§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I beg to move,That this House, noting the growth within recent years in the power and responsibility of Government Departments, local authorities, public corporations and other official agencies and in the services which they provide, and recognising that this has had a considerable impact on the life of all citizens, urges Her Majesty's Government to set up a Commission of Inquiry to study the relationship now existing between these public authorities and private individuals within the framework of existing policy and to make recommendations.Mr. Speaker, I hope that my Motion will, at any rate, be popular with you, Sir, because it is so widely drawn. It is so deliberately widely drawn that I feel you may relax your vigilance on points of order. I think I am right in saying that anyone who wished to raise any aspect of this matter relating to impact of the State on the individual might safely do so.
In re-reading the Motion I think it might be more appropriate to another place. I am reminded of the words of Mr. Percy Cudlipp:The Second Chamber where debateIs pleasantly dispassionateAnd Bishops (there are twenty-four)With some reluctance yield the floor To Dukes who mildly disagreeWith Barons from the T.U.C.…And then, amid a general yawnThe Motion is—by leave—withdrawn.I was only testing your vigilance, Mr.Speaker, having informed you that it would not be necessary for you to exercise it
1486 I believe that the facts established by this Motion meet with the general agreement of the House. Ever since the war, at any rate, Governments of both parties have in some way or another increased the field of public responsibility, but this, I believe I am right in saying, is the first occasion on which we have debated all these problems together.
I shall begin by dealing with one answer which might be advanced to this Motion. That is the answer that the only way to deal with the problem is to cut down the area of public responsibility, to denationalise and cut down the work of Government Departments. Obviously, I do not take that view, but I hope that, in any case, the House will not pursue that line. It was for that reason that I have included in the Motion the words:within the framework of existing policy.Although we might have an interesting debate on public enterprise I think it is more important to discuss the problems raised by it. In any case, if we had a substantial reduction in the amount of public enterprise there would be a large area still left which would cease to be public enterprise and would be transferred to private enter prise. That in itself would create problems of remoteness from the ordinary citizen. We ought then to accept facts as we find them and to discuss the problems which result.
I am a layman in this matter. I am not a trained public relations officer. I approach the whole subject as a personal consumer of the welfare services, the National Health Service, and the rest. and as a welfare officer dealing with complaints, problems and criticisms from a fairly large constituency. Also, as a Member of Parliament, I am concerned with the power as pects of this matter since we here control the power which exists in the community.
As a preliminary introduction, I shall try to analyse the scope of the problem of the relationship between public power and the private individual. I begin by saying that it has its legal aspects. I do not propose to deal with that in today's debate, although I think it would be in order to discuss the extent to which the rights of the individual are infringed by the actions of the community. Of course, administrative tribunals, hardship tribunals, and the rest, all impinge on the life of the ordinary citizen and they must 1487 necessarily fall within this Motion. I think that in many ways the situation is unsatisfactory, and I am glad that Her Majesty's Government have appointed the Franks Commission to look into it all.
The second aspect of it is that which I would call the technical aspect, the question whether the bureaucracy is really efficient or not. I do not propose to deal with that. The Treasury's Organisation and Methods Department, presumably, is working on it. I, for one, am always glad to see a swollen staff reduced, or the cost of the upkeep of the State's apparatus reduced, if that does not affect fundamental policy. Recently, a five-point appeal was made on this subject of bureaucracy. The five-points were: improve the work; root out bureaucracy; root out red tape; pay careful heed to the needs of the people; reduce the cost.
I appreciate those sentiments, and I think that they meet with the full approval of the Financial Secretary. They were one of the October revolutionary slogans of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and I got them from Soviet News. Therefore, I think that on both sides, whether we are Conservatives or Socialists, we can welcome a reduction in the cost of organisation if it can be combined with the same or greater efficiency.
The third aspect of it is the political aspect, and I myself do not propose to deal with this problem, although my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who will second my Motion, will deal with it. The political aspect may be expressed in this way. How can we as individuals in the State control this massive accumulation of power? Are we in a position, simply by electing a Member of Parliament and a local councillor, to be in effective charge of this massive accumulation of power?
It is a problem which touches on the rôle of Members of Parliament. Are we just Lobby fodder, as Mr. Christopher Hollis would have us believe? Are we accountable for the conduct of the nationalised industries, and are they accountable to us? It is a very big question, and, as I say, I myself do not propose to deal with that today.
1488 I want today to concentrate almost entirely on the last point, which I call the human aspect of it. I want to try to see to what extent this great administration of public authority is related to human needs, whether we, as the paymasters and the consumers of these services, are treated decently as human beings. I say quite frankly that I believe there is a real risk of our getting, as Members of Parliament, out of touch on this point.
I believe that my own party, the Labour Party, suffers from a delusion in this matter, a delusion which runs like this, that because the Labour movement sprang from the people, as it manifestly did, it can never really get out of touch with the people. I suggest to the House that whether one's origins were poor or whether they were of the silver spoon in the mouth sort, as soon as one touches and controls the apparatus of the State, them, by that very fact, one is out of touch with ordinary people in the community. Therefore, I hope that my own party—and I am sure it will—in the future pays great attention to this problem.
The Conservative Party, on the other hand, has always been very good at public relations. For centuries, the ruling class of this country has successfully by that means kept itself at the top. I look, therefore, for skilled advice from the other side of the House in considering this problem. At any rate, there is a gap between the man in the street and the Administration, and I suggest that what we ought to consider is how to bridge it.
I begin by considering the positive achievements already gained. I am not inclined today to be critical, or unhelpful at any rate, although I shall have grave criticisms to make. I think one must recognise that there have been considerable achievements in the last 20 years in bridging this gap, and I attribute them very largely to the development of public relations in this country.
I do not necessarily mean by that the work of public relations officers. I do not necessarily think that it can be done only by public relations officers. I mean the public relations spirit and approach, which we have seen develop, first, before the war, notably in the Post Office and in the former London Passenger Transport Board, then through the officers of N.A.L.G.O., and then, after the war, 1489 through the great war-time expansion of public relations, and in the period of expansion and development in the postwar years, and with it, of course, the growth of professionalism, to which I shall be returning in a moment.
I do not propose to analyse in any detail the extent to which this public relations work has developed. Of course, it has varied from Department to Department. The Prime Minister has a public relations officer, but his function is to conceal the morning cartoon by Vicky, and if there has been too much enthusiasm from the "Beaver," to try to cover it up with a leading article in The Times in the hope that the Prime Minister will be protected from difficulties in that way. That is his function, and it scarcely affects the rôle of the individual in society.
The Treasury, on the other hand, runs an information service, and when the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that we face a crisis and disaster to impress the trade unions, the Treasury information service explains to the foreign bankers that he did not really mean it. [Laughter.] Yes, but I am not really making fun. It is very necessary to do all this, but it does not touch the individual in society very much. The Central Office of Information is, of course, a common production agency doing a very good job on the advertisement and publicity side, but it is in considering the Government Departments which touch the life of the individual that we have an opportunity of measuring the true success of this policy.
The Post Office, in every aspect, I regard as very good. I am sure that most people who have had to do with Post Office services have found the Post Office not only efficient, but nice in being efficient. I think that the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance has succeeded very largely, although I shall have criticism to make of some aspects of that Ministry. However, I think it has very largely extended its public relations through leaflets and memoranda and pamphlets in trying to sell its services to the people.
I believe that the Ministry of Labour and National Service beats all records in that it has extended its public relations through its local offices and local managers, and not only by explanatory 1490 memoranda. Apart from its explanatory memoranda for the public, it has its internal staff memoranda, and by this means it has done a wonderful job in spreading the idea that it is the human being that counts, whether he works in the Department, wants the services of the Department, pays the salaries of the Department, or is a Member of Parliament interested in the work of the Department. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government has a very important job of co-ordination with the local authorities, but I think it has been rather inadequately done.
Local authorities' public relations are very different. Local authorities have no great tradition of regarding their ordinary ratepayers as customers. The idea is new to them. Many town clerks do not see the importance of it, and I think that the work of the pioneer public relations officer in local Government has been absolutely excellent. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), who has tabled an Amendment to my Motion, and who is very active in his own borough of Harrow, has participated in a delegate conference designed to popularise local government in his own borough. For this purpose there are, for example, films, exhibitions, visits to schools, the opening of the council's public gallery to school children to enable them to hear the council's debates.
There are countless examples of good public relations which are being carried out by some local authorities. I must mention Middlesex, Kent, Lambeth, Bristol—
§ Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
There is a large information bureau in Birmingham, and it is one of the best in the country, I believe.
§ Mr. Benn
In that case, I certainly include Birmingham in the list. However, the fact is that there are many local authorities which virtually do nothing about this.
The third great group of public authorities is that of the nationalised industries. In general, I think that the 1491 nationalised industries are more sensitive than Government Departments or the local authorities, because they have inherited the tradition of the approach to the customer. The man, for instance, who burns gas is a customer of the local gas board, and he buys its services. Very often, of course, the nationalised public utility has a monopoly, though not always. For instance, the gas and electricity industries compete, and British European Airways Corporation has to compete with American and other foreign airlines. There is an element of competition. So the public relations work of the big nationalised corporations has grown successfully. The British Transport Commission and the North Thames Gas Board are particularly good examples of those with good public relations; and I hope that in considering this the House will find that the nationalised industries have shown up well.
Finally, we come—and I can say little about it because little has been done—to the fourth group of public authorities—the appointed boards. They have no background of tradition for their customers. The National Assistance Board took over from Public Assistance and the hospital boards from individual hospitals. There is in this case a monopoly of organisation which, on the whole, is bad for public relations unless something is done about it. No political head is appointed, which, again, is bad because when there is one he is often most sensitive to the need for public relations.
In any event, the work of the State has developed in this respect in the last 10 years and hon. Members may ask why I have raised this question at all. It is for the simple reason that, although some of this work is excellent, it does not, extend anything like as far as it should. There are great sectors where public relations is quite unknown. Also, I think, public relations in the past have been interpreted by some public relation officers too much in terms of putting out material, that is, advertising, publicity and Press relations material. Although many of them are conscious of the need of an inflow from the public, I do not think that that has developed far enough. It is a matter of importance because recent figures of turn-out at municipal elections have been so bad that local 1492 government officers are talking about the collapse of local government and a situation in which it is difficult to get candidates to come forward.
My thesis, putting it simply to the House at this stage, is that, leaving aside publicity, advertising and the Press, and taking public relations in its human sense, one can say that there is really no such thing. It is the sum of all the personal relationships that exist between the State, in its various forms, and the individual. Long after the American visitor has forgotten the dreamy cottages of Dorset on the British travel poster, he remembers that the coffee was stinking wherever he went. Long after my constituents have forgotten my peroration on the brotherhood of man on May Day, they remember that the local authority will not allow them to keep a dog in their backyards.
It is of the essence of public relations that the customer, whether he gets a form or a letter or anything else, is given the impression that the enterprise, public or private, is at his service. Those hon. Members who travel to the West Country will have known that when one telephones Paddington station the girl answers, "Paddington: at your service." It creates a very good impression and an automatic reaction on the part of the passenger. Perhaps this is done at other stations as well. But one has other impressions, from 'phoning Government Departments, of waiting for attention from a telephone operator who is either chewing gum or knitting, or doing both.
The great thing is personal relationship in the office. Too much cannot be said about this. I got in touch with the Ministry of Works to find out exactly what colour schemes the Ministry uses in its local offices. It seemed to me that the colour and the general first impression on a man when he went to a Government office was of the greatest importance. Although the Ministry has improved matters and I am glad to say that there is not much chocolate brown nowadays, the colours used in its schemes are light straw, cream, turquoise blue. aircraft grey-green, broken white, cement grey and pale cream. This, I fear, shows a very much reduced Festival of Britain influence on Government Departments.
It is also important that when we go to a Government office there should be someone to tell us where to go, what 1493 queue to join, and so on. Sometimes they do not bother. One has to sit in a line and make the famous bureaucratic shuffle, everyone moving up from one chair to another, instead of being given a numbered ticket and being called by number.
Then there is the way one is treated by the man at the desk. In this respect, hospitals are absolutely appalling in their treatment of out-patients. I cannot understand why the House and the country should have been willing to tolerate for so long, just because of lack of imagination, and not of good will or medical attention, the shocking treatment given to out-patients. They wait in appallingly decorated rooms, nobody tells them what to do, everybody is told to come at about the same time and everybody has to wait two or three hours.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
My hon. Friend speaks of "shocking treatment." He does not mean medical treatment?
§ Mr. Benn
No, I mean the way one is treated while waiting. When one comes to the doctor one gets the benefit of the service, which is very good, and this treatment does not apply to in-patients.
Then there are the forms that we all have to fill. I have dozens of them. I will not impose them on the House because I know other hon. Members want to speak, but the negative approach of some forms really shocks me. I quote from the Post Office—a bad example from a good Department—the form dealing with a request for the redirection of letters. In the instructions in one case there are six negatives. One sentence reads:The Post, Office undertakes to redirect postal packets only when they cannot be redirected at the place of address.But what the Post Office really means is, "If you are going away and there will not be anyone at home who can forward your letters, the Post Office will be delighted to do it for you." Another sentence reads:On completion of the form, letters and small items will be redirected free of charge for a period not exceeding six months.What the Post Office is trying to say is, "It is part of our service and, of course, it will not cost you anything… Redirection will go on automatically for six months and if you want it to be continued just let us know." It is a wonderful ser- 1494 vice and everything is done for nothing, but it is utterly spoiled by this negative approach.
The same thing happens with some advertising. I should like to quote one which has since been put right. In 1947, I was in America and I went to an air station and picked up two schedules, one belonging to American Airlines, dealing with the routes to Mexico and the other a British European Airways schedule. I opened the glossy American folder, which said:America's giant, speedy Five-Star Flagships wing you direct to Mexico City where you may see sights famous for years… pottery produced by secret methods handed down by the Aztecs…The British European Airways schedule said:Notes and Regulations: (a) Animals. No dog, cat, bird or livestock of any kind may be carried in the passenger cabins…This was 10 years ago and I am glad to say that the latest British European Airways pamphlet on travel in Scotland, in six colours, is absolutely first-rate and I feel that I must show it to the House. I mention this only as an example of something we know too well—freezing off the customer and trying to show if we possibly can that we have not got what he wants.
The most important form of contact is letters. In case hon. Members may think that up to now I have been unfair and have talked only about what seemed to me to be the case, I went to a certain amount of trouble in writing to 28 public authorities, not on House of Commons notepaper, but using an initial and my true address. I wanted to see exactly how "Mr. Benn" was treated by a public authority. I want to quote what actually happened. It is something of interest and worthy of consideration.
I want to explain the matter in case someone feels that there is a trick here. There was no catch in any of my letters. I wrote in each case a question to which I asked for an answer, a question to which the answer was simple and moreover—and this is extremely important—the answer gave the Department concerned an opportunity to show something rather good that it was doing. I wrote to the Ministry of Labour and asked how I could become a coal miner. There is no need for a question like that to go to Cabinet level, to see whether a man can 1495 be fobbed off with a "heretofore and thereafter." I wrote clearly, and it was legible because the letter was typed, so there was no question of deciphering what I had to say. I wrote courteously and in every case apologised to the Department for bothering it.
I shall begin by analysing the response which I received. I know this is only a small sample, and that Dr. Gallup would turn in his gallery if he were here, so people must not make too much of it. By the way, these letters were sent eight days ago. Of the 14 Government Departments to which I wrote, only eight bothered to acknowledge my letter. Out of those eight, I had a personal letter from three, standard letters from two, answers, but no covering letter, from three. There was some terrible jargon such as "I am directed to reply" and "Further to your communication of 30th prox" or ult, or whatever it was.
In the case of two, special work was put into the reply. For example, I wrote to the head office, who forwarded my letter to the local office according to my address, and then they wrote to me. Only one of the eight who replied called me "Mr. Benn" and I confess that, like most people, I rather like my name, and that if I write "Yours sincerely, A. Benn" I like to be called "Dear Mr. Benn" in reply.
There were some very bad examples. To spare the Minister who is to reply to the debate, I shall not say what happened to my letter to the Treasury, but perhaps an answer will arrive before the end of the debate. I must mention the Ministry of Labour, which was wonderful. First, the Department sent my letter to the local office, who then wrote to me on the following lines, "Dear Mr. Benn. Thank you for your letter. So glad you are interested in the mines. We are sending you a first-rate pamphlet. Perhaps you would like to discuss it with your friends and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages. And, of course, please call in and see us." That was first-rate.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend is a Parliamentarian and if he could tell me what the position would be if I occupied an 1496 office of profit under the Crown, I would like to know.
