§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)
I beg to move.That this House, conscious of the need to strengthen and improve British information services overseas, urges that the resources of the Central Office of Information should be used to their maximum in this fieldI gave notice on 28th November that I should raise this subject today. I was encouraged to do so because, only a few minutes earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) had put a Question to the Lord Privy Seal on the subject of the Central Office of Information. At the time I do not think that we considered that the reply of my right hon. Friend was entirely satisfactory, although it showed that the Government regarded the matter with some seriousness.
Two days after I had given notice that I should move this Motion we were all delighted at the announcement by the Government that the Postmaster-General was to assume responsibility for coordinating the Government information services. But while we welcomed that announcement, let me say straight away that I consider that this is not a job which can be combined with other Ministerial responsibilities, but that it should be made a full-time appointment.
The fact that it has not yet been made a full-time appointment causes some doubt about the sincerity and determination of the Government in this matter. I hope that it is being seriously considered and that perhaps in the New Year, when some new appointments may be made, we shall find that the Postmaster-General has received further promotion; that he has a seat in the Cabinet and will then be in a much better position to know what is going on, and be able to see that our views and our policy are put over throughout the world.
I believe that the Postmaster-General has a major operation to perform in overhauling and purging the public relations departments of the various Ministries and the Central Office of Information. I agree that a doctor is needed in the House. I hope that we shall soon have one at No. 10 Downing Street—in the Cabinet, not as his official residence—to do this major operation, to keep his 796 finger on the pulse of the nation and his ear to the heart of the problem.
We have all been appalled at the way in which our case has gone by default in recent months, especially in the Middle East and in the United States of America. We have failed to make any impression on those who are hostile to us and we have also failed to put over our case with our friends across the Atlantic. Today, we are engaged in the cold war. This is a war fought with words and not with weapons, and I believe that the Government are just waking up to this fact.
In the Middle East, Colonel Nasser has just suffered a severe defeat, but his instruments of propaganda have convinced the people in that area that this was, in fact, an outstanding victory. All the Arab nations think so. That is, of course, preposterous, but, nevertheless, they think so. Colonel Nasser stirred up all the trouble in the Middle East by his actions, yet he has convinced half the world that he has been the victim of unprovoked aggression. It is said that his propaganda machine is the most efficient since that operated by Goebbels and that the amount of money that he is spending on it is about £25 million per annum, whereas I believe that the B.B.C. spends only £3 million per annum on its overseas services.
I am glad that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is to reply to the debate, because I think that money is one of the chief ingredients in this problem. I have no hesitation in asking him to use his influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that more money is made available for this important work. Many of us recently had the opportunity to hear about our information services in the Middle East from General Sir John Glubb. He told us that, some time ago, it would have been possible, for a few thousand pounds, to have bought an Arab newspaper which circulates in an important part of the Arab world. The Treasury could not see advantage in advancing a few thousand pounds to make the purchase. I am sure that we realise today that, had that money been spent then, and had Britain's case been put over and had misinformation been corrected by the use of this journal, a great deal of unnecessary expense later on would have been saved.
797 When we turn to the United States and our information services there, it is understandable that we have some difficulties when we think, for example, that some time ago Guy Burgess himself was selected to put over our case in the United States at the time of the Korean War. In fact, he said then that he was appalled by the ignorance and incompetence of some of his colleagues. If he was appalled, what can the general standard of the information branch have been at that time?
I like to think that the Postmaster-General will soon be striding through the Foreign Office and our embassies abroad, examining the information services, because this is his job and this is what we expect him to do. We do not expect him to be mealy-mouthed about it, but to get on with the job and to see where the people responsible for putting over our case—
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)
On a point of order. I am sorry to interrupt, but I think that we may get into some difficulty because, so far as I can see, the terms of the Motion are confined to the Central Office of Information, whereas the matters to which my hon. Friend is now referring are the responsibilities of the Foreign Office and not the Central Office of Information.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
Further to that point of order. The Government must be very careful, because the Motion begins with the words:That this House, conscious of the need to strengthen and improve British information services overseas …It is quite clear from the wording which the hon. Member chose that the main emphasis was to be placed upon the information services overseas. I confess to some surprise that the Government should have put up the Financial Secretary to reply to the debate, especially when the Postmaster-General himself is present.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) gave notice of his intention to move this Motion in the words which stand on the Order Paper:To call attention to the work of the Central Office of Information …798 Those are the governing words of the Motion, but it does go on to say:That this House, conscious of the need to strengthen and improve British information services overseas, urges that the resources of the Central Office of Information should be used to their maximum in this field.I thought that the hon. Member for Skipton was really dealing, by way of introduction, with the first part of the Motion, namely, the necessity to strengthen and improve British information services overseas. He will, no doubt, come fairly soon to the question of the Central Office of Information and the part it can play in securing the object which he is urging.
§ Mr. Drayson
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was coming to the question of the Central Office of Information—that is my very next point—but I wanted to say how important it is to see that the right type of personnel are employed in the various information departments overseas to deal with this problem. I have no special knowledge of the Central Office of Information, though in the last few days I have made a point of studying such literature as it publishes.
The first publication that came to my hand was called "Visitors' Guide—an outline of the functions and organisation of the Central Office of Information." It is an extremely impressive organisation, consisting of more than 12 divisions. It seems to have everything in it except a meteorological office. I was particularly struck by one line which says, in dealing with the organisation of British Information services:The British information work abroad is planned by the Information Departments in London of the Foreign, Commonwealth Relations and Colonial Offices in consultation with the Central Office of Information.That shows that all our overseas information services are in some way coordinated by the Central Office of Information. If, in its publications, the Central Office accepts that responsibility, it must accept any criticism that may arise out of the failure of this organisation to achieve success in these various areas in the past. This is a somewhat dreary document. I know that the Postmaster-General will have been looking at it, and I hope that the next publication will be rather more dynamic.
799 One function that it says it performs is that of helping to promote exports. I hope that it has been successful. I can see where it can be of greater assistance in that sphere. It points out that it has translated a number of technical documents and circulated them throughout the world. It would possibly be of greater use to place these translators at the disposal of firms who wished to send circulars and catalogues abroad, but jibbed at the expense of having them translated into a series of languages. They might want to send their documents into markets where they were doubtful about getting business.
Perhaps the Central Office of Information could undertake the responsibility of translating those documents and seeing that they went out, not under the stamp of the Central Office of Information, but under that of the private firm. Some useful purpose might thus be served.
In this age of propaganda there is a reluctance to take seriously documents bearing the official stamp of a Government Department. While we would accept them unhesitatingly in this country or in the Commonwealth, in other parts of the world they are sometimes looked upon a bit sceptically.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Does the hon. Member propose that the Government should bear the cost of doing that?
§ Mr. Drayson
Yes, the Government should bear the cost, or it should be shared. A suitable arrangement could be reached. We want to get information about our technical knowledge, experience and inndustrial products into various markets. There is no more potent factor for putting over Britain's way of life than a magazine with a lot of advertisements in it.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I concede that the work of Her Majesty's Government has of late become so discredited that we can only hope to put it out under another signature.
§ Mr. Drayson
I was not referring only to the present Government. I was saying that people abroad are more inclined to take notice of commercial literature than of a document coming from a Government Department.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I am listening very sympathetically to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is putting a very reasonable case. When it comes to distributing literature in the name of private concerns, that is a point that wants considering, because of the cost.
§ Mr. Drayson
The whole point wants considering.
I was saying that the firms themselves should be responsible for the distribution of literature. If the Central Office of Information has officials who are engaged in translating into very obscure languages, perhaps it could make the translation department available to industry, which might well pay a small charge for it. The documents, catalogues and pamphlets could go into markets which would not appear to have immediate prospects of profit.
At least, if the pamphlets were read they would give the nationals of those countries an indication of the standard of living that we have reached and the type of article we are producing in our factories. They would be able to compare our quality with similar articles from the Soviet Union or some other parts of the world.
The cost of translation is regarded as too high, and that is a limiting factor in many businesses who, therefore, stick to their traditional markets and, in that way, lose opportunities of putting over the products of their industries.
I see that the Central Office of Information participated in a number of trade fairs. One was at Damascus. That is the capital of Syria. I do not think that the C.O.I. can have achieved very great success there. I would like to see more literature translated into a number of languages for the Leipzig Fair. That is the place where East and West meet today, and not Damascus. I have been in the British Pavilion and on the British stand, and I have seen hundreds of thousands of people going by, everyone asking for a pamphlet, asking for more literature in their own language, whether it be Chinese, Polish, Russian or Rumanian, and they have not been supplied with it. That is where translation is needed and where documents and other publications about our industrial achievements would serve a very useful purpose.
It appears that the Central Office of Information has nine regional offices 801 throughout the British Isles. I wonder whether they are necessary. I hope that the Postmaster-General will go round and look at these nine regional offices in various large towns throughout the country. Perhaps a few economies can be made. I do not suggest—
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
On a point of order. I understand that hon. Gentlemen are limited in the scope of debate by the terms of the Motion, which deals with information services abroad. The hon. Member is now proceeding to criticise the regional organisation in this country. If that is in order, many of us will welcome the opportunity of discussing it. If not, it is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman, having himself defined the terms of the Motion, should be getting away with something that the rest of us cannot follow.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
This House has on many occasions been deeply obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for the interpretations that you have managed to put upon Motions that were upon the Order Paper and have thus enabled the House to achieve the object which was in the minds of the majority of hon. Members. Would it not be bad if we found ourselves unnecessarily limited in the scope of debate on a matter which is of such urgent importance?
§ Mr. Speaker
I see the difficulty. My bias is entirely in favour of allowing the House as wide and free a discussion as possible, and as far as that can be done in conformity with the rules of order I shall do so. The consciousness of the House of the necessity of improving British information services allows a certain amount of discussion on that topic, and, so far, I have not heard anything really out of order. Some hon. Members may think that the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) is placing more emphasis upon his introductory words than upon the substance of his Motion. I hope that the debate can continue as freely as possible.
§ Mr. MacColl
The hon. Gentleman was talking about the regional offices in this country, which cannot have any conceivable relationship to Government services abroad. I am not trying to narrow the debate. If we are able to 802 discuss the whole of the C.O.I., including the services in this country, I warmly welcome it. On the other hand, it would be a little hard if the hon. Gentleman were able to suggest that economies were needed while other hon. Members were not able to follow that line later.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
As I read the Motion, its main point is that the resources of the C.O.I. should be used to their maximum in the overseas field. I can understand how it could be argued that the C.O.I. was doing too much at home and not freeing sufficient of its resources overseas. If I have an opportunity to speak later, I will be very willing to deal with that point. One could distinguish that from a detailed examination of the C.O.I.'s home activities, which might be too far from the main subject of the Motion.
§ Mr. Speaker
I entirely agree with the Financial Secretary. That is bow it appears to me, also. I can assure the House that equal latitude will be allowed to hon. Members on both sides.
§ Mr. Drayson
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I suspect that the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) may have a regional branch of the Central Office of Information in his constituency and may be reluctant that it should be closed. I merely asked that the Postmaster-General should have a look.
§ Mr. MacColl
That is a rather uncharitable remark. The hon. Member may be accustomed to govern his contributions in this House by the individual interests of his constituents, but most of us look at these problems from a general point of view. We all are vitally concerned about the services provided from the regional office, which is in Manchester, while I represent Widnes.
§ Mr. Drayson
I was not intending to be uncharitable. I was merely complimenting the hon. Gentleman on his vigilance in speaking out for the regional office that I thought existed in his constituency. It might well not be one of those in which there might be room for economy.
I am merely saying that as there are nine regional offices throughout the 803 country it might be possible to effect economies so that their resources would then be available to strengthen the overseas information services. In his former capacity the Postmaster-General was very vigilant in closing food offices throughout the country. If he looks at this question he might decide that some economies can be made here, also.
Another point which has struck me about the work of the Central Office of Information is the issuing of pamphlets. I am sure that they are extremely useful and well drafted, but I do not think they are what is needed today. Nor am I impressed when we are told that tens of thousands of pamphlets have been issued during the past year. It looks as if someone is using noughts to bolster bad cases. It is not sufficient to produce pamphlets; what we want is to produce results.
I had thought of saying a word or two about the British Council, as that comes within the ambit of the Central Office of Information, but I will refrain from doing that—
§ Mr. Drayson
My attention has been drawn to its work in a publication produced by the Dail Mirror called "Britain's Voice Abroad." I hope that the Financial Secretary and the Postmaster-General have read that document, because it is extremely well produced. It commented:The British Council, contrary to some reports, does not concern itself exclusively with Morris dancing. It is, in fact, one of the cornerstones of British propaganda.I have seen its work in various parts of the world and I think it works very well, but it seems to have a passion for sending abroad photographs of ruins. If it concentrated a little more on Britain's architectural and industrial achievements in the present rather than on ruins of our past glories it would serve the case rather better.
Finally, I wish to say a word or two about the use of films. I consider that much greater use should be made of documentary and other films in our propaganda services overseas. I was extremely pleased to note that recently three films had been released, one called "The Facts about Port Said," another, "Report from Port Said," and the third, "Suez in Perspective." I hope that those 804 three films will be seen by vast audiences throughout the world. Undoubtedly, they will be used on television as well as on cinema screens.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
I am glad that the hon. Member has called attention to the value of films, but he will recall that the previous Conservative Government killed the Crown Film Unit, which used to do such excellent work in that connection.
§ Mr. Drayson
It may be that something like that should be revived. Whether it should be conducted by private enterprise to the order of Government Departments, or Governments should have their own film unit, I am not in a position to argue.
Earlier, I mentioned the question of the personnel responsible for putting over Britain's case abroad. We want a new approach to this subject. I remember the work of the Psychological Warfare Department, during the war. I wonder whether the Postmaster-General will consider enlisting some of those who worked in that Department to help in his new work. Particularly I have in mind one of our former colleagues, Mr. John Baker White, who recently published a book on this subject. I feel that he would be very useful in this sphere.
This is a very tough job, one in which we have to take the gloves off. We are dealing with half-truths and often with downright lies. I wonder whether more use could be made of the monitoring system of wireless broadcasts in which the monitor, listening in on the same wavelength, interrupts the programme there and then and says, "That is a lie; these are the facts." It is rather difficult for the Postmaster-General to counter such a move, because in his capacity as Postmaster-General he is concerned with wavelengths and international agreements. Therefore, there would have to be an organisation for which he could disclaim responsibility.
One of the difficulties in this type of propaganda is that of chasing a lie, trying to catch up with it and to put it right before the damage has been done. If it could be done straight away by interrupting "The Voice of Arabia," or whatever the programme may be, and saying, 805 "These are the facts. What has just been said is completely untrue." that would be more effective.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Has the hon. Member got this idea from the Scottish Nationalists, who interrupt the B.B.C. programme?
§ Mr. Drayson
I have not listened to the Scottish programme, but I know that the Scots are very good at interrupting on many occasions.
I have been very glad of the opportunity of opening this debate. I hope that later in the Session, when the Postmaster-General has had an opportunity of making a thorough review of the Government's information services, we shall have a full debate on this matter. This is an uphill job. I say, with all respect, "Up Hill and at 'em."
§ 11.38 a.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I beg to second the Motion.
I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) on choosing this subject for debate. It is vitally important, and one which we have neglected far too much in the past. That neglect has applied to both sides of the House, although I freely admit that we on this side have completely underestimated the vital need for propaganda ever since we have been in office.
