order that our people may pride themselves on the achievements of their ancestors—although I cannot help adding that pride of that kind is a very proper sentiment; and I have often wished that more of our young men had been able to go into battle fortified by some effectual memories of Drake and Wolfe and Livingstone. The prime need for greater knowledge is that we may recognize the responsibilities which rest upon a world society which embraces somewhere about a third of the surface of the earth and somewhere near a third of its inhabitants. A nation which has invented the art of self-government, and then spread self-government across five continents, must expect a special and exacting role in our iron age of totalitarianism, and is hardly likely to discharge it faithfully so long as its people remain largely ignorant of what they have done in the past for free- dom, and what they might do in the future.

I suppose that it was the terrible weeks after Dunkirk which first revived among our citizens a lively awareness of the Empire Commonwealth. There grew then, I think, a sense that, with all our former Allies struck down or fallen away, we nevertheless surprisingly found ourselves still the centre of a powerful and resolute world alliance. Perhaps it was for that reason, possibly in the last resort for that reason oily, that even in the darkest days we still found it possible to believe in eventual victory; and, as the painful months drew by, the instinct of the ordinary man began to tell him that we should not have been saving the world if we had merely been a small island off the north-west corner of Europe; we were saving the world because we were a world society. And from then onwards, I think, can be dated a very marked and steady increase in the readiness of the public to demand and assimilate information as to the nature of our great Commonwealth.

Even then, however, authority responded slowly and with marked timidity to the new mental climate. The Board of Education showed itself notably readier to organize special teachers' courses on the affairs of Russia or the United States than on those of our own Commonwealth; and for long the Ministry of Information, despite its teeming and gifted, if somewhat heterogeneous, personnel, was quite unable to organize adequate information on this most vital of all subjects. And then, somewhere in 1943, after four years of war, the Ministry gave belated and painful birth to a new unit, the Empire Information Service. That is the unit as to whose future, or rather as to whose successor, I am venturing to inquire, and to ask your Lordships' interest. Let it be said at once—and I think this can be said with confidence—that its work has been consistently and increasingly successful. It has been successful partly because it has been meeting an urgent and now increasingly conscious need, and partly because its activities have been conducted with energy and imagination. Its activities have been very various and very widespread. It has published, for sale or free, leaflets, pamphlets, handbooks, books, articles, photographs, pictures, maps; it has organized conferences and discussions and exhibitions. I believe that between October, 1943, and September, 1944, more than 400,000 persons visited its Colonies exhibitions which have been held up and down the country.

It has worked in close association with the various Departments interested, serving very largely as a feeder on demand of various Government Departments. It has also worked through, without in any sense impairing the freedom of, the various voluntary societies which have, for some while past I am glad to say, been diffusing an interest in and knowledge of our Empire Commonwealth affairs. And nowadays it is very interesting and encouraging to note that these voluntary organizations do not merely consist of the familiar Empire societies, such as the Imperial Institute or the Royal Empire Society, but also include the great voluntary youth organizations, such as the Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A. and the National Association of Girls' Clubs, which have all discovered, and are now attempting to satisfy, a lively appetite amongst their youthful membership for this sort of knowledge.

I have had some opportunity of observing at first hand the work which this unit has done in that particular connexion, and there can be no possible doubt that it has been an immense boon to these organizations to have the Empire Information Service of the Ministry as a sort of central clearing house for Empire information. In the past, too often, if they wanted information they had to trudge the weary round of the Dominion Office, the Colonial Office, the India Office, the Burma Office and the Offices of the various High Commissioners, meeting, needless to say, everywhere with extreme and uniform politeness, matched, unfortunately, only by an almost total inability to provide any effectual assistance. Before the emergence of this Empire Information Service it was very frequently the complaint of the youth organizations that whereas it was always easy, if you desired it, to obtain information as to the affairs of, shall we say, Russia or China, by merely applying to the accredited representatives of those countries, there seemed to be no central, effectual and convenient source of information about the affairs of the British Empire Commonwealth.

I think, before I leave that point, it is important that I should stress that, to the best of my information and belief—and I have been at some pains to inform myself—the material put out by this unit of the Ministry of Information has been information. It has been objective and predominantly factual; it has not been in any sense propaganda, in the more sinister connotation of that unattractive term. For example, one of the most successful series of leaflets published by the unit was entitled "Wars not yet won." It deliberately set out to draw attention to some of the failures in the past of the Empire Commonwealth overseas, and to its present determination to repair them by raising the standard of living in the Colonies and putting down the pest of locust or the scourge of leprosy. Again, as another example, it has published a series of biographies of pioneers, such as, characteristically, Mary Kingsley, the woman traveller and social worker in Africa, and Stamford Raffles, the first European, it was said, to employ the science of the west for the benefit of backward native populations. All that has been characteristically predominantly factual information.

Well, my Lords, I do not want to weary you with particulars of what has been done. Let me only say—and I think it can be said confidently—that the Empire Information Service has done invaluable work by spreading knowledge in this country, among our Allies and in the Commonwealth overseas as to both the successes and the failures, the nature and the future objectives of the Empire Commonwealth, and in so doing has, I think, made an indispensable contribution to that future age in which the Commonwealth will surely prove the pattern, and it may be even the nucleus, of whatever world organization the coming years may prove to hold in store. But unfortunately, over all this as I think beneficent activity, the shadow of the sword of Damocles is suspended. It is generally understood that the Minister of Information and his numerous henchmen have constituted themselves, if I may borrow the jargon of the war reporter, a suicide battalion, and are now, in the jargon of the war report, facing inevitable annihilation. As soon as the war with Japan is ended, and conceivably, I have heard it suggested, after the end of the war with Germany, they are to vanish, leaving no wrack behind. So far as the Ministry is concerned, the rest is silence. And though I should be the first to admit that in some respects that will be a welcome relief, it will not, I think, be so in the area covered by this particular unit.

The question which I am venturing to put to the noble Viscount is, first, is this Empire Information Service to form a part of this mass felo de se contemplated by Mr. Bracken and his followers? I am not enamoured of Government Departments as such, but in some guise or another, not necessarily as a Government Department, I am quite clear that this work ought to go on. My object to-day is not to suggest in what particular form the work should be organized but rather to ask His Majesty's Government if it is intended that it should survive and, if so, in what guise and under whose ægis. I am sure that the necessary work could be carried on by a very small body, perhaps not more than half a dozen experts with the necessary clerical and secretarial staff. There would have, of course, to be a governing board of some kind, and it might be that that board could be constituted of representatives of the various Government Departments concerned. My own preference would rather be for something nearer the analogy perhaps of the B.B.C.—something remoter from direct Government control. It might be possible, I should have thought, to appoint a board of governors of distinguished independent public men, appointed by the Government but independent so far as their day-to-day control of policy was concerned. This future successor of the Empire Information Service would clearly have to keep close contact, as it does to-day and as the B.B.C. does to-day, with the Government Departments concerned. After the war, for example, the Foreign Office will very likely have a publicity service of its own in foreign countries, and it will be the business of this service, as I see it, to feed the Foreign Office, on demand, as today it feeds various Government Departments and voluntary organizations.

Finally, if the noble Viscount replies, as I am inclined to suspect that he may reply, that the main difficulty about any proposal of this sort is that it might arouse suspicions or resentment in some of the Dominions, I think the answer is comparatively simple. I think, first, we are entitled to point to the consistently and warmly cordial relations between the existing unit and the various Dominions. Canada, for example, entrusted the organization of the Canadian exhibitions which have been held up and down the country to the Empire Information Service. Secondly, I think we are entitled also to remind ourselves that the Statute of Westminster is not a unilateral affair bit that it implies self-government not only for the Dominions but for the United Kingdom. Finally, and I think most important, we can surely point to the whole record of the present Empire Information Service and claim that its treatment of any delicate problem, and indeed of all problems, has been consistently objective, so that if there were, for example, a delicate issue temporarily, say, between this country and Canada as to some problem of foreign policy, one would expect to find the Empire information unit of the future saying in effect: "Well, the view of this country for the following reasons is so and so; in Canada, on the ether hand, also for the following reasons, a slightly different point of view is taken."

