§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD BARNBY rose to ask His Majesty's Government on what basis on their visits to this country is radio time allocated by the B.B.C. to former Cabinet Ministers of existing Administrations of friendly foreign countries when known currently to be at variance with the fundamental policies of their former colleagues? The noble Lord said: My Lords, on the occasion of a recent visit to Canada, the Lord President of the Council sought, in urging the advantages of State ownership, to instance transportation, including aviation, communications and radio, instancing the B.B.C. and the C.B.C. Your Lordships are aware that we are likely for some time to be dependent to a considerable extent on financial assistance from the United States. For that reason I, in common with many others, feel that a deferential and respectful attitude, where the opposite can be avoided, is desirable towards the United States at the present moment.
I have recently returned from the United States and I travelled about a great deal while I was there. I was fully alive, as no one could avoid being, to the adverse view that was held by a very large part of the community, made evident by the well-known Gallup Polls, to the attitude taken towards the Government by one member of the Cabinet. The degree to which the line he took was in conflict with the recognized policy of the United States forced the President to call for the resignation of that member of the Cabinet. There is no doubt that in the United States of America there is a growing dislike of collectivism. This is being very largely supported by the general and the steadily mounting dislike of Russian methods. Disclosures in Canada, which have all been published in the Press here, of course increased that dislike a good deal. Now 41 I do not need to remind your Lordships that collectivism as a principle is not popular in the United States, and there is no use trying to disguise the fact that there is considerable anxiety about emphasis made in this country on State ownership.
May I, in homely language, give a few sentences from among the things that have been said to me, in particular by business men? They have said: "We admire England, we admire her valour, we respect her tradition, we like her people; but we do not like being taxed to provide resources for a country which is going so emphatically against the principles of private enterprise for which we stand." I do not need to remind your Lordships of the, possibly, questionable ethics of the action of a former Minister of a Government who goes abroad and pursues a campaign to discredit the policy of, and to make plain his own disagreement with, his former colleagues. That, I think, might generally be regarded as poor ethics.
What particularly prompts this question is the extreme concern which has been caused by the granting of an especially advantageous time in the national broadcast to an individual whose name will be known to everyone and at whom these remarks are particularly aimed. I assure your Lordships that this question is motivated by no partisan intention. It is based on the view that we should be respectful to the United States, and that we should try, wherever it is avoidable, to avoid causing annoyance to that country. In this particular instance there is raised, with regard to the B.B.C., an important principle. Had the matter [...] this broadcast been referred to the highest level—that is to the Foreign Secretary—I suspect that a negative reply would have been received. In this belief, with a profound conviction of the importance of our friendly relations with the United States, and with a feeling of the danger which may arise should there be any repetition of this, I beg to put this question. Its aim is to clarify the situation and to make clear exactly who is responsible for the allocation of time in circumstances such as those alluded to in my question.
§ 4.42 P.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, this question raises such important issues of 42 principle that I would wish to intervene for a moment or two, before the noble Earl replies. But, first, I must congratulate the late Postmaster-General and the present Secretary of State for India and Burma upon his promotion. He has always been a most agreeable member of this House, and if we have not invariably been satisfied with the content of his replies, the courtesy of their form could certainly not have been better. I am confident that 10-day we shall be satisfied in both respects.
Lord Barnby's question raises three issues, which it is important to keep quite distinct. First, there is an issue in regard to the activities of a distinguished visitor, Mr. Wallace. Then there is the question of the duty of the Government; and, lastly, there is the question of the action of the B.B.C. As regards the first matter, this is still, relatively, a free country, and anyone is entitled to express his own views. How and where he does so is a matter for the taste of each individual. We in this country have long been accustomed to Mr. Wallace, in America, delivering diatribes upon the British Commonwealth and denouncing a form of Imperialism which exists only in his own imagination. On this occasion he decided to change the venue of his activities and to lecture America from England. That is entirely a matter of taste, upon which we may all hold our own opinions. We may have varying views about public people who engage in public activities of this kind. Personally, I share the views which were expressed during the week-end by Mr. Churchill. But as Mr. Wallace has been good enough to tell us, as well as the Americans, how we should deal with Communism, I would take leave to add that Mr. Wallace appears to me to be about as well equipped to deal with Communism as a rabbit is to deal with a boa-constrictor.
With respect to the question of the Government's duty, the B.B.C. are not a Government instrument. If the B.B.C. consult the Government, the Government are entitled to advise and, I suppose, would normally do so. I would have thought that on matters touching foreign policy—which we here keep as far away-from Party politics as we can, and in which we aim at having continuity of policy—there would be some contact. But I think we should all agree upon this: 43 that in peace-time the Government are not entitled to issue orders to the B.B.C. If the Government started doing that on one subject, they might easily slip into doing it on other subjects, and that would be very unsatisfactory. In view of all the criticism which has quite naturally been evoked, it is only right, I think, that I should say what I conceive to be the proper position of the Government in this regard.