I shall mention one Department frankly by name because it will not get anyone into trouble, since it is standard practice. I wrote to the Home Office and asked: How does an alien become British? My letter was returned with tea stains on it. I do not complain, because my own correspondence sometimes gets into that state. But fastened to it was a scruffy little bit of duplicated matter, which read:With reference to the attached letter, it is requested that the information indicated overleaf may be given.There was no "Dear Sir," no "Dear Mr. Benn," no "Kindly give." There was nothing. This was really the measure of the importance of Mr. Benn, particularly as it was suspected that he was an alien.
I give that as a bad example. The majority were not bad. In the case of the local authorities the hospitals were good because I wrote to the secretaries of the regional hospital boards. The best of all, and it was rather charming, came from the College of Arms. I wrote to that office as being the oldest bureaucratic Department I could think of. I wrote asking, "How do I get a grant of arms?" The Department wrote me such a nice letter, something like this: "Dear Mr. Benn. We know that there are some people with the name of Benn with arms. If you send us the four guineas—" That was the rub—one had to pay the fee to get the service in the old days. Still, it was extremely courteous and I am tempted to see whether I am eligible for some arms after that.
I reached the conclusion from the various forms and letters that on the whole the personal relations were very bad in many cases. I do not want to exaggerate. I do not want to say things that are not true and cannot be defended by those concerned. However, my general feeling is that the personal relationship which exists between the public authorities and the people could be greatly improved. In many cases there is a negative, an unimaginative, attitude and, in some cases, a coldness bordering on hostility.
What can be done about it? First, I think it important to point out, especi- 1497 ally as the Treasury spokesman will be answering this debate, that public relations consist of more than advertising and publicity and things that cost money. All those other things are important, but good public relations are really an attitude of mind. I am speaking as a layman, but the second thing I want to say about them is that public relations seem to me to be nothing if they are not a three-way flow between the policy at the top represented by the man in charge, the staff under him, and the public who are getting the services.
The public relations officer ought to be transmitting a sense of purpose very powerfully to the staff of his Department at the same moment as he is receiving from the public comments and suggestions. At the risk of copying Noel Coward who, in his play, "In Which we Serve," made a captain's speech about a happy, efficient ship—which spoiled all the speeches that captains have been quietly making for half a century because now everyone knows what they are saying—I think that a happy and efficient Department is the best guarantee of good relations with the public.
Thirdly, I stress again that this is essentially a personal matter. We are familiar with slogans in this country and with concepts. For many years the lawyers have given us the reasonable man. He is the man who always weighs up the latest standing rule and order and measures it against his duties to his wife and family. Then he does the right thing—and probably does not get a reprieve after all.
Then the Treasury has the economic man. He is the man of unutterable lust. He is always measuring a one-eighth of 1 per cent. change in the Bank Rate and rearranging his investments to give him an extra 2d. a year as a result of the change. He is always in search of higher wages and of making his savings yield a higher dividend. The Ministry of Health has the normal man, and he has all sorts of pitfalls. He may be too fond of his mother and not like his father very much. The normal man is as real a concept for the medical person as the reasonable man is for the lawyer.
I am suggesting that we ought to have regard to the human man, the man who is glad when he gets his pension and appreciates it if the manager, in giving 1498 it to him, says that he is glad, too. He is the man who is sorry when he does not get his pension, and likes to hear the man who tells him say, "I am sorry, but we cannot help you." He is the man who sometimes gets angry when things go wrong. He is the man who generally grumbles to his wife and his neighbours, but will not complain to the people responsible.
I suggest that to improve personal relations we must encourage complaints and suggestions. I really think that the consumer committees of the nationalised industries are probably rather a flop. If I have a complaint I would never send it to a man who would simply transmit it upwards without the passion I have, because he has not experienced the irritation of it. I would write to the head of the Department first, and, if that failed, then to my Member of Parliament. But if that failed, I would not be surprised.
Finally, I think that all these things I have spoken about must be the responsibility of one man. The public relations officer spreads into all these fields. I would like to see him not empire building at the top; because most of these men do not want to build empires, they want to get the right outlook expressed in the organisation in which they work. The real function of the public relations officer is hovering in an advisory capacity very near the top, if not actually at the top, of his own Department. He ought to be the eyes and the ears of his Minister or of his chairman, and very often the mouth as well. If that happens, if we have imagination at the top, there is a chance of something being done.
It may be asked: why have an inquiry at all? I do not claim to have said anything new about this. The public relations officers know it. As I said earlier, they have a professional organisation which it is important to encourage, the Institute of Public Relations. That Institute gathers together those interested to compare notes and to exchange suggestions and to work to get better public relations. Therefore, we should have a committee of inquiry to push their ideas.
I want to see reconstituted the Local Government Committee, which was abolished in 1950. I also want to see a national advisory committee as well as a co-ordinating committee. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Harrow, East 1499 moves his Amendment, I shall not resist it, because it is more important that we should get a unanimous decision than to have a few votes and show the paucity of our numbers in the House of Commons on a Friday by going through the Division Lobbies.
Lastly, it may be asked: why do I raise this matter? Why do I think it important? Obviously, it is no use having a kindly, friendly man in the pensions office if he has no pensions to pay. One must have the policy right first. One must have the legal side right. One must also have the political control right. But if one has all these perfect and one's human relations are wrong, the whole thing is in danger of foundering. Democracy means a sense of participation and common effort, and we shall not get that unless we try for it.
To give an example of a means by which something useful can be done which does not cost very much—I mention this because of the Treasury—during the war, dreamy R.A.F. fighter pilots were sent round the factories to talk to the girls who were stitching fabric and making planes. This was wonderful public relations and it did not cost any thing. People were able to appreciate the value of the work that they were doing.
If we are to put flesh and blood on the democratic skeleton that we have, we must look 'again at the whole question of the way the State treats the individual. It is for this reason that I commend my Motion to the House.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I beg to second the Motion.
It is indeed true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said, that the Motion is extremely widely drawn. When he asked me to second it and told me that he would be dealing with the personal and humane side, he said that I was to be left to deal with the heavy political side. I gathered that he meant that, while he would have all the amusement of dealing with public relations, I was to deal with the awkward problem.
One of the most important parts of relations between individuals and public authorities is the relationship through 1500 Parliament, but before I come to the problem of how far and how adequately we, as responsible Parliamentarians, can be the link between a public authority and the individual, I should like to say one thing to my hon. Friend about the subject of publicity and public relations. When he was talking about the unfortunate Government Departments which have not written to him on very nice, clean paper, I felt that it is true that if one sends letters to big private corporations, such as I.C.I. and Unilever, one receives charming letters on magnificent embossed paper from highly-paid public relations staff. But what if one writes to the British Council? The British Council has two sorts of aims in public relations. One is to try to please one, and the other is not to get its vote cut by the Daily Express. Sometimes perhaps its public relations might be regarded as not too good. I wonder what would happen if it were discovered that it had one or two people paid to try to popularise it.
A striking thing is the difference between the standards of public relations which are permitted for private and public enterprise. We have had a very interesting example with regard to the Daimler company in the newspapers recently. Apparently the public relations of the Daimler company have been very largely conducted by Sir Bernard and Lady Docker. For years, it has been a well understood thing that Lady Docker should go about in a gold-plated Daimler, a silver-studded Daimler or a zebra-skincovered Daimler. We have all known that these were not her Daimlers but belonged to the company, and that it was part of the public relations of the company that she should go about in those cars. I agree that the limit was reached when she tried to get a mink coat and a gold dress costing £5,000 charged to the company's Income Tax. At this point the Income Tax authorities jibbed, and the other directors stated that they felt that it was unfavourable publicity.
I have reflected upon the position of the Central Electricity Authority. Suppose that for five years Lord and Lady Citrine had been going from party to party in London, or playing marbles, always descending from a silver-studded car. One or two questions would have been raised in the Daily Express about Lord and Lady Citrine in a very different tone from that now being used in respect 1501 of Sir Bernard and Lady Docker. This merely indicates to my hon. Friend that public relations depend on who one is. If one is a private enterprise authority, one can waste thousands of pounds of the dividend holders' money on publicity. If one is a public authority, then, thank goodness, one is not allowed to do so. The difference is, of course, that we can investigate the expenditure of public authorities, having the right to challenge their waste of money, whereas we have not the right to challenge waste of money by the Daimler company.
That brings me to the aspect of the Motion that I want to discuss, which is how far we in the House of Commons are still able to do our job of controlling public corporations and public departments on behalf of the individual. I am glad that my hon. Friend started by remarking that it was the traditional Tory policy when the Conservatives were in opposition to say that the whole subject was perfectly simple. I imagine that we shall have a speech on that basis from below the Gangway on the other side of the House. We shall be told that we ought to have smaller Government Departments. We shall be told that the way to end it is to axe the Government Departments. This outlook is now being disproved by the Tories themselves, who show no sign whatever of reducing the area or size of public authority, because they know it cannot be done in the modern world. The problem that we as Parliamentarians and democrats face is that nothing can prevent the unit of organisation growing steadily bigger.
One hundred years ago it was conceivable that our main source of energy, coal, should be mined by hundreds of independent companies, for that was then possible. When we start with atomic energy, even hon. Gentlemen opposite sitting below the Gangway reject the idea that we should have hundreds of competing entrepreneurs running it and recognise the need to have a colossal centralised organisation. The problem of the new despotism is no more public than it is private. It applies in the same sense to large-scale monopoly in the private sector as it does to large-scale public monopoly.
This presents us with a tremendous Parliamentary problem. We ought to take the problem seriously and ask ourselves whether an institution which may 1502 have been capable 100 years ago of controlling the type of public department then in evidence is capable of controlling the type of public activity that we have in 1956. Is it likely that one can have one's political institutions unchanged and able to exert the same amount of control? It is not. Parliamentary control in this context has virtually been surrendered. We are no longer governed by Parliamentary Government; we are governed by Cabinet Government.
It is as well in this debate to remind ourselves of that fact. After all, under the Constitution we were sent here as M.Ps. to represent the individual and to defend the individual citizen against excess of power. We must frankly admit to ourselves that long before many of us came here in 1945 Parliament had resigned that power to the Executive.
It is extremely instructive to take the one example of the nationalised industries. The great public corporations which have been set up since the war were expressly exempted from the type of Parliamentary control which I have always thought was one part of the justification for State ownership. Why did I want State ownership? It was because I wanted to transfer irresponsible private concentrations of power to public ownership in order to make them responsive to the control of the elected representatives of the people.
Consequently, I have been baffled ever since 1945 why it should be specially laid down that one cannot ask Parliamentary Questions about socialised industries. There may have been good political reasons for it in 1945 when there was high controversy. However, I see no reason whatever why we should not seek to exert on behalf of the public and the individual the fullest Parliamentary control over everything for which we are responsible, and, since we are responsible for the policy of the nationalised industries, it seems to me essential that Parliament should exert—I shall suggest certain ways in which we might be able to do it practically—its full and detailed right of investigating, probing and treating a nationalised industry from this point of view exactly as if it were a Government Department, in the sense that we, representing the people, have the right to ask Questions about it and to examine it.
1503 I turn now from the nationalised industries to Government Departments. Of course, we get so used to things that we fail to realise them. Let us take the question of Supply Days. Supply Days were originally the time when Parliament controlled the Executive's expenditure on Government Departments. That is a pure myth today. We have ceased to do it. I am not forgetting the work of the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on Estimates, which do excellent work, but on a tiny scale. Effective Parliamentary control of the Executive has in fact been surrendered.
One of the reasons why the status of a Member of Parliament has declined is that his importance has declined, because once Parliament surrenders this power to the Cabinet, then our function, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East remarked, comes to be Lobby fodder supporting a Cabinet, or trying to get the shadow Cabinet to replace it. Parliament as Parliament and M.P.s. as M.P.s decline in status, because of the lack of Parliamentary control of the Executive.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Is there any significance in the fact that the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) is speaking from a Liberal Bench?
§ Mr. Crossman
There is none whatsoever. There is in this sense a significance, that I profoundly believe that in this country the radical tradition is a tradition which has to be maintained, if we are to preserve democracy. We in the Labour Party have taken over everything which was radical in the Liberal Party in the sense of defending freedom. It is significant that the Motion is being moved from this side of the House and not from the other. That is why one finds that the so-called Liberal Party does not bother to turn up for a debate on a Motion which is predominantly to do with something about which the Liberal Party is supposed to be concerned, the defence of the individual against the despotism of the State.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
The hon. Member is being less than fair to this side of the House, because we have an Amendment which, while accepting the whole premise and principle of the 1504 Motion, merely objects to the action which it suggests.
§ Mr. Crossman
I agree. I must admit that, in many ways, when I study the situation objectively, what bothers me most is not hon. Members opposite but the Liberal Party. There are some hon. Members opposite who are less reactionary than the average supporter of the Liberal Party.
Let us agree that we have given up control and do not, as a Parliament, sent on behalf of the individual, control the Executive in detail in the expenditure of its money, or in the administration of its vast Departments. I shall be told that that is all right because the Ministers do it and, in their Departments, exert all the control which is required; that every detail can be left, because the Minister can deal with it and we can resign and, instead of Parliamentary responsibility, have Ministerial responsibility and that democracy will still be preserved.
I must ask whether that is not also a myth. Is it really true that in the modern world a Minister can, on behalf of the electorate, exercise that detailed control of his Department in which we believed two generations ago? I have only to mention Orders in Council for everyone to know what I mean. We all know that unfortunate Ministers are constantly signing and laying on the Table Orders in Council which they cannot possibly have read. There are hundreds of instances where Ministers cannot possibly exercise detailed control.
We had a most amusing instance when we were debating the case of Commander Crabb. I was sorry for the First Lord of the Admiralty. He just had not been told that it was normal practice not to tell Ministers things which one did not want them to know. Everybody knows that that is so in the Civil Service. I was a temporary civil servant in the Foreign Office during the war. We were absolutely sure that if we did not want politicians to know anything we simply did not have to tell them.
It is time occasionally to remind ourselves, even on a Friday morning, of the mythology of British bureaucracy and how the system works. I hazard this suggestion to those who have not been and to those who have been Ministers. A Minister is faced with an awkward 1505 dilemma. If he immediately seeks to exert detailed control he is quietly given so many boxes of papers to read that he is extinguished within a few weeks. Any civil servant can kill a Minister with over-work if the Minister chooses to probe too far. If he does not probe, he is not exerting control.
I am not saying that there are not superhuman men who manage to dominate State bureaucracy by sheer force of personality. Of course there are, but if in any Cabinet there are more than half-a-dozen Ministers who control their Departments, that is a very high average indeed. The rest are public relations officers for their Departments, overworked, struggling to make all their speeches, hurrying to get their briefs written for them and rushing forward to read them, or coming down here to be persecuted by us. They have no time to be Cabinet Ministers, understanding all the major problems of State and able to discuss them intelligently, and also to exert the detailed Departmental control which two generations ago was felt necessary and which would still be a good defence of the individual if it could be instituted.
I mention defence of the individual against the State because I have grave doubts whether, in the modern world, the Cabinet and Ministers can possibly exercise that type of control as effectively as is now needed. We have to face the fact that, whatever party is in power, four-fifths of the policy is in fact determined by a genuine bureaucracy, which, whichever party happens to be in power, is always there. It is difficult to see how to avoid that.
The Americans have their own way. In America the top two echelons of the Civil Service disappear each time there is an election and the politicians put in their own men. That is the system of patronage. We laugh at the American system, and I should not like to introduce any part of it here. However, it has the one virtue, that it enables the man who enters office to get his policy carried out, because if he enters office at least with his own under-secretaries and assistant secretaries on his side, he does not have to spend two years fighting his own department to get his ideas across.
1506 That is an old idea, but I bring it out again as the sort of thing which the commission we are proposing might study. There is also the French system of the chef de cabinet. I do not want to see the business of transferring civil servants to different Government Departments. However, Ministers could bring with them two or three men whom they would know would act as their eyes and ears and would enable them to have things read for them so that they would not be over-burdened. The introduction of that method would allow the Minister to bring someone with him and to form a small office from which he could organise his Department.