I welcome very much the appointment of the Postmaster-General to co-ordinate the whole work of the Government's information services. Like my hon. Friend, I feel that that is not a part-time job. I hope that as time goes on my right hon. Friend will be put into a position in which he can devote the whole of his time to this very important work. I would go as far as to say that I should like to see a Minister of Information appointed to run a Department as the Ministry of Information was run during the war. That is the only way in which we can get down to this business of fighting the cold war with proper regard to information services.
It is agreed on all sides of the House that our present services are hopelessly inadequate to explain our case abroad and, as my hon. Friend has said, to answer many of the falsehoods put over by propagandists on behalf of foreign countries. That was recognised three 806 years ago in the Drogheda Report, which was the result of investigations by a Committee appointed by this Government to go into the whole question of our information services.
As my hon. Friend has stressed, it has been made still more obvious by recent events and the growth of Soviet influence all over the Middle East and in various other parts of the East, which have shown how unsuccessful have been our efforts of putting our case over. I realise that I have to be a little careful in my remarks about the overseas information services, so before proceeding further on that point I shall say something about the work of the Central Office of Information.
I think we all agree that this Department does an excellent job within the limits of the funds allotted to it. I believe that much more money should be spent upon it. If I make that suggestion I must accept the obvious question as to where the money is to come from—especially in view of the stringent limits within which we live in these days. I believe that the whole question of information and information services should be dovetailed with the question of defence. We are spending £1,500 million a year on defence, which I regard as absolutely vital. I am not suggesting that that sum could not be reduced; I am not in a position to say that. I do not want the slightest reduction in the value of our defence services in any way, but I should not be at all surprised if we could not find something out of the money allocated to our defence services by which we could increase our information services.
Altogether we are spending just over £2 million upon the Central Office of Information and about £11 million on the overseas information services. I am not sure how far the latter figure includes money spent on the Vote of the Central Office of Information, but I suggest that £50 million altogether would not be amiss if properly used in our information services today.
One of the services operated by the Central Office of Information is the London Press Service which, I gather, supplies background information to the news already supplied by agencies abroad, for the use of information offices in 807 foreign, Commonwealth and colonial countries. That is a vital service, which I should like to see increased. In addition, the Central Office of Information publishes two excellent magazines, one called "Today", on behalf of the Colonial Office, and the other "Commonwealth Today", on behalf of the Commonwealth Relations Office.
From an Answer given by my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury yesterday, I understand that the total cost of "Today"—which has eight issues per year—is £41,450. for a circulation of 152,000, and that the total cost of "Commonwealth Today"—with the same number of issues—is £31,900, with a circulation of 102,000. The total cost of these two magazines, distributed on a fairly wide basis over self-governing Commonwealth countries and Colonial Territories, is therefore only about £73,000, and the total circulation is 252,000 among a population of well over 400 million, which is really not very much.
I gather that most of the circulation of "Commonwealth Today" is in India and Pakistan. That is to be expected, because the populations of those two countries are obviously far greater than that of any other Commonwealth country. I suggest that we should try to double the circulation of those two papers. I understand that to do that would cost another £25,000 in respect of "Today" and another £17,100 in the case of "Commonwealth Today". To achieve that object, therefore, we should not be spending very much more than £110,000, if my mathematics are correct.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in answer to a Question of mine recently, said:We intend to review the possibility of increasing the scope and circulation of 'Today'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December. 1956; Vol. 562, c. 52.]That is encouraging news. I hope that the review will result in the circulation being increased. I do not think that my right hon. Friend should begrudge the very small amount of extra money needed to do that. Both magazines are of the same type as "Picture Post" or "Life", but upon a smaller scale. They are excellently produced, as anybody who knows anything about the production of magazines or newspapers will agree, and 808 they must be doing invaluable work in Commonwealth countries in putting over the British way of life and the British case.
The information offices of the Foreign Office, Commonwealth Relations Office, and the Colonial Office are largely responsible for distributing and dealing out the work of the Central Office of Information overseas. The London Press Service and the two magazines that I have mentioned come into that work.
There is a very important point to be considered in this regard. The people who are dealing with the Press of foreign countries and handing out the material put out by the Central Office of Information should have had some experience of the Press, or at least of advertising. Yet, in answer to a Question of mine put to the Foreign Secretary last April, concerning the proportion of information officers employed by the Foreign Office abroad who had had practical training in journalism or advertising, the then Minister of State, Mr. Anthony Nutting, gave me certain figures with which I shall not trouble the House now because I have since obtained more up-to-date ones, but in a supplementary question I asked him:Does my right hon. Friend think that this is satisfactory? Should not the very great majority of them have had some journalistic experience? Is not that what is needed to put over propaganda?Mr. Nutting replied:I think that that point can be driven too far. I think that what is needed to explain diplomacy … is a knowledge of diplomacy rather than a knowledge of the Press."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1956; Vol. 551, c. 986.]I would suggest that it is not a question of explaining diplomacy but of explaining British policy and the British way of life. Surely the people best equipped to do that are those who have been trained in the art, and surely they can learn British policy far more easily than a career diplomatist or a career civil servant can learn the art of journalism and propaganda.
The Foreign Office appears to have been looking at the matter from the wrong angle. The Colonial Office is much more alive to this need. In answer to a Question of mine recently, the Secretary of State said that all 13 of the information officers employed by his Department 809 who were engaged in Press relations work abroad had had journalistic or advertising experience. One would naturally not expect those engaged on film work or some other aspect of propaganda to have had Press experience, because they are not dealing directly with the Press, but it is satisfactory to know that in the case of the Colonial Office those who are dealing with the Press have had that experience.
In the Commonwealth Relations Office only 11 out of 30 employed overseas have had journalistic or advertising experience. That includes other specialists as well; it may be that I did not phrase my Question very carefully and the Department did not pick up the main point, as the Colonial Office did. It is satisfactory to know, however, that the two senior members of the seven employed at home by the Commonwealth Relations Office have had experience, one in journalism and the other in advertising, and it is also satisfactory to note that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations recently said that there had been a steady expansion in the information services and that they were considering further plans for expansion.
The situation in respect of the Foreign Office is very disappointing. The number employed there who have had experience in journalism or advertising was given in an Answer by the Joint Under-Secretary of State on 10th December as 59 out of a total of 152. I appreciate that the 152 include specialists engaged on film work, etc., but the 59, even deducting specialists, does not show anything as high a proportion as the 100 per cent. of the Colonial Office.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
These are most interesting figures. Can the hon. Gentleman give any idea of the other publicity specialists, apart from those with Press experience, who are included in the total which he has given?
§ Mr. Russell
I am afraid that I cannot give that information in respect of the Foreign Office. That was not one of the questions that I asked. All I have is the number for each individual country, together with the numbers of those who have had Press or advertising experience. I certainly intend to elucidate the other point by means of further questions, more accurately phrased.
810 There is a wide discrepancy in the distribution of the information officers who have had Press and advertising experience. Whereas 20 out of 30 in the United States come within that category, only 3 out of 23 do so in the very vital area of the Middle East, an area on which my hon. Friend rightly laid such strong stress. I understand that the senior officer in our information service in the United States is a lawyer who was at one time a censor. I do not in the slightest wish to cast aspersions upon that officer, but I suggest that somebody who has been a censor has not quite the right qualification for exuding information. It is quite the other way round. I suggest that we want in the top job there someone who has had Press or advertising experience, and I hope that that will be put right before very long.
The question of the qualifications to be sought in information officers was considered by the Drogheda Committee three years ago. Unfortunately, it endorsed the view of the Foreign Office when it said:We believe that the existing policy of the Foreign Office of using career Foreign Service officers for information work in posts overseas is sound in principle for this should be the best way of breaking down any prejudice which there might be against information work and of making the Foreign Service as a whole 'information-minded'.I suggest that the object of the information service is not to break down prejudice in the Foreign Office. The object is to put over British policy and the British way of life. I suggest that any prejudice in the Foreign Office might be broken down by suitable instructions on behalf of the Foreign Secretary. If it is necessary to make the Foreign Office more information-minded, I suggest that courses could be run, certainly for Foreign Office officials in this country, dealing with the value and importance of information work.
Incidentally, the Drogheda Report rather contradicts its conclusion in the recommendation which I have read. It goes on in further detail to say:The primary task of an Information Officer is to get out and about and cultivate editors, columnists, radio commentators and other leaders of opinion.I suggest that the best person for cultivating editors, columnists, radio commentators, etc., is someone who knows about their work.
811 The Report also says:There must be sufficient staff in the field for local editing…"—that is, of the work put out by the Central Office of Information—… and, where necessary, the translation of the London Press service into a form suitable for local consumption.That makes it abundantly clear that the best person for local editing of expert work put out by the Central Office of Information is someone who knows something about newspaper editing and subediting. That is another argument against the previous one put forward by the Drogheda Report.
The Report also says:It is possible to maintain an Information Office which does no more than deal with the Press. An efficient Press section represents therefore the minimum requirement of any Information Office.Therefore, if any information office is going to have only an efficient Press section, surely it must have someone who knows something about the Press.
That is why I am particularly sorry to see, in relation to the distribution of our information officers abroad and the proportion of them with Press or advertising experience, that the vital area of the Middle East is so badly off in comparison with other parts of the world, particularly the United States. In the Middle East area 3 out of 23 have such experience, and 2 of them are in Iraq and 1 in Libya. Others are employed in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, the Lebanon, Libya, the Persian Gulf and the Sudan. Egypt is omitted; presumably we have no one in the information service employed there now.
Iraq and Libya are perhaps not quite the most important of those countries. I suggest that Jordan and the Lebanon, and also Syria, which does not seem to be included at the moment, would be much more suitable areas for information officers with Press experience than some of the others, if there is to be a very small proportion. However, I suggest that the proportion of information officers with Press or advertising experience should be stepped up to about that obtaining in the United States.
I hope that, as a result of my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton choosing this subject and the opinions which I am sure will be expressed on both sides of 812 the House, something will be done to put our information services and the work of the Central Office of Information into a much more important position than they are at the moment, because I am sure that that is vitally necessary if we are to put Britain's case abroad.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am sure that we are all grateful to the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) for raising this subject. However, I am not in entire agreement with all that he has said. First, there is a minor matter which I should like to deal with right away. He suggested that we had been wrong not to subsidise Arab newspapers.
§ Mr. Paget
Yes, that we should have acquired a paper, whatever form it might take.
I believe that Lord Liverpool said the last word on that issue when Lord Castle-reagh suggested that we should do that very thing. Lord Liverpool said, "The trouble with your proposal is that the sort of newspaper which would accept our money is unlikely to have any credit with its readers." It is not just a question of having an opportunity to say things. It is a question of having an opportunity to say things in a voice which has credit with its readers. For instance, if one has any cause at heart, could one wish it better than that it should be attacked by the Daily Express? [AN HON. MEMBER: "Or the Daily Herald?"] Those are examples.
With regard to the Middle East, my view is that if one is going to sell goods, no advertising in the world will sell them unless they are goods that people want to buy. Therefore, if we are to put over something in the Middle East, it must be something which can be acceptable to the Middle East.
We are told about the British way of life. But do not hon. Members realise that the intense, passionate nationalism of the Middle East is based largely upon a rejection of the British way of life as the Middle East inhabitants conceive it? It is the rebellion against colonialism and against the alien way of life. By sending them pretty pictures of ruins we shall not 813 change their minds about that sort of thing. Equally, if we wish to sell not a way of life but a policy, we must have a policy which could conceivably be acceptable to them. Have we such a policy today?
§ Mr. Paget
We may come to the Middle West later, but we certainly have no such policy in the Middle East.
Again, we must have a voice which carries some credit. I am afraid—and I say this in no gloating sense, but with deep regret—that we have not got it. There is nothing which we can say in the Middle East which anybody there would believe. Therefore, so far as that area is concerned, we had far better leave it to the Americans to build up a Western point of view there. The Americans must begin at the bottom and build again. As for us, Brer Rabbit's policy is the best one there—sit tight and say nothing. We have to let time pass before we can do anything in that field.
However, there is a field with an enormous prospect, not in the Middle East but in the European East. There, quite suddenly, we have an enormous audience which wants to hear what we have to say and is now in the mood to accept it. That is where we ought to talk. Poland and Hungary have shown us the failure of the immense information services of the Russians to impose upon the mind of youth, to indoctrinate youth, to indoctrinate armies and even their own Communist parties.
Suddenly, in that area, there are people who are longing to hear the truth, from which they have been excluded for all this generation. Let us be intensely careful that what we say there is the truth. That is vital, because truth is the article which is in demand. It is the article which, for a generation, has been unknown. It is new.
At the same time, let us be careful not to discredit ourselves. Take, for example, the Port Said casualties. We put out a figure based on the best information available. It turned out to be wrong. When that sort of thing happens we should immediately say, "On such and such a date we gave you this figure. We are exceedingly sorry, but it was wrong. We believed it; it was the best 814 information we had. We now have better information, and here it is." That is something which they have never heard from the Russians. It is very important, if we are to build up our credit, to announce our mistakes when we make them.
Something which is even more important is public opinion in Russia. There has been trouble in Moscow University, over the events in Hungary. Russia has been built up on the basis of a Marxist mythology, the idea of the October Revolution, the idea of the rising of the workers against the Government, of the committees governing while the Kerensky Government became futile. They have seen the whole of this mythological process suddenly occurring in reality against the Russian Government in Hungary. It has been an enormous event for the Russians. Suddenly, the basis of what they have been brought up to believe is in question. The opportunity for truth there is absolutely prodigious.
May I mention a small example? I think that this happens in most families, though wise fathers perhaps seek to avoid it. There is a stage at which the child admires father and thinks that he is everything that is wonderful. Then, suddenly, he finds out about father and everything is wrong. Father has got to be rather careful not to build himself up too much, or his fall will be all the heavier.
That sort of thing has been happening in Russia. Suddenly, they have seen the inevitable feet of clay. That is where the opportunity arises today. Let us state the truth factually. Ignore opinion, for they are sick of opinion. They have had too much of it. Do not go in for declamation, but put over straight statements of truth, pursued ruthlessly.
A good many of the Hungarian refugees are Russian-speaking. Let us get factual descriptions of what happened to them, what they saw and what they know, and cut out any of the ideological froth. Let us get those factual statements on to the air in Russia. Within the last few years there has developed in Russia an enormous listening public which has suddenly become interested in hearing something new.
That is where our objective should lie. Let the Middle East alone for a bit. We are discredited there. Anything which 815 we say in the Middle East will only make matters worse, because nobody is in a mood to believe us. We should concentrate on the area where people are desperately anxious to hear what we have to say. This is a great opportunity.
Mr. Speaker, I very seldom seek to catch your eye in a debate when I am not in a position to stay to the end, I apologise very sincerely, but I have an engagement and, therefore, I shall not be able to stay to the end. I am most grateful for having had an opportunity to speak in the debate.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) on his luck in the Ballot and also on his choice of subject, because it is of vital importance at this time particularly that the question of our public relations abroad should be discussed in the House.
I am afraid that I do not take the very gloomy view which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) takes about the rôle which we must play in the Middle East in future. Nor do I agree that we are completely discredited there, as he has suggested, but I have had a lot of information from the Middle East recently to the effect that if we are discredited it is due very largely to the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition and some of his followers during the course of the recent debates. They did more to harm British interests in the Middle East and to discredit British prestige in the Middle East than anyone else in the country.
Not on the first occasion, that is, 2nd August, when the right hon. Gentleman made a very admirable and statesmanlike speech, but in his subsequent speech, when he denied everything that he said before, he claimed to speak for half the nation. If he had been doing so, that, of course, would have been a very important factor; but the truth was that he was not speaking for half this nation at all. He was speaking for a very prejudiced section of the nation, and as he has since learnt from Gallup polls and otherwise, he was not speaking for anything like half the nation I do not take the view that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton 816 takes about the Middle East; but I wholeheartedly support him in his assertion of the vital importance of public relations, propaganda and information services in Europe. I was associated with the hon. and learned Gentleman some time ago in trying to bring about a closer relationship between the countries of Europe. I remember that we had some conferences abroad. He and I bad the same aims and aspirations in regard to European union.
I still share those views, and I hope to see them come to fruition in the future. It is only now that this House is really taking an interest in European development, and great progress has recently been made. I am quite sure the hon. and learned Gentleman has played a large part in bringing about that change of view, both in his own party and in the country generally, because he is a very able propagandist.
Our information service in the Middle East has been a lamentable failure in recent years. I am at a loss to know why it has in recent months deteriorated so much. There was a time when our information service in Egypt was very good indeed, because we had Ambassadors there who saw to it that they were well-informed and well-served by the public relations department. In recent years, our information from the Middle East has been lamentable and indeed disastrous.
Consider for a moment what happened during the recent events in the Middle East which have been so much highlighted in recent debates. It seems incredible, but it is a fact, that our Ambassador in Cairo did not know that a war was going to take place, or had taken place, until he heard bombs dropping on aerodromes. He was not informed by anybody, so he told his friends, and had no information until he saw the action taking place. He did not know that Israel and Egypt were going to be engaged in a war although it was obvious that something would happen, and mobilisation was taking place. The Ambassador himself was not informed and knew nothing.
The result was that our nationals were not alerted and organised as they should have been; they were not got out quickly, and some of them are still there. They have been subjected to the most appalling 817 indignities and humiliations, as well as having had all their possessions confiscated by the Egyptians. Our Ambassador is home. No doubt he felt that it was the best policy to come home to organise, or try to organise, something at this end.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I will pass over that. Our Ambassador has been working very hard since he came home to try to organise the reception of our nationals who have come out of Egypt.
The fact remains that some of these wretched people have a very sad story to tell. Some of them have spent their whole lives in Egypt. They have had to leave all their possessions, their pensions and everything else, finding themselves suddenly without any resources whatsoever as a result of the action of the Egyptian Government, being turned out of the country which they have served so well for so long.
What I am trying to find out is why the American Ambassador and Embassy were so much better informed. On Monday, 5th November, the American authorities alerted all their nationals in Egypt—some two or three thousand, I believe—organised a fleet of cars, arranged transport and ships, and got them all out in record time.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
On a point of order. Is it the job of the Central Office of Information to advise British nationals abroad about developments of international affairs? Is the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) not now discussing functions of the Foreign Office and not of the Central Office of Information?
§ Mr. Speaker
I was listening with great care to the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald). I thought that perhaps his argument was that the events which he was narrating would be a suitable subject for the Central Office of Information to give publicity to; but I was not at all convinced that that was the case. I think that the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight ought to keep closer to the Motion than he is at the moment. We cannot really use the Motion to discuss a subject which has already received a little attention in this House.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I certainly accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I understood that the topic of the Central Office of Information had a very wide scope and embraced questions relating to information services generally throughout the world. At any rate, such was the line taken in what he advocated for the Central Office of Information by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton who moved the Motion. However, so much for events in Egypt.
I turn now to consider other parts of the Middle East, places such as Kuwait, Bahrein and the Persian Gulf. Those territories, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton must know, are of vital importance to us. We must get our oil supplies from them. When I and some of my colleagues were in Kuwait a couple of years ago, we found that British engineers had done a magnificent job in building schools, technical colleges and so forth for Kuwait. We have a Ruler there who believes in spending his money in the right way, on his own people, and he has certainly built up a wonderful organisation for schooling and public services. We found, however, that those schools were staffed almost entirely by teachers from Egypt.
We discussed at some length with our Minister there the lack of British information services and P.R.O. services, and he said he had not got any because he had no money to spend on information services of that kind. He said he was not sure whether propaganda from his Residency would be the best means of putting over the British point of view. He added that, although the British Council seemed to be coming under fire from certain sections of the Press at the time, he thought that it would be the best medium to use in that territory to put over the British way of life and point of view.
I believe that to be true. Although a great deal has been said about the work of the British Council, it has in many ways done a very good job, and it is doing a very good job today. What it lacks most of all is funds to carry out functions which it is supposed to perform.
I hope that whoever is to reply will tell us what has been done in providing P.R.O. services in the Persian Gulf, in places like Kuwait and Bahrein. Kuwait has been extremely friendly to us, and it 819 is from that area that we must get most of our oil supplies; one of the biggest oil wells in the world, of which we own half, is situated there. We must give close attention also to Bahrein, because there again we have territory with a ruling Sheikh who is friendly to this country. Yet, so far as I know, there is no propaganda or public relations service to counteract the constant stream of anti-British propaganda which is being pumped into the area by Colonel Nasser's propaganda machine. That is of vital importance to us at the present time, and at all times.
I am very glad that the Postmaster-General has been made responsible for this service, and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton, I should like to see him promoted to Cabinet rank immediately in order that he may be able to Rive, straight from the horse's mouth, as it were, the fullest information not only to us but to the whole world with regard to our policy and what we intend to do.
Reference has also been made to our information services in America. There, again. I think that we have failed lamentably in putting over the British point of view. There may be a reason for that failure, but I do not think that the reasons given to me so far are justifiable, because we are spending an enormous sum of money in America—it has the top priority for information services—and yet I am quite convinced that had we done our job properly in America and had a real professional propagandist or journalist at the top of that organisation in recent months or years. American people would not be so appallingly ignorant of the importance of the Middle East to this country and to Europe generally as they are today.
It is true that when the Foreign Secretary went to America he was allowed the facilities of the full American network to explain the British point of view and the reason why we went into Egypt. That had an enormous effect immediately in changing the point of view of the American people and of the Press; and it had the same effect in Canada. If that information had been put over in the first place or had information been given in recent years, we should not have had the bad reception which we had when that action took place. It is all very well to spend a lot of money—it costs a lot of 820 money to put one's views over on the American network; there is no doubt about that—but it is far better to spend it first than afterwards, shutting the door after the horse is stolen.
That no doubt is where we have failed in the past in our information service in America. It is surely time that instead of having an amateur, probably an admirable man but a lawyer, there, we had a journalist who understands public relations well, and has had experience of it.
I myself remember passing through America on a mission at a time when the Labour Government were in office and were negotiating the American loan. I read and heard then the most diabolical charges being made against this country that I had ever heard. We were supposed to be negotiating for a loan because we were "broke" and yet, in certain papers and in certain circles in which we moved, we were told that we had concealed in America investments amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.
We had an enormous staff in our information service and a very good head of the department. I went there and was shown over the department. I asked if the figures could be produced to counteract the propaganda going out about our holding of American securities because I felt that it must be wrong, as I knew that certain firms in this country had suffered and that before we were allowed to have Lease-Lend we were obliged to sell everything that we could in America. For instance, certain firms such as Courtaulds had to sell not only their enormous business in America but had to give away their trade secrets as well. I could name other firms.
I thought it wrong that those allegations should go unchallenged. I asked our information service there to produce facts and figures, but I failed to get them. There are still Americans who believe that when we ask for loans we conceal a great amount of dollar securities which we could put into the pool and do not disclose any credits at all. That is where the information service should come in. It could give out the facts immediately when any such allegations were made. This is certainly the time when the facts ought to be made known.
What of the future? There is no doubt that our overseas service is lacking in initiative and drive and requires 821 a great deal of pepping up. I am glad to see that at last we have a Minister, whom we all respect and have regard for, who has had some experience of publicity work in the past and who certainly delighted us all when he was broadcasting in the B.B.C. service.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Not all all the time, but he certainly knew how to put the facts over and he is obviously the man today to be in that position. I want to see him in a position where he can talk at first hand at top level, be informed of all the facts and of any policy which the Government intend to put over, and see that they get into the proper hands and are understood outside and overseas. That is of vital importance.
I think that the Central Office of Information is a very important organisation. I certainly think, in spite of what the Daily Express may say, that the British Council has a part to play in our information service and that it ought to be given more encouragement than it has had, financially and in other ways. For instance, in respect of cultural relations or languages in foreign countries it is able to do the job. It has done a very good job in some parts of the world, in the Middle East particularly, and I wish it every success. The Central Office of Information is the obvious organisation which we should foster and encourage to carry out our overseas information services, and I hope that the Government will give it every encouragement and see that our British point of view is put over to the best possible advantage at all times.
§ 12.29 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
On 2nd April, 1952, we had a Supply debate on a Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) on the need to spend more money on our information services abroad. When I was trying to collect together some facts for a speech on that subject, I came across what to me was a startling piece of information, that there was about to be launched a new detergent called "Surf." It seemed to me a funny name and it was to be the rival of "Tide" of which, of course, I had heard.
822 I quoted in my speech the fact that, according to the World Press News, Lever's were prepared to spend as much as £1 million on the "Surf" drive in order to get people "Surf"-minded instead of "Tide"-minded, I went on to point out that this was about £300,000 more than the whole of our spending on colonial and Commonwealth information apart from our grant to the British Council.
§ Mr. MacColl
I regret that I was not in the confidence of Messrs. Lever's on the subject, and I am not certain over what period it was to be spent.
I went on to say:…at a time when, if we fail, we shall lose not only our position in the Commonwealth and Empire but all our moral leadership of the world, we assess the importance of that in terms of information at slightly less than a capitalist combine would assess the value of a now detergent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd April. 1952; Vol. 498, c. 1735.]If you were to demean yourself, Mr. Speaker, by going into my kitchen now, you would find a large packet of "Surf," and I imagine you would find that in a lot of kitchens. We are now all "Surf"-conscious and it no longer seems funny that a firm, in order to compete with something called "Tide," should call it "Surf." We all know or think that if we use "Surf." somehow it is different from "Tide."
What is the converse of this picture? My other prophecy has also come true. We certainly lost the moral leadership of the world. We have lost the battle for ideas in every part of the Middle East, of the Far East and of our Commonwealth; and we have failed in the task which many of us then saw and put to the Government as being essential in 1952.
We lost it because—I do not say wholly because—as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, if we are to sell, we must have something that is worth selling. We have failed to spend money adequately and efficiently. There is, of course, a shadowy figure behind this debate who is not present but who is probably as much responsible as anyone for losing the battle for the British Empire, and that is the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, who at that time occupied the position now held by the 823 hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this debate. Knowing nothing whatsoever about information or about the problems involved in information, he, in his slaphappy way, as he had to cut down money, simply went round cutting it down right and left without any regard to the effects of what he was doing.
What happened to the figures? I was not the only person who made this point. It was put most effectively by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) and by many other speakers, who pointed out the dangers of allowing our information services to run down. In the year after that debate, Central Office of Information expenditure on foreign services was £537,000. That was in 1953–54. In spite of the rise in prices, by 1955–56 it was only £585,700 and for 1956–57 it has gone up to £718,350. That is a very remarkable Jump but, of course, a jump caused by panic, just as this debate was caused by panic.
Anyone who listened to the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) moving his Motion must have felt that it was a clinical exhibition of schizophrenia. Half of it produced all the stock, hackneyed, half-baked arguments about information, about purging P.R.O.s, burning pamphlets and cutting down regional offices—just the kind of stupid, slap-happy attitude to the problem which led to the trouble. That is one part of the hon. Member which would have been dominant in 1952 had we had a Division on this question.
In 1956, however, many people are beginning to realise what has happened as a result of that policy, and Members who are on the whole indifferent to the question of public information are beginning to realise that something has gone wrong. Therefore, we have this sudden urge to spend money right and left on everything. Although I welcome the conversion and the new attitude, I am not unaware of some of the dangers that are involved in it. Unless the information services are organised intelligently, we can waste a tremendous amount of money. If we are faced with a Government who say, "Goodness me, everything has gone wrong. We are stinking all over the world. We must vote and spend more money," without thinking about how it is to be spent or the most effective 824 use to be made of it, we shall simply get a tremendous amount of waste and trouble.
The question is, are we likely to get a real information policy out of the Government? The answer, according to the hon. Member for Skipton and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald), is the Postmaster-General. I hope that they are right. I am a little suspicious of the Postmaster-General. I suspect that the result of his policy will be that we see the Central Office of Information abolished and all other Government information services abolished, and that we shall have the whole thing handed over to those intrepid bastions of Government publicity, the Dagenham Girl Pipers, on whom the Postmaster-General will put his main reliance for selling the ideas of British Christian democracy to the world.
I fail to see why a genius displayed in conveying to one in soothing tones over the radio the best way of treating one's bunions is necessarily a qualification for mobilising the forces of this country in a battle of ideas—a battle dealing with the great fundamentals of life—between ourselves and the evil forces which are struggling to control the world. It may be that I am a little too cynical about the Postmaster-General and that he will do better than I think he will. It seems to me, however, that we must look at this problem in three stages.
There is, first, the stage of policy and ideas of what we want to do. Here, it seems to me, we require decisions taken at a very high level on the grand strategy. It is not enough simply to have a Minister of Information if by that we mean having a specific Minister as head of the Central Office of Information. There may be advantages in that in the battle of empires going on between one section of the information services and another, but what we require, surely, is somebody who is looking at the whole field, not only the C.O.I. and its work, the British Council and the B.B.C., but also the other bodies -the Colonial Office, the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, for example—all of whom are using the common services of the Central Office of Information.
Somebody must look over the whole of this picture and see how the different parts of it fit in. Unless we do that, 825 what we will do—I say this with the greatest good will to the people concerned—is to get a feeling among the different sections of the information service that at last the new Jerusalem has come, at last the Government are prepared to spend money, and therefore everybody will be trying to put his particular little section of the empire ahead in order to get expansion of his own particular work.
Therefore, it is important that we should have a strong, presumably inter-Departmental, Committee, presided over by, I suppose, a Minister; but we do not want a Minister of National Guidance or a kind of fuehrer. What we want is somebody presiding over a kind of ideological chiefs of staff committee with the needs of the different sides of the work—colonial, foreign, home, and so on—before them. Their job would be to work all those requirements into a co-ordinated and synthesised programme. I hope that is what we shall be told the Government are to have.
We cannot have the picture looked at merely as a part-time activity of the Postmaster-General or even, more ironically, have it looked after by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, whose main job is to cut down expenditure wherever he sees it. No one could be more humane or broad-minded than the present occupant of that office, but it is not his job. He is a most conscientious exponent of his job of cutting down. What we are looking for is wise and well-phased expansion. Therefore, it is vitally important to have somebody who will really co-ordinate all the different services and all the different customers of the information services.
The next stage is the stage of producing the material. The real danger is that in a matter like information, everybody thinks he knows. There is, therefore, an awful danger of the amateur trying to tell the professional how to do the job. Of course, we in this House would not be here if we did not think that we were rather whales at the art of publicity and writing good election addresses etc. which convince people. Therefore, we are all inclined to think that we know the answer, and that is extremely dangerous. It is dangerous in this way. It is easy for Ministers to think that the appearance of their photographs there 826 will raise morale in the Middle East, whereas someone with experience of publicity, and taking a dispassionate view of his task, may form a different assessment of what is wanted.
