§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn.
§ Mr. Stokes
On a point of Order Before the Debate is resumed, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he has any proposal to make about the Sitting to-day?
§ Mr. Bevan
It is unfortunate that the Debate was interrupted, but I will do my best to pick up the current of my thoughts. I was suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman in his writings in the "Daily Mirror" did many things which he is now accusing the "Daily Mirror" of doing. The right hon. Gentleman at that time was outside the Government. Now he is in it. I am asking him to consider very seriously the consequences of what he is doing upon the morale of the country. Whenever a British statesman makes a speech and says that Great Britain is fighting for freedom of expression, for democracy and for the rights of ordinary people, what is the response in the minds of millions of people? The '"Daily Mirror" and the "Daily Worker." Instead of the language of the Prime Minister and the light hon. Gentleman evoking a response, it evokes cynicism. We cannot fight a war in that way. We must fight it cither democratically or dictatorially. We cannot mix both, because the one destroys the spirit of the other.
The right hon. Gentleman has been connected with the Labour party for many years. He is the wrong man to be Home Secretary. He has been for many years the witch-finder of the Labour party. He has been the smeller-out of evil spirits in the Labour party for years. He built up his reputation by selecting people in the Labour party for expulsion and suppression. Indeed, the House of Commons ought to be warned by the career of the right hon. Gentleman. He is not the man to be entrusted with these powers because, however suave his utterance, his spirit is really intolerant. The House of Commons ought to consider what has happened. The right hon. Gentleman exorcised with bell, book and candle from the Labour party a gentleman who has 2253 now been taken into the War Cabinet and appointed Leader of the House. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman is the worst possible counsellor on issues of this kind. His own political record denies what he is doing now. I say with all seriousness and earnestness that I am deeply ashamed that a member of the Labour party should be the instrument of this sort of thing. It has been in my experience in the House, which now goes over a number of years, sad thing that the two Home Secretaries whom this party has provided have been among the most reactionary Home Secretaries in half a century. It is a shameful record.
The right hon. Gentleman is doing great damage to the Labour party and great damage to the country as a whole. I ask the House seriously to take into account what would be the consequence of the policy suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. We shall go through very difficult times in the next few months. We shall have to call upon our people to make supreme spiritual exertions. We shall have to address meetings in an unprecedented way in the next few months if we o are to face the crisis which lies ahead. Why do the Government take our arguments away from us even before we begin to speak? Why do they make nonsense of our pleas before we make them? How can we call on the people of this country and speak about liberty if the Government are doing all they can to undermine it? The right hon. Gentleman wrote an article in the "Daily Mirror" on 23rd November, 1939, which puts my thoughts succinctly. He said:Democracy is not without its faults. I know. I have to lead a democracy and it is my business to know. But a Government of parliamentary democracy fighting a war knows whether or not its people are with it. A free press and a free Parliament can successfully fight for the elimination of the incompetent. Ability generally becomes known in due course, as does corruption and inefficiency. Praise and blame are freely handed out by a public opinion that can express itself, even though it is not always just. But in some way or another the accused can usually defend themselves and demand justice. Public criticism is one of the essentials of good government. Under dictatorship public criticism—even private criticism—is a crime. … Beware of the foes of democracy using the excuse of war for its suppression.I ask the right hon. Gentleman, could the argument be put better than that? Is he not to-day using the war emergency as 2254 an excuse for invading the rights of the Press and of free public criticism in Great Britain? I can understand now why the right hon. Gentleman does not take the "Daily Mirror" to the courts. His case is too bad. He has to appeal to a packed House of Commons—packed by over 200 Members immediately attached to the Government. He dare not put his case to the courts because the "Daily Mirror" would then have the right to defend itself by putting the Home Secretary in the box as one of its principal witnesses. That is the reason he does not go to the courts.
These powers were given to the Government in 1940 in order to protect the nation against what might happen in case of an invasion. They were never given to the Government to enable them to behave in this way. The Government are not acting in this matter in the interests of the nation. They are acting in the interests of the Government. The Government are seeking to suppress their critics. The only way for a Government to meet their critics is to redress the wrongs from which people are suffering, and to put their policy right. To-day at Question Time, last year over the "Daily Worker," and now in a variety of ways it has percolated through to us that the Government are going to become tough-minded. With whom? With Hitler? There is not a sign of that. Tough-minded with the enemy? No. Tough-minded with its own people, tough-minded with the British people.
It is one of the most shameful incidents in the whole history of the British Labour movement that the instrument in this case should be a Labour Home Secretary, who formerly endeared himself to the hearts of our people. We cannot have a Division to-day, but I suggest to the House that it should make its opinion known to the Government in this matter, and say that the Government are overstepping their authority and exceeding their mandate. The House is not behind the Government I am sure, and I am very certain that the country is not. The by-Election result announced to-day is a straw in the wind. The spirit of the country does not endorse the policy of the Government. It is our duty to see that the policy of the Government is brought into accordance with the spirit of the country. I beg and implore the House of Commons to assert itself in this matter.
§ Mr. Eden
I beg to move,That the proceedings on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House be exempted at this day's Sitting from the Standing Order (Sittings of the House).I think it is the wish of the House that, having lost some time, we should sit a little longer, and I suggest that we should sit for another hour.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
Would it not be possible for the House to adjourn, as it obviously wishes to, and for the Debate to be continued on the Vote for the right hon. Gentleman's salary on a future occasion?
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
On a point of Order. Can you tell me, Mr. Speaker, why it was that while I was first for the Adjournment to-day, the speakers on the other two subjects were called and I was advised that I would not be called, although I had the Adjournment on the subject of the "Daily Worker"? I would like to know why I was ruled out without any consideration.
§ Mr. Speaker
This is the first I have heard of the hon. Member having been ruled out. It is news to me.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Petty-Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
Like the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), on whose characteristically entertaining, eloquent and earnest speech I am sure the House would like me to congratulate him, and like the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, I have from time to time written for the papers; I am a great lover of liberty and have written many words about it; and if I thought for a moment that the proceedings of the Home Secretary, now so heartily condemned, were really the beginning of an attack upon the liberty of the Press, there is no doubt whatever upon what side I should be, and I agree with much that has been said on the other side. In the first place, I would congratulate the hon. Members who have initiated this Debate, because, whoever is right, it is well that we should show the utmost vigilance in these matters. I agree also, if it is not imper- 2256 tinent for me to say so, that the Government procedure in this matter may not have been ideal in every respect. I myself would not have chosen the precise casus belli which has been selected. I am not much impressed by the argument, but I quite agree with the suggestion that the cartoon without the caption might well have been used as a Warship Week poster; but of the particular passage about the Army which was printed in the "Daily Mirror" I say that it is a damned, disgusting, blackguardly thing; which is a disgrace to the honourable craft to which I belong; and I notice that there is not one man in this House who has had the courage to get up and defend it. It is no good an hon. Member saying to me that the Army is composed of adults, and therefore what does it matter what you say! If adults cannot be misled by poisonous nonsense, why have we a law of libel and why have we laws of blasphemy and sedition? I am not in the Army; but I am on the fringe of the Navy, and I do not know that the Navy is less adult than the Army, but I tell the hon. Member that I have seen the progressively poisonous effect on adult sailors caused by this particular paper.
I am not at all happy when hon. Members point out that the promise was made that 2D would be used only in certain circumstances and that these do not exist at the moment. I do not like that sort of thing. I always remember the Entertainment Duty which came in as a war measure but which has remained ever since. I would recommend to my right hon. Friend that he should say this, "You challenge me to use 2C and take this paper to the courts. All right, if you insist upon my putting the editor or the proprietor, or whoever it may be, into the dock and exposing him to imprisonment for seven years and a fine of £500 I will do so. There is nothing whatever to prevent me." But if the Home Secretary had taken that course, would it not have been said that it was a monstrous proceeding, on this petty political point to take the worthy and excellent editor and proprietors and put them in the dock like common felons? I do not think my hon. Friends would really be any more pleased with that idea than with the other situation. I think that exhausts my points of agreement with hon. Members opposite, except 2257 that on the question of machinery I think the Government may have done what the Americans would call taking a sledge hammer to deal with a butterfly. My remedy for the "Daily Mirror"—and believe me that paper does need a remedy—would be to send the management a large box of liver-pills every morning and stand over them while they swallowed them. But I am not required to discuss the merits of the "Daily Mirror," because nobody else does. It really is extra ordinary that, so far, nobody except one hon. Member on the other side has said a word in defence of the accused, the "Daily Mirror." I am a little bit disappointed about the courage of some of my colleagues in Fleet Street—
§ Mr. Bartlett
Is my hon. Friend aware that some of us who are colleagues in Fleet Street have not yet had a chance to speak? It is not lack of courage.
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
Certainly I should not question the courage of the hon. Member. I am thinking about people outside. They say to me "The 'Daily Mirror' is muck." Then they go off and write these terrific leading articles, saying that the "Daily Mirror" must not be touched. There is no question that anyone who wants to defend the "Daily Mirror" in this Debate must face that particular passage dealing with the Army, because that is the heart of the thing. But the argument seems to be that no matter how bad anything it says, we must not deal with any newspaper, on its merits, because we shall be endangering a principle. To-morrow it will be the "News Chronicle" and next day "The New Statesman" and so on, till there is nothing left but the "Daily Telegraph," in other words, the old doctrine of the thin end of the wedge. I never pay much attention to the thin end of the wedge argument. For one thing the retort is always open that if the trunk into which you drive the wedge is sufficiently robust and solid, it does not matter which end of the wedge it is, it will in the end be the wedge that will split, and not the trunk. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) used a really good argument, which was dismissed rather too lightly by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, when he pointed out how many wedges have been thrust into how many fundamental principles without real danger, in the present war. The first and 2258 most important in principle of freedom is freedom of the person. It is the only freedom that is mentioned in Magna Charta. It has only been going about 60 years. There is nothing about free speech in Magna Charta. It is good stuff, but modern. It is not one of our immemorial principles at all. The foundation of all liberty is personal liberty.
Well, we have surrendered Habeas Corpus; and not merely baronets with odd ideas but Members of this House can be arrested, imprisoned, and detained for goodness knows how long—perhaps for 16 years—without trial. Secondly, there is free speech: Any old woman in a pub or anybody in Hyde Park who said one millionth part of what the "Daily Mirror" says every day would be cast into gaol or fined for spreading rumours, alarm and despondency. Thirdly, the other day we thrust the most drastic wedge into the principle of fair play in the courts, when we said that certain black marketeers were going to be assumed to be guilty until they proved themselves innocent. That, as principle, was a most terrible thing, but hon. Members liked it. Fourthly, there is freedom of contract: Is there anybody in this House who would say that the institution of freedom of contract has to be preserved in a permanent and inviolable condition for the rest of the war? There is not one who would say it. Lastly, there is the free Parliament. In the old days we private Members used to have a lot of fun and games—and much more than that—introducing private Parliamentary Bills on Fridays. We have surrendered all that. There is not a private Member who can put a Motion on the Paper with any hope of getting it discussed, because the Government take all our time.