I have tried to show that for many years before the war this great democracy has been culpably and perilously ignorant of the nature and potency of the opportunities entrusted to us by our position as the centre of the one stable, freedom-loving world organization known to history. As one of the minor recompenses of these tragic years, that glaring lack has been filled by a small unit within a Ministry which is itself under sentence of death. If we intend to play our part in the world of the future we clearly cannot afford to allow our people to revert to ignorance and therefore eventually to apathy and impotence. Something at some time must succeed the present Empire information unit. I hope other Departments, the Ministry of Education for example, will play their part, bet we need a successor devoted to the work now being discharged within the Ministry of Information. All I wish to do is to ask the noble Viscount what are His Majesty's Government's intentions in this respect. I beg to move for Papers.

2.32 p.m.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, for his kindness in allowing me to usurp his place in this debate as I have to leave London at an early hour this afternoon. I hope the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will also accept my apology for my inability for the same reason to be present when he replies. The Motion we are debating is one of the very first importance, a Motion which has been most clearly and comprehensively explained by my noble friend Lord Elton. It is important because inside the Commonwealth we shall need to grow very much closer together in the post-war period. To this end mutual understanding is necessary, and mutual understanding can only be based upon knowledge, knowledge which I fear at the present moment does not always exist. It will be necessary for us to draw much nearer inside the Commonwealth because after this war we shall find ourselves in the presence of two great Powers, Russia with a population of upwards of 200,000,000 with every conceivable natural resource and raw material inside her own boundaries, and the United States of America with a population I believe of 135,000,000, also disposing of tremendous natural resources. Against these two enormous pools of man-power and raw materials we are by ourselves after all only a tiny island of some 47,000,000 inhabitants and with only one raw material, coal—a raw material which those concerned seem to misuse and to waste.

In face of these facts we shall be driven to try to enter into some combination representing a big aggregate of manpower and of raw materials. What are the alternatives which will confront us? They seem to me to be two. In regard to the first, one hears talk of a regional agreement with certain Western European nations. France would have to be a factor in such a combination and France has concluded an Alliance with Russia. Russia, I believe, is not friendly to this idea of regional agreements. The second alternative lies in the Commonwealth. The Statute of Westminster was no doubt an excellent Statute. It may perhaps be truly said that it prevented the Empire from falling apart altogether. Nevertheless it was inevitably to some extent a disintegrating factor. What we must now find is an integrating factor in the Commonwealth in defence and economics and to some extent in international affairs. We can only integrate if there is mutual knowledge and such knowledge, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has so clearly demonstrated, has certainly not existed in the past. There has been and there is an amazing ignorance in this country concerning the Colonies and the Dominions. The Colonies and Dominions have sent men here to fight for us. I think it must often have been somewhat depressing as well as astonishing to those men to find how little was known here at home of the countries from which they came.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, I remember, in one of our debates, gave us most remarkable and striking examples of the ignorance of our Empire existing not only among school children but amongst the schoolmasters appointed to instruct those children. Unfortunately this has always been the case. There has been very little public interest in -the Commonwealth. In regard to the Commonwealth we have been like those men of whom one sometimes hears who have such very great positions that they become careless of their stewardship. At the same time, I feel that our story as an Imperial power—and in this I agree with Lord Elton—is one in which we may justly feel much pride, though we are bound to confess that there have been unfortunate cases. We have heard about Mauritius in your Lordships' House, and the West Indies have been the subject of one Commission of inquiry after another and the reports have not always been very good. But I feel that this neglect, where it has occurred, has occurred because there is no public opinion on these matters to act upon Parliament, and Parliament very naturally does act in response to public opinion. If there is no public opinion Parliament tends to become lax in that particular matter. Wretched attendances in Parliament on the occasion of Colonial debates or debates on Dominion affairs are unfortunately a most unhappy illustration of the lack of public opinion taking an interest in these vital matters.

I feel that a classic example of how we have suffered in this respect is the case of India. Not unnaturally in our long governance of that great Continent with all its racial and religious diversities mistakes have been made, but the story of our rule in India is certainly not one of which we need be ashamed. But the world has got a totally wrong conception of our problems in India and of our conduct of affairs in India. During this war I have had the good fortune to meet many of those very eminent Americans who have come over here to take counsel with us about the conduct of the war, and I must say that I have been astonished by their complete ignorance upon factual matters about India and about our Empire. If we do not carry on publicity about India publicity of a factual nature, then most certainly propaganda will be carried on; it will be carried on by Congress and that propaganda will flourish in an atmosphere of ignorance for which we perhaps ourselves are very largely responsible.

The war has shown the necessity for knowledge and publicity about the Commonwealth not only at home and in the Commonwealth but amongst foreign nations also. Work to this end has been done by this Empire Information Service of which we have heard from the noble Lord and I think it has been carried on with excellent results. I believe those results would bear the most searching examination and that anybody who took the trouble to go into the matter would be compelled to say that the work has been excellently carried on with most valuable results. This Empire Information Service is part of the Ministry of Information. I am afraid we must expect the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, to tell us that nothing has been decided about the Ministry of Information, but I think it is an open secret that the matter has certainly been considered by a Cabinet Committee even if the Committee's report has not yet been considered by the Cabinet. The Minister himself, Mr. Brendan Bracken, who has presided so ably over his mixed team of tame experts and of what we used to call in the Navy odds and ends, has quite clearly indicated that he expects the Ministry of Information will be shut down. He has gone one better than Casabianca, Casabianca only stood on the deck of a burning ship but Mr. Brendan Bracken has set fire to the ship himself.

When the Ministry of Information goes some of its functions will happily cease altogether but others of its functions will certainly have to be carried on by some appropriate department or body set up for that purpose. Amongst those functions should be included, certainly to my mind, those performed by the Empire Information Service. A decision in this matter really does not brook long delay. The Government know quite well that the Ministry of Information will come to an end and it is no good their looking surprised one morning and saying, "There is no Ministry of Information, what shall we do about it?" and then making bad decision, in a hurry. On the whole it must be admitted that the Empire Information Service has performed a useful service. How do the Government propose that that Service should be carried on after the war when the work of stimulating interest in the Commonwealth will certainly be as important as it is to-day, if not of even greater importance. It is obviously a very difficult and delicate matter in many respects. The Dominions themselves may have very different opinions as to how this work should go on, and those differences of opinion amongst the Dominions may reflect themselves in Government Departments over here and consequently provoke some Departmental difficulties in settling this matter. But even if difficulties do arise, the Government exist to overcome and settle differences of this description and to find a way out from them. I feel that we have a right to expect some clear indication of the Government's intentions in this matter.

As regards what is required, it is emphatically not a body which will follow a particular home or Dominion policy or advocate the views of some particular statesman. Whatever body is to do this work cannot for a period of four years advocate the policy of a Conservative Government and at the end of that time turn round and advocate what may be the rather contrary policy of a Labour Government. Such a body must not follow a particular policy in that way. What is wanted is a body to sift and co-ordinate information about the Empire coming in from very many sources, to provide factual information for interested bodies and authorities, and to forth a focus for their working. It must be so constituted as to put out that information not sporadically but continuously, with the knowledge of what is the agreed policy between all Parties tit home and the various parts of the Commonwealth. The aim of our Commonwealth policy must surely be partnership, and we want knowledge to be spread at home about the Commonwealth and in the Commonwealth about the home country—knowledge about those facts which will enable agreement to be reached upon economic and defence and to some extent international policy.

May I say a few words about two questions which arise in this respect? Nothing which is done by any Government Department or by any body which may be set up to carry on the work of the Empire Information Service should, in any way, militate against the Press performing its true functions. Trained and expert journalists, of whom we have many in this country, are the men to tell a story, to put it over effectively, and they will do their work, work for which they have been trained, if they are given access to information, and given also proper radio and cable facilities. The Press must be allowed to play its full part, and encouraged to play its full part, in this matter. Then there is the British Council. This is not a publicity body. It is rather weak in the Dominions and in the Colonial Empire, and in any case the functions of the British Council are mainly cultural as opposed to political and international and economic concerns. I am very glad to think—I believe it to be the case—that certainly one of the Dominions is at present encouraging the work of the British Council. I have very high admiration indeed for its work but I do not consider it to be the most suitable body to which the Ministry of Information can hand over the Empire Information Service work.

The position appears to be this. The Empire Information Service was formed to fill a vacuum in response to a need which showed itself to be very great indeed. It has done useful, work and I believe it can do even more useful work. What we seek to know is if the Government agree to these propositions and if so what the Government propose to do about the carrying on of that work. Is the work which has been so carefully and effectively co-ordinated to be scattered back at the end of the war into the component parts front which, during the war, we have found it necessary to rescue it? I most sincerely hope that we may hear to-day that the Government are not merely actuated by good intentions in this matter but have plans actively in hand. If we can hear that from the Government spokesman to-day I think it will be an omen of great hope for the future of the Commonwealth.