It is dangerous also in that everybody has his pet ideas of what should or should not be done and of how it should be done and how it should not. Take the hon. Member for Skipton. "No pamphlets," he says, "Results, not pamphlets." The C.O.I. must not take the road to Damascus. According to my hon. and learned Friend, it must not take the road to the Middle East at all. This is the danger. By the time we cut out pamphlets, broadcasts, exhibitions, there is not much left. The only thing to do then would he to convert the Central Office of Information into an enclosed religious house, which may perhaps upon the spiritual plane be able to exert its will in far parts of the world. On the terrestrial plane, however, needs some materials to enable it to get results.
Once it has been decided what kind of thing it is it is desired to do the best people to judge how to do it are the experts, and the experts, presumably, in the Central Office of information. I should not think that a principal Department of State would be expert in this business or would pretend to be expert. I think it ought to recognise that this business has a technical side, and that a vast amount of experience has been developed in it, and that the Department should be prepared to take the advice of the people who are best qualified to give it.
The third stage is the distribution of the matter. That has been discussed a good deal in the debate. I have read, as everybody else has read, "Britain's Voice Abroad", the Daily Mirror pamphlet, with considerable interest. However, I must say I have also read it with alarm. In 1952 we were discussing the question of the attitude of the Afro-Asian world to British democracy. Since then we have had the most startling failures in various parts of the British Commonwealth, failures of our democracy, even to its rejection, as, for instance, in the Mau Mau situation in Kenya, and in the abrogation of the Constitution in British Guiana.
I said I read that report with alarm. I did so because, according to this report, in neither of those countries has there 827 been a British information officer at all. In the whole of the 38 territories administered by the Colonial Office there were only three information officers, on the Gold Coast, at Lagos, and in Trindad, as recently as 1954. I think the argument is that we can leave the work to the local Governments. If, however, a local Government happens to be unsympathetic to British ideas, then it seems to me an odd sort of arrangement.
Surely, if we take our duty seriously, and are to do it seriously, there ought to be an adequate supply of independent information officers, not to interfere in local politics, but who can simply put across our ideas of what democracy means, and of what the system is all about, what our ideas are for the development of the Commonwealth, and our good faith in the development of self-government.
That was one example, culled from that booklet, of how we have been failing in this task. Another was that unearthed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton). That was in Cyprus, whither was sent Lord Lumley, aged 23, Eton and Oxford, but not, apparently, speaking any Greek.
One does not need to be an expert in colonial affairs or in foreign affairs to realise that to appoint in a country whose people are as sensitive to language and race as are the people of Cyprus a spokesman for us who does not know their language is folly. Any workaday Member of Parliament with a little nous realises that to send as our spokesman to Cyprus anybody not thoroughly familiar with Greek demonstrates a breathtaking indifference to the problems we are facing. Is it any wonder that at the moment we have this horrible, bloody holocaust going on in Cyprus?
We point our fingers at the Archbishop and say that he is a terrible man, but the people who are really responsible for this tragedy are the people of the kind who can be so utterly blind to the elementary facts of psychology as not to realise the importance of having our whole Administration, particularly on the information side, comprised of people saturated with the Greek language, so that our communications with the Cypriots can be in their language, in which they take a tre- 828 mendous traditional pride, which they want to use for all purposes, and which they want to preserve alive. We recognise the existence of such a psychological need in the case of Wales. What a terrific hullabaloo there would be if we did not. We are quite indifferent to it in Cyprus.
So I suggest that there is a tremendous need to consider, not only the matter to be disseminated, but the staffs who do the work, and their organisation, for if the organisation is ineffective to distribute the matter, then the matter itself will be wasted.
The hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), who seconded the Motion, mentioned the Drogheda Report, and said that it did not suggest that the information officers should be professional. I do not know whether that is true or not, because we have only an expurgated edition of the Report. This is one of the most singular things, that on the subject of our information services, the Report upon which we have to rely has for security reasons to be expurgated. In other words, this Report on information is a monument to how not to give information. What is printed is highly selective, and one does not know how far one can trust it to be a true reflection of what the Committee said, for we have no real information of what it did say.
However, according to that Report, the Committee said that the existing Foreign Office practice of employing a number of career officers should be maintained but information specialists, as opposed to local experts, should where possible be seconded from the Central Office of Information. That was a recommendation of the Drogheda Committee. Presumably it knew what it was talking about. It would be interesting to know whether that recommendation is being carried out. Has the Foreign Office accepted the advice of the Drogheda Committee and, if so, how many officials from the C.O.I. have been seconded to the distribution points in order to be able to advice on the technical problems involved? If the answer is that none have been, or if the answer is that only very few have been, then one cannot have any confidence in the Government's awareness of the seriousness of this problem.
I do not want to detain the House because other people want to speak, and, 829 therefore, I shall not talk about the home situation, but I do want to enter my protest against any suggestion of cutting down the regional offices of the C.O.I. That suggestion exactly illustrates the kind of difficulty in which we are. Hon. Members opposite are all panicking at the moment because of the foreign situation, and they say "Spend the money for this work there, and cut down expenditure on the work at home, cut down the number of people drinking cups of tea in local offices at home; save at home to be expansive abroad". That is a danger we must face.
One of the problems facing the country al the moment is that here at home we have somehow or another got to get the people in our industrial and economic life together to bring the country to a realisation of the problems in which it is involved. We cannot solve such questions as those of inflation, the necessity for people to move from one industry to another, etc., unless the people understand the problems and are encouraged to solve them. In a democracy these problems can be solved amicably only. The only way to avoid strikes, for instance, is by making clear to workers and employers what the problems are all about.
As a Member of the Opposition it comes perhaps better from me than from Government supporters to say that the Government ought to be putting across to the people what their industrial policy is. They must put their economic and industrial policies across to the people. Of course, they should consult the Trades Union Congress and the Federation of British Industries and other bodies, but at the same time they must get across to the people as a whole what the problems are and what their policies are for resolving them.
In the days of Sir Stafford Cripps there was a wonderful machine set up. If one wanted to know the answer to a question, one pressed a button. "Why is the sterling value of the dollar going down?" was the question, perhaps. One pressed a button, and the answer flashed into view. Then there was the question, "Does it matter to the country that it should export more than it imports?" and one pressed another button and received the answer. A machine like that would be technically difficult to evolve 830 to explain the Government's present policy.
§ Mr. MacColl
Yes, it would get overheated and would burst. The Postmaster-General could not use even the Chancellor's electronic calculator for Premium Bonds to balance all the divisions and pressures that influence the present Government's policy.
Another point which is a King Charles's head to me about the C.I.O. regional offices is that they should be used much more to help the local authorities in their work. The regional offices of the C.I.O. in each area should be expert bodies available to advise local authorities in their public relations and give them the kind of technical assistance and know-how which they cannot hope to get themselves out of their limited resources.
I welcome the Motion, which shows signs of conversion. Deep thought is required about future organisation if we are to avoid waste of money and also, when the panic is over and the other side of the hon. Member for Skipton gets on top again, avoid a situation where there are lots of cuts and slashes and the whole business is upset once more. We want a steady, well-organised, well-planned and expanding service which can be generally accented by both sides of the House as really doing the job in the interest of the nation and the world.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
At the beginning of the recent war, the Army, Navy and Air Force, with a unanimity that finally convinced me, decided that they could win the war without any help from me, and I joined the Ministry of Information. I spent the whole of the war years doing the very job at home which we are now discussing on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson).
The early days of the Ministry of Information were, as hon. Members will well recall, filled with difficulties. I have taken no part in any discussions in the House on information services since I have been a Member, because I was not sure how far one would be bound by the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, and any revelation of all that went on in 831 the Ministry of Information during the war would be at the very least interesting. I did, however, write a book which I have not yet published and which I do not suppose I ever shall, called "Me and Minnie", pointing out some of the things done by that Department during the war that came out of my own personal knowledge.
I grew, in the years that I was in the Ministry, to have the highest possible regard for the Department itself and for the seeming miracles that it could accomplish and, indeed, in many spheres did accomplish during the war, whether it was persuading women that they should be fire-watchers or the population generally that they would see better in the black-out if they ate carrots, or taking distinguished visitors round the country to show the extent and the success of Britain's war effort and the sacrifices willingly made by the people in pursuit of an agreed aim.
The Ministry of Information, by the time that it really got going on a proper basis in the later years of the war, was a highly successful, supremely efficient instrument for putting over a point of view. It was a great disappointment to me when the Department was so reduced as to become less than a shadow of its glorious war-time self and to produce a situation in which the House can meet today, as the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has said, in some atmosphere not of panic but of pressing concern to discuss what has happened to Britain's case and to blame whatever failures there may be to understand Britain's case abroad on the absence of proper British information services.
The country and the House face a dilemma if they think that it is simply a matter of setting up a grand new machine with nice, shining equipment and a lot of money in the "kitty" to put over what we all describe as Britain's case, and which we all for ourselves interpret differently. Indeed, that is the basic problem which faces anyone in the country who tries to decide what we are going to sell.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is going to sell the truth and nothing but the truth, and I wish him joy of it. Indeed, he will impress a great many people in all parts 832 of the world and perhaps surprise a good many, too. Certainly, there will be a ready market for the truth. It is beyond my qualifications to enter the field of philosophy, but what do we mean by the truth? What is the truth? How does the hon. and learned Member for Northampton interpret today's events in the light of the necessity to tell the truth and nothing but the truth?
The House could never agree on what the new machine was to put over as the truth. The whole art of propaganda, of convincing someone of anything, is not necessarily to tell lies—that is the worst way to do it—but to select one's truth and select one's facts and put out those of the facts that support one's case and conceal, if one is able to do it, those of the facts that rather let one down.
It has been remarked that we here come into the House as a result of a propaganda campaign, which is all that a General Election is. Hon. Members have some practice in the matter of the art of selecting how much of the truth we shall allow to be said from our side, knowing that the other chap is busy collecting facts against us and trying to reveal the evidence that he has that we have held back facts that were inconvenient to us at the time. All of us here are successful selectors of facts for propaganda purposes.
The dilemma which we face today was not present during the war, when British information services were in the hands of the Ministry of Information, with a Minister of Cabinet rank looking after them. The country had an agreed policy and an agreed war aim. It was stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), as Prime Minister, in succinct terms. It was victory, that was all.
The Ministry of Information was required to put over the idea that all the resources of the country, moral and material, were to be devoted to achieving the defeat of our enemies in the military sense. It is a pity, perhaps, that it stopped there, but, nevertheless, that was the objective we sought to achieve. But when the war was over the objectives of the country became a little less clear. It is now a little less self-evident what this new propaganda machine is to say and to what the leaflets are to be directed.
I know that hon. Members opposite will not mind my saying that there may 833 be differences of opinion, along party lines, about what the country ought to be seeking to achieve and what we ought to be saying about it. I referred to my enrolment in the ranks of officers of the Ministry of Information at the beginning of the war. I was sent there at the request of those who thought that the Ministry, as then constituted, was overwhelmingly staffed with Socialists, but when I went there people said, "Good gracious, here is another Tory. The whole place is stiff with them now." It is very largely a point of view, and we shall find ourselves in the difficulty, if we create this vast propaganda machine, of failing to agree upon what it will achieve. We shall also be in a worse position in that we shall have insufficient resources at the call of those who are to do the job.
What about the British way of life? The British way of life cannot mean very much to those who live in the Buraimi Desert, or in Kenya. It may be very repugnant to some people in Kenya and very attractive to others. How are we to tell the same story and circulate the same facts to different sections of the same audience? I do not know how we can do that. We are facing a practical difficulty which takes the problem right beyond our capacity to deal with it.
We have to decide that this country—here I do not relate what I am saying to anything which has happened recently—is aware of the "tide in the affairs of men"; that an historical process is going on all the time; that there are new concepts of Christian democracy and political philosophy to which we are prepared to contribute; that we are willing to accept and to initiate change, if we believe it to be for the good of the community as a whole—or at any rate, for that part for which we are responsible.
If we do that, people really will believe that, for example, repressive police action in Cyprus serves a long-term objective. If people can be persuaded that we believe it does, then I have no doubt we shall be able to secure a much wider measure of acceptance of British policy, either in Cyprus, the Middle East, or anywhere else; provided it is believed that the people of this country really are 834 on the march, intellectually as well as in the form of troop movements to the trouble spots of the world.
I want to see a growth not just of the budget of the Central Office of Information, however attractive that may be; not just a new development of ideas in putting over what Britain means to Britons and those who understand Britain—either through the British Council or in other ways. I want ideas which can be spread abroad because they are true; the realisation that there is in this country an awareness of the fact that this is 1956; that this is the second half of the twentieth century; that there are new ideas in the country and that we are capable of translating them into terms which may be understood by those for whom we are responsible in Colonies or Protectorates throughout the world.
That could be applied in the British Dominions and, above all, have a full impact on those who live in countries subjected to alien rule, under repressive' masters from behind the Iron Curtain who, whatever their faults, at least have an intellectual idea which they are seeking to have accepted in areas beyond their own country.
If we can do that, I am quite convinced that we can rapidly build up a successful information service for telling the truth—probably telling more of the truth than any other machine is capable of allowing. We shall gain a wider understanding among those people who do not necessarily wish Britain well, but who wish to see the kind of things we stand for triumph in a world which, heaven knows, has seen enough of conflict and disturbance—an ordinary world seeking a decent solution to its problems.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) professes to be a seeker after truth. I wonder whether he ever thinks that he has come to the wrong place? I am not so sure that he is likely to find it here.
I understand that one of the duties of the Postmaster-General—the right hon. Gentleman has been congratulated on his new appointment and I wish to join in those congratulations—will be to help to spread universal truth throughout this country and the world. The right hon.
835 Gentleman has a background of experience as a propagandist. In my younger days the word "propaganda" was regarded as a decent sort of word to describe the efforts of people genuinely striving to advocate some idea.
In these days, after two world wars, people used the word as though it meant something to twist the truth. I hope that the Postmaster-General has not been chosen for that purpose. I do not wish to prejudge him, but I think that he should take a few lessons in elementary geography. I remember that when he once made a famous, or notorious, broadcast, he referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), as, "The troglodyte from Tonypandy."
§ The Postmaster-General (Dr. Charles Hill)
It was not "troglodyte," though, geographically, the hon. Gentleman is correct. I cannot remember the word I used. It was not "troglodyte."
§ Mr. Hughes
I think it was something which began with the letter "T." I only used the word "troglodyte" to see whether the right hon. Gentleman could remember.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, Tito—" The Tito from Tonypandy."
What an extraordinary business that was, because one of the first essentials of a Minister of Information is that he shall have an elementary knowledge, not of the truth, but of geography. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale was not born at Tonypandy. I happen to have been born there, and I thought that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was referring to me. My right hon. Friend was born at Tredegar. If the right hon. Gentleman can mix up Tonypandy and Tredegar, and get his geography wrong, what will happen when he goes to Iran or Iraq? I therefore think that the first thing that the right hon. Gentleman needs is an elementary course in world geography.
Throughout the debate we have heard a lot about the cold war. The basis of the Motion appears to be that we need 836 more money to spend on information for the purpose of carrying on the cold war. But hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to know against whom they are to carry on the cold war. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) was under the impression that we wanted a lot more information in order to carry on the cold war with America. I am absolutely against spending the money of this country at present on supplying more information to America, because there is not the slightest reason for believing that America lacks such information.