What is the relevance of all this? All these are fundamental liberties into which we have permitted wedges to be thrust, in this catastrophe and crisis of our lives, because there is no man so wise and so good, no institution so profound and so perfect, that some derogation of its totality may not be asked in the present conditions. Why is it that members of the Press alone—I will not say that—why is it that such a paper as the "Daily Mirror" alone should be sacrosanct in this general orgy of sacrifice? I do not want to press the argument too far, but that seems to me to be the general idea. All this is very unfortunate, I think; and 2259 I myself should never have rushed out to any newspaper, but I ask hon. Members not to become too excited about the general principle. The Government know rather more about the operation of these things upon people's minds than we do.
I suppose one reason why the Government used this machinery and not the other is that if you take any one particular passage and go into court it is extremely easy for a really clever counsel to pick it to pieces, and to ask, "Are you really suggesting that the whole Army is going to collapse because of that?" We remember the Chinese torture of little drops of water day after day. There is no one drop that can be described as barbarous. [Interruption.] Well, perhaps I had better alter my metaphor. Arsenic is a poison of somewhat lethal quality; but it can be taken in small quantities without much danger. It is very difficult to draw the line. On the whole, if the Home Secretary is going on with this, I think he will be wise to call their bluff and go to the courts, and see what they say then. I do not think that this is a great attack upon our liberty. I wrote at the beginning of the war a very eloquent address on Liberty, which was published by the Ministry of Information and delighted the citizens of Bath, to whom I delivered it. I said many good things, I think, in favour of liberty, but I remember one phrase which I used, and I wish to repeat it now: I said that where there is a deliberate and persistent abuse of liberty I would curtail or suspend it without hesitation in order that men may learn to value it better.
§ Mr. A. G. Walkden (Bristol, South)
I feel bound to acquaint the House briefly with conversations I have had this week with many friends of mine, who are responsible men in the trade union movement. They are seriously perturbed that Members of the party with which I am associated should attack fellow Members who have been selected to bear the onerous duty of sharing the huge responsibility of Government in this war period. [Interruption.] I am warning the noisy minority on my left—
§ Mr. Walkden
—that they are not speaking in harmony with the great heart and soul of the Labour movement of this 2260 country. I warn them that the General Council of the Trades Union Congress is very seriously considering its position in relation to—
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of Privilege. I claim Privilege. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that a body of persons outside this House are considering bringing pressure to bear upon a Member of this House to restrain him from doing his public duty. I claim Privilege. It is the immemorial constitution of this House that hon. Members must not be under threat or restraint in the discharge of their duties to their constituents and their duties to His Majesty the King. I ask you, Sir, to give me a Ruling on the threat uttered by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Walkden
The trade union side of our movement might well consider whether it is worth while spending the money of its members to enable people to behave in the way they are doing in this House. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
The hon. Member has alleged against his colleagues that some of them are paid by trade unions to represent some sort of interest in this House. I repudiate that entirely.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. G. Walkden) has not said anything to which I can take exception.
§ Mr. Walkden
I was rather surprised that this Debate should have been initiated by what remains of the Liberal party, because unfortunately I remember what happened in the previous war, when the Liberal party existed in all its glory and had two Prime Ministers during the course of the war. That Liberal party, when in the Government, decided, on account of unworthy personal attacks by a certain London evening newspaper, that that paper should be suppressed. It was suppressed for a whole week, and it never smiled again. It faded out and had to be merged with another journal.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to ask him to make quite sure 2261 of his facts. What did happen was that it printed false information—a statement that Lord Kitchener had resigned. That is quite a different thing from expressing opinion.
§ Mr. Walkden
I remember the facts very well, but this is a far worse case than that of the "Globe," and I am amazed at the Liberals coming forward in this way. They themselves, the Liberal proprietors of newspapers, are as hard as iron with the men who serve them and who dare to differ from them in opinion. In that very same period, I remember a very great journalist being sacked from the "Daily Chronicle" because he differed from his proprietors about the Boer War. We know the agonies, which H. W. Massingham was put under by his Liberal dictators and dominators. It is surprising to me, an old-fashioned Englishman, that they should be taking such a different line to-day. They are evidently enjoying greater freedom and less responsibility than they did then.
Their spokesman spoke as though this Government had imposed a terrible censorship on the Press. That is not true. There is no censorship. There is a sort of advisory arrangement—[Interruption.] Yes, an advisory arrangement under the Ministry of Information, where news and news only is examined, and the censorship, as it is called—it is not truly a censorship, it is nothing like the French or American, indeed the Americans have none—suggests- to newspapers that they should not print news likely to help the enemy and that they should not prematurely announce news which it is not advisable to announce. That is all they do. There is no censorship of opinion, none whatever. I have a very near relative on this work, and he tells me, "We must not touch opinion; that is absolutely free. The Press can say what they like." So the case is not as my hon. Friend put it at all. The whole thing has been monstrously exaggerated. I have never heard such gross and awful exaggeration as we have had to-day.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
If the hon. Member will allow me, I have never said that there was a censorship of opinion. I said that this paper was being threatened with suppression because of the opinions expressed, which is different from a censorship.
§ Mr. Walkden
I take note of my hon. Friend's words. My right hon. Friend, and comrade and brother, the Home Secretary—[Interruption]—Oh, yes, he is; I am going to be loyal to him, and to any other man who serves us working folk in the Government to-day; I think they are right in what they are doing and ought to be supported in that work. He has been described as a dictator, an awful dictator. It is not true. He built up the London Labour party, all by peaceful persuasion; it was all done by kindness and a lot of hard work. He did splendid work inside our movement, with no dictatorship about it. I think that he should be commended in his restraint in dealing with this unhappy little newspaper instead of stopping it as I am afraid I should have done. He just sends for the 'editor and gives him a nice, kind warning which has had a very good effect. The paper is much more decent now than it was before and will probably improve in circulation. Other gentlemen—I do not blame them for a moment—would much rather see anything taken into the courts and dealt with summarily than by a Minister of the Crown. They say that the Home Secretary should operate under Regulation 2C; let us have the full set-out of court procedure.
They seem to ignore the terrible state of danger we are in. There is an absence of all consciousness that we are living on the very edge of what is probably the most terrible thing in the history of our country. The Germans are 20 miles from the coast of Kent. They hold the whole of the French coast. The March moon is on; the April moon is coming. Within far less time than this legal procedure would take the Germans might be on our own coast or the coast of Southern Ireland; we ought to remember that we might have the enemy at our own throats. We ought not to play about with the nation like this. It is unworthy of the House of Commons, with the urgency of everything now. Why, yesterday and the day before, what was the burden of the song—"Urgency, urgency, you must prepare, you must arm, anything may happen at any hour, you will not have time if you do not hurry up." Yet they want any amount of time to go to the courts, to take up the time of the Law Officers of the Crown in court so that they can carry 2263 on their song and dance about this un-edifying business. What it is all about really is not the case put up by the spokesman who initiated the Debate. It is about certain words in an article, no matter what people have written in this newspaper. Why has this newspaper been warned? Because it issued a cartoon with certain words which had a cruel implication, very cruel indeed, for sailors, wives and other people, women who have their husbands on the sea bringing our oil to carry on our life. Then, in the editorial article, the journal said—because this is the real case—all the stuff that has been talked here has nothing to do with the case—the essential core of the matter is that they printed these words:… the accepted tip for Army leadership would, in plain truth, be this:—All who aspire to mislead others in war should be brass-buttoned boneheads, socially prejudiced, arrogant and fussy. A tendency to heart disease, apoplexy, diabetes and high blood pressure is desirable in the highest posts. …These are really monstrous words, most abominable accusations against the High Command of the Army, which includes men like Wavell and Auchinleck and other men of high rank in our military service. You cannot support the present War Minister who himself was a council school boy, and who graduated, through a secondary school, to a university, and has now won his way, by energy, ability arid reliability, right to the Government Front Bench—a splendid capable man; a true example of the best in present-day life—and then take action which seems to condone this kind of statement. For that is what it amounts to. Anyone who is against the Home Secretary to-day is, in fact, supporting these abominable words. Some people say that you ought not to take any notice of this sort of thing. Of course, these people are too big, and too busy, to take notice of what the "Daily Mirror" says; but I am concerned about the young people who have to go into the Forces. This paper is juvenile in its nature. It is, to use Lord Salisbury's phrase, "written by office boys for office boys." Actually, this is a paper written for girls—its name shows that. Its original proprietor intended it as a paper for girls. These girls, and their sweethearts, have to take part in this terrific struggle, on which the future of this country depends. We are not fighting this war for the "Daily Mirror," 2264 but for survival, for the future of democracy. Hundreds of thousands of young people read this paper every day. Girls give it to their boy friends in the Army, and in the offices, and so on. They get one whenever they can, and take it home for mother to read Think of the effect on the mothers, when their boys are being taken away for this terrible struggle, and they read that they will be directed by incompetents, who are not even sound in wind and limb. I am amazed at anyone who champions a paper which does this sort of thing.
Men of the responsible Press, too, great writers whom I admire, who have done very good work in this war, have made a terrible fuss about this particular case. But I put it to them that the "Daily Mirror" has done British journalism untold harm; it has disgraced British journalism. They should look at the thing in that way, as the Home Secretary did, and realise that they ought not to descend to this sort of thing. Rather an interesting book has been written recently by a journalist who did that sort of thing and then made a confession. He went religious, and wrote a book called "Innocent Men." In that book he showed how his proprietor—I will not use any adjectives on rim, although I could—instructed him to follow the policy of "Attack, Attack, Attack." [An HON. MEMBER: "The proprietor was Lord Beaverbrook."] Yes, I know who it was. This journalist was to attack anybody, unscrupulously and ruthlessly, and he was to get a four-figure income by ruthless attack on other people. At last, this good fellow, turning religious, thinking of the life he was leading, realised that it was a disgusting way to live. All honour to him. He repented, and became an innocent man. He became a reformed character. I read many of the things that he printed; but really this quotation out-Howards anything that Peter ever wrote. I would ask the "Daily Mirror" proprietor, editor, and the whole set of them, to reform themselves, like Peter did; and not do it any more. That would be good enough.
On the whole question of the freedom of the Press, France has been mentioned. France is not England. I always hate our country to be compared with any other, and most of all with France. There is no need to worry about our position in comparison with what occurred 2265 in France. They mentioned America. There you may have too much of a good thing. A great news commentator the other day said that the confusion among the public there through the discordance of the Press was so great that really he sometimes wondered whether Great Britain was at war with America and President Roosevelt or with Germany and Japan, there was so much discord. Therefore, I think we had better not refer too much to other countries when we want guidance for ourselves. Let us solve our own problems. I commend the Government for giving the powers that they did. All honour to the previous Home Secretary, and to the present Home Secretary for using them. I hope that he will not be deterred from using them whenever they are necessary. Let us be careful and remember that there is no right to do wrong. Let us be careful to see that the freedom of the Press does not become a tyranny.
