§ 14. Commander Sir Archibald Southby
asked the Minister of Information, for what purpose he has authorised persons employed by his Department to make a personal canvas of householders in different areas?
One of the main duties of the Ministry of Information is to keep as closely in touch as possible with public opinion, in order that the Ministry may find out upon what subject information is required. It is more difficult to ascertain public opinion in war time than in peace, but it is also more important. Of recent years, there has been a great development of scientific methods of testing opinion. Many organisations have been set up for this purpose, and have been made practical use of by commercial firms and newspapers.
The Ministry of Information, having made careful inquiries, decided many months ago to make use of such methods, by an organisation known as War-time Social Survey, which acts under the 1216 auspices of the National Institute of Economic and Scientific Research. The number of persons employed by War-time Social Survey on behalf of the Ministry is about 60, and the salaries paid to them are in accordance with the importance of the tasks they perform and are equal to those paid by the best type of mark[...] research organisations. These officers were selected by Professor Arnold Plant, Professor of Commerce in the University of London.
Information thus obtained is transmitted to the Ministry of Information by means of statistical reports, and is forwarded to other Departments likely to be interested. In no case are names and addresses of persons interviewed divulged, either to my Ministry or to any other Department. I found this system in existence when I arrived at the Ministry, and there was, therefore, no need for me to confirm it, which I could certainly have done.
§ Sir A. Southby
Has my right hon. Friend's attention been called to a statement recently made by his Parliamentary Secretary, that the function of these people investigating is to mix with people and listen to what they have to say? Does he appreciate the great resentment that there is at this wanton spying? Does he not think that public money would be better spent in another direction than in paying people for this kind of work in order to "fascinate" the Parliamentary Secretary?
This is not spying. This is a method which newspapers and commercial firms have been following in this country for the last 30 years in order to ascertain public opinion. There is nothing new about it, nor is it underhand or in any way connected with spying.
§ Mr. Lyons
Will my right hon. Friend kindly answer my Question as to what are, in fact, the salaries paid to these people? Further, does he not realise that this waste of public money is one of the circumstances by which his Ministry is getting entirely out of touch with public opinion and making itself a laughing stock throughout the country, when it ought to be serving a more useful purpose?
As to the salaries paid, I can circulate that information in the OFFIAL REPORT if my hon. and learned Friend so desires, but I can assure him that these salaries are in accordance with those paid by numerous similar organisations throughout the country to people carrying out this sort of work. As to whether Parliament represents public opinion, I would say that, of course, Parliament should represent public opinion all the time, but one of our difficulties at the present time is due to the fact that because—I am glad to say—of the lack of political party warfare and the usual clash of opinions, the holding of public meetings, and, above all, the holding of by-elections, and owing to the fact that there has been no general election for five years, it is not so easy to ascertain public opinion. There is a good deal that cannot be said in open Session or publicly advertised in the Press. For these reasons it is very necessary to pursue the usual normal methods of trade organisations, which newspapers have been pursuing for many years.
§ Sir A. Southby
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment.