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Ministry Of Information

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 10 March 1943

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Great Britain And United States (Broadcasts)

22.

asked the Minister of Information how many British subjects are engaged under the auspices of his Ministry in broadcasting to and within the United States of America on the political and social conditions existing in Britain and the Empire, imperial and Colonial; and whether he will ascertain how many United States citizens are similarly employed under the United States Ministry of Information in transmitting information about the United States of America to Britain?

The work that my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind is done by the B.B.C. and the American broadcasting corporations. Certainly much time is devoted to it but I am afraid that I cannot possibly give an estimate of the number of British and American citizens who take part.

While I thank my right hon. Friend, will he bear in mind that mutual knowledge of each other is the best guarantee of permanent understanding?

North Africa (Information To United Kingdom)

24.

asked the Minister of Information whether he will consider appointing suitable British officials in North Africa to be responsible for disseminating information to the people of this country in regard to the political and military events in that area?

No, Sir. The political and military events of the war have always been reported to the public by correspondents in the service of the newspapers themselves. I am sure that the House needs no recital from me of the deplorable consequences which would result from placing this work in the hands of Government officials.

While I agree with my right hon. Friend's statement, does he not realise that there is a considerable amount of ignorance in this country as to the events in North Africa and that ignorance promotes suspicion, whereas knowledge promotes confidence?

My hon. and gallant Friend's worthy platitudes are, of course, most acceptable to us, but I cannot cure ignorance.

When information is being disseminated, will that include information about the number of political prisoners in North Africa and the treatment meted out to them?

My hon. Friend has had the fullest possible information on those matters.

Apart from war correspondents dealing with purely military matters, why were the British Press not allowed to send correspondents to cover the general course of events in North Africa?

I cannot understand what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. The British Press do not normally maintain correspondents in North Africa. I daresay that every newspaper should have a correspondent in every part of the world where anything is likely to happen, but the British Government did nothing to prevent the British Press from sending correspondents to North Africa.

Is the Minister aware that among Government officers there is great concern about the appalling consequences of entrusting affairs to some of His Majesty's Ministers?

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that no paper has been refused permission to send a correspondent to North Africa?

No complaint has come to me, and the Lord knows the Minister of Information is in receipt of every sort of complaint.

International Miners' Conference (Film)

25.

asked the Minister of Information whether he has any information to give as to a film taken of an international miners' conference held in May, 1942, and of the progress made, with a view to it being exhibited in this country and those countries it was produced for?

Unfortunately, the technical quality of the film to which my hon. Friend refers proved to be so poor that it could not be publicly exhibited. This was nobody's fault in particular; it was one of the hazards of film-making.

Cables (Censorship)

26.

asked the Minister of Information what censorship regulation prohibits cable companies from advising the sender of a cable whether or not the cable reached the addressee safely; and for what reason such a regulation is necessary?

This prohibition is an essential security measure, and 1s contained in the Regulations for Censorship. It would greatly assist the evasion of wartime currency and trade regulations if senders of cables could count on knowing whether or not these are delivered safely to the addressees.

Will my right hon. Friend tell me why a cable which I sent seeking confirmation of a statement made by Mr. Montagu Norman has never been received, and why I cannot get information from the cable company or from anywhere else as to what has happened to the cable? It is perfectly obvious.

In view of the eminence of the sender and of the gentleman mentioned in the cable, I will try to get the Chief Censor to make an exception in this case.

Churchill Tanks

27.

asked the Minister of Information what instructions were sent by or through his Department to the Press in this country and to the war correspondents in North Africa suggesting that the performance of the A 22 tanks in the recent operations had been satisfactory?

Is it pure coincidence that immediately following the Army Debate there was an absolute spate of reference to this matter all over the Press?

That was entirely due to the brilliant speech made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War.

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman on these matters has as much power as Dr. Goebbels has in Germany?

Indian Affairs (Broadcasts)

28.

asked the Minister of Information whether he will consult with the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation with a view to arranging, once a month or more frequently, for the information of the British public, a commentary on Indian political, economic and cultural affairs, aspects of the lives of the people and current happenings of general interest?

I will certainly bring this suggestion to the attention of the Governors of the B.B.C. They are aware of the importance of maintaining a good output of broadcasts dealing with Indian affairs.

Is it not a fact that there is widespread ignorance in this country about conditions in India, and indeed about the geography of India? Will my right hon. Friend endeavour to see that more factual information on this subject is spread in this country?

That is more a job for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education. There is no doubt a great deal of ignorance in this country about India, and there is a great deal of ignorance in this country about many other subjects; but I do not see what I can do other than by encouraging the B.B.C. Governors to give as many broadcasts as possible and by encouraging my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education to induce people to read history. That is a great corrective.

British War Effort (Broadcasts, Russia)

29.

asked the Minister of Information how many Russian-speaking Britons are employed in Russia in broadcasting to the Russian people information as to the political and social conditions in Britain and the British Empire, and also in regard to the achievements of the British Armed Forces and Merchant Navy?

No Russian-speaking Britons are employed by the Soviet broadcasting authorities, nor are English-speaking Soviet citizens employed by the B.B.C. And so I can only express the hope that both broadcasting authorities will give up a satisfactory amount of time to informing their respective listeners about one another's war effort.

While I am willing to incur the risk of uttering further platitudes, might I ask whether my right hon. Friend's attention has been called to the statement of Admiral Standley the other day, in which he made reference to this case vis-à-vis America? Does he not consider it urgently necessary for some steps to be taken to make our efforts known to the Russian people?

I, of course, would in no circumstances make any comments on the statement attributed to Admiral Standley. Furthermore, our experience—that is, the experience of our Mission in Russia—is that we have had the fullest co-operation from the Russian Government. Our paper is increasing its sale every day, and we have to make no complaint of any kind.

Scrap Metal (Tram Rails)

30.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works how many yards of old tramway-lines have been taken up for melting; what has been the cost per yard of taking these rails up and resurfacing the road; what proportion of the work is done by contract or local labour; and the name of the contractors, the rate of pay the men received per hour or day, and the number of hours worked per day?

The work of recovering tram-rails is being carried out by various highway authorities in collaboration with the Ministry of War Transport. The information asked for, in respect of the many jobs, is not available, and could not be obtained without a considerable expenditure of time and labour. I am, however, pleased to inform the hon. Member that over 50,000 tons of valuable material have been recovered from this source, and this is less than half the total amount which tram-rails can yield.