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has brought this matter before your Lordships' House is eminently qualified to do so. As Director of the Rhodes Trust in succession to the Marquess of Lothian he is in a position to keep close observation of all the wider aspects of this question and he has rightly emphasized the inadequate information which at present is at the disposal of the nation on these main issues which arise from the existence and organization of the British Commonwealth and Empire. The spread of information, I think, has not kept pace with the interest taken in these matters in the mass of the nation. There has been a great change of opinion during the last fifty years; in fact ever since the time when Mr. Joseph Chamberlain became Colonial Secretary, and helped very largely to make the nation Empire conscious. Besides, the course of events itself has brought these subjects into ever wider prominence. It is not universally known that one-third of the white population of the British Commonwealth and Empire is to-day not in these islands but in the Dominions. That is to say, for every two British subjects in the United Kingdom there is a third in the Dominions. There can be little doubt that in a few years time the proportion will be half and half, and at no distant future period the majority of British people will be resident overseas.

With respect to the Colonies, it is undoubtedly true that there is keen and very widespread interest in this country in the Colonies, and Parliament is taking active steps to give them assistance where assistance is needed. Under the stimulus of self-government, there is very little doubt that the Colonies will grow in prosperity and importance, and occupy an ever-increasing place of influence within the Commonwealth and Empire. Nor do I, for one, despair of the Indian connexion, for I believe that once the present long-standing political crisis has been overcome, and equal status has been provided for the Indian people, it will be realized in India that, if only on account of questions of defence, the connexion with the British Commonwealth is necessary, and, perhaps, it may be found to be even more necessary for India than it is for this country. But all these matters must depend very largely upon the state of public opinion in this country. It is, as we all know, in a democracy not the King nor the Lords nor the Commons that ultimately rule, but public opinion. And it is of vital importance that that opinion should be properly informed.

The spread of knowledge in this country of conditions overseas and, not least, the spread of knowledge of the facts relating to the United States of America, and the provision of material for dissemination in the United States with regard to this country and the Commonwealth and Empire, are essential. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who leads this House, in the debate last week made a statement which seemed to me to express a very profound and extremely important truth. He said that mutual understanding between Britain and the United States is probably the most important thing in the world at the present time. I believe that, in the sphere of international politics, to be absolutely true. There are many organizations in this country which are active in this province of inter-Imperial relations and relations between this country and America, and with many of them a number of your Lordships are directly connected. I have made a list of those which happen to have come to my own knowledge at some time or another, and they are certainly numerous and varied. There are the British Council, the English Speaking Union, the Overseas League, the Royal Empire Society, the Imperial Institute, the British Empire League, the Empire Day Movement and Chatham House, so far as research and information are concerned, and the British Society for International Understanding, which publishes the periodical The British Survey. There are also two or three Anglo-American societies, and perhaps there may be others as well. All those that I have mentioned exist, and there is a great demand for information in various quarters.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has mentioned schools, and under recent developments our whole educational system is turning its attention more and more to these topics in the primary schools and the secondary schools, and the Ministry of Education is doing its best to foster that tendency. There is the Youth Organization movement which has now reached vast dimensions. Those participating in that movement are avid for information. There is the adult education movement, the importance of which has been repeatedly stressed in this House of late. There are, further, such organizations as the Co-operative movement, which has an educational side of great activity that caters for a considerable section of the whole population, and there are great numbers of discussion groups that have sprung up, largely among young people, throughout our towns and, to some extent, in the country. Then there are movements like the Women's Institute movement as well. Again, outside this island there are the Colonies, which also are hungry to be provided with material on these subjects. There is the Army and the remarkable Army Education movement. The War Office has to supply 'that with information on these subjects.

The organizations which have to be catered for are exceedingly numerous. Obviously it would be foolish that each of them should be required to set up its own publication department and provide its own literature, lectures and all the other means of dissemination of information, a list of which was given by Lord Elton. I that were done it would involve multiplication and great waste of effort. During the war the Ministry of Information has been created for war purposes, and it has found it necessary, in order to supply this very active and widespread demand, to establish this Empire publicity unit which was set up in 1943. The material that is issued is, I believe, very carefully distributed. No doubt, inevitably, much of it may be wasted and not be read and, therefore, does not serve its purpose. That always must be so in every movement, political or otherwise. Not every seed that is sown finds fruitful soil, but it is certain that if there were no sowing there would be no crop. The Ministry of Information was established mainly for the purpose of supervising the censorship and for war propaganda, and it is quite right that at the end of the war it should disappear. This particular unit, however, stands on a different footing and may have a permanent value.

I do not know what alternative there could be. As has been said, the British Council, which does most excellent work in many directions, is not quite the body to perform this duty. Its functions in the first place are to a greater extent overseas than domestic. It has its hands very full, and has quite enough work to do for any one organization. No doubt if this unit were continued in some similar shape to its present shape, it would keep in very close liaison with the British Council organization. This indeed would not entail a vast new bureaucracy, such as the noble Lord has referred to. Half a dozen people would be sufficient to direct it, with a comparatively small clerical staff. Whether it should be, as he suggested in one or two sentences of his speech, a body of the nature of the B.B.C., an independent corporation or not—one may instance also the British Council—is a matter upon which I would keep an open mind. I should like to hear the point discussed, but I should think there would be a good deal to be said for this particular organization not being far removed from the control of Parliament, so that its activities could be reviewed whenever occasion arose. It might therefore be attached—perhaps somewhat loosely, but still attached—to one or other of the Government Departments. As to that, no doubt your Lordships may have different opinions, and it is a matter which is clearly open to discussion.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said he thought that one difficulty in the way might be that the Dominions would look with suspicion upon an organization of this kind. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is here in a dual capacity; he is the Leader of the House and he is also Secretary of State for the Dominions. I hope that he will speak to us this afternoon primarily as Leader of the House and as representing the War Cabinet, rather than from any Departmental point of view. After all, under the Statute of Westminster we are entitled to aspire to Dominion status here, and should be fully entitled to take such action of our own as we think is necessary in our own interest and in the general interest. If Canada, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa wished to set up an information unit of this character we should be very pleased, and I cannot doubt that they would welcome a similar organization here, so long as it did not purport to speak on their behalf as well as on behalf of the United Kingdom. Hitherto the High Commissioners have found the present unit most useful and helpful, and I think they would probably find its successor equally helpful. The House will, I am sure, await with keen interest the reply to be given by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, at the end of this debate, and will feel a sense of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for raising a matter which is the very nerve centre of a most vital subject.

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, some three years ago I ventured to draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that there was considerable criticism and indeed sadness amongst the occupants of the various military camps in this country in which young Dominion trainees were receiving their military training at the appalling ignorance among all sections of our home population in regard to the geography, the history, the economics and the outlook of our Dominions. Since that time a good deal of water has flowed under the bridges, and the demand for further information about different parts of the British Empire has steadily increased. Probably there has been no greater stimulus to that demand than the existence of the Ministry of Information and the particular branch of it to the activities of which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has called our attention this afternoon. I should like to say in passing that there is probably no one better qualified to bring this subject to our attention than the noble Lord who has introduced it today. As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has pointed out, he is now and has been for the last four years the Secretary of the Rhodes Trust. He is also the promoter and President of a new Empire organization, the Empire Youth Sunday Movement, which has developed with a greater rapidity and a greater prospect of success than any other Empire movement with which I am familiar.

I should like on this occasion to pay a tribute to one who we learn from the Press to-day has passed to his rest, namely, Admiral Sir William Goodenough, who has always been an outstanding exponent of the Empire gospel and a great Empire missionary in this country. He and other Admirals and other leading members of our senior war Service—including, by the way, the distinguished naval officer who has lately become one of the chief officials of this House—have had excep- tional opportunities of learning the geography of the British Empire and of coming to know something of the outlook of the peoples that constitute it; and their work when they return on retirement to this country has been, if I may say so, invaluable in this connexion.

