§ 3.25 p.m.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take to protect the interests of the United Kingdom against insidious propaganda now that the Government of the Republic of Ireland has engaged the services of a well-known international public relations firm.]
My Lords, our Missions overseas receive guidance and information on Her Majesty's Government's policies and interests for use in regular and, frequently, detailed briefing of correspondents and agencies. No further steps are considered necessary or appropriate.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for that reply, may I ask him two questions? First, is it not a fact that this same firm had the Biafra account, with known results, and can he not imagine what they will do with the Northern Ireland situation, for which they have obviously been employed? Secondly, since some of our own media are already somewhat inclined to go for I.R.A. propaganda, is it not the duty of the Government to take some active steps to protect the reputation of our Servicemen, who were committed by the last Government to do a job which they did not ask for and who are already hopping mad at inadequate Press protection? There could come a time when even the best disciplined force could crack.
My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord's first question, I am aware that the firm to which he refers was involved in the Biafra war. The noble Lord asked whether one could imagine the result that that might have. It is up to each noble Lord to use his own imagination in the way he thinks fit. 176 I think that the noble Lord has not construed Her Majesty's Government's policy correctly when he described the detailed publicity that has been given to people in Northern Ireland. He will, however, be fully aware that what goes into newspapers and what goes on television is a matter for the authorities concerned.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, would the noble Lord say whether the Government are willing to consider a review of the B.B.C.'s Charter, in view of their recent habit of treating as news matters that are security as well as political aspects of urban guerrilla activity within the United Kingdom?
My Lords, the original Question referred to the appointment of a firm to represent the views of the Government of the Republic of Ireland, and I think that my noble friend's question is rather outside that.
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, in view of the disastrous resuts of this firm's activities on behalf of Biafra, surely are not the Government of Ireland welcome to their services in this connection?
My Lords, it is of course up to any Government to choose how it decides to disseminate its own publicity.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, are the Government aware that there are a number of colonels in the Army whose duty is specifically that of organising Press liaison? Are any of those colonels serving with our Forces in Northern Ireland at the moment? I ask that question because quite a number of the interviews that are given to the Press appear to be given by regimental officers and N.C.O.'s.
My Lords, the Question asked what we were prepared to do to counter the effects of propaganda, and the answer to that is that our Missions already have Press and information officers whose job this is. I should not be prepared to comment in detail on the noble Lord's question without specific notice.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I will be brief. I did not get an answer to the specific point as to whether any of these Press liaison officers, who are fairly senior people, are serving in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I meant to indicate to the noble Lord that I could not give a specific answer to that question without notice; but if he would care to put a Question down, I would do so.
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that there is a chief publications officer attached to the office of the G.O.C. in Belfast? He is capable of giving some extremely good briefings, and, I would suggest, is a much more efficient operator than the firm to which the Question referred.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that statement, and I am sure that that is so.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, in confirmation of what has been said, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government are fully aware that, so far as our troops are concerned, it is against the mass media of this country, particularly the B.B.C. who are accused of grossly inaccurate and tendentious reporting, that their indignation is mainly directed?
My Lords, I am aware of the many feelings which people have over this matter. But this is not the responsibility of the Government; it is of course the responsibility of the B.B.C.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, if many more accusations are flung around this House against the B.B.C. and other bodies, it might be better if the noble Earl, of whom I have no criticisms, suggested that they should be raised when we come to debate Northern Ireland in a fortnight's time?
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lords who have flung these criticisms around will have taken note of the remarks of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition.
§ LORD MOYNE
My Lords, does not the noble Earl feel it right, in view of some of the questions that have been put, to distinguish between the Government of the Republic of Ireland and the I.R.A.? Do we not wish success to the Government of Ireland in what it puts 178 out? Do we not regret that it may be a bad agency?—although I do not wish to content on that. But there have been some questions which seemed to me to imply that the Government of the Republic of Ireland was intending to put out matter which was hostile to this country.
My Lords, one sympathises with the views which have been expressed. The fact is that any Government can use the services of anyone it wishes in order to disseminate its own publicity. The question I was asked was: what do Her Majesty's Government intend to do to counter insidious propaganda? My answer to that is that I believe that our own existing organisations are sufficiently capable and competent.
§ LORD ARWYN
My Lords, in view of the dangers of the insidious propaganda which has been talked about, is the Minister aware of the disparity, or the reported disparity, between the facilities and accommodation provided for our troops, and those of a superior standard provided for detainees, many of whom could be classified as dangerous to society, in circumstances in which they have full range for their natural viciousness? I think that that is something which could he used as counter-propaganda, to which the Minister referred just now.
My Lords, I can only come back to what I have said before. I believe that the information officers, who are available in our Missions, and the other methods of publicising our own point of view, are sufficiently strong and capable of doing just the job for which they are there.
§ LORD ARWYN
My Lords, this is a sore point with the troops, and what are we doing about emphasising it?
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (EARL JELLICOE)
My Lords, I believe that the supplementaries are going very wide on this point, and I am sure that the general feeling of your Lordships' House is that we should now pass onto other Business.