§ Mr. Barnes (East Ham, South)
I am connected with the Press in the same way as I am a Member of this House of Commons, namely, in a representative capacity. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. G. Walkden) that all of us who are interested in this subject are not concerned with the defence of the "Daily Mirror" as such nor with the material that may appear from time to time in any journal. I have not found myself in sympathy with extremes of opinion on either side of this problem. The speech of my hon. Friend appeared to me entirely to miss the point. What is involved is the responsibility of Parliament itself and whether the Home Secretary in using Regulation 2D is exceeding the intentions of Parliament. The issue before the House raises the responsibility of the House of Commons to the executive Government. I raise this point immediately because my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol congratulated the Lord President of the Council, when Minister of Home Security, for adopting these powers, and congratulated the present Minister of Home Security for using them. What my hon. Friend has entirely missed, in using an argument of that kind, is that it was the House of Commons that gave that power to the Minister on the specific statement and assurance which the Minister made to us at the time.
2266 I agree that the Home Secretary has not used that power with regard to the "Daily Mirror" and has not suppressed that paper under Regulation 2D, and we ought at least to give him credit for providing sufficient time for an opportunity for a Parliamentary Debate. The provision of that opportunity is a very important privilege, and in utilising that privilege properly we should ask ourselves under what conditions the House of Commons vested these powers in the Minister of Home Security. I want to recall to the House a speech which the Lord President of the Council made on that occasion—a speech which clearly brings out the circumstances of the time in which the provisions made for the Executive Government would be used. They did not supersede previous powers which the Government had had accorded to them by the House of Commons. If this House imposes a responsibility upon the newspapers and citizens of this country, Members of Parliament cannot divest themselves of any responsibility when the powers which they have given to the Executive convey the impression that they are not being used correctly. We have no right to approach this question under the passions and prejudices which seem to have been stirred up today over what may or may not have appeared in a particular paper, according to whether it satisfies or injures the views of any particular Member of this House. Before the war we gave the Government certain powers, but following the experience of Dunkirk the Lord President of the Council, as the then Minister for Home Security, came to the House of Commons, when we were mobilising the Home Guard and expected invasion at any moment, to point out that the powers the Government had were insufficient to deal with the situation that might arise in the circumstances then contemplated.
I propose to remind the Lord President of the Council and the present Minister of Home Security of the words that were used then, because in my view the present action of the Home Secretary is a direct breach of the undertaking which the Lord President of the Council gave. If the Executive is going beyond the understanding of the House, then it is the duty of the House to maintain its authority over the Executive Government of the day. This Parliament has extended its life beyond its normal period. New Members 2267 are being elected on the nominations of party organisations. We have an all-party Government representing the Executive Government of the day. The people of this country have not the normal means of remedying their grievances, or imposing or reflecting their will, except through existing Members of Parliament. I think it is vital that Members should not lose the confidence of the public by giving powers to the Executive and then allowing the Executive to use those powers under entirely different conditions. It that situation were allowed to develop, I cannot conceive that there is anything that would more undermine the confidence of the people in Members of Parliament and Parliament itself. The second point I want to make is that Members of Parliament claim the right to complete freedom of speech and freedom to criticise the Government of the day. If they claim that, they cannot arrogate to themselves alone the right of expressing criticism of the Government. It is only three or four weeks since Members of Parliament, reflecting opinion in the Press and indignant opinion in the country, influenced the Prime Minister to reconstruct the Government. This sprung from a series of serious military disasters which had had a great effect on public opinion, and that opinion had been reflected in the Press. If the Press of the country is to be subjected to this kind of threat of the exercise of Regulation 2D against it, there might arise a situation in which the country faced conditions which, leading to a series of military disasters, might lose us the war.
When hon. Members talk about the "Daily Mirror" and other newspapers being able to print matter which might demoralise people or have a bad effect on the prosecution of the war, I can only say that there is nothing that could more easily lose the war than blunders and lack of policy on the part of the Government. The right of criticism of the Executive Government is vital to freedom of speech, freedom of the Press and freedom of Parliament. The Lord President of the Council recognised this when, on 31st July, 1940, in the Debate in which he asked the House to approve of these Regulations, he said:The reason why it seemed, not merely to the Home Secretary, but to the Government, that a Regulation of this kind, admittedly 2268 very drastic, was necessary, is this: the invasion, the overrunning in a very short space of time, of Holland, Belgium and part of France brought home to us in a way it had never been brought home to us before that we in this country were exposed to perils of a kind that most of us had never before imagined. What we have to ask ourselves, and what the Government had to ask themselves, before deciding to make this very drastic Regulation, was whether if the direst peril we can imagine were to come upon us, if we were to find ourselves undergoing trials never before experienced, it would be tolerable that there should at that moment, when the resolution of some of the weakest among us be shaken …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1940; col. 1320, Vol. 363.]I ask the House to note that phrase. Obviously and clearly it indicates a condition of abnormal stress and strain in the community, when probably the people would be anxious to leave their villages and towns because of the invasion, and when the Armed Forces and police and others in authority would have to prevent people from flooding the highways of the country. It is under those; conditions that the resolution of the weakest members of the community will be shaken. He went on to say:By allowing, even for a short time, the systematic publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue, how can we be content with the procedure of Regulation 2c?I submit that the real issue involved here is not the "Daily Mirror" or any other paper, but the responsibility of the House of Commons, the Government and executive Ministers—
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
Are we to understand from what the hon. Member says that in his opinion the present circumstances are less dangerous to this country than those which existed immediately after Dunkirk?
§ Mr. Barnes
Certainly, from the point of view of the pressure of events on the weakest members of the community. I think that the hon. Member discloses the danger of the situation. The complaint of the Government in the case of this particular paper is that it has printed matters which offend the taste and views of a number of persons, and has printed matter which is irritating to the Government of the day. These articles have been written at a time when this country was facing military disasters. Those disasters have caused widespread disquiet in the community with regard to the conduct 2269 of the war. That disquiet has been reflected in the House of Commons, and Members, exercising their right of free criticism, brought about a change in the Government of the day. But Regulation 2D does not apply here. The House of Commons is getting to the position where it says that Members are entitled to reflect disquiet, but a public newspaper is not.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Cannot we get things straight? As regards the question of stresses, may I put this question? The hon. Member states that stresses can only arise in case of invasion or threat of invasion. Let us assume that, after a series of very unfortunate events, even though they are thousands of miles away, troops are given embarkation leave before proceeding to these zones of operations. They go home on leave to their families, and they are subjected to the sort of propaganda which is contained in the "Daily Mirror." Does he mean to say that the people in this country have not been exposed to great stresses, and that these stresses have not been aggravated by the articles in this paper?
§ Mr. Barnes
I say that members of the Forces can go home on leave and read the speeches of Members of Parliament which show just as much disquiet as the articles in the "Daily Mirror." I can recall one particular statement made by a Noble Lord in another place which cast reflections on the quality and capacity of a leading general of this country. My point is that the Lord President of the Council, when he was Home Secretary, did not advance this argument in connection with Regulation 2C. If he had advanced the arguments that he has now submitted, he would not have got that Regulation through the Chamber. I submit that he is wrong in using this Regulation for the purpose of suppressing a newspaper in the circumstances now prevailing. His argument may be that 2C does not provide the right type of facility or power to deal with certain circumstances. But my contention is that the Executive Government are going beyond the original intention of Parliament when the Regulation was given to them. If they find their powers are not sufficient to deal with any problem in the circumstances that prevail at present, they ought to bring forward proposals which can be discussed on their merits. If we 2270 once permit these arbitrary powers to be vested in executive Ministers of the Crown, we can clearly see the danger of the precedent that we are beginning to establish. By whatever standard we judge the cartoon, it was the caption which enabled people to put their interpretation on it. Here we are getting into the position that putting a caption to a particular cartoon is brought within powers which Parliament solemnly gave to Ministers to use in a time of extreme peril.
§ Mr. Barnes
My hon. Friend takes us to the position that newspapers are subjected to a very severe censorship for practically all their news dealing with war matters. I know, because I am connected with a newspaper, and I know that all matter pertaining to the war has to be subjected to the censor. But the editorial remains practically the one part of a newspaper where a responsible journalist—and an editor ought to be a responsible journalist—can express any criticism that he feels disposed to do. A Government which uses a power like 2D in the case of editorial comment or the caption to a cartoon is going a long way to undermine the structure of liberty. It is not a question of the rights and merits of the matter in the "Daily Mirror." In the long run that progressive development will undermine the whole virility of our war effort. I urge upon my right hon. Friend and the Government to recognise that if they commence to use this power in this direction, they will increase public disquiet and they will commence to break up the essential connection of the Press with Parliament. I urge the Home Secretary to reconsider his decision and, if his powers under 2C are not sufficient, have the courage to come to the House with new proposals dealing with the specific problems which it is for us to cope with.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I think that perhaps at this stage of the Debate it might be well to get back to reality and realise what the issue is. The House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member who raised this matter, because very properly the House is jealous of the freedom of the Press. I do not think, however, that we are considering in this episode the question of freedom but a 2271 question of licence. The great bulk of the Press of this country is just as honourable in its intentions arid as anxious to see the war brought to a successful conclusion as any hon. Member in the House. I am also certain that everybody who has spoken to-day has shown, apart from what may be personal recriminations, the dame wish and desire to do nothing which will hamper the war effort. I rise because I am convinced that the articles which have been appearing in this newspaper are most distasteful to all honourable journalists, and I believe that they are responsible for a lowering of the spirit of the Services of this country. If that is the position, surely we must not confuse the issue and must not be more royal than the King. Hon. Members have made speeches to-day defending the freedom of the Press, but there is nobody anxious to attack it. The Press is perfectly free, but surely in time of war, when we ate faced with the greatest peril that this realm has ever faced, it would be the greatest cowardice on the part of the Government, after they have been given powers by this House, not to act. If the Home Secretary had not acted, hon. Members would have demanded to know why he did not act. I feel strongly that he should have acted far sooner.
For months the drift of criticism of officers in all the Services which has been the business apparently of the "Daily Mirror" has undermined what is essential, for let the House remember that we stand on the brink of the whole future of our country. What right has the Home Secretary to lock up anybody under Regulation 18B if he allows one man with a pen to do infinitely more harm to far more people through a newspaper? We have, I am afraid, reached a stage when this country is getting rather impatient with the House of Commons. We talk as if we were in a vacuum. We do not realise what our duty and responsibilities are. I do not think the Government have been wise in everything they have done, but when they have taken action at long last, why should anybody here abuse them? I have heard from friends of mine in the Services that the soldier, sailor and airman do not understand how this one newspaper can continually produce this daily drip which is calculated to undermine discipline. The men may be adults, as one hon. Member 2272 said, but if day by day a newspaper puts out things wrapped up in one form or another which are calculated to undermine the discipline of the one defence of this country, surely the House will not defend it or condemn a Government if at long last they take action about it.
