A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

18 17


At different stages in the interview Informants were asked to give their opinions on export policy. Near the beginning of the interview they were asked simply ‘Do you know that goods are being sent to other countries or exported - What do you think about this’. The answers were not directed in any way nor had there been any discussion of particular aspects of the export problem.

Following on this informants were asked if they knew what was exported and to what countries, they were also asked if they knew what proportion of all Britain makes was sent away. A further direct question was then put asking whether informants approved of export policy or not. The answers to this question were thus invited only after informants had been asked to think about the export problem. They summarise overall approval or disapproval at the time of the inquiry.

What proportion of the Population approved of Export Policy?

Table 11

Could you say on the whole whether you approve or disapprove of the government export policy?

Approve 71
Disapprove 14
No opinion 15
SAMPLE: 3,137

Only a small minority directly disapproved policy. A considerable proportion however would express no opinion and this rose to 21% of women and 25% of the lower economic group. There was a lower level of approval by both these groups. Approval on the other hand was highest in the professional and managerial group and among factory operatives.

It is not easy for an individual to be quite certain on a complicated problem that government policy is wrong and a complete picture of opinion needs to take into consideration the doubts and half thought out difficulties which so far had not amounted to direct disapproval. A more detailed analysis of answers is therefore made below. This is especially necessary since the first section has shown that there is a great deal of ignorance of the facts about export amongst all sections of the population and inspection of the answers recorded showed that the more people knew about the facts of exports the more they approved. Whilst, 56% of those who approved policy gave well informed answers about ‘Why we export things at all” only 40% of those disapproving policy gave well informed answers and 25% of those who disapproved either could not suggest any reason for export or gave answers showing vagueness or confusion. Again whilst 90% of those who said accurately what proportion of our production was exported approved export policy, the approval fell to 74% of those saying we exported three quarters or more of all manufactures produced and to 61% of those who could not venture an opinion on the proportion exported. 19% of those who said we exported three quarters or more disapproved, which is higher than the proportion in any other single group for which an analysis was made.

Similarly, 49% of those who thought we should export less than before the war approved as compared with 89% of those thinking we should export more.

It is quite clear from these results that to a considerable extent approval of export policy is related to knowledge of the facts about exports. However, it is also clear from the results of the first section of this report that there must have been very many people who were ignorant of or confused about the facts, but who at the time of the inquiry did not openly disapprove government export policy. The large measure of overall approval found had therefore an unstable element and the subsequent part of this section tries to measure its extent.

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To what extent was approval doubtful or unstable?

All those who disapproved policy were asked why they disapproved and those who approved were asked if there was any aspect of the policy with which they disagreed. About one third then expressed unqualified approval of export policy, i. e. about one half of those who approved export policy had no points of disagreement at all. One quarter of those who approved policy on the whole thought that too much was being sent out of the country and small proportions wanted particular items such as food, clothing, household goods exported in smaller quantities than they now believed to be the case. It will be remembered that in the first section it was shown that when asked to mention export items large proportions of the population thought first of food or clothing.

The majority of those who disapproved of export policy thought that too much was being sent out of the country.

If the points of disagreement of those who approved policy are added to the points of disagreement of those who disapprove it is possible to present a picture of the state of opinion which differs considerably from the simple expression of overall approval or disapproval.

Table 12

Opinion on Export Policy

Approve without qualification 37
More should be kept for home market 28
“We should keep the best” 3
Export less food 3
Export less clothing 3
Export less household goods 2
Should not export to Germany 1
Miscellaneous answers 8
No opinion on Export policy 15
SAMPLE: 3,137

These figures show that whilst there is overall approval of export policy there are as many with doubts as there are who approve policy without qualification, and clearly the largest source of doubt, which in some is sufficient to lead to disapproval of export policy, is the belief that too much is being exported. If further steps were taken to increase the proportion who were well informed of the facts about exports this would dispel the major doubts of those who at the time of the inquiry approved, and it would incline those who at that time were opposed to support export policy. Ignorance of the amount exported, or of the proportion of total production which it forms, appears to be the major source of doubt about export policy, but the early part of the report has shown wide areas of ignorance which in their turn must make approval of policy unstable and uncertain.

This section has so far examined what may be called the considered opinion of the population on export policy. In general conversation however, when the whole export picture is being considered, it is quite likely that dissatisfaction with particular aspects of export policy may be sharper than has been recorded here. Thus asked whether “We should send the best things we make and keep the rest, or that we should keep the best and send the rest away” 17% of the sample thought we should keep the best. Only 3% said this when asked to say what were their points of disagreement with export policy as a whole.

Further evidence on this aspect of opinion on exports was collected from an early question put to informants. This simply asked what people thought about our sending goods out of the country and made no attempt to secure approval or disapproval or to direct people’s attention to any particular aspects of policy.

Table 13

What do you think about goods being sent to other countries?

Good thing. Quite right, Approve 13
It’s necessary. We must. 32
Necessary but would like to keep more 14
We are sending too much away. 12
Don’t agree with it, Should satisfy home market first 9
Must help starving countries 1
Miscellaneous answers 3
No opinion 16
SAMPLE: 3,137

Answers showing positive and unqualified approval were put in the first category. The second, “It’s necessary”, includes such answers as “We can’t live without exports”, “It’s the only thing we can do”, “We must, to pay for imports”. Answers classified in the third category expressed a similar point of view but with the qualification that rather too much was being sent.

The fourth group “We are sending too much away” covers answers which showed neither approval nor disapproval of the policy in general, and those expressing positive disapproval were placed in the fifth group.

It will be seen that 35% of the sample express the desire to “Keep more” in the country or to “satisfy the home market first”. Some of these however also, at the same time, accept the necessity for exporting and 21% say that too much is being sent without qualifying that remark by any recognition of the need for exports. This figure rises to 23% of housewives and is lowest in the professional and managerial group and amongst factory operatives.

59% expressed their recognition of the need for exports. This is somewhat lower than the proportion approving export policy when asked to indicate approval or disapproval. It fell to 49% of the lower economic group and 51% of housewives, and rose to 83% of the professional and managerial group and to 70% of the factory operatives.


Whilst a large proportion of the population (71%) are prepared, on consideration, to approve export policy, only 37% have no doubts or hesitations on the subject. The main reason for disapproval of export policy, or for doubts about it on the part of those who now approve, is the belief that too much is being sent out of the country. Approval of export policy is associated with knowledge of the facts and many of those who disapproved were ignorant of or confused about the facts. At the same time, many who were not clear in the facts approved export policy at the time of the inquiry. This shows that present approval is not altogether well founded, and when asked to express general opinions on the subject of sending goods out of the country, considerable proportions, rising to a quarter of all housewives, said that too much was being sent away without at the same time expressing any recognition of the need for exports.

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