I shall be told that that would destroy the confidence of the Civil Service in the Minister. but I do not want civil servants to be confident about every Minister. They should feel the very opposite; they should feel a certain risk that the Minister might, in the course of the years he is there, challenge something against their will. That is only a suggestion, that the Minister might be allowed to have two people there just to read and digest the papers.
The reason that ex-Ministers look so bleak is that they have been made to spend all night reading and reading until they cannot think at all. That is the problem of the modern world, because the civil servants will kill them. [Interruption.] My right hon Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) never permitted himself to read them. He had a mind free of all this detailed knowledge which the civil servants forced on him, but there are weaker brethren who read material and who sit up all night and who are not as young and as fresh as he and who should avoid it. He was able to retain his ideas unaffected by the facts put before him.
What I have been suggesting to the House is that we have these two problems of the disappearance of Parliamentary control of State bureaucracy and the ineffectiveness of Ministerial control of State bureaucracy. What do I propose should be done about it? I do not want to neglect what we have got. Question Time, Adjournment debates and the rights of private Members are of enormous importance. It is more important than we think. Because of Question Time, these Departments can never be quite sure that they will get away with 1507 it. They have a constant fear about Questions and the possibility of an Adjournment debate, with a consequent possible exposure of their actions. It is that which keeps civil servants on their toes. Anybody who has worked in a Government Department and who knows the trouble and pain taken in drafting a deceptive answer to a Parliamentary Question and the determination to evade the truth, knows how necessary it is to repeat Questions time after time and never believe the answer, even if it is a straight, categorical negative. In fact, that is proof that one has struck home, and then one must strike again, and again, and again. We should never underestimate the importance of Question Time.
I would like the House to consider a proposal which has often been put before it. I put it again now because I think that it is even more relevant in the modern world. I will preface it with an illustration. Some years ago my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and one or two other hon. Members found an ingenious device by which they could hold up the work of the Government and take up Government time. It was found that because the Army Act was being amended we could insist on debating the whole of it. That was a pure gesture of delaying tactics. That is why we started doing it.
But out of that action came the setting up of a Select Committee upon the Army Act, which did the astonishing job of redrafting the whole Act. What struck me when I looked at its work was that if a Minister had tried to do it on his own the Act would never have been redrafted. It was done because the Members of an inter-party Select Committee, who really cared about the matter, were working together. In that way a job was done for the Army which ordinary methods of Ministerial, Parliamentary, Cabinet or shadow Cabinet procedure would never have achieved.
Is not that fact relevant to our problem? If we could do it for the Army, why could we not establish a Standing Committee of the House on defence? I believe that such a committee could tackle the problem of National Service and what to do about it. If that committee sat throughout the year such a problem could be completed, although 1508 we could not hope to get through it in the ordinary rough-and-tumble of Parliamentary debate.
Since Parliament has this increasing lack of responsibility for such matters as the Armed Forces, nationalised industries and huge Government Departments, is it not time to consider whether we should not extend our own Committees? We have our Public Accounts and Estimates Committees. Should we not now have specialised committees dealing with certain aspects of work which we simply cannot tackle at present?
I want committees which are of vital national interest. I am thinking primarily of defence, although I shall refer to the Colonies later. There is another example which I can give, namely, the Foreign Office. In order to relieve the Foreign Secretary, we now have two Ministers of State and two Joint Under-Secretaries of State, and yet every Foreign Secretary knows that he is not relieved at all, because the Foreign Office is determined to load on to him every important decision. Even if other officials are appointed, the Foreign Secretary is still the ultimate man, and he is crushed with the burden. We really must consider whether the time has not come for the House to deal with certain aspects of foreign affairs in Standing Committee as well as in full debate.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Is the hon. Gentleman being quite fair to the Foreign Office? Is it not a fact that any of the major decisions have to be Cabinet decisions and, therefore, the Foreign Secretary is inevitably responsible?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am not blaming him, but in the case of every Foreign Secretary it is reported to us that his life is becoming intolerable, and I am merely trying to find some way in which the exclusive responsibility of one man can be in some sense broadened into a Parliamentary responsibility. I am trying to find a way of helping the Foreign Secretary without affecting the need of the Foreign Office to have a decision taken in the House.
The Colonies provide the strongest example of all. I had the privilege of being a Member of the Malta RoundTable Conference. It was the first occasion in over 100 years that the House of Commons had sent out to Malta an 1509 executive body with authority. We have had Parliamentary associations and Commonwealth associations upon an informal basis, but we were sent out there to do a job of work. It is a tragedy always to wait until a Colony blows up, or until there is a crisis, before we find time to send people out there to see the situation for themselves.
We have 53 Dependencies, great and small, and we have a theory of Ministerial responsibility which says that the Colonial Secretary is personally responsible for all those. I was delighted when my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), during the debate on Kenya, alluded to the necessity for reviewing the whole problem of Parliamentary responsibility for the Colonies. I agree with him that the whole matter is one of human relations. It is not merely a question of pumping in dollars to these places, but of making them feel that they are cared about and that human contacts exist between them and us.
Would it be such a shocking thing if we were to have a Standing Committee for the Colonies, composed of fifty or sixty Members, whose job it was to visit two or three Colonies each year—at the taxpayers' expense—and then report to the Colonial Secretary, thereby catching the problems before they blew up into crises. If we do not do that, how can we exert our responsibility on behalf of these 70 million people? We cannot do it merely by debating such matters once or twice a year, upon Supply Days, or when there is a crisis such as there is in Kenya, when Miss Fletcher gives us certain information—and when it is too late.
The essence of good colonial administration is constant human contact between this House and the peoples of the Colonies, so as to make them feel that a democracy behaves differently towards them from any other form of Government. The essence of it all is human personal relationship, and this can be visualised in the person of a Committee visiting the Colonies to see conditions for itself; not just a friendship committee, but one which is empowered to report and advise.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
It is quite impossible to examine the individual Colonial Estimates, so there is none of 1510 the traditional Parliamentary control there.
§ Mr. Crossman
That is true of the Army Estimates. We no longer consider individual Army or Air Force Estimates, and as we have given up all our rights of considering individual Estimates it is a matter of chance in debate whether a certain subject is discussed. But I am concerned not with matters of debate but with the responsibility of this Parliament and the extension of that responsibility so that we are empowered, in some small way, to formulate policy.
I know that three objections will be put forward to my proposals. The first one will not be made public, but it will be extremely effective in private. The Whips will say, "Look—if these fellows get together in a Colonies Committee and get to know each other too well our discipline will be affected." I bring that right out into the open, because that is what will be said. It will be suggested that if we get together in these committees and break the traditional party ties it will be bad for party discipline. That could never be said publicly, because it is such an utterly dishonourable argument. Nobody would dream of saying it in public, but it is one of the major objections and major obstacles to my proposals.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
That is not said about membership of the Estimates or Public Accounts Committee.
§ Mr. Crossman
That is only because they do not matter so much. If they were made more powerful, and if more and more of the work of this House were to be done in Committees of this sort, the party machines would be affected, just as we know that in municipal government, where work is done in constant collaboration in committees, a committee loyalty arises which differs from the traditional party loyalty. I am seriously asking myself whether it is not time to realise that we, as a Parliament, are trailing behind in dealing with problems of the Colonies, defence and nationalised industries, and whether we should not look to our great municipalities and see what they have done, because they have the same problems about committees in their administration. 1511 Is it not time that we also used the committee procedure to a greater extent? I turn down as unworthy of discussion the argument that this may weaken the rigid party divisions.
The second objection is that this might weaken Ministerial responsibility and our system of Cabinet Government. The question will be asked: What relationship would these committees have to Ministerial responsibility? I accept that question because I do not want to see us degenerating into the American system, where the Legislature may be at loggerheads with the Executive, and where Legislative investigations tend to try to score off the Executive. That is a fantastic system, which we do not want to introduce here.
I quite admit that these committees would have to be advisory. They could only advise ministers; they could not instruct Ministers. Their status, therefore, would have to be report and advice. Of course, in the case of the Colonies it would be essential that they work hand in glove with the Minister. The committees could not be allowed to instruct the Minister because it would be no good, but I think that in terms of report and advice to this House both on Colonies and on nationalised industries we ought to consider this committee system.
That brings me to the third objection, which is who is going to have the time, because once we have such committees, in addition to our Standing Committees on legislation and our committees on Colonies and defence, the M.P.'s job becomes whole-time. We are betwixt and between in this House on the issue of whether the job of Parliament is wholetime or not.
There is a tradition that it is very nice to be a part-time Member of Parliament and to regard that in the way in which it has been regarded for 200 years, which is to do public service when one has earned one's income elsewhere. It is a good oligarchic, aristocratic tradition. The objection to such a committee system may be that it would make Parliament a whole-time job. The rather oldfashioned and charming idea of doing Parliamentary work in one's spare time and being all the better for it may have been all right 100 years ago, but it has frankly become out of date today. 1512 The choice which faces us is either to take our responsibilities seriously and to do the job responsibly or to be a sparetime Parliament and to permit the real responsibility to pass to the bureauracy. I put that as the dilemma which faces me. A very odd thing about politicians is that we love poking into other people's business. We are ready to reform everything, but the only thing which we will not reform is our own constitution.
I was fascinated when I read the book on Parliament written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I thought it a firstrate book in the sense of describing what happens. What astonished me was my right hon. Friend's complete satisfaction that this was perfect. I felt that he proved the inadequacy of our institutions by his objective exposure. I think the difficulty is to get any hon. Member to look at our institutions with the same criticisms with which we look at other institutions.
We are all ultra-Tories about Parliament. We love it and have got used to it. We tend to think that it is perfect, but it is not perfect. What were the responsibilities of Parliament are becoming mythical. Responsibility is passing from this place year by year to irresponsible people either in private or public industry, and thereby the control by the people of this country of public institutions is steadily decreasing.
In that sense the phrase "new despotism" is an objective statement of fact. The people's elected representatives do not adequately control these vast sectors of power, and the main reason is because we will not reform and organise ourselves. If we take this job seriously and if we organise ourselves we can have an adequate responsibility for the Colonies and for the problem of defence and we can humanise the national industries by taking responsibility for them, but only on the one condition that we admit that this place is not perfect.
§ Mr. Speaker
Perhaps I should say that I have studied the Amendment to this Motion an the Order Paper, and that the conclusion I have come to is that if it were moved now it would confine the debate really to the question of whether or not there should be a commission of inquiry which, it seems to 1513 me, would be a pity from the point of view of the House as a whole. Therefore, I do not propose to select that Amendment now, but if importance is attached to the words and if, at a later stage, it were decided to move them as an Amendment, formally and without further speech, I would accept such a Motion and put it to the House. In the meantime, I will call the hon. Member for Harrow. East (Mr. Ian Harvey) next, but I would not accept his Amendment at this stage.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
I am sure that everyone is obliged to the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) for selecting this subject for debate today and also for the extremely eloquent and charming way in which he moved his Motion. The traditions of this House prevent me addressing him as "Mr. Benn," but I hope that he will not think any the worse of me for that. I must say that I found almost everything he said totally agreeable to the point of view which I hold, and. therefore. if I do not take up any of the points he made it is only because that would be repetition and because he made them so well in the first place that such repetition would suffer.
That being so, I will turn to the most interesting speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), and, here again. I hope I shall be forgiven if I do not follow him too far, though not because I was not profoundly interested in what he said. With great dexterity, the hon. Gentleman managed to say a great dealwithin the framework of existing policywhich are words used in the Motion which he was seconding. However. I cannot allow to pass the observation which I knew he could not avoid making about Sir Bernard Docker. The fact that he represents a constituency which has a competitive motor firm in it had, of come, nothing to do with what he was saying.
§ Mr. Harvey
I stand very definitely corrected, but it will not escape the attention of the House that there are other motor industries in that town.
1514 Of course, we cannot accept what is undoubtedly an exception to the normal rule of public relations in the private field. I do.not want to involve the House in an acrimonious debate on that subject, because we have started out on a very serious consideration of a very important topic. Of course, it would be just as easy to select examples from the public sector. So I shall pass from that and say that I was pleasantly reminded of the days when the hon. Gentleman used to lecture at Oxford. I have no doubt that we have listened to the preview of his next book which will be appearing shortly.
I wish to take perhaps a different point of view because I admit to the House that in the part-time existence which, oligarchically, I follow, I have some interest in public relations. It would not, perhaps, be unhelpful if we examined what we understand by public relations so that in discussing this subject we may have some common ground. An American once said that propaganda is a good name gone wrong, which, of course, is perfectly true.
I believe that public relations might equally well go wrong if it were to be thought, and if hon. Members were to think, that it was something which was confined to a cult of specialists only, because that would be a very wrong interpretation of its function. In fact, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East made very clear in the closing part of his speech, public relations is a new word or a new phrase for the question of behaviour. The behaviour in public of public organisations and public authorities, just as in dealings of private people, reflect character, and, therefore, public relations is concerned with character and with the policy of the organisations with which we are dealing.
As the hon. Gentleman said, they comprise communications inwards of the relationship between those who work in these organisations, and the communications outwards to the public who have to deal with them, and I was very much amused by the various examples which the hon. Gentleman gave of that communication. He was quite right in saying that the organisations could clearly be judged by the way in which the 1515 people who represent them behave towards the public. It is intensely important that all those who work for public organisations should realise that their conduct affects the public attitude and idea of the character of those organisations.
I believe that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East will not quarrel with me in any way if I say that in a democratic society it is most desirable that everybody should take part, physically and mentally, in our social progress. I believe that Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, who is not always complimented in this House, realised that very much in the last war, when he laid it down that everyone must be in the picture to the fullest possible extent. That is a process which is certainly not confined to the operations of war. Public relations is concerned with the putting of people in the picture. It is an expression of policy. It is also, as the hon. Gentleman indicated, an interpretation of leadership.
That brings me to the point which the hon. Gentleman was making at the end of his speech, and to which I personally attach tremendous importance. It is the question of what is to be the status of public relations as a function within these public organisations, and let me say that, although the Motion refers to public organisations and public authorities, all these things apply just as much to the private sector, which we are not actually discussing today.
The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right in saying that public relations must come in right at the top as well as at the root, and that management, in turn—and by management I mean those controlling the organisation and formulating policy must realise the effect that that policy will have upon the public when it becomes publicly known.
Secondly—and here, again, there were references to this matter in the hon. Member's speech—public relations must project policy, anticipate policy and prepare the ground for the enunciation of policy. So many people believe that it is just a question of announcing what has happened after it has happened and hoping that it will be received in the best possible way. Of course, the period 1516 of preparation is in many ways the most important period, and that is why public relations, and the advice of those concerned in them, must be called in for policy formulation.
It is no good management, having come to a particular decision, calling the public relations executive in to hear the proposal and saying, "There it is, get on with it." That is far too late in the day. I sometimes think, when I see that some decisions have not been as well received as they might have been, that that is the reason why. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was right in saying that public relations are not, as some people believe, merely publicity and advertising. Publicity and advertising have important functions, but they are instruments in the armoury of public relations and have to be used and coordinated accordingly.
We are discussing today the general problem of public relations, but I wish to confine myself to three points. First, there is the point which has already been discussed by the hon. Member for Coventry, East, about the nationalised industries. Let us be quite clear about this. There was a conception, held very largely by hon. Members opposite, that once industries were handed over to national control all those in them would immediately have a totally different approach to the whole problem, because they would feel that they owned the industries, and so many of the bitter difficulties which had existed in certain cases in the past would be swept away. That has been proved to be complete nonsense; it is not working out that way.
Different problems concerning the nationalised industries exist for the present Administration, which has never believed in national control of this sort as being fundamental to our society. On the other hand, if the present Administration accepts some nationalised industries, which it does, it must be clear that the public relations of these industries will not be helped if they do not have the support of those behind the Administration.
It is difficult for me to say, but the hon. Member himself was very frank about some of the problems and we have been having a reasonably objective discussion, but if nationalisation is accepted in any form the industries concerned must be made to work under the best 1517 possible conditions, so that their public relations can be conducted and be seen to be effective by all those who work in the industries and by those who are served by them.
Reference has been made to local government. I am speaking in the presence of a very great authority on this subject, my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who has rendered very great service to it in London over many years. He will agree with what has been said in suggesting that the apathy in local government affairs is deplorable. The present situation is due not only to apathy, but also to total ignorance of what local government is, what local authorities do and how they do it.