I should also like to pay a very warm tribute to the memory of a man whom I knew well when I was Governor-General of New Zealand, an outstanding schoolmaster, Mr. Frank Milner. Mr. Frank Milner was the principal or headmaster of the Waitaki high school for boys, and I venture to say that there is no headmaster of any school in the British Empire who has done more to teach, in a wholesome and unprejudiced way, the duties of citizenship amongst the boys of the Empire and the importance of a full knowledge of the countries of the Empire and of the peoples who inhabit them. A very striking tribute to this remarkable man was published very soon after he resigned that post, which he had held for more than a generation, and passed to his rest. This tribute appeared in the last issue of the Round Table, and with it I should like to express my warm sympathy. It describes how within his school—and there is no greater or more popular school in New Zealand than Waitaki—every boy was told something about the Empire every morning at the general assembly of the school. Pictures and maps illustrating the different parts of the Empire were hung all over the school, and, as this tribute so well put it, it was his desire that no boy should leave his school unawakened to the magnitude of the making of the Empire and of the burden of responsibility laid upon it. Boys in that remotest of the Dominions have a consciousness of their membership in a great society too often lacking in boys brought up nearer to the centre of the Commonwealth. It is to men and women fired with something of Mr. Milner's belief that we must look for the inclusion of Empire studies in the course of instruction in our own schools. Mr. Milner based his scheme of Empire training upon the principle that every boy in every British school should develop a full sense of citizenship, and that citizenship, at least in these days, should mean not merely citizenship of one country in the British Empire but citizenship of the Empire as a whole; and that that degree of citizenship could not be achieved unless there was a full sense of responsibility of every human unit in that school as to his or her duty in regard to it in his or her after career.

My noble friend Lord Elton has sketched very clearly—and may I say in passing there is no one who has a greater command of appropriate language in putting his case than the noble Lord, Lord Elton—in outline at least, the activities of the Empire Information Service. Among them is what I may call optical education, and I should like to lay considerable emphasis on the great advantages, particularly in the case of young children, of optical education. This includes course maps—and how difficult it is now to get an accurate and comprehensive map of the British Empire, such as we should all like to hang in our national schools—and not merely maps, but photographs, cinema films, and especially what are described as film strips. The Empire Information Service is responsible for providing—and they regret that they are unable to provide all they would like—what are called "film strips." This demand, curiously enough, has come from the Government of New Zealand, such material to be used in their own schools. I will not attempt to describe—I am not sure that I could describe—exactly what a film strip is, but I know that it is something between a lantern slide and a cinema film, and that it represents a sort of moving picture of the scene which it is intended to describe. Those film strips are apparently not available to-day to other countries that are demanding them, because there are not the projectors for the purpose. I would venture to say that they are so valuable an instrument of Empire education that those projectors might well be obtained by way of priority in the early future.

But what I would like to point out is this—and my noble friend Lord Elton has already emphasized it—that nearly all the Empire information that is available today is provided as the result of voluntary enterprise. The Government, it is true, do provide a certain amount of information to our schools in the school curriculum, and the present Minister of Education has shown a greater sympathy in this direction, if I may say so, than any of his predecessors. But the bulk of the enterprise is provided by voluntary organizations—the various Empire societies, and also in recent years the Imperial Institute. The Imperial Institute is not in this connexion financed by the Government; it is financed to the extent of providing information about the natural resources and the industries of various parts of the British Commonwealth, but in this matter of instructing the children in our schools and their teachers in regard to our Empire, it depends entirely—and the present director, Sir Harry Lindsay, is very enterprising and keen about this—upon finance provided from outside, part of it by the Rhodes Trust, part by my noble friend Lord Leverhulme, part of it by an organization of which I have had the privilege of being President for the last seven years, the Empire Day Movement. That work has during the last three years been simply invaluable in bringing to the attention of the children and the teachers in our elementary and secondary schools information provided very largely by white people and natives from the countries with which the lectures deal.

I want to ask why it is not possible to provide a pamphlet like that which I hold in my hand for use in our own schools, and particularly for use among the agencies of adult education. This is one of the many publications prepared by the Director of Army Education. They are all printed under the comprehensive title of "The British Way and Purpose," and this particular issue deals with the growth of Empire—the Dominions, India and the Colonial Empire—and it was published under the winter scheme of education for the Army in 1942–43. Part I deals with the growth of the Empire, a sort of conspectus or general survey of the British Commonwealth; Part II deals with the Dominions and, interestingly enough, the author of that particular part is Professor Vincent Harlow, the head of the Empire Information Service; Parr III, by Professor Coupland, deals with India; and Part 1V, the Colonial Empire, is by Major Simnett. All these are acknowledged authorities on the subjects with which they deal, but the information is being provided for the benefit of the Army only, and there is a warning at the foot of this document: "Not to be published. The information given in this document is not to be communicated, either directly or indirectly, to the Press, or to any person not holding an official position in His Majesty's Service." Well, why cannot that document, a most valuable document, be made available to others outside the British Army, and particularly to the teachers and the children in our various national schools? I am only pointing out that those who are responsible for education in this country, namely, the Ministry of Education, are not apparently authorized or allowed to issue a document like that, but it is issued—and all praise to them—by the War Office through the Director of Army Education.

It has been pointed out that there are various Empire societies that are doing good work in the matter of the propagation of information regarding the Empire. I most earnestly hope that there will come, sooner or later, cohesion between these various Empire societies. If that were to come, there would be a very much stronger push or impetus or stimulus given to this crusade than is given to-day. They are all working well but they are working independently. One unfortunate reason why at least in our schools this Empire instruction is not forthcoming is a difficulty over the word "Empire." I, for my part, am not ashamed of the word "Empire" but I have to recognize the fact that there are certain people—I will not say to what political Party some of them belong—who object to the word "Empire" because it appears to savour of the word "Imperialism" as that word was understood in the times of the Roman Empire—a sort of Imperialism that has never tarnished the history of the British Empire. But if they do object to the word "Empire," let us adopt the Prime Minister's new term "British Commonwealth and Empire." For my part, I think it is far more important that we should have absolute unanimity amongst our political Parties and amongst the various countries that go to form the British Empire, than that we should boggle over any prejudice as between the word "Empire" and the word "Commonwealth."

It would, to my mind, be deplorable if, with the discontinuance of the Empire Information Service, the whole invaluable and many-sided organization of Empire enlightenment were to cease to operate. As regards the particular agency through which it shall operate in days to come I have no crystallized view, but I do venture to suggest this: that it should not be composed wholly of civil servants. There are others who have knowledge, perhaps a more intimate knowledge, of various parts of the Empire, and some of them ought to be brought into the picture. I am going so far as to say that there are proconsuls who have been brought, of course, into intimate contact with people overseas, some of whom might do good service on such an organization as that which it is now proposed should succeed to the work of the Empire Information Service.

I will not say any more now except this. We have had speeches to-day from different parts of this House and it leads me to think that the time has come when we ought to try and lift the Empire, at least from a factual and informative point of view, completely out of our home politics, because I am perfectly certain, whether you choose to call this great fraternity of people who live under the British Crown an Empire or a Commonwealth, the time is coming when the peoples overseas will demand, and demand emphatically, from the Old Country a much greater dissemination of information regarding their countries, their peoples, their industries and their outlook, than has prevailed in the past. I profoundly hope that the possible delicacy of this subject or the delicacy of the working of any future organization as between our Dominions inter se or as between the Old Country and any of the Dominions, should not be allowed to prevent this most desirable organization of Empire knowledge being perpetuated. If the difficulty or delicacy has not arisen in relation to the periodic Empire Conferences, surely there is no reason why such a delicacy or difficulty should arise in regard to this proposed new organization. I venture to hope that the noble Viscount, in answering this question, will give us such reassurance as to enable those of us who are vitally interested in this subject to carry on confidently our own small part and do all in our power to cement the British Commonwealth and Empire.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, the case has been put so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I am certain it commands such a measure of support in the House and there is such anxiety on the part of your Lordships to know what reply the noble Viscount will give to it, that I shall curtail anything I might have wished to say on the subject, which is of overwhelming interest to me as it is to so many of us here. I must, however, join with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the, noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, in welcoming the fact that it has fallen to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to put this Motion forward, for he is one who has done so much, not only by his writings but through his influence with organizations with which he is connected, to spread the gospel of Empire education among the schools and academic institutions of this country.