When I was an editor, I always read the American papers very carefully. I found in them information about this country which I did not find in our own papers. It is a fundamental illusion to think that the great American people are not thoroughly well-informed about events in this country, and that we need to spend money telling the Americans more. I remember that when a very great controversy broke out in this country, the interesting and historical event of the abdication of King Edward VIII. I read the information in the American papers a month before there was anything published in this country. Indeed, I looked with great longing at the American papers and wondered how far I could reproduce the truth from them and publish it here. I came to the conclusion that it was far too dangerous for me to do so.
I think it true to say that the Americans know far more about this country than this country knows itself. I should regard it as extremely undesirable that we should—at present, when we are in dollar difficulties—spend public money to spread the truth in the United States of America. But I believe that something should be done to stop the cold war against America and prevent the growth of anti-American feeling in this country. Far too much of that has been displayed during the last few weeks and conveyed to the United States. It is the wrong kind of information that we are sending to America.
For example, I have here a quotation from a speech made by the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett). What sort of reaction will this have in America? It will take a lot to undo this one. The hon. Gentleman said:Washington is behind an Iron Curtain stronger than that which surrounds Russia. 837 All attempts to repair a gulf in thoughts between the two countries have been baulked by the White House.I believe that the duty of the Postmaster-General might be to try to convey information to the American people that the anti-American feeling of his hon. Friends is not shared by the people of this country. When they are told, as the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham said, that we have been double-crossed four times by the United States of America, that is surely a most unhappy prelude to the right hon. Member's attempts to tell the truth about this country to America.
I have every reason for believing that the Americans do not need the extra assistance of the Postmaster-General. I read the American Press very carefully indeed. I am very much indebted to the American information services in this country for sending me regularly two well-known American papers. One succeeds in getting international information from the pages of the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune which one does not get from papers in this country.
I should like to ask whether one of the purposes of this new information service is to send to members of the American Congress copies of extracts from our own papers. Will they send copies of the Manchester Guardian and The Times, to say nothing about other papers, our well-informed papers, to the senators of America in the same way as we get copies of the American Press here?
§ Mr. Hughes
Even the Paris edition is very good. If I want further information I can get the full edition in the Library. Incidentally, the hon. Member is wrong about the Paris edition of the New York Times, because that is not printed in Paris but in Amsterdam.
If we are to try to put the best possible case for the British point of view in America, I believe that an authoritative statement should be made by somebody who happens to be listened to with respect, such as the military correspondent of the New York Times. It is not good for this country to send films about Suez to the Americans. They are absolutely 838 inoculated against films about Suez. As for what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said about our no longer being believed in the Middle East, that is quite true; but we are not believed in the Middle West. either.
I have here an article which is read very carefully and syndicated throughout the whole of the United States. The article describes what this country has done in the Middle East. Mr. Hanson W. Baldwin heads the article:A Confused Invasion.He says, for example:During the first part of the planning a 10-day bombing campaign against Egypt was considered as the means of achieving the elimination of President Nasser. The theory was that the Egyptians could not stand bombing and that an attack from the air alone would spark a revolt against the Egyptian President.I advise hon. Members to read the article, because it is the opinion of one of the best-informed correspondents in the world.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I do not think that the British information services can be responsible for that article, can they?
§ Mr. Hughes
No, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I was pointing out that it is the duty of the British information services to reply to it. If they do not know about it, they will never be able to reply to it.
One of the purposes of the information services is to try to convey information to the American public. I do not believe that the American public have been misled. I believe that Mr. Hanson W. Baldwin's arguments in the New York Times are very sound. I will pass from this after quoting the final paragraph, but my point is that if British propaganda is to be of any use at all in America, it must be to give the British point of view in reply to criticisms by authoritative spokesmen in the Press of America.
I pass from this after reading this paragraph, which, I think, should be the basis of our counter-offensive on the American front. Mr. Hanson Baldwin says:One of the amazing facts about the Egyptian operation is that London and Paris seemed to weigh the economic factors so lightly.839 What are businessmen in America going to think of us, if that is true? He adds:They apparently forget that the Arabs could hurt Britain and France economically more than Britain and France could hurt the Arabs. The Arab economy can revert to dates and camels; Western Europe cannot.While we need to spend some money on our information services in America, I believe that that money should be well spent and that it would be far better if the right hon. Gentleman who is to be in charge of these operations would do it by trying to clear up the statements which have been made.
For example, I have seen in the American Press the report of a speech by the Under-Secretary of State for War, the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. F. Maclean), in which he said that we were threatened by the sixth fleet in the Mediterranean and by American sanctions. If this is so, we ought at least to have a co-ordinated attempt to put the so-called British point of view in the United States. I certainly do not think that it can succeed, because I believe that the criticisms of the New York Times are absolutely genuine, and I would say that Mr. Hanson W. Baldwin has a far greater grasp of the whole operation in Egypt than has the Minister of Defence or any of the Government spokesmen.
I hope that this country will not be anti-American. I have been more pro-American during the last month than I have been for a very long time. I believe that when we were at the brink the American President got us by the collar and tried to bring us back. I hope that this cold war will not be against the United States.
Is there to be a cold war against the Soviet Union? How are we to spend more money on information services in the Soviet Union? We had the amazing suggestion from the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) that we should employ a device by which, when broadcasts were being made in so-called enemy countries, somebody should be called upon to interrupt at the appropriate moment with the word "Liar." That is very crude propaganda indeed, and I hope that none of our money will be wasted upon it.
I am not sure that money will be well spent in improving our propaganda in 840 the Soviet Union. We have tried some curious ways of spreading our point of view and propaganda in the Soviet Union. At one time, we even sent Pravda over to them, but it happened to be a forged one. It was forged in this country, with the approval of Scotland Yard. We have told so many untruths and part-truths in our information services to the Soviet Union that I am afraid that in the Middle East and the Middle West very few people are likely to believe us.
The hon. Member suggested that we needed information services for Hungary. What are we to tell the Hungarians? The Lord Privy Seal said before the opening of today's debate that the House would discuss the Hungarian situation next Wednesday on the Motion for the Adjournment. That is not likely to be of great help to the Hungarians. What could we possibly say about the Hungarians? We would all like to see the tragedy ended as soon as possible by an international agreement which would neutralise the whole of Europe, but I do not think that that is the kind of propaganda that the Government are likely to have.
When we try to find out how our money is to be spent we come to the conclusion that Government supporters have only the vaguest ideas of how to spread information throughout the world. I do not believe that we should spread much information about this country. In London, there is an enormous number of foreign correspondents who can do the job infinitely better than any subsidised information bureau, even though we had the Postmaster-General at the head of it.
I look with great suspicion upon the spending of more money on this proposition. If we had good information to tell the world, and if our foreign policy did credit to the country because it was a constructive foreign policy, aimed at ending the fear of war and the dread of the atom bomb, I would be all in favour of it. I fear that at the bottom of this is the desire not to spread useful information, but to spread half-truths and selected truths, to make the best of what is a bad, and, at present, a rotten case.
I doubt very much whether further expenditure in this direction is justified. Enough money is being spent as it is. We should divert some of our resources to the improvement of relations between this country and the rest of the world.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)
I apologise for my voice. Unfortunately, I am suffering from a very heavy cold and a cough, but I will do my best to make my voice heard.
When first I read the Motion I was not certain that I could support it. It urgesthat the resources of the Central Office of Information should be used to their maximumin the field of overseas information services.
I do not know where the Central Office of Information begins and British information services overseas end. I do not know the relationship between them. I understand that the Central Office of Information is responsible for the coordination of information in this country and that British information services are responsible for seeing that the British Government's case is stated abroad. I may be wrong about this. I hope that we shall hear a little more about the activities of those two bodies from my right hon. Friend.
When I looked up the Report of the Independent Committee of Inquiry into the Overseas Information Services which was set up in 1952, under the chairmanship of the Earl of Drogheda, I saw that the terms of reference were:To assess the value, actual and potential, of the overseas information work of the Foreign Office, Commonwealth Relations Office, Colonial Office, Bord of Trade and Central Office of Information; the External Services of the British Broadcasting Corporation; and the work of the British Council; to advise upon the relative importance of different methods and services in different areas and circumstances, and to make recommendations for future policy.In page 11 of the Committee's Report is this statement:For anybody who approaches the Information Services from outside the first impression is likely to be one of bewilderment at the complexity of the organisation and its lack of any central direction. One seeks in vain for any individual or Department in a position to lay down an overall policy for our propaganda overseas or able to decide in what manner the resources available for propaganda can be deployed to best advantage. In fact, there is nothing which constitutes a 'High Command' for overseas propaganda.In find myself in just such a fog of bewilderment when I examine the activities of the Central Office of Information and British information services over- 842 seas. I do not know whether the Postmaster-General will reply, and I do not know whether he is to be the "High Command" in ensuring that our propaganda is presented to the countries of the world.
I wish to call attention to the fact that the Drogheda Committee came to four general conclusions, and with the permission of the House I will read them. The Committee reported in April, 1954. The conclusions are:First.—The Overseas Information Services play an important and indeed essential role in support of our Foreign, Commonwealth and Colonial policies.Second.—This work should be done well, continuously and on an adequate scale.Third.—If all these requirements are to be met more money must be spent on the Overseas Information Services.Fourth.—Changes are required into the pattern of the work in order to bring it into line with our political, strategic and commercial needs.Has any action been taken upon the Drogheda Report, which was delivered to us in 1954? We are all a bit excited about British information services overseas, because the recent crisis brought home to some of us the fact that the British Government's case was not being put over to the people of the world as it should have been. I do not agree with the speech of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I do not suggest that an individual case should be put forward to peoples abroad, but I am suggesting that the Government could use the information services of the Foreign Office. They are the part of British information services attached to our embassies, and it is only right that that Department should be used to put over the Government's case to the United States and other countries. Recently, I had an opportunity of visiting the United States, just after the full brunt of the Suez Crisis was felt. I was shocked to see how little the average man in the street whom one met knew of the British Government's point of view. I found a lamentable ignorance of this country, but we must remember that there have been no tourists from Britain to America since 1939. No tourist has been allowed to visit America.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire quoted a speech made by one of my hon. Friends, saying that the curtain around America was more strong than the Iron 843 Curtain. So far as tourism is concerned, that is so. It is easier to go behind the Iron Curtain than to go to the United States of America, or even to Canada. There is all the more need for British information services in America to explain the British point of view, because no British people are able to go there, talk with their American friends, and make known to Americans how we in this country feel.
In an article in a British Sunday newspaper I criticised the activities of British information services for the way in which they handled the television broadcast of the British Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Secretary was put on television at 8.30 in the morning. I do not believe that that is the time of day—even if it were admitted that there may be a big viewing public at that time—at which any of us wants to listen to a political speech. It may have been a very big audience to whom he was talking, but I do not think any of us wants to listen to a political speech at 8.30 in the morning, even after an all-night Sitting.
On this occasion, when I believe it was absolutely vital that the British case should be put at the right time, properly, and in the right way, if necessary we should have bought time on commercial television—all television and sound broadcasting in the States is commercial—even if that had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then the point of view of the Government could have been made known to the people of America.
I am not sure that the Central Office of Information is the right body to undertake this propaganda overseas. Perhaps it will be necessary to give British information services more money so that they can undertake the job. We should realise that British information services do not contribute articles or themselves engage in propaganda in any country. Their present job is to influence leader writers, newspaper proprietors, and so forth, and to try to persuade them to state the British case, not to make the British case itself. That is a point which ought to be considered very closely. We should consider whether British information services should not be given more scope and opportunity not only to do the work which they do quite admirably at the moment, but to engage in putting over 844 facts and figures to the great American public.
All these points have to be considered very closely by the Government. The time has come when there should be a complete survey of the whole of our information services, which, of course, include the work done by the B.B.C., the British Council and, also, the British Travel and Holidays Association, which does a wonderful job in the States. At present, there must be overlapping of the work of the British Council and of the British Travel and Holidays Association. I have the greatest respect for the publicity work the British Travel and Holidays Association, with its offices in Madison Avenue, does for this country. It persuades many American visitors to come to see some of the ways of life in this country. All power to its elbow.
All the activities of these various organisations should be co-ordinated to prevent overlapping. I very much hope that the newly-appointed Minister will see that those activities are co-ordinated in the best interests of our country.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
The speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) has illustrated both the confusion and a dilemma in which hon. and right hon. Members opposite are placed by this Motion. I can quite understand the confusion. It is very difficult to find exactly what are the functions and operations of the Central Office of Information.
Owing to the dreary parsimony with which the Treasury treats hon. Members, I find that the booklet which gives us advice as to what the Central Office of Information does is in the Library of the House, but there is only one copy, which must not be taken outside the Library. I hope that during the Recess the Financial Secretary will have a look at some of these petty meannesses inflicted on hon. Members who are trying to do a proper job here. No wonder the hon. Member for Eastbourne cannot find what the Central Office of Information is doing when he is not given access to the information that he should have.
The dilemma of the hon. Member is in complaining that the television broadcast by the Foreign Secretary took place at an early hour in the morning, but might it not have been worse for Great 845 Britain if there had been a larger audience?
§ Sir C. Taylor
If the hon. Member will permit me to say so, I heard the most glowing tributes paid to the Foreign Secretary and to his work in America. Everybody was grateful that it was possible for some people to understand the point of view of the British Government. I think that the Foreign Secretary did a magnificent job within the limits he was allowed.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Let me put it in this way: I am sure he did a magnificent job within the limits of his case.
§ Sir C. Taylor
No, I mean the limits of the vehicles which he was able to use to get the case over.
§ Sir L. Plummer
I appreciate exactly what the hon. Member is saying, but I am saying that the Foreign Secretary was limited by the very case that he had to present. The hon. Member and I disagree about that and we must go on disagreeing. To many people at least a statement by the Foreign Secretary attempting to justify the policy of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt would not make or keep friends in the United States. That is the dilemma which faces all our information services.
I am sorry that the Postmaster-General is not here, because I was going to offer him condolences upon his appointment. He will be in a rather difficult position. If he succeeds it will be because of the policy of Her Majesty's Government, but if he fails it will be because of his own shortcomings. No thanks will be meted out to him for the work that he puts in. In any case, it is a pretty bad appointment because, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said, he is not noted for the objectivity of his information. He is an able propagandist, who has done as much as anybody in this nation to divide it by means of the broadcasts that he has made, and he suffers from the fact that his great predecessor in contemporary history who acted as Minister of Information also bore the title of "doctor". He came to a sticky end. I hope that the Postmaster-General will be able to avoid at least that nemesis.
The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) suggested that it might be a good thing if we acquired newspapers abroad. I hope that the Financial Secre- 846 tary will at least exercise parsimony in that direction. I am old enough to remember Bolo Pasha, a great German spy, who bought newspapers in France before the war to propagate not pro-Germanism but French chauvinism so that his articles would appear in the German Press and the Germans would be convinced of the danger of France to Germany. That is an awfully dangerous business.
§ Sir L. Plummer
The Japanese did it by buying newspapers in Singapore and throughout the Far East. The French Press which, with one or two honourable exceptions, is the worst Press in the world, started to decline when foreign influences came in, foreign money was poured in and foreign interests decided that it was necessary to have French newspapers. We could not do a greater disservice to our country than to attempt to buy foreign newspapers. In any case, such a transaction could not be kept secret. The fact that the British Government had bought control of a newspaper would "leak" in no time, and what remains of our reputation would be even further tarnished.