This is due to many reasons, but so far as this particular subject is concerned it is due to the status of the public relations advisers to local authorities, who are by no means properly accepted as such throughout the country. We understand that there are proposals ahead for the reform of local government, and I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that the establishment of public relations in the local authorities needs to be one of the things properly agreed and laid down for the future.
Thirdly, there is the great difficulty and thorny question of Government public relations, which is always getting tangled up with party politics. Of course, there is quite clearly a degree of overlapping in that direction, but it must be clearly understood that the public relations mechanism of Government Departments and of the Government as a whole should be available for whatever Government is in power at any time so that any Government may have the use of that mechanism in preparing the road of legislation. It cannot use that mechanism to present the case for legislation which has not been accepted by this House.
It is most important that public relations officers in Government service should have no official party political allegiance, and must not allow personal party political allegiance to influence their operations. I am satisfied that the public relations executives in the Government service today are totally "in the clear" on that subject. But it is some- 1518 thing which has to be watched, and they must be careful.
Whenever anybody expresses an opinion which is not totally acceptable to one it is often assumed that he must be a member of the other side. But I have discovered that exactly the same views are held about certain people by hon. Members opposite, who assert to me that, "So and so is a Tory," when I have always been convinced that he was a member of the Labour Party. That is one of the difficult situations in which public relations officers are bound to find themselves.
There are two clearly conflicting views about public relations, neither of which is right. The first is that when one has a problem one calls in a public relations officer and it is solved. That is nonsense. Public relations without good leadership, sound policy and good organisation do not exist at all, because public relations involve the co-ordination of those things. Against that there is the other view which is sometimes expressed, that public relations are an unproductive operation and that whenever there is any form of Government economy the first cut should be made in public relations. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give a clear indication that there is no thought of that kind in his mind, or in the intention of the Government. I say definitely that it would be a very retrograde and dangerous thing to do.
I wish now to deal with the demand made in the Motion for a commission of inquiry. In the Amendment, which has not yet been called, that is opposed because we feel—I think that the discussion today has proved it—that this is a subject which cannot be dealt with effectively by a single commission of inquiry. We admit that it is a subject which could be studied by such a commission; but the principles of public relations are clear and generally apply throughout all the operations with which the hon. Gentleman has been dealing, and with which free enterprise industry also has to deal. But, at the same time, the detailed practices of the various operations are varied and I question very much whether a commission of inquiry could reach any conclusion of any real value, or any conclusion which could not be reached with the assistance of those who are versed and knowledgeable in this matter.
1519 I am obliged to the hon. Member for his observations about the Institute of Public Relations, of which I have the honour to be a member. I believe that that organisation is making a profound contribution to the present situation. It is bringing about a codification of principles and practice which must prove of great value to all those who have to use public relations now and in the future. I would say to the hon. Member that I do not think there is any necessity for such a commission as is suggested, because the work could be done far more effectively through the various Government channels which already exist. I would, however, urge the Government to study the problems of public relations and make the fullest and best use of the advice available to them.
We accept, therefore, the premise of this Motion. We do not accept the measure recommended as likely to produce results, but I think that in view of the co-operative sentiments of the hon. Member we can probably further discuss this and reach a conclusion during this debate. Although we are discussing a fairly limited subject, it is one of the greatest importance. If democracy is to prevail and survive, it is imperative that a minority should not, because of apathy, gain control of the community. It is even more important that any organisation which does not believe in democracy should not gain control, because of ignorance, and destroy the whole structure of the society in which we all believe.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I wish to confine my observations to a fairly narrow part of the very wide subject to which the House is addressing itself. But before doing so, I should like to comment on what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), in his most interesting speech. The impression left on my mind by my hon. Friend, whom we all admire and who is such a brilliant and stimulating person, was that what he was saying was not original. What he said about the reform of Parliament, and so on, has been discussed, chewed over and reported, and almost for a century has been ignored. That is a clear indication, in my opinion, of the rigidity of our proceedings and our attitude to some of these problems.
1520 I wish to talk mainly about the work of public relations in the narrow sphere of local departments and institutions, using the word "local" in a fairly wide sense; not only local authorities, but also some of the field agencies of the public bodies. I can claim to speak with a certain amount of pride and authority on the matter, because I had an impressive experience of the working of public relations. Just after the war I became the leader of a Metropolitan borough council and we spent a good deal of money on public relations. We sent people round to visit schools, we had "brain trusts" and we carried out all the various techniques which had been advised for rousing in people an awareness of the problems of local Government.
I am glad to say that we were entirely successful. At the next election there was a substantial increase in the vote. We were swept out of power by the electorate and we have never been returned since. That seems to show that it is possible to obtain results through public relations, but that they are not always the results which it is hoped to obtain.
Before looking at what can be done in the field of local Government. I wish to make one or two comments about certain services. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) referred to hospitals. I agree with him. I think that, at its worst, the hospital service has the most shocking public relations of any of our institutions. Recently, a very dear frieind of mine was grievously ill and received treatment in two hospitals. I was astonished not only by the skilful nursing and the work of the medical staff, which one would expect, but by the imagination and sensitiveness to human problems involved in a grave illness by the people running the hospitals.
But, unfortunately, it is not always the same where sickness is trivial. Recently, also, I had occasion to visit the casual ward or, rather, the casualty ward—though it is frequently regarded as a kind of casual ward—at one of the London hospitals for a simple X-ray examination. There was revealed a conduct of affairs which, in these days, would not be accepted by any other responsible public Department. People had no seclusion or privacy, but stood around in various 1521 stages of undress. But that is an accommodation problem for which the hospital authorities should not be blamed.
My hon. Friend the Member for 'Bristol, South-East, for example, mentioned that he liked to be referred to by this name. When young girls are talking to old men it is a pleasant and a happy courtesy to refer to them as "Mr." rather than by their Christian names and surnames. But in these hospitals everybody is called for interview merely by their names—"James MacColl", and so on—and while this does not go to the root of medical treatment, it creates a resistance to what is going on.
I think that Mr. Pierrepoint, if he was training one of his assistants, would have taught him a more courteous way of treating his clients than the young lady who was operating the X-ray. In all the various contortions which one was invited to assume, never were the words "Please" and "Thank you" used, and never was there any kind of indication that one was other than some kind of animated cadaver which had to be pushed through the machine without the person operating it having the slightest interest in one's problems.
That is the kind of thing which goes on in a number of our hospitals, and it it due to two things. It is due, first, to the general feeling that all medical people have, that people who are sick are abnormal, cannot be regarded as rational human beings, and are not capable of making an independent judgment or of having any kind of opinion of their own. It is due, secondly, to the fact that the hospitals, historically, have emerged along two different channels.
There are voluntary hospitals, which have been brought up in an atmosphere of charity, with the idea that whatever is offered is offered out of charity and that, therefore, the job of the patient is to be grateful and to pull his forelock for having been given a purely charitable gift. That is the tradition which has grown up in our own voluntary hospitals.
The other type of hospital has grown up out of the Poor Law and is a survivor of the old Poor Law hospitals, in which there is still the idea that the patient is a pauper and, ex hypothesi, a person of leisure, because a person who is a pauper does not have to go to business. Therefore, it does not matter how long 1522 such a person is kept waiting in the casualty ward, or how late the doctor is for his appointment. If one is a pauper and unemployed, one enjoys the social amenity of sitting on a hard bench in a hospital.
That kind of atmosphere is carried on into a service which is a national service available for everyone, not only for the derelicts of society but for the taxpayers and the people who are performing important and arduous duties of one kind or another. I mention that, not to throw mud at the hospital service, but to emphasise how long it takes to change the atmosphere of an institution. As my hon. Friend was saying earlier, it is very difficult, if one is at the top, to get a change of atmosphere on the ground, in the grass roots as it were, where the comfort of the consumer counts.
I am sure that if one took a poll of medical superintendents and even matrons, and certainly of members of management and governing bodies of hospitals, we should find considerable awareness of the need to improve the atmosphere in the public relations of hospitals, and the great difficulty of doing anything about it on the ground.
I should like to mention another and rather different type of local authority service; I refer to the field of education. I am glad to quote in my support a newspaper report of some remarks which the Minister of Education himself made on this subject last year. He said some things with which I disagree. He was speaking of comprehensive schools and dealing with the arguments put forward in favour of them. Advocating comprehensive schools, he is reported as saying:It was dishonest, because it was physically impossible, with the present number of teachers and school buildings, to turn secondary modern schools into comprehensive schools. If you do that, you destroy the chance of giving the bright child the right kind of teaching…how wicked it is to go round eating up the emotions of any mother who is a bit anxious because her child is going in for this examination. To have to counteract that you have to have very much more careful public relations.I disagree entirely with what the Minister was talking about, but I think he was right in pointing to the fact that schools and education authorities need to be very much more aware than they are of the fact that they are dealing with one of the really fundamental human 1523 emotions—the emotions of the parent for the child and the parent's feeling of responsibility for the child.
There are still schools in many parts of the country where notices are to be found saying, "No parents may come beyond this point." There is no question of, "Would you mind waiting outside until the children are ready?" There is no suggestion of offering parents a waiting room. However wet it may be, if a woman commits the almost intolerable social offence of being a mother and having a young child whom she wishes to collect from the infants' school, she has to wait outside on the pavement, with the rain running down her neck, until the teachers are ready to send little Alfie out of school.
Whether it is the rather insensitive nurse in a hospital or the rather insensitive teacher in the school, that is the kind of attitude to the ordinary citizen who is using these services, which defies almost all the efforts of the enlightened people, the people at the top, to get a different kind of spirit into the organisation.
Therefore, I do not think that one ought to exaggerate the case of doing something about this problem. That is why I hope that when the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) considers this matter he will not move his Amendment, because I think there is a very good case for having an inquiry into this problem. I do not think that we know all the answers. The experience in the field of public relations has been sadly disappointing—and I do not mean for the electoral reasons to which I alluded.
We started off after the war with the idea that there was something which we could do in a positive way to improve the public services. A great many local authorities employed a public relations officer, had public relations committees, or charged a chief officer with responsibility for public relations. In the authority of which I was a member the town clerk sent round a circular to all the chief officers reminding them that it was the work of the staff by which the council would be judged. There was a great impetus to tackle this problem and a great awareness of its importance.
1524 Not many public relations officers have survived economy measures. After all, we have a very rigid system of local government finance. One remembers the story of somebody seeing the local boy who had gone to the university walking down the main street of the town, and saying, "There goes our 6d. rate." The public have the same sort of feeling about the public relations officer. In the local government area of average size, the salary of a public relations officer represents a very substantial 1d. rate. Therefore, when there is pressure, as there has been for some time, to keep down the charges on the rates, one of the first things that goes is any attempt to have what the hon. Member for Harrow, East referred to as a public relations executive.
If there is any work being done in that direction, it is being done by interested amateurs rather than by professionally trained people. Either the public relations officer is sacked or, more probably, is told that the sooner he can get another job the better everyone will be pleased. When he goes, the opportunity is taken to wind up the whole business and to forget about it as some kind of post-war neurosis which has now been worked out of the system.
In the field of local government, one ought to pay a tribute to the Institute of Public Relations and to N.A.L.G.O. It was N.A.L.G.O. who started the ball rolling and first presented this matter to the local authorities in its Report on Local Government and the Community. One of the most regrettable things about local government is that original thinking and initiative come primarily from the organisations of the officials and not from the local authority associations. In the whole of this field the part played by the local authority associations has been dismal, unimaginative and unconstructive. The drive and the push have come from bodies like N.A.L.G.O.
Therefore, when the pinch has been felt, the public relations department has been one of the first to be dropped. The value of having an inquiry would not only be to see what precisely ought to be done, but to make up our minds about the way in which to handle public relations problems. It is not necessarily a question of having a highly trained, specialist officer; obviously, small local authorities cannot do that. There is a 1525 danger of their feeling that this is a piece of extravagant and unnecessary expense.
The point which was made so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East was that public relations is a two-way service. The public relations officer is not a town hall Goebbels whose job is to push the electorate back onto the party line again. His job is to find out the public reaction to the local authority and, on the other hand, to get across to the public some of the problems which have to be tackled by the local council and the difficulties that it has to encounter.
From my experience in this field I have more and more come to the conclusion that the concentration needs to be on the problem of getting a greater sensitiveness and linkage between the people at the top with what is happening over the counter, because that is where the battle is lost. A good local authority is aware of the need to keep in touch with the public, but for the ordinary person it is not the councillor and not even the town clerk who is the council; the council is the girl behind the counter to whom we go when we want a house, when our refuse has not been collected or whom we ring up about a hole in the road. If we get bad manners, casualness, or the kind of thing I mentioned when I spoke of the hospitals, then the rest of the elaborate organisation and superstructure is a complete waste of time and money. That is the problem that we have somehow or other to tackle.
It is not that we want more central direction. I have come more and more to the conclusion that we need more technical advice from the centre to be available to local councils about what they can do. That is why I regret that there has been a diminution in the contact between the Central Office of Information and local authorities. In the early days, the Central Office of Information was most valuable in providing technical advice, exhibitions, cinemas, and so on, to give people clear professional advice about the problems that were being tackled locally, often by rather amateur and unskilled people. That kind of linkage ought to be intensified. A body like the Central Office of Information has a very valuable part indeed to play.
1526 I will finish by making a comment on newspapers. I have in mind two local authorities in different parts of the country where the relationship between the local newspapers and the town hall could hardly be worse. In both cases, members of the council are up in arms against what they regard as selective and unfair reporting and about leakages to the Press. When they make a decision in committee they find that it is in the local paper next day. As that is happening in two different parts of the country, with two different kinds of local authority, it seems to indicate that there is something fundamentally wrong in the relationship between local councils and the Press.
The faults are not wholly on one side or on the other. The Press is often ignorant and ill-informed in its treatment of local problems which it does not really make an effort to understand. On the other hand, there are still councillors, and particularly council officials, who resent publicity. We are so devoted to publicity in this House that it may astonish us that there are other elected people who are less enthusiastic about it. Some of these people resent the idea that they should have any kind of criticism or interference by the Press or the public about what they are doing. They resent having people admitted to the galleries, and so on.
Because there is this idea in local councils there is a need for guidance on this problem. There is a case for having a body to think out the difficulties and to suggest how to overcome them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East was quite right in suggesting an inquiry.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), I think that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has done us a very great service in putting the Motion down for debate this morning. It is on a vital question, which is extremely far-reaching. How far-reaching I did not realise until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). Among the matters which we might conceivably discuss in this wide field is the whole situation in the Middle East, which is very largely caused by the lack of public 1527 relations on the part of the British and United States Governments. I am sure that you will be relieved to hear, Mr. Speaker, that I do not intend to debate that subject at the moment. I will reserve that until we have the next debate on foreign affairs.
§ Mr. Kirk
I agree very much with the last point made by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) about newspapers. I agree that the ordinary member of the public tends to identify local government with the persons he actually meets just as the ordinary passenger on a London bus identifies London Transport with the bus conductor, and not with Sir John Elliot, because the conductor is the man who is helping to run the bus and generally is doing a jolly good job. He does not generally discuss these subjects, but on the whole I believe that he would rather go back to private enterprise.
The contact which the ordinary member of the public has with his local or with the national bureaucracy—I do not use that term in the pejorative sense—is very much as it was described by the hon. Member for Coventry, East. He hears about it mainly through his newspapers and, to a less extent, by means of the radio and television. It is frightfully important that Government Departments and local authorities should regularise their relations with the Press and try to get them upon a better foundation.
It is only quite recently that the Press has been tolerated at all in any kind of public office as an institution having a right to be there. My experience has been mainly with the Foreign Office. As a diplomatic correspondent, I had to work with the Foreign Office, and even there I was rarely given any other feeling than that it was jolly decent of them to let me in at all; but they could not give me any information. I was supposed to sense the atmosphere and try to write a story about that.
I am not complaining of the actual staff, because frequently I had more information than they had. but of the general atmosphere. There was the tone that the mystique of foreign affairs was something which we not only could not 1528 understand but should not want to understand. They always gave us information long after the events were known. Luckily we could always rely upon the French Government to give us all the information we wanted. It restricted our activities somewhat to have to wait for them to tell us information about foreign affairs, because the Foreign Office were never prepared to tell us until after everybody knew all about it. An obvious example was the disappearance of Donald Maclean when, after a period of four years, the News Department of the Foreign Office—I am sure acting on higher orders—consistently refused to admit, what was obvious to everyone else in the world, that Donald Maclean was in fact a Soviet agent.