Now it is true that we are not here primarily considering the question of education in the schools. We have debated that several times in this House and if I refer to it again it is because I do not feel that it is entirely irrelevant to quote the debate which took place on the Education Bill in this House. Your Lordships will remember that it was proposed that local authorities should be obliged by Statute to provide a place for Empire education in the schools. Now I welcomed the decision of the Government not to agree to put such a stipulation in the Statute I need not say that that is not because one does not wish to see education in Empire affairs universal in the schools, but because I felt myself that the liberty of schools to arrange their own courses is all important, and that to invade that liberty would be the beginning of a process which might mean that the schools would be used compulsorily in the interests of one Party view or one sectional view. That is a prospect to which none of us, I think, would like to look forward, and I would be unwilling to create a precedent which might be abused in some forms of Government which we may have to face in the future.

But that issue—the issue of school education—is not to-day the primary issue before us. Our problem is to consider how best information on Empire affairs can be supplied to the British public. Let me join with those who have already spoken in deploring the state of ignorance one finds in many quarters of the British public en this subject. As Lord Bledisloe said, that ignorance is greatly resented by many who come over here from the Dominions, and certainly prevents the promotion of better understanding between us. Let me acid that it is also deeply resented in India itself. One of our difficulties with modern India is the fact that in this field we do not appreciate what it can itself contribute in the way of culture and civilization to the world. Again and again I have found a bitter resentment among my Indian friends at the apathy and the ignorance of the British public on the subject of Indian life and conditions. Then, secondly, our object must be to organize some agency for the interpretation of British domestic and foreign policy to the Dominions as one of the means of better Commonwealth understanding.

Let me say here again that those who have had to deal with this problem in discussion with Dominion representatives feel that one of our primary tasks must be to interpret to them somewhat better than hitherto what has been our own policy in regard to India and in regard to the Colonies, for there is great misapprehension on their part on the problem. You will find well informed men from the Dominions who are still persuaded that we take a large tribute from India. You will find men there who are quite unaware of the real problem created by differences between the great religious communities, Hindus and Mahomedans. I myself have been interrupted in the course of a public lecture by a Dominion statesman, who asked me whether I could tell him how far it was true that Moslems had not got on well with Mahomedans. It was difficult to reply to a question of that kind, but I mention it as typical of the questions which those of us who have to speak in the Dominions come across. Finally, our problem must be to provide some agency for the explanation of Commonwealth relations and policy to foreign peoples. That perhaps was never more necessary than to-day. Here again, if I might once more refer to personal experiences, it is a little dumbfounding when you find otherwise apparently well-informed Americans asking you whether it is not time that England should cease to rely on the taxation received from Canada—a horrifying suggestion but one made in all seriousness. It is typical of one of the many misunderstandings there are in foreign countries regarding our Commonwealth relations.

If I may take the information that can provide guidance for British policy itself, I would say that I must join with some of the noble Lords who have already spoken in finding many signs of an increasing and very welcome interest in Empire affairs in the British public. I find them not only in the increased volume of publications many of which come from the Ministry of Information but also in some of a more popular character which have come from private sources. I find such signs also in the great success of the teachers' conferences arranged by the Board of Education. Those who have taken part in such conferences will, I think, agree that there is something like a real appetite for the first time among teachers of elementary schools for knowledge of Empire affairs. I find another sign in the great interest shown in the series of school lectures arranged by the Imperial Institute or those organized for the Association of Girls' Clubs to which Lord Bledisloe has already referred. But perhaps the most comforting sign of all is the very significant interest that is being taken in the various courses that have been given to men in the Services through the Education Department of the Army. These will I am certain have a very widespread effect throughout the Forces and I think we shall see some of those effects in the post-war interest taken in some of these Commonwealth problems.

The reasons for this increased interest are many and they are interesting, but I must not detain your Lordships with a recital of them. I might perhaps in my own words summarize the present situation in that regard. It is that the old Imperial conception, if I may use those words, and all that it implied, is now yielding to the Commonwealth idea and the Commonwealth conception. The feeling aroused by the old Imperial conception led on the one hand to a somewhat ill-considered self-satisfaction and on the other to suspicion of the existence of acquisitive and aggressive or class interest; those feelings are yielding to a much more constructive vision of the potentiality of the Commonwealth as a factor in securing world order and the decencies of civilization. If that is the state of affairs, if that interest is real and is growing, and if at the same time there is much ignorance as to the real facts, we do need some carefully devised agency or organization for the spread of information. But more than that I think the task before us is not merely the conveying of information and the removal of ignorance; it is really a much more constructive task, that of organizing opinion as well as of conveying information. The various alternative forms of organization that have been discussed this afternoon leave one in some difficulty.

I myself should like to repeat the tribute that has already been paid to the value of the work that has been done by the Empire Information Service. It is true to say that it has not been propagandist. It has been objective. Those of us who have attempted to write in an objective style know very well that the art of objective writing is really to leave no one in any doubt as to what your views are or what you want, but at the same time to make it impossible to quote a personal opinion against you. Whether the writing of the Ministry of Information complies entirely with that standard I am not sure, but I have not myself seen anything that really could be a subject of complaint as being of a propagandist nature in the writings the Ministry have put forward. On the other hand, much of the information that has been supplied and the publications of various kinds, pictorial and otherwise, have been of the greatest use.

We are obliged, I presume, to discuss this question on the basis that the Ministry of Information itself will cease to exist. It is clear then that if we are to have such an organization as that of which we have spoken we must consider alternatives. It is clear that no one existing Department of Government can undertake work of this kind. There are numerous Departments concerned—the Foreign Office, the Dominions Office, the India Office and the Colonial Office and, of course, potentially, also the Ministry of Education. Much as one might wish to appreciate the work done by the various Public Relation Officers employed by the different Ministries, we are all at least agreed, I think, in saying that they have their limitations. Moreover, such an organization as that of which we are thinking must be able not only to prepare material but, to a certain extent, to organize educational effort not only in the schools but through societies and associations of various kinds.

If the task were in the hands of Government Departments, if for instance the Dominions Department was dealing with particular Dominions questions, it would be a task of some delicacy. I do not myself foresee that there would be many difficulties raised in the Dominions based on the fact that the organization was British and was dealing with Dominion affairs. Though it probably would be true to say that Canada is proud of her partnership with us and is prepared fully to join in Commonwealth defence, yet she dislikes being known to come in as it were under the umbrella of Great Britain or to be thought to be under British leadership. But even if that is so, there is no reason why a carefully managed organization for information should cause any annoyance to Canada in that respect. So long as it merely interpreted British policy and did not attempt to interpret Canadian policy it would be free from objections of that kind. Nevertheless, the Dominions Office itself were to uncle stake that task it would clearly be at seine great difficulty.

My noble friend Lord Elton suggested an organization something of the nature of the British Broadcasting Corporation. No doubt that would have very considerable value as being entirely independent —independent of Party and independent of overmuch Government influence—but the British Broadcasting Corporation is a great organization with a very wide range of functions. It is easy to imagine that if you had an organization for information dealing with the limited range of Empire subjects, that organization would be subject to a great deal more criticism and perhaps its existence would involve more difficulties than are actually encountered by the British Broadcasting Corporation at present. I think that the independence thus gained would be too highly paid for.

Then a second suggestion has been made—I think by the noble Lord, Lord Elton; at all events he mentioned it—that we might have some form of organization which would represent the Government Departments concerned and, at the same time, have a strong outside representation on it. That is the form in which I myself would prefer to see this organization. The association of Government Departments would mean that it was sufficiently authoritative in its statements of policy, and the association of outside interests representing the Press, education and the like, would give it its necessary initiative and the necessary contacts with those powerful agencies of public opinion. Such an organization would be somewhat larger than has been suggested this afternoon. It would need a considerable amount of funds. It would have to arrange for publications, the organization of lectures and the like. But I believe myself that would be the most sensible form which it could take. Perhaps, however, all we can ask at the moment is that the Government should be able to tell us that this subject is being seriously considered as one which must rank high in cur post-war needs, and that the necessary machinery will certainly be, in one form or another, part of our post-war organization. It may be difficult to get anything more precise but if we can get that assurance I think it would be in the interests of the Empire and of the future of the Commonwealth.

3.45 P.m.


My Lords, so much has been already said in this debate which I think it will be agreed has been of extraordinary interest as well as of very great importance, that I desire to say a very few words in support of my noble friend Lord Elton. A great number of us, when we hear the word propaganda, instinctively draw in a little bit and feel that we want to go cautiously. We are not essentially a propagandist nation and all nations had much better be true to themselves. But there is a big difference between engaging in active propaganda and actively withholding information about the good things you have been doing.