There was a good deal of naïveté both in the speech of the hon. Member for Skipton and in that of the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) in their belief that we had now to do a good deal to improve our information services in America. There are in this country, almost a hundred able, intelligent, alert Americans who are supplying newspapers in the United States and, through them, newspapers in other parts of the world, with an absolutely first-class intelligence service of what is going on in Britain and what is the British point of view. It is not their fault that we are not very popular in the United States. Every day the efforts of the Central Office of Information—limited though they may be—are negatived by the news desk of the Foreign Office.
For example, how can we expect to maintain a friendly reception by Americans of the British point of view when American editors are getting from their correspondents in Suez honest, factual accounts of the casualties and are at the same time receiving, in cables from 847 London, reports such as we had from the Minister of Defence, and whitewash such as we had from the Paymaster-General, which were in direct contravention of the eye-witness accounts of those trained American correspondents? It is no use believing that the Central Office of Information can perform a satisfactory job when, behind its back, we are misleading the world's Press and denying the reports of honest newspaper men.
A great deal has been said about the necessity for developing our information service to Asia. It does not matter how much money the Central Office of Information spends in putting Britain's case to the newspapers in India—and India is still important to this nation. It is no use spending money talking about the British way of life to Indians when the Indian correspondents sitting in the Gallery of this House have to report that every time Mr. Nehru's name is mentioned hon. Members opposite jeer.
We spend £1 million a year on publicity in India, but it is worthless against the fact that Mr. Nehru was met today by a comparatively insignificant member of the British Cabinet. Granted the Prime Minister is not in the country, but at least no statesmen of the very first-class quality was sent to meet Mr. Nehru when he arrived here, although President Eisenhower sent his own private aeroplane to conduct Mr. Nehru from his country to Washington.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Just as the news desk of the Foreign Office can undo the work of the Central Office of Information, so the Government Front Bench, with its policy of ostracising a statesman like Mr. Nehru, can make ridiculous all the protestations that we make in our Far Eastern service. My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) dealt with the cost of the foreign service. It is a contemptible sum. We are spending on our foreign new service—and I agree that a good deal of the effort is made nugatory by the attitude of the Government—not much more than the Beaverbrook Press spends on its foreign service for its three or four newspapers.
It is no use arguing that what we want are men of better calibre to represent our point of view abroad when the salaries 848 we pay to these people are equivalent to those paid to machine minders in Fleet Street. This is a professional job. It is also a fact that newspapermen in this country have a very high standard of living. It is tragic that the Treasury will not face the implications of the situation, and still believes that the gifted amateur—the young man of 23 from Eton and Oxford—is a substitute for the trained newspaper man who can at least put the best available gloss on the story that he has to put over.
The debate today has had a familiar ring about it. When we were arguing this case in April, 1952, some of us dealt with the question of films. The hon. Member for Skipton made no mention of this fact, and I thought that he was very kind to the Government for not reminding them of their responsibility for the rather gloomy picture that we have been discussing today. I remember the happiness and glee, and the natural ebullience of the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, when he justified the big cut that was going to be made, part of which would result in the complete abolition of the Crown Film Unit and, more important, the distribution machinery which was a necessary adjunct of that Unit.
That was an organisation which had done more than the printed word had done for putting the British point of view. The Crown Film Unit had attached to it some first-class producers and some really dedicated men of the film world, who saw that this was a medium which could be used to the advantage of Britain. We do not use it any more. The Government are so blind to modern techniques that they regard the film as something upon which they can make economies. I suppose the next economies to be made will be in the spoken word.
In my view, we should not be in our present position in the United States, where we are being criticised in such brutal terms, if the true picture of Britain, which can be better represented in a film than in all the words and all the broadcasts of politicians, had been presented in a film produced in this country for free and widespread distribution abroad.
I do not profess to know how we shall get out of the propaganda impasse which we are in today. I do not believe that 849 we can get a better use of the facilities of the Central Office of Information while the present Government exist. For example, I do not believe that it will be possible to express the British point of view, our belief in justice, in freedom and the rights of small nations, and Britain's adherence to that point of view, in any Arab newspaper for the rest of our lives. As a result of the denials of the eyewitness reports to which I have referred, I do not think it will be possible for us to get in the American newspapers that sympathy which we had from September, 1939, onwards.
We do not even have the German newspapers on our side any longer. Last week the Manchester Guardian had an illuminating article on the united hostility of the German Press towards us. I think that there is about one French newspaper which regards this country sympathetically.
It would be better, therefore, to give up the Central Office of Information as a propaganda organisation trying to speak for the country on the basis of its operations up to the beginning of October, 1956. That is not to say that the Central Office of Information has not an important role to play. It has. It has a role in promoting the interests of British industry, of British manufactures, of British art and of British science. It cannot do anything to illuminate or brighten the shoddy political picture which this country now presents. I therefore hope that the Government will consider dispensing with any operations of the Central Office of Information designed to excuse this country's conduct in the month of November and that we shall instead devote our talents and our minds to representing the better things in Britain which are represented by the things we make and the things we sell.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. E. C. Redhead (Walthamstow, West)
I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes, for much that I wished to say has already been said in the debate, but I want to make one or two comments by way of expressing my appreciation of the initiative shown by the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) in putting forward the Motion.
I sympathise with a great deal of the purpose he has in mind and I sympathise even more with him in what I think is 850 the common difficulty under which we all labour—the dearth of authoritative and up-to-date information about the nature of our information services and, in particular, the function, organisation, and work of the Central Office of Information itself.
I have discovered what appears to me to be a singularly incongruous fact: whereas, in the first three years of its life, subsequent to its establishment after the war, the Central Office of Information published very full annual reports, for a mysterious reason which I have been unable to discover it has published no annual reports since 1949–1950. I can only conclude that the reason for this sudden disappearance is that about that time, or just afterwards, the Central Office of Information became a ready victim and target for the economy wave which descended upon it.
It is, indeed, highly incongruous that a Department whose prime function is the dissemination of information should lack the means of giving adequate information to the House about its own activities and its own work, and I hope that whatever is done by way of reviewing our services, some attention will be paid to that fact. I have a feeling that perhaps it is not only economy which is the difficulty, but that silence in that direction might also have helped to obscure the reality of what has been happening to our information services in the period during which the present Government have been in office.
I very much welcome the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Skipton and his reconciliation to the fact that to fulfil his purpose there must be a greater devotion of public funds to our information services. I am particularly glad that he and his supporters should be reconciled to that conclusion, and I am sure that it will not have escaped his notice that as a result of that wave of economy and of criticism, much of which was ill-informed and for which some of his right hon. and hon. Friends were largely responsible, during the lifetime of the present Government there has been a marked reduction in the resources of the Central Office of Information, whose expenditure during 1950 was about £3½ million and whose Vote for the coming year is about £1,700,000.
851 May I draw attention to a no less important fact—a fact that the staff of the Central Office has been reduced in that period from about 1,700 to a mere 750? I am bound to say that such information as one can obtain on the work carried out by the office makes it clear that the greatest possible tribute should be paid to the Central Office of Information for the wonderful job it has done with so few staff.
I must say frankly to the House that if there is any disposition at this stage, for whatever reason, to put greater energy behind the work of our information services and to devote more resources, in particular, to the Central Office of Information, the House must be reconciled to the necessity to increase the staff to meet the needs of the new situation. In the period of economy there was a considerable degree of redundancy in the Central Office of Information, with the result that the staff, trained, technical specialists in many fields, were rendered redundant and were dispersed to other jobs.
Many of them were compelled to leave the service for the not altogether unattractive employment—not unattractive compared with what the Government normally offer within the Civil Service—offered to them. If there is now any desire to build up this service again, the danger is that trained and experienced staff who were lost during that period of economy will not be readily available or willing to come back to the service of the Government. They may fear a repetition in the future of the experience that they have had recently.
I hope that the Financial Secretary will be responsive to the motives and purposes which lie behind the Motion and that he will not feel unduly limited by considerations of economy, in the common acceptance of that word. I am very conscious of the financial difficulties with which he has to deal at present, but in the light of all our experience I think it would be a sad mistake to look upon the value and returns of the information services as something which can be assessed in terms of cash alone. There are intangible returns from the information services in good will and understanding which ought not to be overlooked.
I very much hope that, if the Financial Secretary and the Government are to be 852 responsive to the plea made by the hon. Member for Skipton, this will not be induced solely by a sense of panic as a result of recent circumstances, and that a decision to step up the information services now will not be followed, when the immediate apprehensions are past, by the Government once again looking upon our information services as a ready target for economies.
The hon. Member's primary concern was with the overseas information services. There has been a degree of criticism in this debate, which I do not intend to traverse, of the inadequacies and deficiencies of the overseas information services, but I think we ought to say, in all fairness, that whatever be the justification for those criticisms, they are not primarily the responsibility or the fault of the Central Office of Information itself. It must be recalled that the Central Office of Information is essentially a specialised technical agency which has no responsibility whatsoever for the policy in respect of publicity work which it undertakes for the Ministerial Departments and the overseas Departments which alone are responsible for the publicity work upon which they wish to engage.
It is fair to point out, so far as criticism has been levelled at the efficacy of our overseas service in other countries, that there the Central Office of Information has no staff of its own. It only provides the material for the use of the staffs of the respective Ministries overseas, and is in no way responsible for the use or misuse or neglect which that material suffers in the hands of the overseas staff of those Ministries. The Central Office of Information does not determine the policy. I doubt, in fact, whether it could ever rightly be regarded as being responsible for the co-ordination of information services, but I feel that it is necessary to emphasise that the responsibility here lies with the Ministries which utilise this service.
I am a little more doubtful about the purpose and objective which the hon. Member for Skipton expressed. I hope that he had something wider, deeper and more fundamental in mind that his remarks have suggested. He seemed to me to be concerned with the immediate situation, and with his worry that our 853 case, as he expressed it, in regard to the Middle East had gone by default, and he sought to remind us of the necessities of overseas information services by reference to what he described as our engagement again in the cold war. I, and I hope the House too, would deprecate our information services being regarded as primarily or even substantially an instrument in the cold war. The psychology of war, whether it be cold or hot, is, I believe, the very worst motive to have behind our information services. Indeed, it would be destructive of all the legitimate purposes to which our information services should be devoted, and I would regard it as a prostitution of a very valuable Government service.
There are legitimate purposes, including that of promoting and fostering friendship and understanding overseas—and, heaven knows, we need everything that we can do legitimately along those lines, particularly at this time. I applaud the view of those who have seen in our information services the purpose of fostering an understanding and appreciation of the British way of life, what is best in the British way of life, and of promoting our legitimate trade interests; but if policies which are pursued by Governments are not sound, no amount of propaganda can make them sound. However efficient our information services may be, propaganda which is concerned merely in an effort to try to justify the unjustifiable is bound to be destructive of its own purpose and will never carry conviction.
I should equally deprecate these information services being used, as I thought I detected in the speeches of some hon. Members, as merely an instrument of Government party political propaganda. That is a policy which we should approach with the greatest degree of hesitation, for I am sure that it would recoil not merely upon the Government of the day but upon what are really our fundamental national interests.
Nevertheless, with those few words of caution, I welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Skipton and the Government's evident concern with this matter—even if it be rather belated, it is still welcome—in the announcement that the Postmaster-General is to undertake the responsibility for the co-ordination of the Government information services; 854 although, with respect, I share with the hon. Member for Skipton some doubt whether the choice is the wisest one to make. I say "with respect"—
§ Mr. Drayson
I did not express any doubt about the choice. I am perfectly satisfied with the choice. What I said was that it should be a full-time job.
§ Mr. Redhead
For the same reasons, I share the doubts of the hon. Gentleman, because I was going on to say, with the utmost respect for the Postmaster-General, that I know his capacity for a large amount of work, and, indeed, I think he has got it already in being responsible for the Post Office, which is not merely one Government Department, but half a dozen business concerns. I should have imagined that he had his hands fairly full looking after that job, and I should have doubted whether the spare-time occupation of co-ordinating the information services was entirely fair to him, having regard to his major responsibilities. However, the Government have commissioned him to do this.
I would only say that I welcome this as an opportunity to draw attention to the fact that the time is undoubtedly ripe for a review of our information services as a whole, with particular emphasis on the overseas necessity. If the Postmaster-General undertakes it, as no doubt he will, I hope that the House will be afforded a later opportunity of considering whatever his findings may be by way of an initial review. I hope that the Government will not embark upon a process of reorganisation, whatever conclusions may be reached, before the House has had an opportunity to debate the matter with a fuller appreciation of the functions that already exist.
I hope that the Postmaster-General will not be, like some of my hon. Friends, unduly influenced by the argument that it is only the man who has had Press and advertising experience who is competent to act as an information officer. I have some sympathy with the point of view that, valuable as is the technical advice of the man who is experienced in Press work, nevertheless there is a field for imagination and understanding of policy, functions and work in Departments whose work is the subject of publicity, and this information should be conveyed through those who have 855 had day-to-day experience of those particular Departments.
There is a job here for co-ordinating and preserving a proper balance, and I hope that in any review which the Postmaster-General undertakes he will look seriously at the question of the grading of work in the information field and not be overwhelmed by the consideration that it is the technical, professional expert who alone can make a contribution to the needs of our information services.
When the Financial Secretary replies, I hope that he may be able to enlighten us a little, for such is the lack of publicity to which I have drawn attention in respect of the Central Office of Information that we do not know in detail what has been done as a result of the quite voluminous recommendations of the Committee on Costs of Information Services, which reported in 1949, or of the Select Committee on Estimates, in 1950. Perhaps he will be able to enlighten us in some degree.
I hope, also, that the Postmaster-General will bear those considerations in mind when he undertakes his review and that the House will, at a later date, have an opportunity of considering this matter with fuller information available, and of coming to informed decisions before any process of reorganisation or expansion is undertaken.
On is tempted to say much more on an important issue of this character, but I welcome the fact that it has been discussed today. I trust that this matter will not be allowed to drift away in forgetfulness, as being just a Friday debate, one of those academic discussions in which we sometimes engage, but will lead to practical results in the very near future.
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
Like other hon. Members who have spoken today, I feel under an obligation to the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson), who moved this Motion, and to the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), who seconded it. We are grateful to them for bringing the matter before the House today and. I think, even more grateful for the extremely well-informed and constructive speeches to which they treated us.
856 I have, perhaps, some sympathy with the argument which is implicit in their case, that both sides of the House bear some responsibility for not appreciating to the full the importance of the information services. At the same time, for the sake of the record, I ought to remind the House that, on 6th July, 1954, the Opposition tabled a Motion relating to the overseas information services.
This Motion was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), and read:That this House regrets that Her Majesty's Government has failed to formulate and provide adequate finance for a long-term and co-ordinated plan for the Overseas Information Services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1954; Vol. 529, c. 2047.]It is not without interest to note that among those who divided against that Motion were the hon. Gentleman the Member for Skipton, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wembley, South, the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General.
I spent a considerable time in the Ministry of Information, as did the hon. Gentleman the Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson). I was one of the earliest members of its staff, and I remained there until I joined the Forces. I have always held the view that the Ministry of Information was, throughout the war, subjected to a great deal of unfair and, on the whole, ill-informed criticism. It did a very great deal of good work, for which it never received full credit.
I have always been a little sorry to see that it survived in such a truncated form after the war ended. But, even in its truncated form, it is today, under its Director-General, Mr. Fife Clark, a first-class propaganda workshop and production department. When criticisms are made of it, they are usually as misplaced as some of the recent criticisms in this House of partisanship on the part of the B.B.C. and as misplaced as the rather squalid campaign of Lord Beaverbrook against the British Council.