That seems to be a vital failing. The Home Office is just as bad, but other Ministries, particularly the Ministry of Labour, are extraordinarily co-operative the other way. This applies not only to restrictions on information, but to the general way in which journalists are treated. I am not making a trade unionist point here, but we can compare the way in which a correspondent in Washington is treated by the State Department with the treatment by the Foreign Office of one in London. I am not saying that in Washington they do not go too far the other way—
§ Mr. Kirk
Naturally, I have now had a chance to compare the two. In the State Department they probably go too far. Every accredited correspondent is provided with a desk and a typewriter there, but at the Foreign Office there are three telephones just over 100 yards from the news room. There is an unseemly rush to the telephone booths when news comes out and invariably they are occupied by Foreign Office officials trying to ring up their friends. One has to run down the street where there are two public telephones and, if they are occupied, and one is working for an evening newspaper—as I was—one has to take a bus to Fleet Street and probably arrive just after the last edition has gone to press.
I think the Foreign Office might show more co-operation in this respect. It is typical of Government Departments that 1529 they do not consider the mechanics of the situation from the point of view of the person concerned. They think they have done their duty by giving a completely incomprehensible hand-out. They do not consider the mechanics of getting that to the newspaper before it has gone to press. Time after time it is released at the moment the paper has gone to press. I must admit that Departments are more reasonable than they used to be in the days when the hon. Member for Coventry, East worked at the Foreign Office. Up to a few years ago, we were dealing with people who were not professional foreign servants at all but who in most cases had been journalists and knew the problems involved. In matters such as this, the principle of the poacher turned gamekeeper seems to apply.
If we want British foreign policy properly explained to the man in the street—that is long overdue—we need to have people at the centre explaining it who know the mechanics of journalism and how newspapers get any news at all. I ask my right hon. Friend to bear that in mind. It is vitally necessary in this matter of public relations, particularly in regard to newspapers, that those concerned should understand the job and then not be in a Department for two years and moved away for someone else to take their place. I remember a Press officer in a Scandinavian Embassy who had previously been a journalist. The Foreign Office, with a rare flash of genius, had decided that he would make a good public relations officer, and he did so, but after two years they sent him away to Tokyo as second secretary. So far as I know, he has never dealt with the Press again. I do not know what the Press relations are like at that Embassy now, but I do not think they ever again reached the peak achieved when that officer was there.
I have spoken on that matter at some length, because I think it is one of very considerable importance concerning foreign policy and also policy at home. The co-operation of the Press can be secured any time it is asked for, but the Press must not be expected to sit back and take everything a Department says as gospel if trouble is not taken to explain it and if the Press is not taken through every stage of the procedure.
1530 The hon. Member for Widnes devoted a large part of his speech to the question in relation to local authorities. I think that also is very important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East has said, a great deal of apathy at local elections is due to the fact that people have no idea of what a local council does. A great deal of resentment is due to the fact that they have no idea why a local council is doing a particular thing. They have no idea of how rates are levied. Admittedly, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government can do a great deal, but it is up to local authorities to explain why these things are done and what is the structure of local authorities.
In this connection, I would mention an instance in my constituency in order to show what can be done. A local council decided to have a civic week. It took immense pains in preparation and set up an exhibition in one of the schools. The co-operation of various public bodies was obtained—particularly, I am glad to say, the Ministry of Agriculture, which was extraordinarily helpful. An exhibition was set up showing exactly what that Ministry could do. There was some scaring stuff from the local pests destruction officer—I believe that is the new term—about rats and so on. Everyone cooperated; the exhibition included some history and something about the services provided by the local authority and by the national authority.
The population in that authority's area is a little more than 20,000, and more than 5,000 visitors attended during the week—25 per cent. of the population. They might not all have picked up a great store of information, but I think it was the first time most of those people had been given any idea of what a local authority does. That in itself was pure gain. That council has a Labour majority. I wish I could say that the same results followed as were referred to by the hon. Member for Widnes, but shortly afterwards there was a local election and we were unsuccessful. Doubtless we are slow moving in Kent, but we shall get there in the end. I think it is of vital importance that such exhibitions and events should be held to bring people into touch with local authorities and their work.
I quarrel with the Motion on the one point about having a committee of 1531 inquiry. This matter is urgent and we have drifted for too long without making an attempt to get public relations on to a good basis, but I think the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East has chosen the one way which would ensure that nothing would be done about the problem. I should have thought that past experience had proved that the way to prevent anything being done is to get a committee to inquire into it. We have had so many Royal Commissions and Committees that we shall have to appoint a committee to see what has happened to them.
§ Mr. MacColl
Does not the hon. Member think that is a really bad piece of public relations work? Everyone thinks that Royal Commissions sit for ever and that nothing happens as a result, but of course that is not true. Most reforms come as a result of investigation. How many Royal Commissions are sitting? Is it one, two. or three?
§ Mr. Kirk
I believe this House has not debated the Reports of some Commissions and they are not heard of again—not only the Commissions but also the minutes of evidence. There are plenty of bodies such as the Institute of Public Relations which would be willing and able to advise the Government on the best step to be taken. I think that merely to call for an inquiry would only delay the whole business a little longer, and that delay would be at a time when there is urgent need for speedy action on this question of public relations.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Most hon. Members have emphasised the importance of public relations in enabling the citizens to understand exactly how the machinery of Government operates, and numerous instances have been given to illustrate the argument that the public would understand what is happening in Government if public relations were made more efficient. I myself have in mind an example to illustrate that. It was set by the Treasury, whose spokesman has been present at the debate till now up to the very time I am about to give him a little advice.
When the people are sent their Income Tax forms there is a good opportunity to explain to them exactly where their money is going and how the national 1532 finances are spent. During the time of the Labour Government a great deal of importance was attached to this, and a small, illustrated brochure, entitled "The Budget and Your Pocket" was issued, in which it was explained to the taxpayers how much money was spent on the Army, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force. education and the other various national services. The pamphlet was illustrated in a popular way so that any ordinary reader of a newspaper could understand exactly why he had to pay so much in Income Tax. In the days when Sir Stafford Cripps was Chancellor of the Exchequer, we knew that 12s. per week per head was going on the Armed Forces and that 2s. 6d. per person was going on housing. The taxpayer was given an opportunity to understand for what exactly he was paying Income Tax.
The local authority in whose area I live always circulates with its demands for rates information about what exactly is being spent on education, on housing, on sanitation and the various other public services. The time has come when the Treasury should again make available in some form clearly stated information about the national finances, as was done at the time when Sir Stafford Cripps was Chancellor. I do not regard it as a very good economy that the publication of that pamphlet was discontinued, and in view of the dissatisfaction that very often prevails because of the increase in Government spending and of taxation, I hope that the Government will consider the reissuing of that pamphlet.
The question of the expenditure of the nationalised industries has been mentioned. It is very important indeed that the nationalised industries should have efficient public relations services to explain to the people exactly what is going on, because in these days there is a tremendous amount of propaganda in the Press against the nationalised industries. I would he the last person in the world to object to criticism of the nationalised industries, but I do think that we should have the facts given in a way that the public can understand—about, for example. the coal mining industry.
Over and over again at Question Time we hear the most amazing statements made in supplementary questions by hon. Members on the opposite side of the House about the mining industry, and 1533 the impression is given that the mining industry is going to rack and ruin and that the ordinary miners are not doing the work they used to do under private ownership. I do not think that the publicity of the nationalised industries is effective enough to counteract the prejudices which are being created and stimulated against the nationalised industries. The inquiry suggested by this Motion would serve a very useful purpose in organising the dissemination of useful information about the nationalised industries. If the nationalised industries are not doing their job very well, then there is nothing like publicity at Question Time or by other means to help to put that right.
There has grown up in my own area a considerable amount of criticism of the National Coal Board, and I think it is common to the coalfield. It is not the criticism of people who are against the nationalised industries as such. It is the point of view of the miners themselves. In the area in which I live there is an impression that the National Coal Board is an instance of a very overgrown bureaucracy, and that it is employing too many technical and welfare officers, and that the people going down the coal mine see more men coming in motor cars to the pithead and more soft-collar workers than they knew in the olden days. The reply of the Coal Board is that administration is now concentrated in a given area.
If we are to have the good will of the population of the mining areas and of the men in the mines, if we want, as we all do, increased production in the mining industry, there must be understanding of what is being done, and I believe that the publicity services of the mining industry and of the other nationalised industries need to be very much more efficient than they are at present.
I rather regret that the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) did not take up the question of publicity in the Middle East. As far as I understand it, our publicity services in the Middle East are so bad that even the Prime Minister is badly informed about what is going on there. For instance, when the Prime Minister makes a speech, as he did last weekend, saying Cyprus is needed because oil is needed and that without oil there would be unemployment and 1534 hunger in this country, I believe he is badly informed by his public relations department. I think that if the Foreign Office public relations department concerned with the Middle East were more efficient it would prevent the Prime Minister from misinforming the British public.
Foreign affairs and foreign relations need to be explained in a much more intelligent way than they are at present. One often reads that a "spokesman" of the Foreign Office informs us of this, that or the other thing. I am by no means satisfied by that sort of public relations announcement. Who is this spokesman for the Foreign Office? I would much rather see statements issued by the public relations department of the Foreign Office, statements definitely attributable to somebody, than statements by someone who is anonymous, statements the responsibility for which one cannot nail down.
The Foreign Office is asked to comment on some document that appears in, for example, America or the U.S.S.R., and then the answer which is made is not made by the Secretary of State or by one of the Joint Under-Secretaries of State, but by a "spokesman." This practice is becoming far too common. We ought to have less anonymity in public relations between the Government's foreign policy and the public.
I do not think that we can blame the Chancellor of the Exchequer for not trying to put his point of view across to the world. About a fortnight ago, for example, the Chancellor held a Press conference to which he brought a very large number of foreign correspondents in London to explain the economic and financial problems that face a Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was far more candid to the foreign Press than he was to this House. It would be a good thing if hon. Members were allowed to attend a Press conference and put questions to the Chancellor and have the opportunity of hearing what Ministers say to the foreign Press and to the British Press which they do not tell us.
The Chancellor, for example, told the foreign Press that if he could only reduce the national expenditure on defence by £700 million he could solve the problem of the balance of payments. I believe 1535 he was right, and I welcome that statement. The right hon. Gentleman talks far more candidly to the foreign Press than he does to the House, and I do not think that in that respect public relations are so inefficient.
If a Cabinet Minister wishes to get his point of view over to the daily Press he does it very efficiently indeed. He knows how to work the Press. I know very prominent Ministers and ex-Ministers who are simply experts at working the Press, and sometimes the Press is not so successful in conveying information to the public. In a democracy the public should be as fully informed as possible of all that is carried on in the name of democracy. That is a real check on the authority of a Cabinet Minister and on the Cabinet system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) developed this point in connection with the relations between the House and the country. I thoroughly agree with him that the time has come when we should secure a greater understanding between the people and Members of Parliament. When my hon. Friend said that the time had come for us to consider an attempt to change over from a Cabinet system of Government to a committee system of Government, I believe that he was touching upon a very important reform which I think will have to be tackled if we are to secure understanding between Members of Parliament, the Executive and the people who send us to this House.
My hon. Friend developed a very strong attack on the Cabinet system of Government. I believe that he was right and that the trouble with Members of Parliament is that they have very little opportunity of meeting some of the most important people that govern the country, namely, the Civil Service. In my experience as a member of a local authority, we were always able to meet the responsible executive administrators in our committees and sub-committees. We got to know nearly all of the important permanent officials. We never do so in this House.
We meet only the Minister and that is why I believe that if we are to secure the confidence that is necessary in a 1536 democratic Government and the necessary information about all the ramifications of government, we must go a long way in considering the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East in favour of developing a committee system of government instead of a Cabinet system. In that way a Member of Parliament would be a more useful intermediary. He himself would be a public relations officer between Government authority and the man who has to obey Government authority.
My hon. Friend said that it was necessary to have a committee system on colonial affairs. I certainly believe from my experience in local government that a far better relationship would be established between the taxpayer and the ratepayer and between the national Government and local government if a Member of Parliament, through membership of various committees, were in a position to pass on information and that information were not regarded as something secret from up above.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East that the time has come when Members of Parliament should be full-time representatives. In the light of the ramifications of the problems of government which face us today and the way the State interferes in almost every aspect of the national life, the time has come when we should realise that Members of Parliament should be full-time Members and that the job is not a part-time one. I know, for example, that a large amount of the time of hon. Members is simply wasted in the House because the committee system has not been developed on the lines which my hon. Friend advocated. I know a very large number of hon. Members, with vast experience of local government or of foreign affairs, colonial affairs or the problems of industry, whose experience is not available to the House because the Cabinet system is as antiquated as Queen Anne.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has ever served on a town council or county council, but I assure him that anyone who has worked for local authorities is simply dumbfounded by the inefficiency of the machinery of this House.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
It just struck me that the Cabinet system had not been developed until after Queen Anne and therefore could not have been as old as her. That is all.
§ Mr. Hughes
It developed within a matter of years after Queen Anne. I may have been a decade or so out, but if my right hon. Friend has any enthusiasm for Queen Anne I admit his point. However, it is not a system that gives us confidence in the 20th century.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Provan (Mr. W. Reid), with his long experience of local government, knows exactly the point I am making. People who serve on local authorities are not obsessed by ancient tradition which prevents our getting at the realities of modern government. I am, therefore, very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) introduced a debate which has enabled me to add my support to the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East.
In this House most of us suffer from an inordinate sense of frustration because we feel that here we get only rare opportunities of contributing something which we think would help to solve the problems facing the House. Until we realise that we must become more democratic, and that we must give hon. Members, who are a cross-section of our democratic life, every opportunity of coming into contact with the machinery of Government, we shall continue to support a legislative system which is at least I think I am right this time—150 years behind the times, and quite out of keeping with the age in which we live.
I could develop this theory as it applies, for example, to Scotland. I believe that the people of Scotland would understand far better what is happening in the Government if there were a standing committee considering all the problems of administration affecting Scottish affairs. In that way a lot of the time of hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies would not be wasted as it is at present. I do not know what is likely to come out of this Motion, but hon. Members have put forward an unanswerable case. We should reform our own House. We should realise that we must make the people of this country under- 1538 stand that the House of Commons is part of a democratic system, that it is not archaic, and that it is dealing with the vital problems which affect the lives of our people at the present time.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has paid some rather uncertain tributes to Queen Anne. This surprised me a little, because it was in her reign that the Act of Union was passed. However, because the hon. Gentleman comes from Wales, perhaps he feels somewhat dubious about that being a good thing.
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important matter, namely, the attitude of the public towards the nationalised industries. For a few moments, therefore, I shall deal specially with the machinery which Parliament, in its wisdom or unwisdom, set up when those industries were nationalised. We have what are known as consumers' consultative councils of various kinds which were supposed to ensure that the boards managing the nationalised industries were kept in touch with consumer needs. At the same time there was to be a feed-back, so that the boards could try to explain, through the members of the consumers' consultative councils, what they were trying to do, and so help the consumers to understand.
This is one of the most interesting Friday debates I have heard. In it there has been a certain amount of criticism that we are reluctant to reform ourselves and only too ready to reform others. I feel that we cannot reform one without the other. It is a question of making some Parliamentary alteration if we are to make much alteration in the consumers' consultative councils. However, I was greatly alarmed at the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), in seconding this Motion, that Parliament should control the nationalised industries. Even if at the time many of us disagreed with nationalisation, I think we were right to say that, even though we did not like it, the last thing we wanted was to make the nationalised industries the shuttlecock of Parliamentary political pressures. There are many people who feel that even now, despite the fact that Parliament 1539 has no real control, a nationalised industry is still too much subject to political breezes of various kinds.
I believe that the consumers' consultative councils have endeavoured to carry out what we wanted them to do, but, all the same, those which I have investigated, and of which I have seen the minutes of meetings, have tended to become little more than rubber stamps and safety valves to enable people to let off steam, without any hope of their grievances being rectified. I do not believe that they were intended to be that, but were meant to ensure a better understanding between the boards and the consumers as to the needs of both and the services to be rendered by the boards to the consumers. I do not think that they are succeeding in that respect. Results vary enormously and depend, strangely enough, not on how good is the consumers' consultative council, but on how good the local manager or sub-area manager may be and how much trouble he personally takes.