I am certain that every hon. Member who is acquainted with any officer in command knows that they are most open to constructive criticism. [Laughter.] Those hon. Members who laugh betray their lack of knowledge of the type of officer who is now leading our Services. This is not a time to detract from the strength of our Forces. It is a time when the House of Commons should stand behind those in authority, and nothing which the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate said should be used still further to increase the harm which has been done by this newspaper. In the end, as General Knox, who was Adjutant-General of the Army not very long ago, said in a letter to "The Times" yesterday it is the spirit of the troops and the maintenance of their spirit which will bring victory, nothing else.You may talk of all your modern inventions to bring victory, but what ultimately matters is the spirit of your men, and how can you keep the spirit of your men if you are having this daily drip of wicked, ignorant criticism.Sometimes I believe that this daily criticism must have had some evil source associated with our enemies. If the Press of this country, which has a more honourable record on the whole than the Press of any other country, can tolerate this sort of thing in war-time, it seems to me that the real answer is not a Debate like this in the House but is criticism from other newspapers. Unfortunately, this paper is so clever. It appeals to every sense, the sense which we all have, and which has been seen in this Debate, of a desire to nag those in authority, which is easy criticism; but it also appeals to the "striptease" mind, which means an appeal to those feelings which are very prevalent in war and which are absolutely natural. That gives the paper a market, so to say, and makes it attractive to a certain number of people. But there was one newspaper in this country which had the courage to criticise what was said in the "Daily Mirror" in that passage which has been quoted so often. The "London Illustrated News" said: 2273Some at least of the mud must stick. And there is one thing sure; if these reckless people succeed in making the young soldier, the young cadet at an O.C.T.U., the young officer just commissioned from the ranks, believe that their superiors are as a body narrow-minded, conceited, idle and pompous foots, then they will have introduced into the veins of the Army a poison which will eventually corrupt its blood and weaken its muscles. … If the fighting forces are attacked by the canker of disillusionment they are ripe for defeat without a battle.Those are strong words, and they are used by a newspaper which, I believe, recognises that by its policy the "Daily Mirror" has done nothing to help the war effort but has done everything to undermine it. Finally, it is not only in connection with the war and the Government prosecution of the war that the "Daily Mirror" has played such an evil part. The other day reference was made by the chairman of a large undertaking in a speech to pilfering and stealing on the railways. Every trade union working with the railways is working day and night to wipe out this evil. What does the "Daily Mirror" say? It condones it. It is not only undermining the spirit of the Services, but it is undermining the moral fibre of the country in war.
§ Sir R. Glyn
The "Daily Mirror" of 7th March said, after discussing this question of theft and pilfering:We are consoled however to some small extent by thought of the railways' revised financial agreement with the Government, by the assistance provided from the Exchequer or taxpayer, and by the passenger in mounting fares.They justified this action.
§ Sir R. Glyn
This is what it said:The Chairman of the L.M.S. has made a depressing discovery. He has detected 'a lowering of moral values, an unhappy feature of all war.' The lowered moral values, so far as the L.M.S. is concerned, have revealed themselves in wholesale robbery and petty pilfering on the line: robberies that have reached 'appalling dimensions.' Some of the Company's oldest servants have succumbed to the infection of this moral disease. They have been 'detected and found guilty of thefts of goods in their charge.' Are we shocked? Indeed, we are! So shocked that we hardly 2274 dare to point to the average wage of the average railwayman in war time; to the growing cost of living; and so on.Then follows the paragraph I have just read. The article concludes:We remember how a Minister, not long ago, condemned or criticised this agreement, which many people (not stockholders) called a ramp. And we rejoice that wholesale robbery can be thus financially corrected by good strokes of business, done with the sanction of law, which never condone pilfering.I apologise to hon. Members for taking up their time by reading all this article, but I say that the whole attitude of that leading article is to lower the moral standard of the country.
In conclusion, may I say a few words, with all respect? I have been a Member of this House for a great many years. I am very conscious that we stand in a position now where we shall be judged by our successors. I do not think that we deserve victory in this country unless we cleanse ourselves. I believe that any organ which appeals to baser motives or does anything' to undermine our stability and strength should be rooted out and should not be condoned by any hon. Member of this House.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
We have just listened to a speech of great sincerity and thoughtfulness from my hon. Friend, Whether Members agree with that speech or not, they will agree that it contributed to the elevation and usefulness of the Debate. I join with other hon. Members in expressing my appreciation of the action of the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) who opened this Debate, and the hon. Friends with whom he acts, for making the arrangements with other Members of the House.
When this action, or rather intimation of possible action, was taken by the, Government I anticipated there would probably be Parliamentary criticism. Indeed, as one who is a great believer in Parliamentary accountability and the principle of Parliamentary accountability, I took the earliest opportunity, on the very morning when I had seen the representatives of the "Daily Mirror" to inform the House of what we had done, in order, if the House were so disposed, that it could challenge the action of the Government and take its own steps to restrain any further action on that line. 2275 I think everybody will agree that the Government, and I myself acting in this matter for the Government, have been most scrupulous to observe the rights of the House and to submit ourselves to the judgment of the House at the earliest possible moment. If there be critics, it is right that they should express their minds, as they have done to-day. The only small regret I have is that we did say that if the House wanted debating facilities we would provide them and, of course, opportunity for a Motion and a Division. I am bound to say that if there is a state of indignation in the country about this matter to the extent to which the Press—but by no means all the Press—have criticised my action—[Interruption]. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) ought not to confine his attention to the London Press. There is a division of opinion among the Press. I freely admit that a considerable element is strongly critical of the Government's action. I hope I am not such a fool as to expect otherwise.
I have read certain speeches by hon. Members of this House and others, And have heard of deputations which wished to wait upon me, all suggesting that this is a terrible thing, that the bulk of the people of the country are awfully worried about it, and that this threat to the freedom of the Press must be challenged and stopped. After all this hullaballoo, what has been happening this week? There have been manoeuvrings behind the scenes, not to accept the Government's offer, which I made with the assent of the Prime Minister and of the Leader of the House, to provide opportunities—as we could have done if the demand had been made early enough—for a full day's Debate, a Motion and a Division. I assure the House that there have been considerable manoeuvres among a number of hon. Members to see that this Debate to-day should take place in conditions in which a Division could not be taken. [Interruption.] I know what I am talking about, and in any case—
§ Mr. W. Roberts
As I am the Member who raised this question, I should be obliged if the Home Secretary would tell me what he is referring to. I am quite unaware of anything except that we asked to have the discussion to-day. It was always understood that the Debate would 2276 be to-day, and the only question was whether it should be a whole day Debate or not.
§ Sir I. Albery
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, will lie allow me to say for myself and certain other hon. Members that our only anxieties and efforts have been to confer with the hon. Member who was raising this Debate and to say how much we regretted that we should only have a portion of a day? A whole day's Debate and a Division would have been welcome.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
In that case why, after Thursday of last week when I said that the Government would provide facilities for a Motion, a Debate and a Division if desired, was such a Motion not put down?
§ Mr. Morrison
One moment. Do not let my hon. Friend be so mentally and physically aggressive in his interruptions. It could have been done. Surely hon. Members know what can be done in this House? There could have been a rearrangement of Business this week if there had been a real demand.
§ Mr. Bevan
If the right hon. Gentleman will permit me to intervene, I have been considering putting I Motion on the Order Paper, and indeed I should be delighted to have the opportunity of voting against the right hon. Gentleman on this matter. But does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the Government would have been prepared to postpone the Debate on Production, which had been announced over a fortnight before?
§ Mr. Morrison
No, Sir; do not let us get mixed. The House knows perfectly well that there could have been such a readjustment of the Business of the House, and that a day could have been arranged without prejudice to the other Debate.
§ Mr. Morrison
My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) poses as a great Parliamentary strategist—
§ Mr. Morrison
I am afraid the hon. Member does. What would have been easier than to request the Government that the House should sit on another day, that we should have taken the Adjournment Debate on another day and have a Motion and Division to-day? [Interruption.] That request was never made. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was made this morning."] I beg to recall to hon. Members that this is a Debate about freedom of expression. I beg to remind the hon. Member who raised the matter that I was present at a consultation with a representative of his own party, during which he said, quite sincerely, that it was not intended to take this matter to a Division.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am sorry, I am not giving way. These manifestations of Parliamentary indignation are really no good. If there is a sufficient body of opinion in the House which wishes to challenge the Government on an issue, on which, hon. Members say, the great bulk of opinion in the country is against the Government, it is childish to urge that the Members of the House do not know the way to set about it.
§ Mr. Davidson
On a point of Order. I have been a Member of this House since 1935, and I have always acted through the recognised channels of the House of Commons. The Home Secretary has just said that there has been, during the past week, certain manoeuvres to avoid a decision on this issue. I am not concerned with the issue, and I am not indicating myself as a supporter of one side or the other, but I wish to ask you. Sir, whether it is in Order for the Home Secretary to intimate that certain manoeuvres have been made behind the backs of hon. Members of this House by other Members of the House, without mentioning the Members concerned.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
It seems to me, being an instrument of the House, that if there is feeling about a subject there is a straightforward thing to do, and not the sort of thing which has repeatedly happened about the Defence Regulations. There the policy seems to have been one of willingness to strike without any particular anxiety to take the matter to its proper conclusion, and let the House decide whether the Minister concerned is right or wrong. There is a charming idea that the Government should be so weak about its own position as to put down a Motion on the matter. Surely it is for the critics to put the Motion down. [Interruption.] I again call attention to this demonstration by the advocates of freedom of expression. The hon. Member who opened the Debate made a statement which I shall do my best to recall in its general sense. It was to the effect that some persons, broadcasting from this country to Buenos Aires, had said that Mr. Hearst was a part-proprietor of the "Daily Mirror," and that they had received encouragement or inspiration, as I understand it—my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—from the Ministry of Information or the B.B.C.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
The Home Secretary has got quite a wrong impression of what I said, which was that a telegram, sent either yesterday or the day before, to Buenos Aires from the Ministry of Information repeated this unconfirmed allegation that Hearst was a part-owner of the "Daily Mirror"; I also said that such telegrams should not go abroad, reporting rumours which have no foundation.
§ Mr. Morrison
I can only say that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information has made the most careful inquiries, and assures me that neither the Ministry of Information nor the B.B.C. has taken or inspired such action. That is a specific denial in the presence of, and with the authority of, my right hon. Friend, and I think in those circumstances—
§ Mr. Shinwell
Will my right hon. Friend allow me to intervene only on a point of correction? We do not want any misunderstanding. I understood my hon. Friend to say that this telegram had been despatched and that his point was, not that the Government or the B.B.C. were responsible for sending the telegram, but that they did not censor the telegram.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
No; my information is that this was a telegram sent by an official in the Ministry of Information.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
My right hon. Friend tells me that that is quite untrue. I only want to say that that is a very serious allegation, which implicates officers in the Ministry of Information. It is made in the light of day here; it can be cabled all over the world—it probably has been—and made use of by other people. It may cause mischief in the United States. I suggest two things to the hon. Member. One is that that sort of thing ought not to be said without real evidence; and the other is that my hon. Friend ought now, having received my right hon. Friend's denial, to supply my right hon. Friend with the source of his information, so that the necessary checking-up can take place.
§ Mr. Roberts
I hasten to make my apologies, and to accept the assurance that the Home Secretary has given that my information was not correct.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will greatly appreciate the very frank and open apology that the hon. Member has made. But I still say that it is a pity that he should make these grave statements without proof; and I must say that, having made such a statement, it is his duty to convey to my right hon. Friend the evidence upon which that allegation was based.