I gather that at present we are discussing whether to wind up an organization that has been placing at people's disposal information about the British Empire and Commonwealth. I need not add anything to what has already been said about the woeful ignorance that at present exists about our Commonwealth and Empire. I do not think it is necessary either to talk about the active shame we had in the past about the Commonwealth and Empire. I think that has gone. In the last few years the position has changed very rapidly. The noble Lord, Lord Halley, in, if I may say so, the usual speech one expects from him showing extraordinary grasp of and in- terest in the subject, referred to the fact that we need not be as despondent as some people have implied it is necessary to be. A most tremendous change has already taken place in public opinion throughout this country. We need not be despondent if only we do not wind up the excellent organization that has been built up for supplying information about our work.

We do not need an enormous Department for this purpose. The task is not a difficult one. First of all, we have got to ask the citizens in this country to question themselves for a moment as to where this country would be to-day if it were not for the Commonwealth and Empire, and where we should be in the future but for the Commonwealth and Empire. Secondly, we have to say, particularly to the more liberal-thinking people in this country who have been most nervous in the past about the word "Empire," to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, referred, that, in fact, the British Empire and the British Commonwealth has been probably one of the greatest liberal contributions that this country of ours has made to the world as a whole. Great Britain has transformed the meaning of the word "Imperial." That is a great message to put across, and it is vital that it should be done. It is vital that we should speak like this first and foremost to our own people. I have had the good fortune lately to do a little travelling, and to touch on my journeys at many parts of the Empire. What did I hear in every single territory to which I went? The same old story: "What a tremendous task lies ahead of us; but we have not got the personnel." Of course we know that there is bound to be a shortage of personnel during the war. But the story was very much the same before the war. We have got to interest our young people in the Empire so that they will feel that it is a fine thing and a great privilege to be allowed to come in and serve in the task of administering the Empire and in building up backward peoples to a point where they will be able to take on ever greater responsibilities for themselves.

Much has already been said, from the international point of view, as to the vital necessity of the units of this Commonwealth of ours working in ever closer and closer contact with each other and with America. The noble Lords, Lord Winster and Lord Hailey, referred to the harm that is done owing to our woeful ignorance. We have sent thousands of young men, for example, to Canada, and I must say that when I went to Canada, not very long ago, I found that they had proved themselves a magnificent body of young ambassadors. But, nevertheless, people in Canada have been deeply shocked by their complete ignorance not only of the particular country to which they have been sent but of the whole conception of our Empire and Commonwealth. Lord Bledisloe, I think, referred particularly to the misuse of the words "Empire" and "Commonwealth." Such things as these seem so small, but they are based on such fundamental ignorance that, inevitably, they do a great deal of harm. Lord Winster referred to the importance of this question in connexion with our relations with foreign countries, and I think Lord Hailey did also. I would venture to say that one of the most important factors in building up a greater and closer understanding between ourselves and the United States of America is to have a greater understanding within the United States of what the British Empire—and this particularly refers to India—really means. No one can spend a day in the United States without having flung at him from all sides questions about India. I myself have had such a question flung at me even in a chemist's shop. I went in to buy something, and I was asked: "What are the British doing about India?" It is vital, therefore, that we should explain in foreign countries what it is that the British Empire stands for, what are our traditions, what is our philosophy and what are our achievements.

And now I go back to the subject of our debate. What about this machine of ours which, we understand, is likely to be wound up? I do not want to discuss the details of its work, in fact I do not profess to be extremely familiar with the details, but every one of us must feel that it would be a tragedy it the whole organization were to be dropped at the present moment. I repeat, what I and other speakers have said, that it need not be a large organization. I am inclined to think that if it were a large organization it would possibly do more harm than good, and get itself into trouble. There have been many explana- tions of the many failures of the Ministry of Information at the beginning of its career. One of the causes of failure, I am sure, was that it got very much too large, and then, in order to justify itself, it took on jobs that other people were waiting do. It is not, for instance, the job of a Department such as this to try to take the place of the Press. Its task is to help the Press, to help the Press of this country gather good and reliable information about the Commonwealth and Empire, to help the representatives of the Commonwealth Press over here to gather information about this country. It must help also in the problems connecter with the improvement of communications. I believe that already a great deal has been done in that direction during the last year or two, but it is a task that we shall have to keep our eyes upon.

Then there is the problem, which has been mentioned already, of work in the schools. I took a different line in the education debate from that to which Lord Hailey has just given expression, but I am inclined to think that probably he is fundamentally right. I confess that I took the line I did not entirely because I was sure it was right, but because I felt that, at any rate, there was then a good opportunity to ventilate the present position with regard to knowledge about the Empire. I should like to see this matter carried a good deal further than mere improvement of information provided in our schools and so on. I think that there ought to be a great deal more done with regard to the exchange of personnel. There ought to be exchange of teachers, and also an actual exchange of children. It ought to be possible for our children to be sent out to the Dominions, and for children from the Dominions to come back here, and the same, perhaps, could be arranged with regard to America. The British Council has been mentioned. Whether the British Council do the work or whether it is done by any other body, I think that a great deal more should be done in the exchange of culture and of art. I know that there are certain physical difficulties with regard to pictures but there are other forms of art, particularly relating to music, with regard to which a great deal more could be done.

There is one point I should like to mention which has not a very close con- tact with this debate, but fortunately we have not a chairman here, and so perhaps I may move away for a moment from the strict point under discussion. I hope that we shall do a great deal more to interest our Dominions in our Colonies. I should like to see a great number of the jobs in our Colonial Services given to young men from the Dominions. I have had the privilege of meeting many of them in the Services over here, and also when I went to Canada this winter; and again and again it was borne in on me what magnificent young fellows these would be for our Empire Services. That has not very much to do, I am afraid, with the Motion on the Paper, and so I will come back to the point we are considering and say that this body which we are discussing has done some extraordinarily good work and, whether it goes on in its exact present form or not, I do hope that the Government are thinking of this problem and are thinking of the day when the body of which this is a part will disappear. If Mr. Bracken is determined on committing suicide I hope that somebody will see to it that at least this portion of his body corporate is maintained.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I intend to intervene for a very few minutes only. I should like to say how delighted I am that anyone with so wide a reading and listening public as Lord Elton has should have introduced this very important subject in your Lordships' House and spoken with such eloquence on the dissemination of knowledge of the Empire. I presume that primarily this subject must come within the scope of the activities of both the Dominions Office and the Ministry of Education; and closely allied with the question of Empire education is that of the better distribution of our population throughout the Empire, and so I hope that there may be very close cooperation between the two Departments.

For as long as it was possible between the two great wars—that is, until economic troubles caused suspension of operations—I was very closely associated with those concerned with the problems of migration within the Empire, the settling of adventurous spirits who were dissatisfied with the state of things in this country when they became conscious of the opportunities which existed elsewhere. By far the most severe handicap under which we worked was the very factor which has been mentioned several times this afternoon—namely, the complete ignorance which prevailed in this country of our Empire. Our work would have been far more effective and far easier if the ground had been prepared by education in what after all should be the interest of all.

I believe that as yet there is no definite knowledge of what prospects there are going to be for emigration after the outbreak of peace. It must depend, of course, upon the policy of the Dominion Governments, and possibly, indeed, upon how far we can spare the best of our manhood and womanhood in view of a declining birth-rate and the hopes which are entertained of trade expansion. Personally, I should like to see the early resurrection of the Overseas Settlement Department under the wing of the Dominions Office, with the Under-Secretary as Chairman. Possibly it might have a new name and new functions, but one hopes that it would have a close liaison with the Ministry of Education and any other Departments which will deal with the problems now dealt with by the Empire Information Service. In the work which we used to do for migration all voluntary bodies looked to the Overseas Settlement Department for guidance as to policy and direction of energies, and for certain financial accommodation and so on. The Department was a meeting-around for all the voluntary societies, and a very good understanding existed. The Royal Empire Society, of course, provided a meeting-ground for many voluntary societies, including those connected with the Church of England, the Y.M.C.A., the Salvation Army and others, where questions of method and policy were very usefully discussed.