Then there is the position of the B.B.C. I think it is entirely right that the B.B.C. should be independent, but independence does not make it omniscient or immune from criticism. The B.B.C. should not only strive to be quite fair and impartial, but should also, I consider, exercise a wise judgment, particularly in regard to foreign affairs or any matters affecting foreign Governments and foreign nations. I think that would be generally accepted as common courtesy and common sense, but there is a particular reason why a wise judgment is so necessary in those matters. That lies in the fact that while we understand the position of the B.B.C., here, its peculiar status is much less fully recognized abroad. This relationship—or perhaps I should more truly say this absence of relationship—with His Majesty's Government (whatever Government it might be) may be misunderstood. For these reasons, I feel bound to add my personal opinion (and I think I probably express a view which goes a great deal further than my personal view) that, irrespective of whether people like, or do not like, the kind of stuff Mr. Wallace has been talking, Sunday evening at 9.15 on. the B.B.C. is a time of particular importance. It commands the largest audience: it commands an even larger audience than either Mr. Dalton on Budget night—or Mr. Woodcock on Budget night.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
So, probably, will His Majesty's Government be, even with the assistance of so formidable a pugilist as the noble Lord to help them.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
But Sunday evening is a peculiar time and it would be resented in this country if Sunday evening were used for partisan politics, whether we put on the Prime Minister or Mr. Churchill. I am sure that neither the Prime Minister nor Mr. Churchill would dream of using Sunday evening, however great the temptation might be and however "collective" the invitation. I do not think it would be used. I must say, therefore, that I think the B.B.C. were guilty of a very unfortunate error of judgment.
§ 4.53 P.m.
My Lords, I was very surprised indeed when I saw on the Order Paper this question by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, who has had very great experience in both Houses of Parliament. I had always looked upon him as a man extremely well informed and of common sense. I am still more surprised that, in this extreme assailment jointly of the Government and the B.B.C., he had the support of the acting Leader of the Opposition, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I have not assailed the Government. I have made it perfectly clear that I thought the Government had no action to take in this matter and, I should assume, took no action, unless they were asked.
The noble Viscount did not actually praise the Government. He personally praised my noble friend, the Earl of Listowel, and I would like to add my congratulations as well, but he certainly attacked Mr. Wallace. He talked of the "stuff he spoke." He had a great grievance with the B.B.C. for putting Mr. Wallace on the air on that Sunday evening, and I am surprised that he should attack a distinguished visitor to this country, who, after all, was our guest and who has now left our shores. However, Mr. Wallace can perfectly well take care of himself, either from the attacks of Mr. Churchill or of his Sancho Panza, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton.
This question by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, would, I believe, be out of order in another place, because the Government have no control over the programmes, and especially over the talks programmes, of the B.B.C. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, that the Foreign 45 Secretary should have been consulted is really preposterous. Mr. Ernest Bevin has far too much to do, without attempting to control the programmes of the B.B.C., and I am horrified by the suggestion that the Foreign Secretary should be consulted about talks, whether on a Sunday evening or any other evening. The suggestion is absurd.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, heard the talk, or whether the noble Viscount opposite heard it. I listened to it, and everyone to whom I have spoken who listened to it was loud in praise of it. The noble Viscount spoke about "partisanship." What were the facts? This very distinguished American, whom I also heard speaking in London—I am proud to say I was sitting on the same platform—was pleading for peace. He was pleading for an end to be put to this acrimonious controversy that is taking place on the wireless at the present time between certain great nations. He was demanding peace the whole time, and, in my humble opinion, his whole attitude was extremely sensible. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, took the occasion to make attacks on what he calls "Communism," and so did the noble Lord, Lord Barnby. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, ranged over a wide field of foreign policy that was quite outside the ambit of this particular question, and I shall not attempt to answer him. Fortunately, in this country we are still sufficiently well balanced, and, I hope, hospitably inclined, to welcome a distinguished American, to feel glad he is put on the air, and to hope that other leading Americans, putting perhaps different points of view, may also be heard by British audiences. I am glad to think, also, that when our own political leaders go to the United States they have the hospitality of the wonderful broadcasting system of America and can talk directly to the American people. I hope they may continue to do so.
May I tell the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, of a little episode that happened to me in the United States? It may amuse and even interest them. When I larded in New York in the spring of 1932, I was approached by the great Columbia Broadcasting Service and asked if I would go on the air on a "Continent-wide hook-up." They always do me that honour when I visit the U.S.A. I said I 46 would be delighted to do so, and asked what they would like me to talk about. They told me to talk about whatever was most topical. The Japanese had just made that unprovoked attack on the Chinese in Shanghai, which was the beginning of the terrible blood-stained train of events that led up to the Second World War, and I said I would like to talk about that. They answered: "That is grand. You can say whatever you like about that." I attacked the Japanese action in Shanghai over the Columbia Broadcasting system that spread right across Canada, the United States, and Mexico. How right I was!The next day the Manager told me he had had a violent protest from the Japanese Ambassador in Washington. The Japanese Ambassador had apparently approached the State Department, protesting because a British politician like myself could go over there and attack his country in the United States. The State Department replied, as I hope the noble Lord will presently reply, that the State Department had no control over the Columbia Broadcasting system.
The present Government have no control over the B.B.C. programmes, and I hope that neither this Government nor any Government ever will. The Columbia Broadcasting Manager told me that they offered His Excellency what they called "Time on the air" to reply. I said I hoped he would reply. I left for the West, and when I returned I asked the Columbia Manager if the Ambassador had replied on the air. He replied "No, his English was not good enough." That is the American spirit—complete freedom of speech and of broadcasting. It is the British spirit also, and they have inherited that spirit from us. If we cannot tolerate it, if we are not sensible enough to be able to weigh up the statements of distinguished visitors to these shores, then we are not the people we were. But I believe we still have this balance and sense of judgment and are glad to hear on the wireless distinguished visitors to these shores as a privilege and advantage for all our public. I very much hope there will be no countenance given by my noble friend who wi11 reply for the Government to these strictures on this distinguished American visitor who has already done a great deal of good in this country, and will, I believe, do a great deal of good for his own country before he has finished. I hope there will be no 47 weakening in our attitude of complete independence for the B.B.C. in the conduct of their day-to-day business.
§ LORD BARNBY
I rise on a point of order. With the indulgence of the House, I should like to correct a statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. Evidently he did not quite understand the meaning of my remarks. I made no suggestion that any addresses by any visiting statesmen given on the B.B.C. should be referred to Mr. Bevin. I only suggested this hypothetically—which is quite a different thing. Therefore, when he attributes such a suggestion to me, I would remind him that the object of my remarks was predicated on the belief that a conciliatory attitude towards the United States was most important at the present time for this country, and, therefore, the representation of views in conflict with the views of the Government of the United States in those circumstances would be disadvantageous to us as a nation.
§ THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL)
My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble Viscount opposite very warmly for his congratulations to me on my new appointment, and for the kind remarks which he made about the form in which I have administered successive doses of Government policy in this House. I have no desire to correct a very small slip that the noble Viscount made, and indeed it was most excusable, because at the moment I stand in a sort of "no-man's land" between two different Government Departments; but I think, for the sake of the Hansard reporter of this debate, I should point out that I am still Postmaster-General, and that I am replying to the question addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, in that capacity.
Perhaps the best way of answering the speeches that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, would be to remind your Lordships of the policy of the Government in relation to the whole matter of broadcasting. Your Lordships will recollect that in the White Paper on Broadcasting Policy issued by the Government last July it was stated that the 48 policy of allowing the B.B.C. complete independence in the day-to-day management of its business would not be altered. That policy was adopted when the Corporation was set up and has been consistently followed by successive Governments. It has not, of course, been varied, whether the Government in power at the time was a Conservative Government or a Labour Government, and during the bulk of the time that has elapsed since the Corporation was set up Conservative Governments have been in power. It is in pursuance of that policy that the Government does not intervene in the B.B.C.'s choice of programmes or in the selection of material, including, of course, speakers for use in those programmes. The Government do not see any reason to alter that policy, which is believed to be the best one for ensuring freedom of expression on the air and for removing from the Party in power at the time the temptation to use State control of broadcasting for a Party end. Your Lordships will no doubt recall that the countries in which broadcasting has been controlled by the State have been totalitarian countries.
§ LORD BARNBY
If the noble Earl will allow me, I would point out that Canada is not a totalitarian country.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
If I may refer to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, I cannot help feeling that there would be some danger in putting the B.B.C. under an obligation to consult the Government about any broadcast with a bearing on foreign policy.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Will the noble Lord forgive my interrupting him? I do want to make the position clear. I think we are much in agreement on this matter. I had hoped I had made the position clear. I did not think the Government had any duty in the matter, unless they were consulted by the B.B.C. What I said was that I would have thought that the B.B.C., on matters of foreign policy would maintain a certain contact with the Government, but I did not think that the Government had either a right or a duty ever to intervene unless they were asked for advice.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am much obliged to the noble Viscount. I think his view is that it should be a matter for the discretion of the B.B.C.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
And they should be under no obligation. My point is directed to avoiding any obligation which might be embarrassing to the B.B.C. and drag them into Party politics. I understand that the B.B.C. invited Mr. Wallace as a distinguished figure in world affairs to give his views as a private citizen on the broader aspects of the present international situation. That was the ground of the invitation which gave rise to the broadcast to which reference has been made. I do not think that there is anything further that it would be appropriate for me to add as a spokesman for the Government in relation to the action of the B.B.C.