§ Mr. de Rothschild (Isle of Ely)
The hon. Member, speaking from these benches, has made his apology, and will give his information to the Minister of Information. Will the Minister of Information also make an inquiry, as to whether that telegram was sent?
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I have said categorically—not for myself, for it is not my Department that is concerned, but on the authority of my right hon. Friend—that the statement was untrue and without foundation. Broadly speaking, the Debate has gone to and fro, and there have been what I think we may regard as a certain number of fundamental arguments. I will make only two points of personal observation. One is, that the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery), in association with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), has accused me of being some sort of dictator. My hon. Friend 2280 the Member for Gravesend was good enough to say that I was a benevolent dictator; and, considering his state of mind, that was not ungenerous. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale was up to his usual hearty and thoroughly irresponsible, enjoyable, and hectic standard. My hon. Friend is never happier than when he is having a shot at his own political friends, and he has never been happier than he was to-day.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
And the right hon. Gentleman is never happier than when he is attacking his own political principles.
§ Mr. Morrison
That last observation is up to the best standard of my hon. Friend, as from one comrade to another. Usually such communications are signed, "Yours fraternally." It is difficult to please the critics. Some are complaining to-day, as they have done before, that I am a dictator. I do not think so myself; but who am I to say? But, on other occasions, Members of this House are equally free in their accusations that Ministers have not minds of their own, and in their demands that Ministers should have minds of their own. Now, it is complained that I have a mind of my own. We all do our best, but it is exceedingly difficult, in view of these conflicting criticisms. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made some observations about my past journalistic efforts. It must not be assumed that, because one writes for a newspaper, one agrees with that newspaper. My hon. Friend has written, I believe, for the "Daily Express," the "Evening Standard," and other organs of enlightened opinion.
§ Mr. Morrison
I hope that the deduction to be drawn from that is not that my hon. Friend's writings were not sufficiently attractive. Why should not my hon. Friend write for the "Evening Standard" or any other paper? It does not follow that he agreed with all the opinions of my Noble Friend Lord Beaver-brook or with those of his newspapers. 2281 It does not follow at all. I am sure that when he wrote those articles he wrote what he believed, as I tried to do when I wrote in that paper and in other papers in which I have written. After all, he had family connections of the same sort himself. I only intervened to raise a point about his story because I thought he was leading the House to think that I alleged that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the late Secretary of State for War was removed by a conspiracy of Army officers. The argument I conveyed was that it was so alleged and that it raised an important constitutional issue if it were so, and that the House of Commons ought to be certain whether or not it was the case. I think that my hon. Friend when he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT will find that he quite misrepresented what I did say. What harm are we doing by raising the constitutional principle anyway? I cannot see anything pernicious in the view I expressed on that occasion. The basic argument in this Debate has been in the main concerned with whether we should use Regulation 2C or Regulation 2D. This point was raised with great energy on the occasion of the "Daily Worker" Debate.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not dealing with my hon. Friend at the moment, and he had better await his turn. That argument was very fully dealt with at the time. I pointed out then, and the House evidently took the same view judging by the result of the Division, that Regulation 2C was a rather clumsy and inconvenient instrument for this purpose. I do not complain that the "Daily Mirror" itself might prefer this Regulation and that those who did not want to deal with this problem of the Press at all would also prefer it, because it really would be an ineffective instrument. This is what would have to be done if Regulation 2C were used. We should have to watch the paper for systematic objectionable matter. We should issue a warning and have to watch again to see whether fresh offences occurred. Then, if we were of opinion that the offence continued, the Attorney-General would have to be consulted for consent to and the institution of proceedings, and before proceedings could be taken time would be taken up in the preparation of evidence and the getting 2282 together of witnesses on both sides and so on. We should then prosecute an individual or individuals. Presumably the person responsible for the publication would be the editor and, I suppose, the printer, but so far as I can see the rich proprietors would not come within the proceedings and would get away altogether. So far as I can see, it would be the salaried officers of the undertaking who would be imprisoned or fined, and that in itself leads to the possibility of many evasions. There would have to be legal arguments, and there would be the possibility of appeal, going perhaps to the highest Court, so that the course of the proceedings from the beginning to the end might take a very long time. The newspaper, meanwhile, could go on with its mischievous propaganda, and this could be continued in the course of argument in the court of law itself. At the end of it all somebody might be fined the maximum of £500 or receive a maximum of seven years' imprisonment. Even then the paper would not be suppressed. We could apply to the High Court for the power to seize the printing plant, but when that was done there would be nothing to stop the paper obtaining more plant and going merrily on.
This procedure may be suitable for a certain type of offence, but I suggest to the House that leisurely procedure is not adequate for a country which is in the situation in which we are to-day, when we are entitled to expect speed of action and from the Press as a whole a proper degree of loyalty and responsibility to the State. I am surprised that hon. Members who have often pressed the Government to be speedy and decisive in action should ask that we should be indecisive in this matter. If in this case we had fallen back upon Regulation 2C I know what the argument would have been, that when we dealt with the "Daily Worker" we used the brutal Regulation 2D and that when we dealt with the capitalist Press we used Regulation 2C. [Interruption.] More freedom of expression is being manifested from this little quarter. I think we were right to use Regulation 2D against the "Daily Worker." Remember that the House supported us on a Division in our action against this newspaper.
We have been patient with the "Daily Mirror." I ought not to say so, but I have some sympathy with the hon. Mem- 2283 ber for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) when he said that perhaps we have been too patient. There is a strong case that could be made for that point of view which has in itself proved the reluctance of the Government to interfere with the Press at all. I can assure the House that that is true of the Government as a whole and of myself as the Minister concerned. We do not wish, if possible, to interfere with the Press.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is not a very pointed reference. We dealt with the "Daily Worker" because we believed that in the interests of the State it was necessary to do so. It is a curious argument which assumes that there is no choice whatever between allowing all newspapers to say and do exactly what they like and challenging the whole principle of the freedom of the Press. It ought not to be argued that newspapers have a right to do anything they like. The newspapers are not superior to our Parliamentary institutions. They are not superior to the interests of the British people in times of great crisis and of war. And let it be understood by all the newspapers that it is this Parliament that is supreme. It is to this Parliament that I am immediately accountable. And if the argument is to be advanced, as it almost was advanced, that all newspapers have the right to do exactly what they like, however they imperil the State, let me reply that that is an impossible argument which no Member of Parliament in his right senses ought to touch with a long arm in time of war. But it has been flirted with in this Debate.
What is the case? There has been one suppression, and now one threat of suppression. In one case it was a newspaper which was actively and openly impeding the prosecution of the war, and in this case it is a newspaper which has done things which no decent Member of this House will defend. I have given some quotations, and I will give some more later. It is true that when one talks to hon. Members, and when one talks to journalists outside, even to some of the most critical and miserable and unhappy journalists outside, they all say, "No, of course we would not defend the 'Daily Mirror.' It is irresponsible. It is off the 2284 rails, and we would not defend it for a moment. For goodness' sake do not mix us up with it, but do not interfere with it, because if you do, you interfere with the freedom of the Press." That is an inept argument. It is an argument which makes government impossible. It is an argument which condemns the Government to take no action against any newspaper, whatever it does. I want to say that this Home Secretary will take, subject to his responsibility to the House, any action within his power against any newspaper which actually conducts itself in such a way as to promote opposition to the successful prosecution of the war. It is my duty to do that, and I will discharge that duty and be accountable to the House. If the House has a Division and I go down, I will go down, but up till that happens, I will have, done my duty as I see it.
On the other hand, it ought not to be deduced from this that the Government are bursting to quarrel with the newspapers. I have yet to see politicians bursting to quarrel with the newspapers. I have seen so many politicians do the very reverse. Let us be human and frank about it. None of us likes to quarrel with the Press if we can help it. We do not enjoy it when the Press goes for us. Except in certain circumstances, we like to be friendly with the Press. We are very friendly with the Lobby men here, and they are very helpful to us, to the State and the Government. They are a fine body of men. Why should it be assumed that a peculiar circle of Ministers in the Government want to provoke, to precipitate needlessly, a wholesale and first-class quarrel with the Press? Why should we? We do not want to do anything of the kind. We wish generally to preserve the liberty of the organs of opinion in this country. As a matter of fact, in the great difficulties with which we are faced, the remarkable thing is not that the Press has been touched at all, but that up to date only one daily newspaper has been suppressed, and that was only partly a newspaper, and it was openly anti-war. I think that is a remarkable achievement which is a credit to the British nation.
I resent these light-hearted and irresponsible allusions made at a time of critical fortune for our country. I resent allusions that either the Government or I have the slightest desire to interfere with 2285 the legitimate and proper liberty of the Press. Let it be remembered that, under the procedure of Regulation 2C, if I had prosecuted, the House would not have been able to say anything about the matter. I could have prosecuted, I could have gone for the heaviest penalties I could get, and the House could not have debated the propriety of my action. I could not have been accountable to the House, because the case would have been sub judice, which would have stopped Questions or debate. I think that in this class of case, which is really a broad judgment of public policy—that is what it really comes to—there is no better, and no more immediate and swifter tribunal to deal with it than the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am glad to have that encouraging observation from my hon. Friend. I am afraid that on this point he is not in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale who sits next to him. After all, Parliamentary Government is Parliamentary Government, and, if there is a sufficient body of opinion which dissents from the action of the Government, it is the duty of that sufficient body of opinion to convince the Government that they have done a very wicked and bad thing, and not to worry about me, and whether it brings me down or not. It is their duty to express themselves and take action: and any other attitude is not acting in accordance with our Parliamentary standards.
Let us come now to the merits of this newspaper. I have given the House two quotations, and, if Members will bear with me, I will give one or two more. It has been stated that the cartoon could equally well bear some other interpretation than the interpretation I gave it. These are matters of individual judgment; surely these things must be judged on their face value. It was a very simple cartoon. It was not involved or difficult. It was a well-drawn cartoon of a seaman struggling on a raft at sea. He was alone, almost exhausted, on a lonely sea. What that cartoon meant depended on what was printed in the 2286 caption beneath. With great respect, that is what a caption is for. On the caption beneath the cartoon it was stated:The price of petrol has been increased by 1d. per gallon—Official.I may be dull, narrow-minded and unimaginative, but I really cannot see that that meant anything else but this, that that man is risking his life in order that somebody may get additional profits.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is it not possible—because this is the effect it had on me—that that cartoon could be taken to mean that seamen are risking their lives, while all we have to suffer is one penny more per gallon on petrol, and, therefore, we jolly well ought not to waste it?
§ Mr. Morrison
All I was trying to do was to give the most probable explanation of that cartoon from the point of view of the ordinary person of average intelligence. I should have thought that was the ordinary interpretation. My hon. Friend does not argue from that point of view. With his mental ingenuity and energy, for which we all know him and like him, he says it is possible intelligently to imagine and believe that it meant something else. With great respect, I think it is far more important in coming to a judgment to know the possible meaning of the cartoon, than to set about trying to find what else it can mean. It is a good way of mixing oneself up.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Is it not a little terrifying, both to the Press and to this House, that appreciation of a cartoon by the Home Secretary, which has many variations of meaning, may result in, at least, a process of starting to ban that newspaper?