Coming to the work of local organizations such as the Yorkshire Voluntary Migration Committee, with which I was concerned, I am perhaps guilty of a platitude if I say that it never sufficed merely to advertise The fact that the doors of the Dominions were open to so many men, so many families, so many boys and so many girls. There would have been very little result. We had to form powerful committees in every large town, and it was their task to educate their towns in the matter of the Empire, to preach the gospel of Empire, and to invite Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and others to come and tell folks about their countries and the openings which existed. The results were never very staggering, but they were not negligible, and the flow increased in volume from 200 properly settled individuals in one year to 400 in the next and 800 in the year following. In the last year of our activity, 1,360 people were well settled, mostly in Canada. Had there been no interruption we could have looked forward confidently to the need for any artificial stimulus disappearing. Successful settlers are always the best recruiters; they whistle for their friends to come to join them. Even in the few years in which we worked we had ample evidence of that in Yorkshire. Perhaps the most striking example was that of a boy of sixteen from a mining village in Yorkshire, who in a very short time got no fewer than eleven of his friends to come and join him.

If migration is going to be possible, all this will have to be started again, beginning with education; and therefore I submit that the sooner ways and means are studied the better. I doubt very much whether in an undertaking of this kind a Government Department can work successfully by itself; I believe that the best system is one of co-operation between a Government Department and voluntary organizations. I sincerely hope that we shall see the Ministry of Education enter into this field, in which it has so far never been seen, and that it may play an important part. I am sure that all voluntary bodies dealing with the Empire are longing to come out of a hibernation caused first by economic troubles and then by the war, and I am certain that their co-operation and help will be invaluable. I have touched on only one aspect of a very big subject, but I must not take up more of your Lordships' time. I do most warmly support the noble Lord, Lord Elton.

4.9 p.m.


(Lord Cecil): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, who has just sat down, devoted the greater part of his speech to the problem of migration. I agree most warmly with him that this is one of the most admirable methods of disseminating both information and understanding through the various parts of the Empire, and I am quite certain that the House listened to his speech with immense interest; but I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him this afternoon in any detail on this particular aspect of our problem, and if I devote myself rather to the more limited issue which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in his Motion.

I do not suppose that there can be anyone in any part of this House who has not warmly welcomed the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, this afternoon. Personally, I am very grateful to him. He has raised a question which I think is of the first importance to all of us, and the brilliant speech which he delivered in opening the debate has undoubtedly led to a valuable and illuminating discussion. The noble Lord spoke as Secretary of the Rhodes Trustees, a position which brings him much in contact with this subject. I speak to your Lordships as Dominions Secretary and as an ex-Colonial Secretary, but my experience, if I may say so, is exactly the same as his and that of several other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. I have been struck, and I might almost say shocked, by the lamentable ignorance amongst almost all sections of the population of this country about those territories, big and small, scattered all over the globe which together compose the British Commonwealth and Empire. This ignorance is perhaps not altogether surprising, though it is certainly most deplorable. It is sometimes suggested by critics that we in this country are too much engrossed in our own domestic affairs to give our minds to what goes on outside; but in my view the root of this particular trouble goes deeper than that. The real truth is that we live here in a small crowded island 600 miles long and perhaps at the most 200 or 300 miles wide. It is psychologically impossible, without assistance, for men and women who have never left this country to picture to themselves the vast areas over which the British flag flies, or to visualize places and peoples who live under conditions so utterly outside their own experience. And yet it is absolutely essential that the Empire should be not merely a name but a reality to these people. It must be a living entity; otherwise it will not endure, and some- thing of inestimable value to the future of civilization will be lost.

It has been said this afternoon, and I know it from my own experience, that there is a real desire at the present time among the British people for knowledge about the Commonwealth and Empire. Only recently, I was personally approached by representatives of the Youth Movement, who stressed the intense interest that they found among young people in questions relating both to the Dominions and the Colonies, and I have had similar reports from the English Speaking Union, who have lately initiated some Youth Conferences. These Conferences have been extremely well attended by boys and girls, and have shown, so I am informed, a really passionate interest in Imperial affairs. This is a most welcome development, and it is likely to be further stimulated by the return of young men and women from the Forces who have been to various parts of the Empire and seen for themselves. We have at the present time, in fact, what may be a unique opportunity, and it is vital, if we can, that we should take advantage of it.

How is this to be done? There are, of course, various new media, which give a better chance than ever before of spreading knowledge of the Empire in every home in this country. First of all, there is of course the Press. The Press can do an immense work in educating people, day by day, almost hour by hour, as to events in all parts of the Empire, and, set far as I know, there is every reason to suppose that the Press are anxious to co-operate, and are fully aware of the important contribution they can make. We must, of course, recognize, in all fairness to the Press, that they are at present working under great difficulties. They are strictly limited in the paper at their disposal, and the vast majority of the very restricted space which is left to them is needed for what I understand is called "hot news" about the war situation, which their readers very naturally demand.

In the circumstances, we ought to be very grateful to them for the efforts which, as I know, they continually make to bring the Commonwealth and Empire before the eyes of people here. But, if I may say so, I hope that when the war is over and conditions are easier, they will find it possible to extend the space allotted to Empire affairs above that which was available in the years before the war; and, above all—and I would lay great stress upon this—that they should send correspondents of the highest calibre to the Dominion capitals. In the past, I do not think all the newspapers have done that; but it is extremely important, if people in this country are really to understand what is happening in the Dominions. It is, I know, an old saying that "No news is good news," but you cannot keep the Empire together on that basis.

Secondly, I would say something about the radio, the second medium to which I would call your Lordships' attention. As all of us know, the radio can be a great bore. Purely academic discourses, festooned with statistics, merely lead to people switching off their sets. I have no doubt all your Lordships have done that at one time or another. But, properly used, the radio can be an unrivalled instrument for inspiring interest in matters of this kind. For some reason which is perhaps difficult to explain, the spoken word can be far more effective for this purpose than the mere written word.

Finally, there is the film. This is perhaps the most valuable of all methods for bringing home to the people of this country what the Empire really looks like and really is; for it is a unique feature of the film that it can to a pre-eminent degree abolish space, can transport the audience to the place where the photographs are taken, and keep them there during the period of the film. I will give the House an example of what I mean. I do not know if any of your Lordships had the opportunity, about a year and a half ago, of seeing a film called 49th Parallel. That film, ostensibly, was just a thriller. It was the story of a German U-boat crew who were marooned on the north-east coast of Canada and were hunted down, for the period of two hours that the film continued, until all the crew were finally captured. That was the nominal purport of the film—to tell a story. But in the course of their flight, pursued by the agents of justice, the German crew crossed the whole of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The photography was admirable, and I think no one who saw the film could possibly have come away without realizing, as perhaps never before, the beauty and grandeur of that great country. It seems to me that there is almost infinite scope for similar pictures about other parts of the Commonwealth and Empire, apart altogether from purely educational films, which of course have their part to play. I can assure your Lordships that the Dominions Office, and I believe the other Government Departments concerned, are giving very special attention to this aspect of information at the present time.

That, of course, valuable though it is, is clearly only the initial stage in what I may call our educational programme. First of all, by broadcast talks, by lectures and by films, we have to make the people of England realize that the British Empire is not merely a number of patches coloured red on the map, but a family of countries, with mountains, rivers and cities, populated by peoples of every race and every colour, of infinitely varied types but all equally fascinating, ranging from the primitive peoples of the Pacific and Central Africa to the inhabitants of the great self-governing Dominions on an equal level of civilization with ourselves. But having done that, having aroused their appetite, we must, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said this afternoon, be prepared to give them more and more information to satisfy their hunger. Those whose interest is excited by what they have seen will want to know what sort of people they are who live in those countries; they will want to know how they live, what are their interests, what their recreations and what their social services, and we must be ready to tell them all this. We must have an organization in existence which will be able to provide information in an interesting and palatable form. Much valuable work of this kind—which has not, curiously enough, been mentioned in the debate this afternoon—is already being done by the offices of the High Commissioners of the various Dominions in London. They have done, and are doing, a very good job in putting across their countries, the affairs and the interests of their countries, and in providing the information which is being demanded by the people of the United Kingdom.