What is emerging from this is that we can set up all the machinery we like in an Act of Parliament but that ultimately it comes down to what results we get from the industry concerned and how the individual is affected. On the other side of the picture arises the question, is there a sufficiently close contact between the people actually doing the work—whether they are producing a commodity, manufacturing an article or providing a service and the persons benefiting from that work? I believe that those matters are far more important in public relations than in anything else, whether in industrial affairs or nationalised or State affairs.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire said that he was against the anonymity of the Civil Service. He said that there was too much of it and that we were too remote from the Civil Service. That may be so, but it is important to make a distinction here, that whereas it is essential from a consumer's point of view—whether it is a question of services rendered or articles produced or manufactured to have a close producer-consumer contact, I am not sure that we are not getting on to dangerous ground if we suggest that the closeness of the association between a Member of Parliament and the Civil Service should be so great that we can have an hon. Member running 1540 to a civil servant behind the Minister's back, eventually perhaps leading to political pressure being brought to bear on the one place where it should not be.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am interested to hear that. I can say with certainty, however, that never yet have I heard of a fellow Member of this House who has, if the Government was not of his own choosing or liking, brought political pressure to bear on a civil servant behind the Minister's back, without telling the Minister that he was going to contact that civil servant. I am horrified to hear what the hon. Gentleman has just said. If he is doing that himself, it is wrong, and it is generally accepted to be wrong. It is certainly unconstitutional. Because we are involved in a constitutional set-up there is a difference here between what goes on in Government Departments and what goes on in industry, whether nationalised or in private hands.
I have been looking through the various Acts in which we set up consumers consultative councils in relation to the nationalised industries. The set-up under Section 12 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, is rather different from that in the case of the other industries and I am not certain how it can truly be compared with the other councils. Under that Act, Her Majesty, by Order-in-Council, is able to appoint an Air Transport Advisory Council, the chairman of which is appointed by the Lord Chancellor. It is stated that the other members of the council should not be fewer than two or more than four, and they are to be appointed by the Minister. There are various requirements about them. The Act says, in particular, that no member of the airways corporations should be allowed to be on the advisory council. nor any of the employees of the corporations.
The provision under the Gas Act, 1948, is very similar to that under the Coal Nationalisation Act, 1946. It is much the same with electricity. In the case of the coal industry, there is an industrial as well as a domestic consumers' consultative council.
Running through these Acts we have such phrases as "as the Minister thinks fit", "whom the Minister thinks fit" or 1541 "drawn from such bodies as the Minister thinks fit". There is much too much "as the Minister thinks fit" about it for such councils ever to be truly representative of consumer interests.
What it amounts to—the hon. Member for Coventry, East is on the right tack here is that we are virtually in desperate need of a third house of Parliament. I cannot see why there should be any opposition in principle to the idea. If we look at the way Parliament has developed from the very beginning, we see that gradually things become so big that they cannot be handled as they used to be. I grant that this has been largely confined to finance in the past. When the king could not get enough money, he had to go somewhere else for it. Then the principle "No taxation without representation" was gradually built up.
I do not believe that Parliament, as it is today, can possibly increase its control over the nationalised industries, with a view to giving them better public relations than at present without very serious damage to the industry concerned. However, I believe that if we are prepared to say that it is essential that the consumers should be brought closer to the industries and that the contact should be much more widely spread than is possible through a consultative council, we find ourselves, whether we like it or not, setting up some form of third House of Parliament.
I have never understood why there should be any objection to this idea. We have it already with the Church Assembly, which has a comparable separate House. We have our Ecclesiastical Committee. That is an example of the relation between Parliament and the Church Assembly. The Church Assembly decides its own affairs; we may have our own opinions about how it conducts them and what it achieves, but the fact remains that we do not interfere in those affairs.
Has not the time come when, in relation to the nationalised industries anyway, we should say to the trade unions, "You have fought a battle, and very largely won it. You have got your minimum wages, your holidays with pay, your elimination of sweated labour, a great improvement in conditions and your nationalisation. Would it not be a good 1542 idea now if you tried to run the industry a little more than you do?"
I am absolutely convinced that one of the reasons why the nationalised industries are as unpopular as they are—it is particularly one of the reasons why the coal industry is as unpopular as it is—is that there is not a close enough association between the consumer and the man doing the main work in the industry. I do not believe that we shall get a better contact until we do something on the lines that I have been suggesting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) cited the bus services as an example of where the public are brought into contact with those who are doing the actual work of providing services, far closer contact with them than with those higher up who are actually controlling the industry. We have it precisely the opposite way round in the nationalised industries at the moment. There is a certain amount of publicity about those who are controlling the great industries, but there is far too little awareness in the industries themselves about the consumer's problem.
There is a deplorable aspect about the present situation. We have set up consumers consultative councils for the various industries. Yet I am prepared to wager that there is not a single village in England—I doubt whether there is a single borough in the country—where more than a handful of people, if that, know the names of their local representatives on any of the consultative councils. That is not right.
Nationalisation was sold very largely on the syndicalist argument to the industries concerned. It was argued that those working in the industries were going to be allowed to control them. That was one of the great things about the cry for nationalisation in the past. That is not how it has worked out. I am not sure that the time may not have come when we should think again about this and decide that if we are to keep the industries nationalised we must move a little more towards syndicalism than we have done.
Whatever happens, I am absolutely convinced that the present consultative machinery for the nationalised industries is totally inadequate to achieve its object. We have to widen the selection. We have to make the councils bigger than they 1543 are, and we must allow consumers to vote for the people who are to be appointed instead of allowing the Minister to appoint them on the recommendation of various associations. Once we begin to do that, we are virtually setting up a third House of Parliament. In other words, we are really setting up a series of committees of a third House of Parliament.
I see nothing wrong in doing it. I regard it as merely an inevitable eventual development of our Constitution as it has grown in the past. We have here an enormous amount of State capital involved in an industry. Surely it is only right that how the money is spent and why it is being spent should be fully known to the greatest possible number of the people who pay taxes. I believe that more bad public relations has developed as a result of people not realising that the money being spent is spent in their name than from any other cause.
It seems to me that in the nationalised industries, as we have them today, there is neither an awareness in the industries themselves of the enormous responsibility that the workers have, nor sufficient appreciation in the minds of the consumers of what those responsibilities are and what is being done in the name of the consumer. We shall not achieve that until we have some form of machinery which is vastly superior to the existing consultative councils machinery.
I have not much to say about the efficiency of Government Departments in public relations because practically everything has already been said. However, I was a little surprised when the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), in moving the Motion, delightfully as he did it, paid such an enormous tribute to the Post Office. I have always felt that one of the worst examples of bad public relations in any public department exists in every post office in the country. It is the business of talking through a wire net. Sooner or later somebody starts to ask which is the rabbit side. It seems to display a lack of confidence in people's honesty which tends to make everyone feel convinced that a barrier exists between the post office officials and the general public.
1544 If in the average bank it is unnecessary to have a wire grill to prevent those who come in from stealing the contents of the till, it is not necessary to have it in a post office. With some qualifications, I am sure that the Post Office does its best and some of its publicity is excellent; but it too has much room for improvement.
There is immense force in what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) said about Government Departments in general. It is no good assuming that there will be good public relations, when the public relations people are brought in only after a decision has been taken. There has to be more preparing of the ground to make people understand what is happening. The main object of all public relations ought to be to explain to people what they will get out of what is being done, why it is being done and what part they have to play.
Those are the main things. Ultimately it comes to this; the main aim of public relations ought to be to reduce to the absolute minimum the difference between the man actually responsible having.a talk with everybody and someone else doing it for him. It is rather the same thing as a liaison officer, or an A.D.C. in days done by, in the time of the Duke of Wellington, the days before wireless communications. They were used far more in the Army then than in the last war. The aim was for whoever was doing the job to be able to interpret the minds of his two masters and to keep them in touch as closely as possible.
There are two masters here, and it is most important to realise that. There is one man putting forward a decision and there are those who receive the decision and act upon it. Certainly Government Departments do not often bear that in mind. We assume that if something is published, everybody will read it. That rarely happens and when it has been read, it will be understood even more rarely.
We have to face up to the fact that the electorate, being as universal as it is, comprises many people who do not understand Parliament at all. I know that there is a number of people in this country who believe that once a Member is elected to Parliament he is automatically a member of the Government. It takes 1545 half an hour's explanation to disabuse people like that of their misconception. It is an enormously complicated problem in which we are involved. No one for a moment pretends that it is easy, but that something has to be done to improve the situation with the nationalised industries is undisputed.
Let us first concentrate on that which needs doing most. We might well start with nationalised industries. Setting up a Committee to go into the public relations of Government Departments would be a complete under-mining of Ministerial responsibility. I would place responsibility fairly and squarely on Ministers to make their own Departments' public relations as good as they should be. We do not need a special inquiry into that. I hope that the Government will begin with nationalised industries, because we have more responsibility for them than for any other form of industry. We shall never cure this rotting effect which the coal industry is having on the economy, until there is more awareness of the industry's responsibility and more awareness of the public of what is being done in its name, and what should be done and what should not be done.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Irving (Dartford)
The debate has been very interesting. The Motion has been drawn in very wide terms and most hon. Members have taken the fullest advantage of it, as I also hope to do. I ask the forgiveness of hon. Members if I pursue a slightly different course. The problem is to join the sympathies of authority on the one hand and individuals on the other.
In our society today, the growth of public authorities of all kinds and the interplay of the power exercised by those authorities has, to a certain extent, trapped the individual and created new anxieties and sometimes antagonisms, which, if we are to have a soundly based democracy and a healthy society, we must in some way resolve.
I want to make the plea that it is not good enough to say that the appointment of a public relations officer can solve the problem, however efficient he may be. As has been pointed out, many local authorities, for a variety of very good reasons, are not able to do that. My plea is that we should use all the organs in society, 1546 not only the official, but the voluntary ones, to help to join this sympathy between authority and the individual and create understanding and help.
I am a member of a local authority, and for some years I have been the chairman of one of these voluntary organisations which is doing a wonderful job of work in this connection, the Citizens' Advice Bureau. Most local authorities are already aware of the valuable work which has been done, but in some cases the relationship between that organisation and the authority is not close enough. I think that I am on safe ground in saying that the organisation is not nationally grant-aided, although there is a good case for that, but many local authorities make grants of varying sums, in some cases for professional and full-time services. On the other hand, the grant may be as low as £25 a year.
In every case a service is provided whose quality is very much in excess of the amount of money which the local authority pays. The services of volunteers—many of them professional people—who do a valuable job, are provided. The Citizens' Advice Bureau, its sympathies, understanding and experience, in many places can constitute an efficient information service for the local authority, because the bureau recognises the need to be fully acquainted with the work and responsibilities of local authorities and other authorities in its area and can do its work in a sympathetic and efficient way.
If we are to have a healthy local society, local authorities should be the hub of all the activity in the community. The work of many authorities, where the attitude is good, is woefully hampered by the total inadequacy of the buildings provided for its civic headquarters. I know that this is not the occasion to plead for more money in this connection, but if we are to have really satisfactory local communities with proper spirit, proper understanding and a proper relationship between the voluntary and official bodies, we need to have a civic headquarters adequate to serve that purpose
We should use all the voluntary organisations and all the instruments which are available to us. I want to illustrate how my own authority is using what I believe would be popularly regarded as very unpromising material in 1547 this connection, namely, a museum. Again, I would say—especially in the hearing of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—that this is an aspect of local authority life and the activity of the country which is being desperately neglected. My local authority is helped by a Carnegie grant, and it has attempted to adopt an entirely new approach to the question. We have had the help and guidance of a brilliant display expert—Mr. Clive Lloyd—and are setting about the task of creating in our locality a museum which will help the people to understand the organic growth and development of the community and will promote a feeling of responsibility and civic pride, which we believe will be valuable in securing sympathy between the individual and the authority for the object which we have been talking about.
All these things are valuable, and there is a very great need for an inquiry into the relationships between the community on the one hand and the individual on the other. I hope that if and when that inquiry takes place every aspect of the problem will be considered, together with every instrument which can help in the process of humanising our relationships and helping towards civic pride and understanding.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas L. S. Nairn (Central Ayrshire)
I was delighted with the way in which the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) introduced the Motion. It is one which is well worth discussing. I cannot agree that a committee of inquiry would be of any benefit, however, because the problem is far too wide for any such committee to deal with. Public relations vary from good manners to the art of keeping people informed and spreading knowledge and understanding. They vary from the problem of persuading an official in a Government office to be polite to the people going in there, to getting the British people to understand the problems of the Colonies and the people in the Colonies to understand our problems. No committee of inquiry could get us anywhere in so wide a field. That does not mean that a debate of this sort is not highly valuable. It draws the attention of Ministers and Members to the need for good public relationships.
1548 Although the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) very often spoils my breakfast, and although I could not agree with what he said about nationalisation, I was very interested in his remarks about the Colonies. He made one suggestion which deserves careful consideration, although I would not like to say, straight away, that it had my support.
He thought that it would be a good idea to have a committee composed of Members on both sides of the House of Commons to deal with Commonwealth and colonial affairs. He went on to say that Members of that committee should go to the Colonies at the Government's expense, and see what was happening there. I know that Colonial peoples feel that Members of Parliament here do not know nearly enough about them, and do not pay nearly sufficient attention to what is going on there. It is a pity that under the present system only those of us who go on business and have our fares paid, or are employed by newspapers who pay for the fares, can afford to go to the Colonies. The ordinary Member does not get an adequate opportunity to know what is going on.
It would be of great benefit to all Governments. whether Conservative or Socialist. if hon. Members from both sides of the House went to the Colonies, not as individuals or representing newspapers, but with the knowledge that they had the responsibility, upon their return, of reporting to the Colonial Secretary and to the House of Commons on what was happening in the Colonies. Such a committee would serve a very useful purpose by showing the people of the Colonies that Members of this House are taking a serious interest in their problems and are visiting them anxious to try to bring back their point of view.
There is little doubt that, on some occasions, Members—especially those who have come new to this place, as I have—feel that although our day is extremely busy, at the end of it it is doubtful whether we have been serving any useful purpose. Committees of the kind suggested would enable us really to serve a useful purpose. I am sure that Members of Parliament from both sides of the House who went to the Colonies with a sense of responsibility would be far the best public relations officers that 1549 we could ever have—but they must go with a proper sense of responsibility and, as the hon. Member for Coventry, East said, with the realisation that, no matter which Government were in power, they must not say things which were completely contrary to the views of the Secretary of State. That would have to be understood. There is much to be said for this proposal, and it is well worth considering.
I could not support the idea of a general committee of inquiry into the whole matter. Good manners are things which we can only learn. They are not confined to one side of the House or the other, just as bad manners are not. I do not think that a committee of inquiry could help in the problem of keeping people informed. That is the job of the Ministers in charge of Departments. So long as we make them realise that we expect them to keep us informed, this debate will have done a good job in that respect. We should consider the question of a joint committee to deal with colonial affairs, and I believe that the Secretary of State would view such a proposal with sympathy. I know that he wants Members on both sides of the Committee to appreciate the problems of the Colonies and that he wants the Colonies to feel that Members on both sides of the House are trying to understand their problems.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has rendered a useful service—whether or not we agree with the Motion—in ventilating the increasingly important problem of the relationship between the ordinary citizen and the Government or other public authorities which have some effect upon his day to day life.
The point which I wish to make is a fairly simple one, and I make it in the light of experience which I have gained in my own local authority. For some time the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth has had a full-time public relations officer. In addition, at the local town hall we have an information office which is open at the same time as the town hall and which will answer any question upon which any citizen may want information, even if it does not relate to the work of the local authority.
1550 What hon. Members do not always appreciate is the difficulty which the ordinary man or woman experiences m getting a straightforward answer to a fairly simple question, or even in finding out where to go for it and how to obtain it. It is of increasing importance that machinery should be devised to enable the citizen to be informed upon what he wants to know.
Most of us who have been Members for some time will have come to the conclusion that our work is unnecessarily increased by the unwillingness or neglect of Government Departments and public authorities to answer letters. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, SouthEast told us what happened to him when he wrote to a number of authorities in his private capacity and not as a Member of Parliament.
The difference in treatment given to people who write letters, dependent solely upon their status, is something that we ought not to tolerate. I am quite convinced that the work of Members of Parliament would be halved if Government Departments answered letters addressed to them by citizens. What happens now is that a constituent writes to a Government Department and does not get a reply. He then writes to his Member of Parliament who, in turn, writes to the Minister concerned. The Minister replies to the Member of Parliament, who then forwards the letter to his constituent.