I am happy to say that I have not had the difficulty which some of my hon. Friends appear to have had in finding out exactly what the Central Office of 857 Information does. When I approached it, so that I could bring, my knowledge of it up to date, I found the people there most courteous and willing to help. I think that that is typical of their approach to this whole question of providing information not only for hon. Members of this House, but for members of the public.
It has become clear in the course of our discussions that the Central Office of Information is really suffering from three weaknesses. The first is that the outlet which is open to it is often inadequate. There have been many criticisms of the British information services overseas, which form one of the main outlets for the material that the Central Office of Information provides. I was rather shocked by the figures given by the hon. Member for Wembley, South, showing the small number of information officers who have had actual publicity experience.
At the same time, I think that there is a great deal in what my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) had to say. Often, knowledge of the subject and knowledge of the work of the Department is even more valuable as a qualification for the post of information officer than actual experience of putting across that knowledge to the Press.
There was in the course of the debate criticism of the head of the British information services in the United States. It is true that Mr. D'Arcy Edmondson had not had previous publicity experience, but, nevertheless, he has now been filling that post for upwards of twelve years and probably rather more, and, until today, I had not heard any real criticism of the recent work of our information services there. Indeed, generally speaking, I have heard nothing but praise of the work that they do and the facilities which they provide to travellers going to the United States from this country.
What I think is more serious is the way that so many of the British information offices overseas are starved of adequate facilities. Until recently, at any rate, the British information services in Paris had an annual budget of only £3,000 a year, exclusive of salaries. In 1952, the British information services in Denmark were abolished, although the United States of America was employing four Americans 858 and 20 Danes in Denmark upon full-time information work.
It must be very discouraging indeed to the members of the staff of the Central Office of Information to find that, although they have the facilities available to distribute overseas, the Government keep information offices overseas in such a poverty-stricken condition that one valuable outlet for British information is destroyed.
The second weakness which has been evidenced today arises from the fact that the Central Office of Information has no control whatsoever over the policy which it is supposed to be placing before the rest of the world. The third weakness, which is, to some extent, contained in the first to which I referred, is that the Central Office of Information and the other information services are deprived of adequate finance. It really is sheer lunacy for us in this country to be spending £1,500 million a year upon defence when, at the same time, we can wring out of the Government under £12 million only for information work both in this country and overseas. That is true at a time when, I understand, the Russians are spending about £1,500 million a year upon propaganda, and the United States is spending about £40 million.
There has been reference to Treasury control of the Central Office of Information. It is a great pity indeed that the dead hand of the Treasury should rest upon a Department the work of which hon. Members on both sides of the House have said ought to be expanded. I hope that now, since the announcement that the Postmaster-General is to co-ordinate the work of the various information services, responsibility for the Central Office of Information may be taken away from the Treasury and transferred to the right hon. Gentleman. It is clear that the general shortage of funds is hampering not only the Central Office of Information and the information offices overseas, but also the B.B.C.
Last night I looked at the B.B.C. Handbook for 1957, in which I find that the Corporation reports that:The External Services output fell from 30,948 hours in 1954–55 to 29,055 hours in 1955–56 because the Grant-in-Aid was insufficient to maintain the former output.859 The Corporation refers, in page 126, to some expansion in the Arabic Service, but it adds:The other increases recommended by the Drogheda Committee in 1954 are, however, still in abeyance.We are keeping the B.B.C. overseas services on a shoestring at a time when the Daily Mirror, in its admirable report, "Britain's Voice Abroad", to which so many hon. Members have referred, is able to say:Since the war the Communist countries have been rapidly increasing their radio output and improving the appeal of their programmes. Soviet and satellite broadcasting rose from 425 programme hours a week in 1947 to 1,013 hours a week in 1951. Since then Communist radio has continued to expand. So has the Voice of America, which now aims 553 hours of anti-Communist propaganda at the Soviet world each week. Only the B.B.C., another victim of economy, reduced its programmes—from 623 hours in 1947 to 565 in 1951.I do not want the B.B.C. to lower its level to indulging in propaganda of the sort indulged in by some foreign Powers, but I think it is a great pity that when we have to meet this propaganda we are not prepared to treat the B.B.C. rather more generously and give it the facilities it requires for putting out information about what we are doing in this country and of the things for which we stand. I think that there has been general agreement this morning that more drive from the top is needed and more scope is required from those who are expected to inform the world about what is happening in Britain.
I hope that these two requirements will be fulfilled by the appointment of the Postmaster-General. I share, however, the apprehension which some hon. Members have voiced, that the General Post Office is a sufficient responsibility in itself as a great trading Department, a Department employing many thousands of workers, without adding to the work of the Postmaster-General the function of co-ordinating our information services. I want to find out from the Government this morning exactly what is to be the function of the Postmaster-General.
The Times said, on 30th November:Dr. Charles Hill, Postmaster-General, is to take over the task of co-ordinating and supervising the Government's public relations in the United Kingdom.I emphasise "in the United Kingdom."
860 The Daily Mail, the same day, said:Dr. Charles Hill, the former Radio Doctor, has been given the job of putting Britain's case to the world. He has been appointed Co-ordinator of Government information Services at home and abroad …There, I emphasise, "at home and abroad."
The Manchester Guardian, also the same day, tells us that the right hon. Gentlemanhas been made responsible within the Government for co-ordinating Government publicity.It goes on to say:… his selection for the publicity task does not mean any interference with the normal public relations system of the Government. In particular, Dr. Hill will leave the Foreign Office alone. He will he bound from time to time to bear in mind the effects of Government publicity on people overseas, and events overseas on the Government's publicity, but the Foreign Office is to enjoy unmolested its privilege of answering direct questions indirectly.That, I think, is as sad a piece of information as the British public or this House has ever been given.
The general effect of these conflicting reports is to leave all of us in some confusion as to what exactly the right hon. Gentleman is going to do. As I had occasion to remind the right hon. Gentleman outside this Chamber last night, we once had the experience—the case of Sir Thomas Inskip—of a Minister coordinating the work of other Departments, and I hope that the Postmaster-General has been sufficiently wise to ensure that the exact limitations upon his work had been decided before he has undertaken what is normally the extremely thankless task of co-ordinating the work of other Departments.
At present, we are supposed to have some system of co-ordination. We have been told that our overseas services are co-ordinated by the Foreign Office and that the Foreign Office is responsible for calling meetings of the Foreign Office information policy department, the Commonwealth Relations Office, the Colonial Office, the Board of Trade, the B.B.C., the British Council and the Central Office of Information. I want to ask the Financial Secretary how often that committee has met during the past year. Is that committee to remain in existence? If so, what is to be the relationship of the Postmaster-General to it?
861 Is the Postmaster-General to attend Cabinet Meetings, so that he can hear such decisions on policy as the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary feel it safe to communicate to their colleagues? Is he to be the chairman of a high-powered co-ordinating committee? Are we just to go on with this old and not very effective co-ordinating committee under the Foreign Office? Will the right hon. Gentleman get together the various Departments which are affected and perhaps preside over a committee upon which, at any rate, junior Ministers in those Departments would be represented? What is the Civil Service machinery that the Postmaster-General, with the assistance of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, is to set up? What will be the relationship of the right hon. Gentleman to the Departments already engaged upon propaganda?
We should like to know, for example, whether it would in future be within the sphere of influence of the Postmaster-General to tell the Admiralty that we think that it most undesirable that the Admiralty should put out, as an official Admiralty handout, a by-election speech made at a Conservative meeting by the First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. Greenwood
No doubt, but I do not think that that is relevant to the point which I was making.
I wonder whether we shall hear from the Financial Secretary what supervisory position the Postmaster-General will have over the propaganda of the Armed Forces. I read in the Daily Mail the other day that Brigadier Bernard Ferguson, who had been in charge of psychological warfare in the Middle East, had been posted and put in command of the 29th Infantry Brigade, and the Daily Mail commented:Brigadier Ferguson's posting is believed to be the first step in a big shake-up of our Middle East propaganda war.It must be apparent to anyone who has studied our debates over the last few weeks that one of the things which has most seriously disturbed hon. Members has been the impact of the psychological warfare in which the British Army has engaged in the Mediterranean. I do not think that the Postmaster-General will be very effective in improving the climate 862 in the Middle East unless he can control the Armed Forces and prevent them doing incalculable harm to our relations with the Arab countries, as the Army has done during the last few weeks.
We have heard from many hon. Members today—and I was particularly impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Walton—that we must seek always to tell the truth in our information work and speak with a voice which carries credit throughout the world. I hope that we shall hear from the Government categorical denials of three stories which are now current.
It has been said—I have not the slightest idea what truth there is in this, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to deny it—that because the Government are dissatisfied with the fact that a great deal of time of overseas B.B.C. programmes was devoted during the Suez crisis to putting the Opposition's point of view side by side with that of the Government, a Foreign Office representative is now permanently established at Bush House.
Secondly, it has been said—and, here again, I have no knowledge whether it is true or not, but it is the sort of story that ought to be denied—that there has been interference at Cabinet level with programme contractors contracting for the Independent Television Authority.
The third story is that it has been said that representations have been made at Government level to the B.B.C. about the B.B.C.'s treatment of news during the Suez crisis.
I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to give the most unqualified denial to these three stories which I have brought to his attention today. It is vital that we should leave no possible doubt in anybody's mind that when we in this country or our official agencies overseas state a fact, everybody should have confidence that we are telling the truth. I have been disturbed only this week by a film, to which reference has been made earlier, which was shown by the Central Office of Information on 12th December. I refer to the film "Suez in Perspective." The invitation from the Central Office of Information said that this filmis intended for as widespread showing as possible overseas in cinemas and on television and through major showings to specially invited audiences by Her Majesty's overseas missions.863 What distressed me is that in the commentary, in the second reel, the commentator or narrator says:In New York, the United Nations called for a cease-fire. The United Kingdom, France and Israel agreed. Then, last of all, Egypt agreed, too.I ask the House to note the order in which those countries are given: first, the United Kingdom; secondly, France; and, thirdly, Israel agreed. Then, says the commentary on this official film put out by the Central Office of Information:last of all, Egypt agreed, too.What will be the effect of a film of that kind upon thinking people in countries overseas when their view of the facts is completely different and when their view of the facts undoubtedly coincides with those which were given to this House on 5th December by the Foreign Secretary?
I should like to read from the Foreign Secretary's speech:On 5th November in the afternoon, the Secretary-General made a communication to our Permanent Representative stating that the Government of Egypt had, on 4th November, accepted the request for a cease-fire without any attached conditions and that the Government of Israel had handed in a clarification of its first reply to the request by the Secretary-General for a cease-fire, stating that in the light of Egypt's declaration of willingness to accept a cease-fire Israel confirmed its readiness to agree to a cease-fire.The Secretary-General went on to say that the conditions for a cease-fire seemed, by those two communications, to be satisfied. That matter was considered by the Cabinet here on the morning of 6th November and Sir Pierson Dixon, because of that"—that means because of the replies of Egypt and Israel—handed to the Secretary-General a notification of the intention of Her Majesty's Government to order a cease-fire at midnight that night."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1956; Vol. 561, c. 1262.]That is completely contradictory of what the Central Office of Information puts into this film and sends out to overseas missions for wide showing on television and to specially selected audiences, intended to convince overseas audiences of the truth of British propaganda. It is conceivable that that film will have done the very gravest damage to the credit of this country and will have destroyed the feeling that so many people overseas have had in the past, that even if they disagreed with our policy they could believe our word.
864 Over the last few years—in fact, since the time when the Ministry of Information was set up—we have built up a great reputation for accuracy in our overseas information. Throughout the war we never stooped to the level of distorting the facts in order to convince other countries that we were in the right. I hope that today the Financial Secretary will come to the Despatch Box in a white sheet to confess that the Central Office of Information has erred very badly indeed in respect of this film "Suez in Perspective" and that there will be no more attempts by the Government either to twist the information that we give out or to use any Government information services for purposes which can serve only the interests of the Conservative Party.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I certainly am not putting on any white sheet. I shall stand here in the same costume in which I have stood at this Box for a good many hours this week, on perhaps more tendentious subjects, and I shall answer as well as I may this very interesting debate about the Central Office of Information.
First, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson), to whom we all are indebted, will allow me to reply point blank to three or four allegations which have just been made by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)—
§ Mr. Brooke
—allegations which were quoted. Only in one case is the target hit. It is true that there is a Foreign Office liaison officer serving with the B.B.C. He has no control whatever over the programmes put out by the B.B.C., but he serves for liaison purposes so that it may be possible for the B.B.C., not only to get all the information it wants from the Foreign Office, but also to make sure that it has the correct balance and full understanding that those who are wholly responsible for the B.B.C. programmes wish to have, and need.
Secondly, the hon. Member mentioned an allegation of interference by the Government with independent television programme contractors. I have heard nothing whatever about that. I do not 865 believe that it is true. If the hon. Gentleman has any information in support of it, no doubt he will let me have it. To the best of my knowledge, however, that is entirely a mare's nest.
I also want to contradict categorically that Government representations have been made to the B.B.C. about the form in which B.B.C. news bulletins etc., went out during the Suez crisis. I have no doubt that if an approach was made to the B.B.C. itself, it would rebut those allegations in an equally unqualified manner.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman referred to the film made recently by the Central Office of Information. It is an extremely valuable piece of information work for use overseas. The purpose of the film is to set against the disgracefully distorted picture which is presented in the Egyptian film prepared by the notorious Per Olow Anderson, to whom scathing reference was made in the House a few days ago by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. The film in question was made by the Central Office of Information for the Foreign Office with the full collaboration of the Ministry of Defence. The little bit of the commentary which has been criticised is a very tight condensation of a complicated series of events.
A film commentary, as those closely concerned with film work know, has to be written with great economy of words. The moving picture moves on quickly, there are only a certain number of frames per minute and the wording has to fit. So it was not possible to summarise the cease-fire sequence with the precision which we should employ if we had full time to set forth all the facts as in this House.
The commentary was, in fact, agreed by all concerned, but now that the point has been raised, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary tells me that he has no desire to include in this film, which, as I have said, is an absolutely accurate account of the very limited extent of the damage in Port Said and the excellent way in which our troops behaved as soldiers and as men during this operation, anything which might be thought tendentious. He has, therefore arranged for the words "Then, last of all" which were the words criticised by the hon. Gentleman, coming immediately 866 before the words "Egypt agreed to," to be deleted from the sound track of the film by the information officers in the overseas posts to whom it has been, or is being, sent.
I hope that what I have said—and I have answered on this matter very frankly—will entirely dispose of any suggestion made either here or in the Press to the effect that this film has, so to speak, been doctored for Government purposes in order to give an account which might be in any way tendentious. Having said that, I hope my words will be accepted in all quarters, and that one and all will agree, whatever view they may take about the policy decisions which led to these events, that it is wholly right that a British film should go out to correct the disgraceful misrepresentation made to the world by the Egyptian propagandists.
§ Mr. Greenwood
While I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for meeting us on this point. I cannot really accept his explanation of how the trouble arose. It could have been said—could it not?—in the same number of words: "Egypt and Israel agreed. Then last of all the United Kingdom and France agreed, too." That would have taken exactly the same number of words and would have been much more accurate.
§ Mr. Brooke
It is often said that it is better not to try to do drafting in committee. I do not think we should make a good job of revising the sound track of a film here in the House of Commons. I have stated what has been done, and I believe that what has been done has removed any trace of material which might have been thought to have been tendentious.