§ Mr. Morrison
You see where one gets to when one tries to answer criticisms that have been made. It was alleged that this cartoon either did not mean this or that it could mean something else. I then get into trouble with my hon. Friend who says, "What a difficult Regulation this is when it depends on the individual interpretation of an individual cartoon." But that is not the Regulation. There is in the Regulation the word "systematic." The offence has to be not merely repeated but systematic. It has to reflect some kind of repetitive tendency. I believe 2287 that the interpretation which jumped to my eyes when I saw it—I know that other people have found other interpretations since—is the common-sense and obvious meaning. [Interruption.] It is impossible to go on with my speech if there is going to be persistent interruption. It is a speech of some importance and care.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has appealed to Members to stop interrupting. I do hope that they will do so.
§ Mr. Morrison
Let us assume that what I think is the obvious meaning of it is the obvious meaning, or even that it is capable widely of that interpretation, which is lower than I would put it. Consider the problem of the Minister of Labour. He has feelings on this matter. He is responsible for seeing that sufficient men go to sea in the Merchant Marine. He knows that merchant seamen have a rough time. He knows, and admires, as we all know and admire, their heroism. They are sometimes torpedoed. Many have died or have been injured in the course of their calling. In a small number of cases the Minister of Labour has to prosecute, where men are unwilling to go to sea and they are even imprisoned. Is it not obvious that a cartoon which clearly intimates, in my judgment, that when they go to sea and risk their lives they are risking them in order that someone may get extra profits is calculated to stimulate opposition to the war? I do not think there can possibly be any answer to that.
§ Mr. Morrison
No doubt the seamen will see what my hon. Friend has said. I think it was a wicked cartoon, and so does the Minister of Labour. I only ask that when these people write these captions they will pause and think, Will this help the country or injure it? That is all I am asking, and I say that the man who wrote that caption did not think or else that he was deliberately doing something of which he ought to be heartily ashamed. That increase in the price of petrol did not go through without the most careful examination by the Petroleum Department and, in addition, a careful examination by a committee of the Government presided over by the Lord President of 2288 the Council. Therefore there was no question of our having allowed a needless profit.
I come now to other extracts. One has already been quoted in my statement to the House on Thursday last week, others by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and by my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. G. Walkden) in the very human and forceful speech which greatly charmed the House. They speak for themselves, even though there may be some difference of opinion about the leading article. I will give one or two more examples—they are not exhaustive, and they ought not to be, because it would keep us too long—of the general tendency of this newspaper. It may be that certain Members may think there is an element of truth in some of them or all of them. The question is their persistency and the extremity, the wholesale character of the kind of comment which appears in the columns of this newspaper. Here is one by a gentleman known as "Cassandra" on 12th January, 1942. He said:Bungling and mismanagement of the Army are on a scale that cannot be concealed and is obvious to all. … Hundreds of thousands of loyal and intelligent civilians are now being drafted into the Army. Most of them find themselves in circumstances where they are forced to put their initiative and commonsense into cold storage for the duration. At the top you have the military aristocracy of the Guards Regiments with a mentality not very foreign to that of Potsdam. In the centre you have a second class snobocracy, and behind it all the cloying inertia of the Civil Service bogged down by regulations from which they cannot extricate themselves.
§ Mr. Morrison
If the hon. Gentleman wishes by his interjection to associate himself with that passage he is at liberty to do so, but I would not advise him to do so. [Interruption.] If he wishes to be associated with it, I must give it to him. The same is apparently true of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks).
§ Mr. Morrison
I am bound to say that I think this hilarity in a situation like the present is to be deprecated. Here is a war in which we are fighting Nazi tyranny, in which we are fighting for our freedom, in which we are fighting against the Nazi version of the Prussian outlook. 2289 That is what Members of Parliament have told soldiers, airmen and sailors they are fighting the war for. Then here is a journalist who says in effect, "That is all nonsense. Your own officers are drawn from the military aristocracy of the Guards regiments." That really is not true nowadays. He says, too, "Your own officers have a mentality not very foreign to that of Potsdam." Is that likely to inspire the Army with ardour and enthusiasm? Is not this stuff which is calculated to undermine the morale of the Army? The allegation in the article is not true and it ought not to be supported as true by Members of this House or others. Here is another extract which is a contemptuous attack upon the House of Commons:America goes so far as to prepare her public opinion for that (defeat). It is as well to warn. And yet it is useless to warn the impotent masses, the public the people. Useless. Because all that the House of Commons does is to pass fatuous votes of confidence after hours of bitter criticism.
§ Mr. Morrison
This must be considered in the light of the general tendency of the paper's criticism, and I say that is a frontal attack upon Parliamentary institutions, deliberately done if it was wished to be done, for the purpose of undermining faith in Parliamentary institutions. I could go on with quotations of this type, in which the general implication all the way through is that everything is wrong, that everybody is incompetent. The logical deduction which would be drawn by any ordinary man is that nothing is right, that everybody is incompetent if, indeed, not worse than incompetent. Surely the logical result of that in any elementary reasoning by an individual is, "What is the good of going on? Why continue the war? We had better do some sort of deal with the enemy to patch things up." Day after day, month after month, this newspaper is conducting that sort of propaganda. Instances of it could be multiplied.
§ Mr. Morrison
Supposing a secret Fascist organisation wished to conduct propaganda for the purpose of undermining morale. If it had sense it would not go about it by openly opposing the war. Not at all. It would set about 2290 vigorously supporting the war and then it would paint the picture that the House of Commons is rotten or corrupt or incompetent or something like that, that the Government is the same, that the chiefs of the Armed Forces are the same, in that way effecting a steady undermining of public confidence and a spread of the belief that defeat is inevitable and why should the needless spilling of blood and suffering continue. That would be a perfectly understandable Fascist technique. I do not say that this newspaper had Fascist intentions in this connection. I am not too much concerned with whether it had or not. I cannot know what the journalist thought and meant and what his motives were when he wrote what he wrote, but I say that the general line of this newspaper is consistent with the Fascist propaganda policy, and whether it meant it or not is at bottom really irrelevant to the issue. It is the consequences of the facts which must be considered, and that being so the Government were not only entitled to act but it was their duty to act.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this paper—I have a copy of it in my hand—advocated precisely the same line of general policy as long ago as May, 1939, and does he consider that in May, 1939, this Fascist conspiracy which he is hinting at, this Fascist intent, had then taken shape in the mind of the newspaper's proprietors?
§ Mr. Lawson
I would put another question to the right hon. Gentleman. Can he tell us how it is, if they pursued this course previous to the war, that they are now deliberately doing their best to lose the war?—[An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."]
§ Mr. Morrison
I noticed what both hon. Members said, and there is point in both their observations. The basis upon which judgment must be delivered is: Is this calculated to have the very effect that the Fascist enemies in the war would wish? I have said that we wish to preserve the freedom of the Press, but we do say that we have a right to expect the Press to conduct itself in a responsible manner. That really is the dividing line. If a newspaper, writing criticisms of the Government, which all newspapers do from time to time, sits down and does so 2291 with the purpose of being helpful, not to the Government but to the country and the active prosecution of the war; if such newspapers are discriminating in what they write, if they are responsible, if they are deliberate, if they put their case in a way which bears responsibility on its face, with that kind of freedom of the Press we have no quarrel, and we shall have no quarrel with it. But when a journalist sits down, as these people have, and says: "I am going to think of the most extreme, mischievous, irresponsible and even untruthful thing that I can, irrespective of its effect upon the country and the war effort," I say that is a journalism that has destroyed its own freedom, has imperilled its own freedom, and is a menace to the freedom of the rest of the Press as well. The dividing line is the sense of responsibility. The dividing line is between the journalist who criticises with the intention of aiding the prosecution of the war and the journalist who criticises merely with the intention of being destructive and mischievous and with complete indifference as to the consequences on the war.
The usual argument has been brought out about France. Poor France. Everybody has used it as an example of political censorship, but we have not followed the policy of France with the Press. What France did was to have a political censorship of every item of news and opinion that went into a newspaper. That is a totally different thing from what we do. They did not permit criticism of the Government at all. That was eliminated, and so was criticism of the army leaders. Why is this stale old story of France brought out when it has nothing to do with the case? I will tell the House of another country which is worth study, and that is the German Weimar Republic. When it was suggested there that Hitler should not be given every liberty in order to destroy liberty, that his newspapers should be checked and that his Storm Troopers should be checked, people said: "You cannot interfere. That is interference with the classic principles of the Liberalism of this new Republic." The consequences we know. If we are to learn from those lessons, whether of France or the Weimar Republic, the action of the Government is responsible and proper.
2292 Finally, let me say that we have no wish or intention improperly to interfere with the proper freedom of the Press, which we are upholding and we will uphold. I myself would be no party to any such policy. If there was any danger I certainly should not he a party to it. There, is no danger of it with this Government. There is no such intention; but we say boldly and clearly to the House that this is the kind of thing we will not tolerate, that this newspaper has been told that the evidence against it exists, that the systematic publication of which we have evidence entitles me, in our opinion, legally to suppress that newspaper tomorrow—or last week—and that is our view. I told the newspaper that in future there will be no question of building up another systematic case. We are not waiting six months to build up another systematic case. If that newspaper goes on with the pernicious line it has conducted, I tell the House—because I will not be a party to deceiving the House— that if that happens, that newspaper will be suppressed, and having done it, we will submit ourselves to the judgment of the House. I can only hope that that will not be necessary. The newspaper has, I think, been much less objectionable since the statement I made in the House on Thursday of last week. I hope that it will learn from the warning and the experience that it has had, and will conduct itself in a proper and responsible spirit. If it does, it has nothing to fear from His Majesty's Government, but if not, then I tell the House openly and frankly that we shall not be afraid to act.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
My right hon. Friend began his speech in a mood of defiance, and rebuked those who are interested in the preservation of the liberty of the Press for failing to take advantage of an opportunity to divide against the Government. I cannot help feeling that such a charge is unworthy. No hon. Member of this House is afraid of expressing his opinion, either by word or by vote, and I rise for the purpose of assuring my right hon. Friend that some of us, at any rate, have been left unsatisfied, and would take any occasion which offered to register that view in the Lobby. Let us see on what course my right hon. Friend is leading us. This important and far-reaching matter arises out of a cartoon.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Certainly it does, and my right hon. Friend has dealt with the cartoon to-day. The question was asked, whether it was proper that such a cartoon should be published when seamen were risking their lives; a cartoon, it was stated, which suggested that they were risking their lives in order to make bigger profits for their proprietors. I do not know from which date my right hon. Friend became so squeamish about profits, but the fact has emerged that there are two opinions about the meaning of this cartoon. This in itself shows how uncertain is the course of those who wish to embark upon the censorship of opinion.