All this unnecessary activity arises from the fact that the ordinary person writing to a big Government Department, or to some other public authority, does not get an answer to his letter. If he does get an answer and it is couched in language not easily understood, then the constituent goes to his Member of Parliament for the purpose of getting the letter translated into comprehensible English. There was the case of a constituent of mine who received a letter from one of the officers working the legal aid scheme. The letter was quite incomprehensible to me and, of course, quite incomprehensible to the person to whom it was sent. Because of that I had to write to the officer concerned to find out what he was trying to tell my constituent.
For these reasons, I would urge the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to include in the circulars that he no doubt 1551 sends out to Government Departments a paragraph urging them to answer letters, not only those coming from persons of importance, but those coming from ordinary people, some of whom, perhaps, cannot write very grammatically and most of whom have not a typewriter and who do not, may be, write as legibly as could be wished. At least, let the letters be answered.
Nothing gives a person a sense of grievance more than the feeling that he is being ignored. Even if the citizen comes to the conclusion that there is no remedy for his complaint or grievance, if he receives a reply he at least has the satisfaction of knowing that the point he has been trying to put forward has been considered by somebody and that he has not been completely ignored. That, I think, is the foundation of good public relations, and I hope that the point I have made will not be lost upon the right hon. Gentleman who, no doubt, in the not-too-distant future will be expressing the Government's point of view on this very interesting Motion.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
I am sure that everyone will agree that we have had a very fine, stimulating and valuable debate, and that we are all very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) not only for tabling the Motion, but for moving it in so delightful and penetrating a way. The mere holding of this debate is itself a sign of the increasing public concern with this great central problem of modern democracy which is growing all the time and which is, therefore, impinging more and more on public opinion.
It is, I think, at the root a question of the omnipresent State. It is not really a question of the tyranny of the State. We have solved that problem. It is not what John Stuart Mill said, that the majority will tyrannise over the minority. We have run into the different problem, which he did not foresee, of a State which bosses people around, which pushes them around and does not treat them as well as it should.
This debate has not been a party one, and I was very glad to hear what the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) had to say about the attitude of 1552 Conservatives towards nationalised industries. I thought it was a very fine thing for him to say, and very right and proper. Nevertheless, I think that this is a problem which arises particularly for Socialists because we believe in the positive State and that the State ought to do things. We have no relic in our minds of the laissez-faire State which just holds the ring and lets everyone do what he wants to do.
The Tories think of State action as an exceptional thing. We think that a State must do positive things in a modern society to help run the economy and also to create freedoms. We believe that nobody can be a free man unless he has a sure job, a home and security, and, of course education. All these things demand a degree of State action. Even the political and legal rights of the individual now depend on positive State action. There are not only things like legal aid; there is the point that one cannot have political freedom if through economic insecurity one is afraid how one casts one's vote.
Socialists believe in this positive State and there, too, we, above all, realise that there is a dilemma here. The more we have a positive State, the more danger we run into of being bossed and pushed around by the State and of having our rights ignored. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Sydney Irving) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East said, the problem really is how to humanise bureaucracy, or, indeed, how to make it not bureaucracy at all. We have in this country, fortunately, a very fine Civil Service. It cannot, of course, however good it is, avoid nowadays a sort of double danger to which we are exposed all the time unless there is constant vigilance.
One danger is that the individual who comes into contact with the State is bossed about and that even his rights may be ignored or just denied him. On the other hand, he can be denied rights which the State has given him. It is not only a matter of oppressing people, but of denying them rights to which they are entitled. It sometimes appears to the public that civil servants are inverted Micawbers, always waiting for something to turn down.
1553 As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East and others have said, the remedy, of course, is not to limit the functions of the State—we could not regard that as a solution of this problem—but to improve, check and control the manner in which the State conducts its affairs through the Civil Service. It is very trite, of course, to say that justice must be seen to be done, but I think it important in this matter because it means that justice is seen to be done by others than the civil servants doing it.
Of course, it runs us into difficulties. There must be some restraint. The Civil Service cannot have all its documents exposed to public view all the time because, if that were so, efficiency would immediately begin to run down. We must have a very great bias and a greater bias than we have now in favour of wherever possible insisting that the reason for all decisions should be made public and wherever there is a reasonable doubt of whether this should he done or not, it ought to be done. We ought to take the risk where there is a reasonable doubt.
But we must face the fact that we must pay a price, that if we do this and give the courts much greater rights of inquiry into whether Ministers' decisions are intra vires or not, or reasonable, all these things will slow up administration. It will be less easy and convenient; and not for the civil servants, but for the public. It will mean getting pensions more slowly, decisions less quickly. We have to face that. In the interest of liberty we have to pay the price of somewhat slower and less convenient administration. The public at large must put up with less efficiency in the interest of each individual member of the public. It is no good people thinking that we can have both really good, swift, clean and quick administration and all these liberties which we are trying to preserve.
I think, also, that we have to pay another price, and this is hardly ever noticed and has not been mentioned in the debate at all. It is the price to he paid for Parliamentary control of the Civil Service, and the price we pay there is red tape. In practice, if we are to submit our Departments of State to being questioned at any moment about anything which they do anywhere within their jurisdiction they are bound to slow 1554 up. They have to keep many more records than would otherwise be necessary, they have to be more careful what they do and make sure that the matter has gone high enough in the Department; and maybe they will have to keep records going back five or six years, because they never know when a question will be asked.
In the case of some of the Departments, they may be questions about Singapore, or anywhere, and, of course, it is right that we should do this. Where the Departments of State have control over the lives of citizens, they must be responsible to us, and we must recognise that if they are to be responsible, then they must use red tape. I do not mean that in the wrong sense, in the sense of doing stupid things, but that there must be a great deal of documentation and care taken which private enterprises or public boards not subject to such questioning will not have to do.
This brings me to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), and also by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), whether we ought radically to alter our Parliamentary system in order to get better control over the State and the Cabinet. This is a very real and perhaps the greatest of all the problems raised in the debate today, and one which we certainly ought to argue about, because it is a very deep and fundamental problem. I myself have more affection and more respect for our system of Parliamentary democracy than my two hon. Friends who spoke about it, though I am not one of those whom my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East described as a rigid Tory in these matters. I do not think that we should not change anything. We have got to change, but, broadly speaking, we have a good method of government here, and one which is superior to those in France or the United States, or in other sorts of democracy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East attacked the Cabinet system, when what he was really doing was attacking the party system.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That is right. My hon. Friend really gets down to the system which the Americans have. In one respect, and this should be said, they 1555 have independent Members of Parliament, not tied by party, who follow all sorts of views and take things up and really control the Executive to a point at which it becomes inefficient.
Here, again, a price has to be paid for what is gained, and my hon. Friends must realise that one price to be paid lies in the fact that Members of Parliament or Members of Congress are then subjected to terrific outside pressures and lobbies. The American system provides an illustration of these lobbies, and this is an integral part of their system and not something which can be avoided by greater publicity or other such reforms. We either have a rigid discipline and a party system, as we have here, which is certainly subject to party pressures but to very little pressure from lobbies or vested interests, or the American system, in which the Members are genuinely independent but run into terrific lobbies. Of these two things, I prefer ours.
§ Mr. Crossman
If my right hon. Friend will read the record of my speech, I think he will find that I agree with him that the American system provides too much independence, whereas we have somewhat too little. I do not think that, in order to increase some of the powers of Parliament, it will be necessary to go all the way to the American system, which, I agree, we do not want to have here.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
My hon. Friend said a great deal more than that, as I think he will agree when he reads his speech. He showed a great deal of detailed internal knowledge in his attack upon the Cabinet system.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) also showed a detailed knowledge of independence.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That is right and proper, and much to his credit.
Of course, we must look at these things, but in each case, we pay a price, and, on the whole, I do not want to 1556 pay the same price as the Americans pay for the sort of thing they have got.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend and also the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Nairn), who spoke about our relations with the Colonies for which we are responsible. There has been a great improvement in this matter. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has sent and is sending much larger numbers of Members to the Colonies; and I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to the obvious difficulty here, which is that they need more money for the job. The limiting factor is the very niggardly grant from the State, both when we were responsible for it and now that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are responsible.
Some hon. Members have suggested that there should be perhaps a joint committee which would consult, and be consulted by, the Colonial Secretary. This is an idea that should and must be looked into, though here, I think, my hon. Friend went a shade too far in the general proposition which he made about Parliamentary Committees. I am frightened not so much by the American system, because I do not think that we can ever introduce that with our Cabinet system, but of what the French have got. They have a Cabinet system like ours, but have Parliamentary Committees with rapporteurs who report back and become a sort of rival Minister. There is a constant tension, which, I think, is one of the reasons why recent French Governments have been so unstable.
There is a lot to be said for a Parliamentary Committee which reflects party strength in the House and deals with very detailed problems like colonial affairs. But when we come to questions of foreign policy, it would really conflict with and overlap the control of business here.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Defence is a very difficult matter, and I am not sure that I should like to commit myself. I hope that we can both agree that there is a case for a committee to deal with the details of colonial administration.
I do not think that we should underrate the value of Parliamentary Questions. 1557 They terrorise civil servants, who are answerable for particular questions, when they go on to the Order Paper and are an important way of exercising Parliamentary control. Although we must feel our way in regard to public control and the right to ask questions about nationalised industries, we have to stop short of the sort of questioning we have of the War Office or the Home Office, because we do not want the nationalised industries to have the same degree of red tape. Maybe we shall solve this by convention rather than by standing orders. but we need not to rush but to feel our way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East gave a number of examples of some of the quite small changes in human relations which would make an enormous difference to an enormous number of people in the country, in the hospitals, in local government, and so forth. Forms are part of the trouble, as my hon. Friend said. They are often ill-drafted, but there are also too many of them. The Government should not insist upon people filling in innumerable forms which nobody reads after they have been filed.
A right hon. Friend of mine, who can never remember the number of his passport but knows by heart his co-operative society number, always puts that down on the appropriate form, and he has never yet been challenged by anybody. We all know of cases of people who write down things like £1 million or sign their name as Adolph Hitler, and this kind of thing goes on all the time. I do not know what happens to these forms. I suppose they are carted away and kept for a year and a day in a cellar.
I do not mind what other Governments do, but I am sure that there are masses of forms of no value which are never read at all, and that some vigorous pruning of sheer numbers would do a great deal of good. In the main, they are too complex and difficult. Hardly anyone can understand the forms. It is an extraordinary thing, but one always seems to be consulting one's neighbour about them, or else one's neighbour comes for a consultation. I know that to make forms simple is an art, but it is one of the arts which the State should master, because for the ordinary citizen this is really what gov- 1558 ernment is—forms and letters such as were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East. The research done by my hon. Friend in this matter is very valuable. I hope it will become a classic. Of course, no one else can do it again, now that my hon. Friend has disclosed that he has done it, but I hope that his work will become a classic and I congratulate him upon it.
Whether or not we should have a commission of inquiry should not, I think, be a great issue between us. There may be a case for it or there may not. The essential thing is that the House should pass a Motion showing its interest in the subject and revealing a determination that something should be done about it. We must get an improvement. This is not merely a question of public relations though that is a big part of it. It is something about which much could be done by vigorous Ministers. I am sure that the next Labour Government will make that one of their first tasks and see that Ministers in that Government overhaul the points of contact between their Departments and the public.
That is a matter which requires constant attention, because these points of contact tend to become rusty and difficult of operation. That is one of the things which we shall do when we are returned to office. It is something which can never be solved, because there is no way of solving the problem. It is something which must be constantly attacked and constant vigilance must be maintained. It is because this Motion—whether in an amended form or in its present form does not matter—will be a contribution to that vigilance, that I hope it will be agreed to this afternoon.
§ 2.32 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)
When I first saw the subject of this debate on the Order Paper, I had some doubts about whether so widely ranging a Motion would result in a useful and practical debate. But I want to say at once that all those doubts have been dispersed. They vanished from my mind very soon after the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) began his delightful speech. I think that this debate has surpassed the best expectations of us all.
1559 It will be recognised that some considerable part of the matters discussed this afternoon falls outside Ministerial responsibility. I hope that I shall succeed in showing, first, that I attach very high importance to good public relations and to good public relations arrangements and, secondly, that I do not claim to have discovered the "Ark of the Covenant" in this matter, or suggest for a moment that we are at the end of the road. I have no wish to be dogmatic. I agree entirely with all that has been said about the necessity of always seeking improvements. I mention those points at the outset of my speech, because I wish to make clear both the limitations of what any Minister can do in this matter and also the great importance which all of us in the Government attach to it.
This is the very place to discuss such a matter. Every hon. Member has himself to be a public relations officer as well as a legislator. If few of us may have had any professional training in this sphere, and if only a number of us have been journalists and, therefore, have seen this matter from a special angle, nevertheless we cannot adequately do our job in our constituencies unless we take this seriously and are ready to learn. When I said au revoir to the Finance Bill at about ten minutes past one this morning and went home, I found waiting for me a constituency letter which said:Thank you for your effort to try and help two 70 year-old pensioners. I did not think that M.P.s would answer letters.I do not know whether this was the first time in seventy years that these pensioners had tried it, or whether they had recently moved into my constituency from that of one of our colleagues less interested in the subject of this debate.
§ Mr. Brooke
I thought the hon. Member had made clear earlier in his speech that I did not answer his letters. He got in a shrewd one when he indicated that the Treasury was one of the six Departments that had failed to reply. I presumed that he had failed to enclose a cheque.
§ Mr. Brooke
I was delighted to hear that the College of Arms had written quickly and courteously to the hon. Gentleman, but I gathered that perhaps the College of Arms had spotted that he might "cough up" £4. Perhaps the Treasury took a less optimistic view of the wealth of the Benn family.
There is a practical difficulty here which I wish to mention. A number of comparisons have been made between public departments and official bodies, on the one hand, and private undertakings of one kind or another on the other. It is one of the mottoes of the retail trade, for example, that "the customer is always right". In itself that is a good attitude of mind. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East said that public relations was in great part an attitude of mind. But, of course, it is impossible for Government Departments, in particular, to adopt the attitude on all occasions that the customer is always right. The Board of Inland Revenue would have considerable difficulty in carrying out its duties if it followed exactly that line of thought. For that matter, so would the Customs.
While I was listening to the debate, I was thinking over my own Ministerial experience of public relations, and it struck me that the work of the Customs officials is a very good test of this. I would say—I hope it will be endorsed by hon. Members on both sides of the House—that Customs officials have a difficult and distasteful task to perform and one which, in the main, they do with great courtesy towards all honest members of the public. The other day I received an angry letter of complaint which was forwarded to me by an hon. Member who had received it from one of his constituents. The writer was very abusive about the way in which Customs officials had treated a member of the public. But when, upon investigation, I discovered that this particular member of the public had arrived in this country with two watches sewn into each of the shoulders of his coat, I felt that his approach to public authority had been. shall I say, somewhat inauspicious.
I have been greatly interested in the whole question of public relations ever since I became a director of the former Southern Railway Company. It was that experience which first taught me how true is the dictum of my hon. Friend 1561 the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), that public relations must be in at the top. It cannot be something which is separate from the senior management of any undertaking. Perhaps I can indicate that we knew something about it in those Southern Railway days when I mention that the man who was then the deputy-general manager of the Southern Railway is now Chairman of London Transport. I would say that London Transport is a pattern—though naturally it has its failings—for many other places in the handling of public relations.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East said how satisfactory it was when one telephoned Paddington to get the reply, "Paddington Station at your service." I agree that that is the right way to handle things, but as other hon. Members said afterwards, good public relations can never cover up inefficient performance. If all trains in and out of Paddington were always late, no silvery voice on the telephone could destroy the somewhat unhappy impression that the passenger would gain, any more than the utmost courtesy on the telephone will undo the effect created on a subscriber if he or she always gets a wrong number.
Before I get on to the main theme of the debate, I should like to say a word about the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)—a most stimulating and remarkable speech, especially for a Friday afternoon. I disagree with a good deal of it, but I am not going to cross swords with him now on constitutional or Parliamentary history. However, if I may say so with great respect to him, what I welcomed was his lively approach to these matters. He said that we must avoid settling down to the idea that Parliament is perfect. I do not want to commit any breach of privilege, but certainly I would not think that that was the right approach either here or within my own responsibility for the public relations of the Treasury and for the Civil Service as a whole.
