[Home Secretary prepares Press for Ministry of Information on eve of World War Two.] 'Private and Confidential' typescript of 'Meeting between the Secretary of State for Home Affairs [Sir Samuel Hoare] and the Newspaper Proprietors Association etc.'

Sir Samuel Hoare [Viscount Templewood]; Newspaper Proprietors Association [Ministry of Information; E. C. Harmsworth, Viscount Rothermere; Daily Mail; Lord Burnham; Daily Telegraph; Fleet Street]
Publication details: 
'Home Office, Whitehall, S.W.1. [London] | Wednesday, 29th March, 1939.' '(Transcript from the Shorthand Notes of Treasury Reporter)'.
SKU: 21297

Secret duplicated Home Office document, no other copy of which has been discovered (none on OCLC WorldCat, for example) and no reference to the meeting found. The document is a transcript of a highly significant meeting, called by a busy Hoare (he would have an important cabinet meeting on the same day) to explain to press representatives the remit (on the basis of 'voluntary Censorship') of the newly-formed Ministry of Information, and also including discussions of 'the questions of transport, labour, and so on' that the press would face in the case of war, as well as the planned nature of future meetings, and the need for secrecy (with reference to the operation of D Notices). The meeting is a frank one, including an exchange during which Hoare declares 'This rather depresses me. I am beginning to wonder whether this meeting is of any use. […] I did not in the least want this meeting: I imagined I was doing it for your convenience.' At the beginning Hoare explains that he has called the meeting at the request of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and declares that he is 'the Minister dealing with the skeleton organisation of the Ministry of Information'. (This 'skeleton organisation' – with Sir Stephen George Tallents (1884-1958) as 'Director General Designate' – had come into being a few months before the meeting, after the German annexation of the the Sudetenland in 1938, and around seventy staff had already been employed censoring press reports surrounding the Munich Agreement.) [1] + 29pp, foolscap 8vo, on thirty leaves. Complete. In fair condition, with the text (paginated 1-29) on lightly-aged leaves, and the covering page on a loose and worn leaf, with light damage along two edges. The covering page is headed: 'Private and Confidential | Meeting between the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the Committee of Newspaper Proprietors Association etc. | Home Office, Whitehall, S.W.1. | Wednesday, 29th March, 1939.' At foot of covering page: '(Transcript from the Shorthand Notes of Treasury Reporter)'. The rest of the page lists the twenty-one individuals present, with ten in Sir Samuel Hoare's party, and eleven from the press, with Esmond Harmsworth of the Daily Mail as chairman. The government list begins with: 'Sir Samuel Hoare [(1880-1959), later Viscount Templewood] (Secretary of State) | (in the Chair) | Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd [(1902-1984), later Lord Geoffrey-Lloyd] (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office) | Sir Alexander Maxwell [(1880-1963)] (Permanent Under-Secretary) | Mr. A. S. Hutchinson [Arthur Sydney Hutchinson (1896-1981), later knighted] (Private Secretary to the Secretary of State)'. The press list begins with four from the 'Newspaper Proprietors Association': 'The Hon. Esmond Harmsworth [(1898-1978) of the Daily Mail, later Viscount Rothermere] (Chairman) | Brigadier The Hon. E. F. Lawson [Edward Frederick Lawson (1890-1963) of the Daily Telegraph, later Lord Burnham] (Vice Chairman) | Mr. Stanley Bell, Managing Director, Associated Newspapers | Mr. F. J. Cook, General Manager, Daily Herald and People'. The four NPA members are followed by the NPA 'Secretary to the Committee', three from the 'Newspaper Society'; a 'Scottish Daily Newspaper Society' representative; and two from the 'Periodical Trade Press and Weekly Newspaper Proprietors Association'. Hoare begins by giving the 'two or three reasons' why he has been 'anxious to have a meeting of this Committee', the first being that 'the Prime Minister [Neville Chamberlain, of whose appeasement policy Hoare was a leading supporter] has asked me to take over the questions connected with the Ministry of Information on that side of the work of the Press, and also to be the Co-Ordinating Minister for the various other questions that we discussed when you came here about A.R.P. [the Air Raid Precautions Department, Hoare's pet project, begun in 1935], and that you have since discussed with several of the Departments – the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Labour, and so on.' Hoare reports that Chamberlain 'took the view that it would probably be more convenient to everybody if, whilst you would still go on dealing with individuals of the specific Departments, there should be one Minister to whom you could come if you wished to come to him, and one particular individual to whom you could make suggestions if suggestions were necessary.' After declaring – 'quite without prejudice to what might happen after the emergency' – that he is 'the Minister