But I would certainly absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that we also have our part to play in supplement- ing their work. This, as he has said, has during the war been mainly done by the Ministry of Information, and I think it would be very wrong if we were to underestimate what the Ministry has achieved in the last three or four years. In particular, I would mention the Empire Information Service, to which reference has been made to-day. On the whole, the Ministry has done extremely well. Lord Elton ha; described the multifarious activities of the Empire Information Service, and, as a result of them, I think it is probably true that more is known about both the Dominions and the Colonial Empire in this country than ever before. But the Ministry of Information, according, I understand, to views which have been attributed to the Minister himself, is probably coming to an end at the end of the war. As Lord Winster anticipated in his speech, I must say to your Lordships to-day that no final decision has vet been taken, though I think it will be generally accepted in this House and outside flat the continuation of a Government agency for the dissemination of news, in its present form, would not be appropriate or acceptable in peace-time. It smack; a little bit too much of Government control and even of Government propaganda. But in the particular sphere which we are discussing to-day, where the objective is not propaganda—and I agree with. Lord Winster that propaganda would be very inappropriate—where the objective is not propaganda but information, what is to take the place of the Ministry? That is really the subject to which Lord Elton's Motion is devoted.

It might, I think, be argued that the Empire societies could do this work; and indeed, as your Lordships know, the Empire societies have made and are making a magnificent contribution at the present time. Clearly, however, by themselves, whatever efforts they may make, they cannot cover all the ground that has to be covered. There is need in this matter for close contact with the Government Departments concerned and in particular, as I think one noble Lord said, with the Ministry of Education. There is need for contact with the Youth Movements, with the Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A. and many other bodies of that kind. Something more is needed, evidently, to supplement the work of the Empire societies. What is it to be? We have had a certain number of suggestions made this afternoon, though I noted that the majority of the speakers took the safer course of leaving concrete suggestions to me. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, drew attention to certain pamphlets which have been issued to the Army under the name of "British Way and Purpose." He suggested that these should be issued, if I understood him rightly, also to the schools. I will certainly bring this suggestion to the notice of the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Education, who is, I know, already taking any steps in his power to increase teaching about the Empire in the schools throughout the country.

Then there was, of course, the main proposal of the afternoon, the proposal which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, himself and which was supported, I think, by Lord Hailey, a proposal that there should be something, as I understood it, in the nature of what one might call an Empire Publicity Board. Now I am not quite clear, even after the extremely lucid exposition which the noble Lord gave this afternoon, exactly what he had in his mind. He stressed that he did not want a mere Government Sub-Department. He spoke, as I understood it, of a semi-independent body, something in the nature of the B.B.C., and he then went on to describe the board of managers as possibly consisting of representatives of the Government Departments mainly concerned—the Colonial Office, the Dominions Office, the India Office and the Burma Office. That, in fact, would not be an independent body.


May I interrupt? I think the noble Viscount did not quite follow me, no doubt owing to my own lack of lucidity on that point. I mentioned a board consisting of representatives of the Departments, but not in connexion with the suggestion which I said I preferred, which was an independent board of persons on the analogy of the Governors of the B.B.C.


I am coming to that. Even the B.B.C., if I may say so, with its more independent board, is only too often mistaken abroad for a Government agency, as we all know, and I am afraid that that might possibly be the same fate of a body such as the noble Lord has suggested this afternoon. I quite agree with him that if, instead of having representatives who were mere delegates from Government Departments, we had a number of eminent public men, that would reduce this danger; but they would be appointed by the Government and I do not think that the danger would be entirely removed. I am a little doubtful—I speak with all deference—if a body of that type might not fall between two stools; it would neither be completely independent nor would it be under any Minister who was directly responsible to Parliament. If I remember aright, that was a point which was made this afternoon by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. Like him, I am frankly never entirely happy about these semi-independent bodies, though I recognize, as we all must, that sometimes there is no alternative and they have to be accepted. Possibly a solution might be found—I am not laying down the law in any way or making a declaration of Government policy but going through alternative possibilities—possibly a solution might be found by the perpetuation and extension, in some form or other, of the Information and Publicity Departments of the various Ministries concerned with the Commonwealth and Empire.

The British Empire, as your Lordships know, is composed of many and extremely heterogeneous elements. The Dominions have little in common with the great majority of the Colonies, and the Colonies have little in common with India and Burma. To attempt to huddle them too closely together for publicity purposes under one umbrella might be ineffective and might equally, I suggest from my own experience, create a bad impression in the various parts of the Empire concerned. That is a matter that must be borne in mind. It may be that to work through the Information and Publicity Departments of those various Ministries would provide a possible solution with—and I would emphasize this—some joint committee to ensure that their policies did not conflict but were, in fact, properly coordinated. It is possible that this committee might sit under the chairmanship or the supervision of some Minister specially selected for that purpose, perhaps one of the Ministers without portfolio. That is a suggestion I have heard put forward. I do not want to dogmatize this afternoon. This matter is, and has been for some time, under the urgent consideration of the various Departments concerned, and I would frankly state to the House that no final solution has yet been found; but I would add that the views that have been expressed this afternoon should provide a valuable contribution to our studies, and I can promise that the views of noble Lords will be taken into full account in the further examination which we have to make on what, I fully agree, is a vitally important subject.

Do not let us make any mistake about it: it is no small task we have to face in this matter. To-day's debate has been principally concerned with the job of interpreting the Commonwealth and Empire to the people of the United Kingdom. But it would be a mistake to limit our attention, and indeed it has not been strictly limited to-day, only to this aspect. There ought to be what I may call a two-way traffic, which should aim, as I think both Lord Samuel and Lord Halley have said this afternoon, at interpreting also the United Kingdom to the peoples of the Empire. Here, as your Lordships know, the British Council has in the past done extremely valuable work in the cultural field. But the British Council is inevitably limited in its scope to cultural subjects. It cannot do—and we had better face the fact—all the work which needs to be done. There is also, as the noble Lord, Lord Winster, said, the equally important task of interpreting the British Commonwealth and Empire to foreign countries. That is a different aspect of the same problem. An immense amount of information, as we all know, is at present being given to the world as to conditions both in the United States and in Soviet Russia, and I really do not see why we should fail behind in this respect, though evidently we should avoid what is called "Government propaganda," in the sense that it is understood nowadays. I do not think it is necessary for us to resort to such devices as that.

Plain, unvarnished facts are the best propaganda for this country, and I hope always will be. We have nothing to conceal and we have much, as Lord Elton said this afternoon, of which we may be legitimately proud; and I was extremely glad to hear the warm tributes which were paid from every quarter of this House to our Imperial record. As I say, we do not want to "propagand" in the more evil sense in which that word has now come to be used. But it would equally I be a great mistake for us to hide our light completely under a bushel. These wider aspects of the dissemination of information might I think well form the subject of a further discussion in your Lordships' House at a later date. They go a good deal wider than the Motion which Lord Elton has tabled this afternoon. But at any rate by that Motion I think we have made an excellent start and I greatly hope that the debate which has take a place here this afternoon will receive the attention it most certainly deserves.


May I ask a question to elucidate a matter mentioned by the noble Viscount? I gather that what he has in mind is a discontinuance of the present unit and the creation of a kind of federation of departmental information services. Would he include the Ministry of Education in that federation? Where does he think we shall get the necessary drive and initiative for carrying out any large programme?


I think the noble Viscount has rather misunderstood me. I did not say that I was advocating the discontinuance of the present unit. I said first of all that a great deal depended on what happened to the Ministry of Information. That is not yet decided. I then proceeded to give a number of alternative possibilities for the consideration of your Lordships. I certainly am not in a position to give a statement of Government policy to-day. I thought I made that clear. We are open minded in the matter and are quite ready to consider all alternatives.

4.33 P.m.


My Lords, may I thank all those noble Lords who have supported my Motion? The support I think was unanimous; it came from every part of the House and every Party, and it included a number of speakers who spoke with the highest authority, having themselves held high positions in the Empire overseas. I often feel when I listen to debates in your Lordships' House that they must aggregate a first-hand authority which could probably not be rivalled by any consultative body in the world, and this was one of the occasions when I was tempted to feel something of that sort. I do not always feel that the Government have quite the same respect for your Lordships' debates as I have myself, for it often happens that a most interesting and informative debate takes place and nothing very obvious occurs afterwards. I should, however, like to thank the noble Viscount who has replied not only for his courtesy and enthusiasm, on which we can always rely, but for a very valuable speech which included some most interesting remarks about the Press and some home truths about the radio. At any rate we can be sure of his personal enthusiasm in this cause. I was glad to see that he used at one point the word urgent— "the Government have this under urgent consideration." I can only hope that this debate may have served to make what is already urgent even more urgent. I beg to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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