I raised my eyebrows a little when the hon. Gentleman said, "We in the Labour Party have taken over everything that was essential in the Liberal Party in the way of defending freedom." I must say that I could not remember any of the historical protagonists of freedom 1562 in this country ever proclaiming "We are the masters now." But I do not want to make this any more of a party debate than the hon. Gentleman made it for a minute or two.
With disarming frankness, the hon. Gentleman admitted that when he was a temporary civil servant he kept from his Minister anything that he did not want his Minister to know, and he also suggested that it would be a worthwhile experiment to try here the system under which Ministers were enabled to bring with them into a Department two or three men of their own so as to be certain that they were surrounded by a few people on their own side.
Frankly, I deplore any suggestion of that kind. I know the hon. Gentleman made it in perfectly good faith, but I deplore it utterly. One of the things which most struck me in my experience of the Civil Service is the amazing loyalty with which civil servants throughout, and especially the senior civil servants, put themselves utterly at the disposal of a new Minister, whether he is of the same party or of a different party from that of the outgoing Minister. It is a great pride of the British Civil Service and of the British system, and I would not like anything to be allowed to pass here which suggested that the Civil Service did not serve all its chiefs with complete impartiality.
The hon. Member also suggested—though here I feel that perhaps he and I are straying a little beyond the terms of this Motion that we should seek to get in touch with the public throughout the world more effectively ourselves by developing the committee system here. I close my mind to nothing. On the other hand, let us also be aware that a visiting committee may easily not be able to spend enough time to break right through the surface and get down to realities. I quite agree that we have all got to get about and see what is going on, but do not let any of us imagine that by paying a week's or even a month's visit to a place we can establish ourselves as real authorities.
§ Mr. Crossman
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that a visiting Minister can do something but that a visiting committee cannot? Colonial Secretaries have been known to travel and come back thinking that they have learnt something. 1563 Is the right hon. Gentleman's point that a committee could not spend as long as a Colonial Secretary spends when he rushes to Malaya or Nigeria? I am suggesting an advisory committee, which I should have thought could spend far longer time than any Colonial Secretary could possibly afford to spend.
§ Mr. Brooke
I was not suggesting for a moment that Ministers or committees would not learn by visiting different parts of the world. My point is that neither the Minister nor a committee of Members of Parliament should imagine that they have got the final truth by a short visit. The hon. Member—and I did not quite understand what he had in his mind here spoke to the effect that the committee should not be allowed to be against the Minister.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am sorry. I thought the hon. Gentleman was seeking to make the point that the extension of the committee process which he had in mind would have to be so managed that it would not challenge Her Majesty's Government. It strikes me that that creates considerable difficulties because, on the whole, Select Committees of this House jealously retain the right to challenge the Government.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Committees have the same proportion of parties as we have in the House. That is what my hon. Friend said—that there should be a Government majority, whichever was the Government.
§ Mr. Brooke
I thought the hon. Gentleman was taking it further than that although it would surprise me if it were suggested that hon. Members should be put under restraint to observe the interests of the Government.
If I may revert to the main theme of the debate, the principal point which has been made by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East and reiterated by many others is that, in recent years, the ordinary citizen has found more and more of his way of life controlled to some extent by Government. Departments and local authorities, and influenced by the nationalised industries. For that reason, it is all the more important to 1564 ensure that the citizen is enabled by those very authorities to understand why they feel it necessary to intervene and have this impact on what he regards as his private affairs, and also to ensure that when the private citizen has complaints and inquiries to make, those complaints and inquiries are dealt with satisfactorily.
I thought the hon. Gentleman expressed the matter admirably when, in making a comparison between the human man and the economic man, which was not wholly to the advantage of the Treasury, he said that the human man grumbles but does not complain. I fancy that in those few words he described very accurately a large part of the British public, and I do not think that any hon. Member on either side of the House will dispute the hon. Gentleman's diagnosis.
I cannot agree with the suggestion made by some hon. Members that we should entirely exclude from the study of this important subject the fact that the impact of public undertakings on the ordinary citizen may be most effectively softened by limiting the range of the official machine and the extent to which the private citizen comes under its control. That is one part, but an important part. of the subject that we are discussing. I do not adduce that as an argument for not examining with every care the hon. Gentleman's proposal that, granted the degree to which the ordinary citizen is now, as it were, in the grip of an official machine, it is time to pause, to see whether the machine is dealing with the citizen as satisfactorily and sympathetically as it should.
There is always room for improvement in this field, but I would venture the view that public authorities generally are doing their best to meet the problems of public relations work. I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) when he said that the worst service we could do would be to petrify this matter by having a committee of inquiry. I agree with him. If the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East does not wish to withdraw the Motion but will accept it in the amended form, I offer it in that form the fullest support of the Government. Apart from the suggestion of a committee of inquiry, I am entirely in sympathy with 1565 the aim which the hon. Member is seeking.
In present-day conditions a public authority has two main duties. It has first to ensure that the people affected by its activities and policies know what is the impact of those policies on their daily way of life, and secondly, that any member of the public who has an inquiry to make must be dealt with courteously and sympathetically. I do not claim that we have reached perfection in either of those two directions.
Several hon. Members have spoken about local authorities as bodies with which citizens come into contact very frequently, and certainly at closer quarters than they do with many Government Departments. There was a Consultative Committee on Publicity for Local Government set up in 1946, and it produced two reports, in 1947 and 1950. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East suggested that the committee might be revived. I doubt whether that would be worth while. I noticed that the committee said in its last report:The committee is convinced that future development must rest for the most part with the individual local authorities.
§ Mr. Benn
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is a known fact that since that committee disappeared a number of authorities who took this matter seriously have lost their public relations officers and that N.A.L.G.O. would certainly argue that there has been a serious decline in interest in local authorities since then?
§ Mr. Brooke
I pay great regard to anything that N.A.L.G.O. says, especially as N.A.L.G.O. is at the moment holding its Jubilee Conference under its Jubilee President, who is the town clerk of the council of my own borough of Hampstead. I know the valuable work that N.A.L.G.O. has done in drawing attention to these matters. I am not sure that it is necessarily an indication that a local authority is falling down on its public relations work when it no longer employs a public relations officer. I am inclined to think that only the larger authorities need a public relations officer of their own. The important thing is that everybody, members of the Council and chief officers, shall be taught to appreciate the importance of local authority public relations work.
1566 The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East spoke of the various suggestions canvassed by that consultative committee. One was the opening of the public galleries in council chambers to school children so that they could listen to the debates. I am all in favour of that kind of thing, though it is not enough in itself. Some school children went to a town hall on one of these visits and had to write a description in school next day about what happened. One of the boys wrote something like this:We went into a large room and sat down, and then big doors opened and a man in uniform came through and shouted, 'Worship the Mayor'. So we all stood up and worshipped the Mayor.We have to make sure that we are not merely giving people opportunities to see a little bit more about local government but are giving them the background to understand what is going on. I was glad that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Sydney Irving) referred to the Citizens' Advice Bureau, which is a very valuable medium through which local public relations work can be done.
We must take account of cost. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East urged that the public relations side of the work should not be looked on as the first field to suffer from economy but must be thought of as a good investment. I am sure he will agree that it is a direction in which all of us, by lack of judgment, can squander money. It may often happen that the body which seems to achieve near-perfection in its public relations work is that which opens the purse strings very widely, perhaps more widely than some of us who realise that the money has to come from the public think is fully justified.
Before I leave the local government field, let me say that the main vehicle for news of what the local authority is doing must be the local Press. I have great sympathy for local newspapers which complain that they can never get any information out of the council. At the same time my sympathy ends when they wish to have every committee meeting open to the Press. It is wholly right that our proceedings here in this Chamber should be open to the Press and the public, but we know that sometimes it is necessary to repair upstairs to express ourselves with a candour, using words 1567 which perhaps should not be known throughout the world. The Press is extraordinarily skilful nowadays in breaking through the secrecy which we attempt to impose upon our proceedings there, but I do not think either party has yet suggested that in order that the public should better understand the workings of Parliament all committee proceedings upstairs should avowedly be open to the Press. I think local authorities are entitled to take the same view. The good local newspaper—I am fortunate in my constituency in this respect—can probably do more than any other single medium for creating a better understanding between the individual citizen and the local authority.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
Before leaving that point, will the right hon. Gentleman deplore the action of some local authorities which, by way of economy, have sought to impose a charge on the local Press for council agendas?
§ Mr. Brooke
I do not think it is for me to stray outside my own responsibility here and to cast praise or blame. I am simply trying to indicate the general attitude of the Government and also to describe what is happening.
A number of hon. Members have spoken of the nationalised industries. The nationalised industries are new; they have got the special problems of youth. They also are the victims of a great deal of criticism from one quarter or another, arising, shall I say, simply out of the manner of their birth. They are also in the position of monopolies. I do not believe that everybody who goes into a shop is always treated with courtesy. Most of us have known examples of discourtesy in one shop or another, but there, of course, we have our remedy—we can go elsewhere next time. With the nationalised industries there is no alternative. That is why the nationalised industries must set before themselves peculiarly high standards and must expect to be criticised if they fall short of those standards.
I hope all the criticism will be constructive and not merely callous, because it is important, whatever our political views, that we should not create in the minds of those who are running the nationalised industries the feeling that the only interest of the public is to find fault with them. 1568 They must be exposed to criticism, they should be quicker than most to seek to meet that criticism, to explain if there has been misunderstanding and to render it clear that they are at the service of the public.
I was a little surprised that no one in this debate mentioned the booklet by the Acton Society Trust, published some three years ago, on relations with the public in connection with the nationalised industries. I am not saying that I support all the criticism that was expressed in that booklet. I mention it as evidence that this is not a subject which has just been thought of here today, but that a great many people have been giving consideration to it and examining it. The nationalised industries are in the singular position of having consumers' councils, or consultative councils, attached to them. It is probably common ground that those councils, which are an interesting idea, are not yet working in every case in a manner which fulfils all the hopes that were expressed about them when they were formed. Nevertheless, the existence of those councils should serve as a check on discourtesy or high-handedness of junior officials and should ensure that any decisions which apparently are wrong are reviewed at a suitably high level.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that question, may I ask him if he feels that contact between the ordinary consumer and the board is close enough through the consumers' or consultative council? Is there not some case for saying that all consumers should be given an opportunity for expressing their views as to who should be on those consultative councils?
§ Mr. Brooke
I think I indicated, without trespassing on the ground of other Ministers, that the system of consultative councils and consumers' councils is not yet fulfilling all the hopes that were placed in it when the Legislature decided on that method of consumer representation. I am not sure that the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) as to the method of composition of the councils would work any better than the present method. Perhaps if he has practical ideas about that he would put them to the Ministers directly concerned.
1569 Finally, I would speak about the Civil Service, because in relation to that I hold a position of special responsibility and can speak with rather more direct knowledge and authority. I know only too well that the practice here is not always in line with precept. But I think that in recent years the departmental machine has been very considerably adapted to take account of the new relationship between the central Government and the public, which has been pressed for in this debate. In nearly every Department we have now set up an information department or a public relations department. They are criticised from time to time, but I think it is generally accepted on both sides that the great Departments of State could not do without an organ of that kind.
Clearly, the best way of all of enabling the public to know what the Government are up to is through speeches made by Ministers, through Ministers being questioned in Parliament, and through the Press reporting to the public what is said here in Parliament; but we have to supplement that with machinery for enabling the public to obtain all the factual material to which it is entitled. That is the function of the Central Office of Information and of the public relations branches.
I understood the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend when he told us of some of his experiences as a journalist. I thought his approach was just a bit too cynical when he said that it was typical of Government Departments that they did not consider the mechanics from the other person's point of view. There will aways be failings of that kind, but I should have thought that there had been a very considerable advance in the public relations and information departments of the Civil Service in that respect over the situation as it existed, say, 20 years ago.
The Government have realised for a long time that in this new world the agents of Government must be trained to adopt a right and helpful attitude when dealing with members of the public. I expect the House will remember that post-war training policy in the Civil Service is founded on an inquiry by one of my predecessors as Financial Secretary who now sits in another place. I quote a sentence from the Report of his Com- 1570 mittee, the Assheton Committee of 1944. That sentence sums up the philosophy we try to inculcate in civil servants in their dealings with the public. That Report said:The civil servant must never forget that he is the servant, not the master, of the community, and that official competence need not, and should not, involve the loss of the human touch.We are all subject to the failings of the human race. However hard we try we may sometimes fail to get our ideas across. But ten years later, in 1954, another direct message was sent to the Civil Service. In August, 1954, an extract from the Report of the Committee under Sir John Woods, which attracted a good deal of attention at that time, was brought to the notice of all grades of the Civil Service, and I should like to bring it to the recollection of the House. Civil servants were reminded that—and, these are the words—In present times the interests of the private citizen are affected to a great extent by the actions of civil servants. It is the more necessary that the civil servant should bear constantly in mind that the citizen has a right to expect, not only that his affairs will be dealt with effectively and expeditiously, but also that his personal feelings, no less than his rights as an individual, will be sympathetically and fairly considered.That happened in 1954, but we are not letting things rest there. There is a further message which is brought to the notice of all Civil Servants. Each new civil servant, on entry into the Service, receives a handbook which contains the following sentences:You must be scrupulously fair, you must be quick, accurate and efficient, you must be courteous to the members of the public with whom you have to deal, and within the limits of your Department's powers (as laid down by Parliament) you must be as sympathetic and helpful as possible. That is your job.In the Civil Service there are training courses which have as one of their main objects the inculcation, in especially the middle and junior grades, of the right attitude of the civil servant towards those whom he serves. The course includes practical demonstrations on how to conduct personal interviews, visits, correspondence, counter work and so on.
I do not claim that official forms are everything that they should be, but the Organisation and Methods Department of the Treasury has made great strides in improving the quality and common sense of the forms used throughout Govern- 1571 ment Departments. One hon. Member opposite said today that Ministers nowadays were too busy to pay attention to these matters and much was done in their names with which they never came into contact. In my small way, to disprove that, I should like to tell the House that when I became Financial Secretary to the Treasury I personally supervised the revision of the Customs notice on passengers' baggage and effects which is used at the ports and elsewhere to give passengers information about what they can and cannot bring into the country.
The second sentence of that notice in its old version said rather menacingly:Attention is invited in this connection to the warning in paragraph 3.I thought that people might just as well read on to paragraph 3 instead of being told at the outset that there was a warning there. We have taken out that kind of thing. I insisted, however, upon the preservation of one sentence which I have always regarded as one of the most dramatic that occurs in any public Government document. It says:The importation of certain goods, such as dangerous drugs, arms, parrots etc. is prohibited.I hope that I have covered some, at any rate, of the ground to which hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred. I have given an answer which I do not for a moment claim to be adequate to the magnitude of the subject, but I trust that I have been able to demonstrate to the House that the Government and public authorities generally are not going to sleep on this subject, that they realise the need for ensuring right relationships between themselves and the private citizens whom they serve and whose lives they affect in so many ways.
If it is agreed between us that a formal inquiry would be a mistake, I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East for seizing his opportunity to bring forward these matters today. I hope that the debate will serve as a warning and a stimulus to those anywhere whose practice lags behind the precept. I can assure the House, on behalf of the Government, that we shall certainly keep under constant review the treatment of the individual citizen whom it is our privilege and duty to serve. I hope that the House will forgive me for reminding 1572 hon. Members once again that everyone who has the privilege of being a member of the House carries a special responsibility in this respect. It is by our example that perhaps we can set the tone for so much that is done in our names and in the name of the Government throughout this field.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Sir Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
I beg to move, to leave out from "citizens" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:calls on Her Majesty's Government to acknowledge the importance of the relationship between these public authorities and private individuals in a free democratic society and to take such measures to study and improve such relationships as may from time to time prove necessary.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I beg to second the Amendment.
Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question, put and negatived.
Question, That the proposed words be there added, put and agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
Resolved,That this House, noting the growth within recent years in the power and responsibility of Government Departments, local authorities, public corporations and other official agencies and in the services which they provide, and recognising that this has had a considerable impact on the life of all citizens, calls on Her Majesty's Government to acknowledge the importance of the relationship between these public authorities and private individuals in a free democratic society and to take such measures to study and improve such relationships as may from time to time prove necessary.