dealing with the skeleton organisation of the Ministry of Information', Hoare turns to the purpose of the meeting: 'Next, Gentlemen, you will remember that this Committee came into being after a meeting that we had some months ago about A.R.P., and that at that meeting I suggested you should get into touch with the various Departments to get the various questions settled, the questions of transport, labour, and so on: and I thought it was a good thing we should have another meeting to report progress and to see how far that machinery has actually worked in practice. | I have made enquiries, and my enquiries go to shew that it has worked pretty well.' Hoare discusses the Ministry of Information, noting that 'Sir Stephen Tallents has now gone back to the B.B.C. It was found that he could not carry on the double duty of his work at the B.B.C. and also this organisation work at the Ministry of Information'. He suggests the the 'small body' that liaised with Tallents to 'meet myself and the staff at the Ministry in the near future and take up the position as it was left two or three months ago', with a view to seeing 'whether we needed any further machinery'. He discusses 'the kind of work the Ministry of Information would be called upon to undertake': it would be 'an organisation for supplying the Press with news: there would be under this Department a Censorship of incoming and outgoing Press telegrams, and thirdly there would be advice to the Press on requests voluntarily submitted by them, our general principle being to leave as much of the leaders of the Press as we could, and to keep it as far as we could upon a basis of voluntary Censorship'. He announces 'the intention of the Government to stop in London as long as it could, and that we have – and this I think is known to you – earmarked the Imperial Institute as the centre of the Ministry of Information in London'. A discussion follows, led by Harmsworth, after which Hoare leads the meeting to the question of 'materials', and a full discussion of the practicalities follows, including 'the position of newspaper van drivers'. In response to a suggestion by Lawson regarding the circulation of information, Hoare replies, 'I am always rather nervous of circulating a lot of information about these very confidential questions, myself.' To this Lawson replies: 'If we cannot discuss confidential questions without any risk of breach, we are wasting out time.' Hoare's response to this is: 'That may point to not having any contacts at all. As the discussion proceeds B. Alton, NPA Secretary and Secretary to the Committee, complains to Hoare: 'we have had no information on the evacuation scheme until it was made public generally, or of the Ministry of Transport scheme. If it is going to apply to all our commodities, there is not much point in having negotiations with you: we get no advance information at all.' Hoare's response: 'This rather depresses me. I am beginning to wonder whether this meeting is of any use.' Alton backtracks: 'As I have said, we have had more information to-day than I have been able to collect in six months.' At which Hoare continues to complain: 'I did not in the least want this meeting: I imagined I was doing it for your convenience.' Harmsworth jumps in with a long statement, beginning with his view that the meeting 'has been extraordinarily useful because here we have all the representatives of the different Ministries whom previously we have seen one by one'. The meeting ends with a discussion of future plans for the committee, Hoare undertaking to 'get a report drawn up of this meeting on the lines suggested by Sir Alexander Maxwell', and stating that 'there should be another meeting at which the various members of the Departments would be present', stressing 'that our meeting to-day' should be 'regarded as entirely confidential. (Agreed).' Towards the end 'Davies', on the press side asks whether 'the report of this meeting, which is to be drawn up by agreement' will be made available: 'is it to be regarded as a confidential report for the Councils of the different organisations only, or will we be permitted to circulate it to members?' Hoare replies: 'I should be very sorry to see a wide circulation running into many hundreds. I think as soon as you do that the whole thing becomes entirely public, does it not?' Lawson offers 'an absolute guarantee that there would be no publicity whatsoever'. As Hoare continues to voice concerns, Davies gives 'an illustration': 'there is in existence what is called the Admiralty, War Office and Air Force Press Committee, whose only function for many years has been to distribute what are known as “D” notices: they go out to the whole Press, even to very small weekly newspapers, and I think it is the general experience that those “D” notices are respected.' Hoare defers to Maxwell, who opines that it is 'quite right to let it be circualted in confidence, because the man who is responsible for running a particular local newspaper wants to know it quite as much as the Gentlemen here'. The meeting ends with Hoare directing 'We will proceed on that basis, then', and then thanking the press representatives 'for coming'.