A further doubt arises about the guiding principle. What happens? By analogy, my right hon. Friend is pressed to censor other newspapers, or to intimidate them in the way that the "Daily Mirror" has been intimidated. Yesterday, a Question was put in this House asking whether the printing of a picture showing British officers surrendering at Singapore was not calculated to harm the national effort. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Information made what I think was the right and safe answer. He said:The editor of this paper presumably knows his public better than do my hon. Friend and myself."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 25th March, 1942; col. 1981, Vol. 378.]Why, within the space of a week, are these two entirely contrasted attitudes taken up from the Front Bench opposite? One can see how, gradually, liberty is lost. You begin by saying that no information should be published which could be of assistance to the enemy. That applies to the publication of news. The next step is to say you must not advocate the making of peace, for that would be to injure the war effort. You must not be defeatist. That was the term used when this Regulation was authorised. And you finish up by censoring opinion, which, when you started on this process, you avowed it to be your purpose to preserve. So, we start with a cartoon. The argument is that it is not only the cartoon but that derogatory observations have been made about the Army. Now here, I think, my right hon. Friend opposite, for I wish to be fair to him, is on better ground. But I ask myself this: How 2294 has he assisted morale in the Army by threatening to suppress this newspaper? I should have thought it would have had precisely the contrary effect. What disturbs morale in the Army is not what is said in a newspaper, but the facts. It is a series of reverses that has disturbed the morale of the Army, if it has been disturbed at all. Personally, I do not take the view that it has been disturbed by what has been written, I do not believe that the Army, which comprises a cross section of the whole nation, has to be safeguarded from the expression of opinion of this kind. I believe we should lose the war if that were the case. I believe that the British Army, like the British people, are determined to carry our flag to victory. You will not make them march with any greater enthusiasm by telling them that you do not trust them to read the papers to which they have become accustomed. I therefore say it is facts, not words, which affect morale.
I deplore the right hon. Gentleman's action for the reason that I think it will have the opposite effect to that which he intended. Suppression emanates not from confidence but from fear. Great men do not suppress. It is contrary to the whole tradition of our public life. Some generals, it is said, are genuinely alarmed about the "Daily Mirror." I respect their opinion, but it is for us as politicians to safeguard the political tradition of this country. Who is the greatest general who has emerged in this war? General MacArthur has some claim to that title. At any rate, he has been an extremely successful general. [An HON MEMBER: "What about Wavell?"] I said "has some claim." I do not dispute General Wavell's title at all, but I am introducing a quotation by General MacArthur. I have no reason to believe that General Wavell would not have said exactly the same. It is because I intend to quote what was said the other day by General MacArthur on arriving in Australia to take over his new Command:One cannot wage war under present conditions without the support of public opinion, which is tremendously moulded by the Press and other propaganda forces. Men will not fight and die without knowing what they are fighting and dying for. In the democracies it is essential that public should know the truth. You will get no 'canned' news from me.2295 I do suggest to the House and to the Government—
§ Mr. McEntee
Might I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that the article quoted from is the truth?
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
My hon. Friend knows that I was arguing no such thing. I was arguing for the free expression of opinion, and when you have free expression of opinion you have conflicting views expressed, conflicting views which cannot in all cases be true. Some contradict others. You have different methods of expression. I am arguing the general case that a democracy should be stalwart enough to be told the truth and to hear opinion about it. If it cannot bear to hear the truth, or to hear opinion, it is not a democracy which is likely to be preserved.
It is always easy to create prejudice by giving extracts from a paper which you dislike. I could give extracts from many newspapers. The right hon. Gentleman has pursued the course of making quotations from previous editions of the "Daily Mirror." On 15th October, in this House, there was a Debate about another newspaper.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
No, not the "Daily Worker," but another newspaper. Lord Wedgwood called attention to the fact that, whereas the "Daily Worker" had been suppressed, another newspaper, which actually argued in favour of making peace, was allowed to appear week by week. I do not identify myself with the views of Lord Wedgwood. His case was precisely the contrary of what I am arguing. His case was that, here was a newspaper, which said, on 14th February, 1940:If peace were concluded with Germany, and there is good reason to believe that it could now be concluded on terms which would satisfy any reasonable person. …There was a paper expressing views derogatory to America and hostile to Russia. He drew the attention of the Home Office to extracts which, I should have thought, would affect public morale, if public morale were capable of being affected, more seriously than the extracts my right hon. Friend read to-day.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
It was "Truth." I am referring to the Debate on 15th October for the purpose of quoting what was said on behalf of the Home Office on that occasion. The Under-Secretary said:It would be quite easy, in respect of a number of newspapers, by culling excerpts carefully over a long period as the right hon. Gentleman did, to make out a case for saying that a newspaper is affecting the national war effort and ought to be suppressed. The right hon. Gentleman no doubt chose, from his point of view, the best extracts which he could."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October, 1941; col. 1464, Vol. 374.]He then went on to appeal to Lord Wedgwood to remember our great traditions of liberty, particularly as those traditions affect the Press. My right hon. Friend to-day has adopted a course identical with that of Lord Wedgwood.
As to the procedure which he has followed, I think the House is entitled to take exception to it. My right hon. Friend said that this House was the fairest tribunal anyone could desire; but it is not a tribunal at all, in the judicial sense. This House is a debating assembly, which settles general principles and makes laws. The courts are the proper judicial tribunal. It is quite true that if my right hon. Friend had taken the "Daily Mirror" before the courts, so long as the matter was sub judice, no comment whatever could have been made on the case. Why did he not take that course? When Norway was being invaded, Regulation 2C was promulgated. It provided for, first, a warning and, then, a prosecution. A little later, when France was being overrun by the enemy, it was said in this House that this Regulation was not adequate for the perilous circumstances in which we then found ourselves, and that we had not time to take a newspaper to trial. It was only in these circumstances that the Regulation under which my right hon. Friend now says that he will proceed in future, was passed by this House. I say that, on any reading of the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, this procedure is a violation of the undertakings then given. In precise terms he said:The whole thing can be put in a nutshell. The reason why it seems that a regulation of this kind, admittedly very drastic, is necessary is this—invasion.Why does not the right hon. Gentleman use this method of depriving a newspaper of an opportunity to be heard? 2297 Why does he put it in handcuffs? How can a newspaper do its duty to the public when the editor is not sure how he stands? The right hon. Gentleman made a most provoking statement about that. He used very strong language about this newspaper. How can other newspapers be expected to exert the proper freedom when they labour under this disadvantage? How can other newspapers do their duty with the chains clanging about them?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert), in his most humorous speech, said that this question is modern. He said that it is good stuff but modern. It is not modern. It is very ancient stuff. This battle has been fought for hundreds of years both in war and in peace. Socrates, one might have reminded him, died for this principle, and men are dying in Europe for this same principle to-day. In the newspaper this morning we find that a Pole has been put to death for listening to the B.B.C. programmes and reproducing them in Poland as a newspaper. He has died for the principle for which we profess ourselves to be fighting. Again, in the newspaper to-day there is an account by a Norwegian editor on the suppression of newspapers in his country. He said that he was sent for and shown into Quisling's room and told that his article had incensed Quisling, and he was then clamped into a concentration camp. He said that editors of Norwegian papers, despite the fact that they were languishing in concentration camps, will continue to uphold by every means in their power this principle.
I do not wish to exaggerate the case against the right hon. Gentleman, because, after all, he has not yet suppressed the newspaper, but it is the duty of Parliament to be excessively vigilant in these matters. The descent is easy. You start on a firm principle. The ground gradually gives way and your foothold becomes less secure and in the end you cannot even hold on to the cause for which you started this war.
§ Wing-Commander James (Wellingborough)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) referred to this House being excessively vigilant. After listening to the whole of this Debate my impression is that, on this 2298 occasion, a comparatively small number of very sincere Members are being excessively vigilant. I believe that the majority of the House take this view. Personally, I support the action of the Government in warning this very undesirable picture paper, which cannot possibly be called a serious political organ at any time. This Debate has ranged so widely round this alleged infringement of liberty that I also propose to range a little round it. I would refer to one aspect of this paper which should not be lost sight of. Nobody can contend that the "Daily Mirror" is a serious political paper, but it has one aspect which I believe is pernicious, and that is, that its circulation has been very largely built up on the publication of deliberately salacious muck to tickle the palates of its public.
I regret that the law about the publication of indecent, or pseudo indecent matter, in this country has been too weak for this little rag to be tackled long ago on that ground. I would like to take this opportunity, if I may be allowed to do so, of saying one or two words about dirty publications, which is highly apposite to any discussion about the "Daily Mirror." Since this war began I have on three occasions brought to the notice of the proper authorities publications which were thoroughly salacious, and intentionally so. The first occasion was an advertisement sent through the post to a brother officer in the Air Force from a firm of manufacturing chemists in Manchester. It was so disgusting that I gave it to the Law Officers of the Crown who, after examining it and agreeing that it was disgusting, said that it was too cleverly worded to justify a probably successful prosecution.
Again, in 1940, another illustrated paper, not the "Daily Mirror," in its correspondence column, published some letters which were sent on to me. They were quite obviously bogus and written in its office merely to tickle the lowest instincts of readers of a certain class. They, also, were perfectly disgusting and again I sent them to the Law Officers of the Crown, with the same result. It was disgusting stuff and all of it too clever for a prosecution to be successful. The third example came to my notice quite recently. I was in the City walking away from an office I had visited when I looked into a bookshop window and saw a display of 2299 cheap, paper-covered books. I did not look inside them, but the titles and pictures showed that they were pure muck. [An HON. MEMBER: "Impure muck."] Yes, I mean impure muck. I took the trouble to enter the shop and purchase one or two of these miserable things, which I did not read but passed on to the competent police authorities. Again, investigation showed that a prosecution would not be successful. I wonder how many Members of the House have recently read the book "Report on France" by an American journalist, Thomas Kiernan? In that book he says that one of the factors that rotted France was her indecent literature. I have no hesitation in saying that no daily paper, a so-called national paper, has been nearer to deliberate salacious publication than the "Daily Mirror."
