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"British Ally," Moscow (Editor)

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 11 May 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what were the technical qualifications and credentials of Mr. A. R. Johnstone at the time when he was appointed editor of the "British Ally" newspaper in Moscow; and whether either the Institute of Journalists or the National Union of Journalists was consulted about his reliability for this post.

Before being appointed to the staff of "British Ally" Mr. Johnstone had had 20 years' experience on the staff of well-established newspapers in Scotland, Manchester and London. As regards the second part of the Question, the vacancy for an editor for "British Ally" was reported to the National Union of Journalists by the Appointments Department of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, to whom it was notified by my Department. It is not, however, the practice of the Foreign Office to consult professional organisations as to the reliability of candidates for appointments.

Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that in future the Institute of Journalists is also consulted about vacancies of this kind? Would it not be a good policy for the Foreign Office to check up with one or other of these professional organisations whenever a Press attaché or anyone of that kind is being appointed to the Foreign Service?

I do not think so. It is better to deal with the question by what we call vetting people in our own way than to ask organisations to suggest people to fill vacancies in these posts. I think that it would place them in a most unfortunate situation if we adopted that policy.

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider, when making fresh appointments to the "British Ally," that it is undesirable to describe as editor someone who, as the Parliamentary Secretary explained last week, does not in the ordinary sense edit; and if the editor is not to be responsible for policy and the contents of the paper, is it not desirable to describe him as a sub-editor or something of that kind?

I think that I will consult the hon. Member on the set-up of the "Spectator," which may be a good guide.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether this gentleman's competence to do the job for which he was appointed was ever questioned by anybody until his recent resignation; and whether his competence or reliability has ever been questioned since, except on the grounds of his declared sympathy for the legal government of Spain, a sympathy which many of us share?

Does the right hon. Gentleman think it wise to appoint known fellow-travellers to posts of this kind; and was it wise to express surprise when this gentleman took the course that all his antecedents made it likely that he would take?

If I adopted that policy, what should I do with the applicants from the universities?

May I ask, Mr. Speaker, on a point of Order, whether the Foreign Secretary's answer was meant to be an innuendo on the character of the universities, and, if so, whether that is in accordance with the traditions of this House and in order?

May I repeat the question which my right hon. Friend said he had not grasped? It was in two parts. First, had the competence or reliability of this gentleman ever been questioned by anybody until his resignation; and secondly, had his competence or reliability ever been challenged by anybody except on the ground of his declared sympathy with the legal Republican Government of Spain—a sympathy which many of us share?