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
I have not the text of it before me, but will not the amendment which the right hon. Gentleman is proposing leave the cease-fires in reverse order to that in which they were in truth? Will not the amendment leave the order as it was before, even though it removes the most offensive phrase of all?
§ Mr. Brooke
No, I think that when the right hon. Gentleman examines the matter—and he may have an opportunity of seeing the film with that deletion in the sound track—he will find that the words are entirely accurate.
§ Mr. Brooke
I thought it right to deal with that matter at the outset of my speech, but I want to be allowed to do full justice to the extremely interesting debate which my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton has initiated. We are slightly handicapped, as became apparent in its early stages, in that, while my hon. Friend gave notice that he would call attention to the work of the Central Office of Information, he did not give notice that he would call attention to the work of the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office, the Colonial Office, and of other Departments which have any hand in overseas information work. However, I think that we have, under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, managed to hold the balance well, and to touch on the activities of the other Departments while keeping our debate concentrated in the main on the C.O.I.
I think it might be most helpful to the House if I started by describing the main structure of our information services, then went on to indicate at rather greater length the specific activities of the C.O.I., and ended, as I would wish to do, by answering a number of the questions which have been raised in the debate.
I think that the essential point to grasp is the difference between those bodies which dictate policy and those which act as agencies. The Central Office of Information is an agency. It does not dictate or initiate policy. That policy, for overseas information work, comes from the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office, under the direction of their respective Secretaries of State. I shall certainly bring to the attention of my right hon. Friends the suggestions, criticisms and questions, relating to their responsibilities, which have been raised in this debate. I think I should be going outside my own responsibilities and probably be going outside the rules of order if I were to attempt to deal adequately with the policy underlying the British information effort as a whole. When, as I think the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) pointed out, it is realised that the Central Office of Information has no staff at all of its own overseas, the House will recognise at once that any criticism 868 either of individuals or of the information officers generally or of their accommodation would be wide of the mark in this debate.
No information work can be successfully carried on without money, but at the same time there is no direction in which money can be more easily wasted. It is quite wrong to take pride in the information work of any country just by pointing to the amount of money spent. There is good advertising and there is bad advertising there is economical advertising and there is extravagant advertising. Since the war we as a nation have been continuously in anxiety about our balance of payments. Much of the information work overseas has to be financed in foreign currency, and that is an additional reason why we need to weigh and judge most carefully whether we are directing our efforts into channels and to parts of the world and by media which will enable us to get the very best value for the money.
The Central Office of Information money is spent at home. I fully realise that. But it is a perennial problem with which I have to live here, that, however attractive some newly-suggested form of overseas expenditure may be, one has to weigh whether we can afford it out of our limited resources of foreign exchange.
Suggestions were made that I was all right at the Treasury but that the Treasury was a very mean Department and that, therefore, all this ought to be taken right away from the Treasury. I am saying nothing about myself, but I do want to lay down on behalf of the Treasury that Her Majesty's Treasury has, under Government by one party after another, established a reputation throughout the world for wise handling of national finances by the use of foresight. It is a complete misunderstanding to suppose that economy in public expenditure can best be achieved by sudden cuts in this or that. One achieves economy in the truest sense by exercising foresight, the sort of foresight which anyone has to show who is going to invest his own money or his own company's money wisely.
We have to pause and think, and often it is right for the Treasury to say "No" in the first instance so as to make certain 869 that everybody does pause to think. I certainly assure the House that, in so far as the Central Office of Information is concerned, and indeed in all my other responsibilities. I believe that the task of properly managing the country's money is by no means confined to the narrow one of saying "No" on all possible occasions, but rather by trying to look ahead, by taking a general rather than a restricted view of the problem, and seeing how one can achieve the maximum result in terms of the national interest from the minimum of public expenditure.
Much reference has been made by many hon. Members to the new duties of the Postmaster-General. Sometimes, in listening to the hon. Member for Rossendale I sensed that he had mis-read the Motion and was under the impression that my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton was moving, not to call attention to the work of the Central Office of Information, but to call attention to the Postmaster-General. My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General needs no attention called to him. He is a man who, whatever work he touches, carries it out with extraordinary and unique skill.
It would be inappropriate if we were to turn the debate round and seek to extract from it a finished statement of what my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General is beginning to conclude himself from his study of his new tasks. No one, a fortnight after he has taken over a new job, can state, certainly to Parliament, the truth about it all. If any of us has ever tried to tell the world what the truth about anything is a fortnight after we have started to study it, we have shown what fools we were. I am certain that the House will wish to pursue and debate this intensely important question of overseas information services further on future occasions. It would be to the interest of the House not to press my right hon. Friend at the moment to give his own quick appreciation of the position.
I hope that the House will bear with me if I seek rather to explain the structure of the C.O.I. in terms of the Motion itself, and to indicate how the C.O.I. fits into the general machine and how its work can go forward to the very best advantage. As I have explained, some people think of the C.O.I.—and we have 870 had traces of that even in today's debate —as though it were the whole of the information service both at home and overseas. Actually it is a common-service department at the disposal of other Departments of the Government. At home it is the sole common-service agency, but it does not deal with the Press or with broadcasting. On the overseas side, and here I come right to the subject of the Motion, it is one of three distinct agencies, the other two being the British Council and the B.B.C.'s external services. In its overseas work, the C.O.I. uses all the media of publicity except broadcasting.
Reference has been made to the amount of money provided from public funds. The net Vote of the C.O.I. this year is about £1,800,000, of which about £942,000 is for home information work. Let me say in passing that about two-thirds of that goes on recruiting publicity for the Armed Forces and Civil Defence. That is its main home responsibility. Its Vote for overseas purposes this year is about £750,000, but it has no policy responsibilities itself. These are matters for the overseas Departments which convey policy to the C.O.I.
It follows that the C.O.I. is not at liberty to produce anything that has not previously been asked for by another Department. It is not at liberty to produce anything the cost of which has not been sponsored by some other Department. If hon. Members on either side of the House, therefore, feel that there is a lack of information or a lack of publicity material going out to some part of the world or other, or feel that there ought to be some printed or other material made available which is not being made available, criticisms on that score should be made to the sponsoring Departments and not to the agency which, like a good workshop—as was the phrase used by the hon. Member for Rossendale —turns out the work that it is commissioned to do.
Overseas, the C.O.I. is not responsible for the pattern of distribution or for the quantities sent out. At home, it is partly responsible for distribution but not even at home is it responsible for the quantities distributed.
The essential point that the House needs to watch, arising out of the debate, is whether or not the C.O.I. is an 871 efficient workshop, whether it is well constructed and planned and directed so as to carry out its agency work in a manner which will give the commissioning Departments what they want and will serve British interests at home and overseas. The C.O.I. therefore must be efficient, well-staffed and well-equipped.
If the material that it turns out is not right, if, when it is asked to produce some magazine, some poster, or some pamphlet by a Government Department it produces something that is technically bad, the C.O.I. should be criticised. I am gratified to have sat through almost the whole of the debate, as my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General has done, and to have heard scarcely a word of criticism of the actual material produced by the C.O.I. I am sure that the staff of the C.O.I., led by their able director, will derive pleasure from the fact that, although the House of Commons, on both sides, may have a great deal of feeling to express about information work, no one has said that the C.O.I. is falling down on its own job.
So far as I can gather, this is borne out by the views which come back to us from overseas about C.O.I. material. We do not have intimations sent back to this country that the C.O.I. material is not what is wanted, is badly produced, and is letting the nation down. On the contrary, we get from both official and private quarters a very considerable, steady volume of praise and appreciation of the work that is sent out. Indeed, during the debate I had to resist the temptation to turn my eyes to these extremely attractive magazines, of which I have here a large collection, and which illustrate the kind of work which the C.O.I. is doing. In this country, we occasionally get opportunities to form opinions for ourselves on the overseas work of the C.O.I. For example the new colour film called, "Atomic Achievement"—
§ Mr. Brooke
I am glad that the hon. Member says it is excellent. It has had a favourable reception wherever it has been shown and I am most grateful for that word of appreciation.
To give another illustration, sometimes we can get an independent check on the 872 efficiency of the C.O.I. staff. I think that the House would like to know that the C.O.I. has lately completed work on the British Pavilion at the Jamestown Exhibition in the United States which is to open in April next year. The C.O.I. production officer in charge of that has now been borrowed by the Americans to help to produce their own pavilion.
Regarding the range of the overseas services, there are the two magazines, Today and Commonwealth Today to which reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), who took excellent advantage, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton of his opportunity during the debate. These magazines are beautifully produced. Some of them are printed in English; in other cases the sheets are printed here only with pictures. They are then sent overseas and translations made, and local language editions are printed locally.
The C.O.I. has extensive film activities. When its films are to go to non-English speaking countries, they are dubbed into a wide range of languages. For that reason, they are made with commentaries and without direct speech. I should like to point out that this is a matter for industry to watch when making films which it would like the C.O.I. to circulate overseas. I mean the point about using a commentary rather than direct speech.
As to Press material, nearly all of that is sent out in English from this country to be translated locally. There is an advantage in that procedure, because it saves time, and also allows the officer on the spot, as it were, to tailor the piece of material exactly to the paper to which he proposes to send it. A recent check showed the use of C.O.I. material simultaneously in 94 different territories throughout the world in 51 languages. As the House knows, the C.O.I. does a great many other things. It produces reference material, photographic services of all kinds, and pictures; it handles visitors from overseas, etc.
There is one other matter to which I should specially like to refer. The British Pavilion at the German industries exhibition in Berlin this year was the fourth in succession to have been done as a prestige exhibit, and not as part of 873 the trade fair, by the Central Office of Information. The estimate is that 350,000 people visited the British pavilion in the fortnight during which it was open. Of that number, almost 50 per cent. came from East Berlin and East Germany. It had the biggest attendance of any pavilion. I should like to put those facts on record, because so often it is said that Britain is an entire failure when it comes to representing herself adequately abroad on these great occasions when visitors from many countries congregate.
Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton to the part which the C.O.I. plays in helping exports. It is, of course, not the job of the British Government information services to sell British goods. That is the job of the salesmen. But the information services can help them, as it were, to get a hearing, because both the public and the agents have been made aware of British inventiveness and of her many industrial developments. The information services, so to speak, can "roll the pitch" for the salesmen in that way.
The C.O.I. does that by sending out all the information it can find about inventions, industrial changes, new products and processes large or small. The one criteria which the C.O.I. has to apply is that what goes out must be publishable as a news story in its own right—whether it be about Calder Hall or some new machine of a specialist kind. A considerable part of the activities of the C.O.I. overseas is devoted to this work, which is done in consultation with the Board of Trade. I must say that our main trouble in this connection is to get a sufficient flow of these news stories and of good pictures and interesting films from industry to maintain a high standard in its services.
Thanks to the work of the Advisory Committee on Commercial Information Overseas, set up two years ago by the Board of Trade, and thanks to the Federation of British Industries, in making known to industry what the Government information services can do, and thanks also to the initiative of many industrial firms as well as to the C.O.I.'s own efforts, from its headquarters and its regional offices, to get into closer contact with individual firms and trade associations, a very great deal has been done to improve and widen the services.
874 Industry can help the C.O.I. We have a common interest, and I hope that the collaboration will be even closer and more fruitful. A useful thing which is now happening which has important overseas repercussions is that the C.O.I. organises the visits of parties of public relations officers from industrial firms and other bodies to the C.O.I. offices so that they can see what goes on, meet the people with whom they deal, and gain a full appreciation of the part that the C.O.I. can play in helping them.
I mentioned the regional offices. It would be a mistake to close them. My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton supposed, I think, that these regional offices were purely for home information work. That is not really so. In addition to their home information functions the regional offices are vital to the overseas work, first, because they handle foreign visitors—and not all foreign visitors come only to London—and, secondly, because they collect for the Press and for the photographic and magazine services the export promotion material which I have been describing.
My hon. Friend also asked whether the C.O.I. could provide a translation service for firms desiring to extend their export activities into new countries where they do not know the language. Nobody blames anybody for not knowing all languages, but if the C.O.I. were to accept the suggestion it would mean competition with private translation agencies. I do not think that any firm which goes about it in the right way should have any difficulty in getting its export material properly translated into any language in the world. That is why we keep our translation section for official use only.
One or two other questions arose during the debate, and I should like to reply to them. My hon. Friend criticised the fact that our British exhibition in the Damascus Trade Fair was not, in his view, adequate. I am not sure whether he had seen it himself Or whether this head been reported to him. Actually, the C.O.I. did a leaflet in Arabic for Damascus, but if there are any questions or criticisms of the kind which the hon. Member made about trade fairs perhaps he would put them to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. There is a distinction. The Board 875 of Trade is responsible for trade fairs overseas. The C.O.I. produces official stands for exhibitions other than trade fairs. That is the dividing line between them.
I think that I have dealt with the major questions. I do not want to speak for unduly long, but I should like to kill the idea that by trebling or quadrupling the amount of money that Britain has spent on her overseas services she would necessarily treble or quadruple their value. Wonderful accounts have been given of the amount spent by the Russians, but I am sure that no direct comparison can be made. It was suggested that Britain was parsimonious towards the B.B.C. and that if the Russians took over and directed our affairs unlimited money would be made available. I do not think for a moment that a Russian Government would make unlimited money available to any body like the B.B.C., if such existed in Russia.
There is no real comparison here. The B.B.C. carries out its services overseas, as at home, being impartial. If the Russian broadcasting agency started to publicise to the world what Hungarian sympathisers in Russia thought about Russian policy in Hungary I am certain that its supplies from the central Government would be cut off at once.
I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the suggestions, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South and others, about the increases in the amount of material that can be provided, but I most certainly hope that we shall not fall into the error of rushing into unlimited expenditure simply because a keener appreciation is now apparent in this country of the importance of the information services. I think the hon. Members for Walthamstow, West and Widnes (Mr. MacColl) sought to guard against that.
The staffs need, above all, stability. They want to know where they are. They do not want suddenly to be asked to take on an ill-considered, major expansion. In all these matters one has to take the long view, the foresight which I sought to stress at an earlier stage. The debate will have been of 876 great value if it encourages those who are doing the work and helps us to sort out our own ideas about where the responsibility lies, and how the machine works.
§ Mr. MacColl
Would the right hon. Gentleman kindly deal with the point about the seconding of C.O.I. specialists to overseas information stations, which was one of the recommendations of the Drogheda Committee?
§ Mr. Brooke
Yes. There have been C.O.I. officials seconded to Foreign Office information posts abroad. I did not take up in detail the Drogheda Report or earlier recommendations that have been mentioned, because the picture changes so rapidly in this field. The world with which we are dealing alters, not just from year to year but from day to day. I warn hon. Members against taking the Drogheda Report, or anything published three or four years ago, and urging that the recommendations of that date should be accepted as the best thing we could do now. I sought in my speech to concentrate on the present and the future rather than to hash over the past. We need all the time to be making a fresh appreciation of the need. We need to be shaping the structure of our own machine so that it can meet the current need as well as possible.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton upon introducing this subject for debate, and I have great pleasure, on behalf of the Government, in accepting the Motion. I trust that I have not strained the patience of the House in carrying out what I conceived to be my duty of setting out the allocation of responsibilities and the nature of the machine. I hope that my words today may be of service in future debates to those who may be wishing to discuss the policy on all these matters on a larger scale.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, conscious of the need to strengthen and improve British information services overseas urges that the resources of the Central Office of Information should be used to their maximum in this field.