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
When the right hon. Gentleman suggested his extension he probably was not aware that four Front Bench Members would take up so much of the time of the House. I am sure that he, having been an ordinary back bencher himself, would not deny the same right of speech to those who feel that they want to speak.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I will endeavour to be very brief but I feel so strongly on this matter that I cannot let the opportunity pass without saying something. I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said and I will expedite my remarks as much as I possibly can. A challenge has been thrown out by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) and I accept it. I have a great deal of sympathy with him because I, like himself, served the country as an officer in the last war, as I have done in this. I would not countenance any attempt to subvert the loyalty or undermine the morale of our Army. Any newspaper or Member of Parliament who attempts to do that should be dealt with at once. I will not say whether the ex- 2300 amples which the Home Secretary gave are examples of subversion, but I have no hesitation in saying to him that if he and his Law Officers believe they are, he should proceed against the newspaper at once. It is because some of us do not believe that my right hon. Friend is approaching this matter in a judicial frame of mind that we are arguing the case to-day. I say outright that my right hon. Friend is acting as a stooge for more powerful people who are behind him. I will say quite frankly to whom I refer. I refer to the Prime Minister in particular, and to the Minister of Labour as well, but particularly to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has shown on more than one occasion—on occasions which have not always come before the House—that he resents criticism of himself and his Government. He has said so, and he has shown his resentment in this manner, that he has warned at least one newspaper proprietor that he would deal with that newspaper, and not by the methods of Regulation 2D.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not mind giving it to the right hon. Gentleman afterwards. I think he knows who it is.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman afterwards. On the question of subversion, or undermining the morale of the Army, the hon. Member for Abingdon has referred to an attack on the officer class as a class. If I wanted to attack the officer class very successfully, I would employ the methods adopted by David Low in his cartoons of Colonel Blimp. That national feature has undermined the officer's status far more effectively in the minds of soldiers, and others as well, than ever the leading article in the "Daily Mirror." I am not attempting to uphold that article. I would never have written it. To say the least, I think it unwise for that article to have been written. I do not go so far as to say it was subversive, but if it was, I say that my right hon. Friend has neglected his duty by not proceeding against the writer of the article. If an 2301 example of subversion is wanted, I wonder what the House will think of this, which was written in the last war. I will tell my right hon. Friend why I intend to read it to the House. I was then a young soldier myself, a volunteer and not a conscript, and I presume my morale was something to be considered. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to say whether he thinks this was subversive:Your King and Country need you!Ah! Men of the Country, you are remembered.Neither the King, nor the Country, nor the picture papers had really forgotten you.When your master tried to cut your wages down—did you think he knew of your beautiful brave heart? When you were unemployed—did you think your Country had forgotten you? When the military were used against you in the strike—did you wonder if your King was quite in love with you? Did you? … Ah! foolish one.Your King and Country need you.Need hundreds of thousands of you to go to hell and to do the work of hell. The Commandment says: 'Thou shalt not kill.' Pooh!What does it matter? Commandments, like treaties, were made to be broken. Ask your parson: He will explain.Your King and Country need you!Go forth, little soldier"—I was one of those little soldiers—Go forth, little soldier. Though you know not what you fight for—go forth. Though you have no grievance against your German brother—go forth and kill him! Though you may know he has a wife and family dependent upon him—go forth and slay him; he is only a German dog. Will he not kill you if he gets the chance? Of course, he will.He is being told the same story!His King and Country need him.I wonder what the House thinks of that quotation. I wonder what my right hon. Friend thinks of it now in this war. He is not unacquainted with the author. I say that a man who could write that stuff in the last war, when many of us were defending our country and he was not, is not the man to be the judge of subversion on this occasion.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I think the House knows who wrote it. I have not given notice to the right hon. Gentleman, who is the author, that I was going to quote it. I hope when he reads it he will recognise his effusion in the last war. I feel strongly on this matter. I feel that hon. 2302 Members in this House should know—I would not attempt to undermine the morale of the Army—that the Army have grievances. They have grievances in some cases against their officers, because they believe those officers are not the right type. I do not say that we should not do everything we possibly can to convince the Army that the officers being selected to-day are of the right type. We ought to do it, because it is fatal to let a man think when he is being led into battle that he is being led by officers who are inefficient and incapable. If the "Daily Mirror" has been guilty of that, I condemn them as much as any hon. Member in this House, and I say that my right hon. Friend has neglected his duty by giving them only a warning. If he thinks they were subversive, he should have proceeded against them. But I do not think for one moment that the motive behind the notice the other day was genuine. There has been something fomenting in the minds of certain members of the Government for a long time, and this was an opportunity not only to convey a warning to the "Daily Mirror" but to the Press in general. I cannot support that action.
When we talk about irresponsibility, let hon. Members who speak in this House also remember that, though free speech is a privilege, they must make responsible remarks. When the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson) said the other day that Hearst was part-proprietor of the "Daily Mirror," whether that remark got wide circulation or not, the fact remains that a Member of Parliament said it. What are the facts? Mr. Hearst is not part-proprietor of the "Daily Mirror"—in fact, I have reason to believe he is a considerable debtor to the "Daily Mirror." As to the insinuations made by my right hon. Friend about the financial structure of this paper, I should like to make one or two remarks. The register of shareholders of this paper is open to anyone who cares to go and inspect it. I believe that one of the biggest shareholders is Sir John Ellerman—at any rate, he has a holding. If my right hon. Friend does not know the facts, it is his duty to find them out, or keep his mouth shut, before making insinuations against businesses in this country. I have reason to believe that the holdings by anonymous nominee shareholders are very small indeed. This 2303 is a feature of the structure of our businesses, and the big banks themselves hide the identity of many people who may be of enemy origin who are shareholders in some of the biggest concerns in this country.
If we are out to attack that, do not let us go to the "Daily Mirror" for an example. We can find a far better example in much bigger undertakings, some doing work of national importance at present. I suggest to the Government that those of us who are as much concerned as they are to win the war, who indeed have taken some active effort towards that end, are seriously concerned at the way we are going. I believe that from time to time it is necessary to criticise the Government strongly, and, as long as I am given that privilege, I shall do it, and no one can ever accuse me of being afraid to vote against them if necessary. I believe the time is coming when we shall have to do it. I hope it will not be on the issue of the "Daily Mirror." If it is on the wider issue of the freedom of the Press and of this Parliament, I shall gladly vote not only against the Home Secretary but the whole lot of them, including the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Information, for whom I have a great regard. I believe he himself is a democrat, and I suggest to him, when he is looking around among some of his right hon. Friends, not of the same political colour, to remember that dictators do not always come from the Right. I appeal to the Government to go carefully in this matter and, if they are going to proceed against any national newspaper, to proceed quickly but always judicially.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
We are grateful to the Leader of the House for the accommodation that he gave us upon this matter. I do not think anyone would desire to take advantage of it after the Debate has proceeded so long, but I would crave indulgence to make two short points which I have been anxious to make throughout the Debate. I really feel that, after all, in the discussion that has taken place, and particularly the most extraordinary speech of the Home Secretary, there has been a very great deal of care taken to cloak and disguise the real issue. It really is not very much use to say, "I came 2304 down to the House to defend my action, and I want the judgment of the House upon it." That is merely to place Members in a most unfair position, because they are not to judge the rightness or wrongness of the particular act complained of. Inevitably in such circumstances the Government are bound to make it a Vote of Confidence or turn it into a Vote of Censure, and the issue that is really before the House is merged in a wider issue, and the procedure is unfair to Members of the House, to the Government and to the individual attacked. Surely if the right hon. Gentleman wanted to protect himself there is one way of doing it, and that is to give the people attacked an opportunity of defending themselves. The only reason advanced against it on this occasion has been that they might defend themselves. I think there is one way in which the House might be used as a tribunal. I should not object in the least to procedure under Regulation 2D if the Whips were taken off and Members were allowed to use their own private judgment on individual cases.
The only other thing I want to say is this: Whom did the Home Secretary want to protect, and from what? What sort of people does he think the people of this country are? Here we have a people that stood up alone for 12 months against an armed Europe. Their morale did not shake, their courage did not flag, their determination did not weaken. Is it the morale of the people of Plymouth that is to be protected, the morale of the people of Coventry, or of Hull, or of Bootle? Is it really suggested that there is some great danger to the morale of the people who stood up to that in an ambiguous cartoon or an offensive sentence in a leading article in the "Daily Mirror"? No one believes that. The Home Secretary does not believe it, and the Government do not believe it. The thing from which we have to protect ourselves is not the attack upon the "Daily Mirror" or upon a cartoon or a leading article; it is the beginning of an attack upon the freedom of opinion in this country. The Home Secretary said that if anyone cleverly wished to start an insidious Fascist campaign, he could think of no better way of doing it than the "Daily Mirror" had chosen. May I suggest that if there were a Home Secretary and a Government which intended 2305 to suppress freedom of opinion and freedom of the Press, it would undoubtedly begin in the way that the Government have begun on this occasion? You would not in these circumstances begin with "The Times." You would not even begin with "Truth." You would go to the "Daily Mirror," about which you could raise a good deal of prejudice, and begin in that way. If the right hon. Gentleman pretends that he really wants to defend the freedom of the Press, let me ask him—he cannot tell me to-night, but the country is waiting for his answer—when does he propose to lift the ban on the "Daily Worker"? He may have had a case in the past to impose the ban, but he has no case to-day.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I want to warn the Minister that on a very early opportunity I will make up the time that was lost to-day for a discussion on the "Daily Worker" to bring that matter forcibly before him. At the moment want to raise one or two short points. The Minister was very annoyed that anybody should raise the question of France and the French Press. Who really raised that question? It was his colleague, the Minister of Information, in an article in "Time and Life." So that if the Home Secretary feels that there is something wrong, he should suppress the Minister of Information.
§ Mr. Bracken
In the first place, the paper is called "Life," and in the second place, I made only a casual reference to France. I did not say that there was any difference between the Home Secretary and myself, because we both think that the censorship in France was an abomination.
I know that there was only a slight reference to France, but there was only a slight reference to it in the Debate to-day, but the Home Secretary was very angry about it and made a great fuss in order to distract attention. He has a lot of experience in this business. He knows that when he is in a bad spot it is desirable to shift the attention to something else. The Minister discussed the question of irresponsibility in the Press. Is it not a fact that there was only one instance of irresponsibility in connection with the Press given here today and that it was the Minister himself who was responsible for it?
2306 Statements have been made in the Press and those responsible for making them are prepared to argue them before the Minister or in a court. The man who wrote the leading article is prepared to go into court and face the responsibility of having written it. "Cassandra" is prepared to stand up and defend what he has written. But when the Home Secretary has his attention drawn to something which he himself has written, does he take responsibility for it? No. He replies, "Somebody else said it, I only wrote it down." What are you going to do with anyone who talks in that way, who says, "Somebody else started the rumour, and I only wrote it down"? But the men and women who read it in the "Daily Mirror," are taking it that it comes from the Home Secretary and that he is telling them the truth, or is he telling them the truth? They take it that he is prepared to take the responsibility for what he himself has said. He comes before us here a very strong and resolute man. He wants to warn the "Daily Mirror"; he wants to warn all and sundry. He was even somewhat threatening with the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). He would advise the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale to be careful—this in a very quiet and sinister voice. But he was a very strong man, ruthless if need be—
§ Mr. Gallacher
— in dealing with the "Daily Mirror" or anybody else. That cartoon represents something that is very terrible and tragic. A very dear friend and neighbour of mine sits night after night hoping, hoping, hoping against hope that her boy is not adrift somewhere in the Atlantic, parched with hunger and thirst. Do you see them laughing over there? Such a laughing matter for the Minister of Home Security. What an attitude. The lads are out in the Atlantic, the lads are adrift on rafts, are starving, their mothers are at home night after night weeping. And this strong man, and this strong Government—what is their attitude? Do they stop the profit in petrol? Do they take over control of petrol and the rationing of petrol? No. A penny on the gallon. That is their concern for the lads who are giving their lives at sea, for the lads who are starving, for the 2307 mothers who are weeping their eyes out. A penny on the gallon. If ever there was a cartoon that was justified, that cartoon was justified. I say here to the Minister of Home Security what I said at a public meeting in Birmingham town hall on Sunday night, a packed meeting, with more outside the hall than inside. I said that in view of the tragic sufferings of the lads at sea it was a crime that a penny of profit 2308 should be made on petrol, a crime against the seamen, a crime against the mothers who are weeping their eyes out at home; and I said that the Minister of Home Security, if he had any concern for Socialism or for principle, if he had any thought for the men who are giving their lives, would, instead of threatening to suppress the "Daily Mirror," suppress the profits on petrol.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn" put, and agreed to.