HC Deb 06 August 1914 vol 65 cc2111-38

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


I really think there must be some misunderstanding about this. I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham only this minute whether this Bill was to be taken, and he said, "Certainly not." He understood it was not to be taken. If that is so, this is the last opportunity that we shall have for the discussion of matters of public moment.


The Third Reading!


I believe the Third Reading will be taken immediately afterwards.


It will not be taken to-day.


I do not press that point, but I should like to ask: Has the Vote we passed just now been reported, and would it not come into this Bill? I asked several authorities. One said one thing, and one said another. Do I understand that no attempt will be made to take the Third Reading of this Bill to-day?


On the Committee stage of this Bill to-morrow the Vote of Credit will be put in.


There seems to be still some doubt about it. My Noble Friend (Lord Edmund Talbot) has now come into the House, and I formally move the Adjourmment of this Debate in order that it may be made quite clear what the position is.


There is no necessity to move the Adjournment of the Debate. Discussion can take place upon the Second Reading. If the hon. Member moves the Adjournment, it would be necessary to confine the Debate to the Adjournment.


For the convenience of hon. Members, perhaps I may be allowed to mention that there seems to have been an understanding on this side of the House that the Second Reading of this Bill would not be taken to-day. If that is an erroneous view, and if the Government is proceeding in the matter with the usual communication between different sides of the House, as in all this business, I am sure nay hon. Friend does not desire to interrupt that arrangement.


What the right hon. Gentleman said is quite accurate. It was agreed we were to take the Second Reading to day, and not go further.


I called the attention of the House to the very grave omission—I hope not an intentional one—in the appeal just issued through the public Press for a fund towards the relief of distress. That appeal invites the public to send on its subscription to a central committee for the general relief of distress. I was very much surprised and disappointed that no special mention was made at all of any fund for the relief of the wives and families of our soldiers and sailors, nor for any fund for the relief of the widows and orphans of our soldiers and sailors. Had the precedent of the Transvaal War been followed an appeal would have been made through the Lord Mayor for a fund which would have been divided among the different societies which exist and have large machinery at their disposal for the relief of the families of our soldiers and sailors, and for the relief of the widows and orphans who will come, unfortunately, into being shortly after the war takes place, and a relief fund of that kind would have been established. On the occasion of the Transvaal War the Lord Mayor issued an appeal to the public and as a result of that appeal over £1,000,000 was subscribed for this purpose, of which £500,000 was placed at the disposal of the old Royal Patriotic Fund Commissioners. I speak in my capacity as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation, and it is part of our statutory duty to do everything we can to provide for the widows and orphans of our soldiers and sailors, and I should be neglecting my duty as Chairman of that Corporation if I did not call the attention of this House to the very urgent necessity of raising money for the relief of the widows and orphans who may be occasioned by the battles in which our troops must be engaged.

On the last occasion the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation assisted no less than 5,000 widows and 7,000 orphan children. There has been at the present no communication of any sort or kind between the Government and the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation of which I am Chairman. The only communication we have had is that they took our Royal Victoria Patriotic School as a hospital for troops. We gladly surrender it for that purpose, but, of course, we shall have to provide for the 300 girls who for the time cannot be educated in that establishment. I do not know what is in the mind of the Government. Yesterday, acting, as I think, upon my duty, I cabled to His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught, as President of the Royal Patriotic Corporation, asking him if he could not approach the Lord Mayor with a view of raising a similar fund as that raised on the occasion of the Transvaal War, and, putting myself in communication with the Lord Mayor of London, I was informed by the Lord Mayor that he could not on this occasion give any assistance, although he is a member of the Royal Patriotic Fund Committee, because the Government have forestalled us in our request for an appeal for public funds, and that the Government itself was going to undertake an appeal of this kind, and therefore, so I was informed, that fund ought to have precedence of any other fund. That may be wise or not, I have my own opinion, but what I want to know is whether the fund for which an appeal is made is to include the relief of those who will become widows and orphans by reason of this war.

It is really worth the while of the House to consider what is done for our soldiers and sailors on an occasion so lamentable as this. First of all, let me inform the House that until the Transvaal war no provision whatever was made for any allowance of any sort or kind for the widows and orphans of soldiers and sailors who died fighting for this country. That provision was made for the first time in 1901, and now what I would like to ask the Government is, whether the War Office will give a pension, and what sort of a pension, and on what scale they will give it, to the widows and orphans of those killed in battle? I particularly want to address this question to those in charge of the War Office. I want to know whether that pension will be given to the widows of those who have married off the strength as well as to the widows of those who have married on the strength, because, up to the present, the War Office always refused to give any pension for the relief of any widow or orphan of those who married off the strength, and therefore it has become the duty of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation to give equivalent pensions to the widows and orphans of those who married off the strength equal to those who married on the strength. In the case of men who die fighting the battles of the country, I think we might set aside discipline in this matter, and that their widows and orphans are entitled to our sympathy quite as much as the widows and orphans of men married on the strength. I hope the War Office will consider that. Let me acquaint the War Office of this fact: The Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation, owing to the great depreciation of its stocks and securities, has now no money at its disposal by which it can give this allowance to the widows and orphans of those who married off the strength. Neither has it further money at its disposal by which it can supplement the very inadequate allowance now given by the War Office for the widows and orphans of soldiers and sailors whether married off or on the strength. The pension is 5s. for a widow with an allowance of 1s. 6d. to 2s. for every child of a private soldier. That pension is far better than no pension at all, and it was only given for the first time in 1901. The Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation had always to supplement that pension by two or three shillings in order that a widow with very young children might be able to support herself and not to be sent into the workhouse.

As far as regards the widows of soldiers they are better cared for than before the Transvaal War. All that it was possible to give the wounded soldier, although totally disabled and unable to earn his living, was from 8d. to 1s. per day, that is, at the most, 7s a week, and we must recollect that many of these reservists when called up were earning as much as 40s. a week. Men returned from the Transvaal War so wounded or diseased that they were totally unable to earn a living. I was representing the Treasury at Chelsea Hospital for something like three years, and it was at my request that the Government raised that allowance to 1s. 6d. in case of partial disablement and 2s. 6d. in case of total disablement, that is 10s. 6d. a week for partial disablement and 17s. 6d. for total disablement. I think the House would like to know whether that scale prevails at the present time for wounded soldiers and sailors, of whom we must have many thousands before long. I come now to the third category, that is the wives and children of those who have been called up to the Colours. There is a society called the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. It has very large machinery at its disposal with something like 12,000 almoners, and it is desirous of doing all it can for the assistance of the wives and families of soldiers and sailors called up from their civil employment, but that society, like the other societies, wants money. It is true it is far better off than before the Transvaal War, because after that war we issued an appeal and we obtained certain sums of money which we put by as a nest-egg and it will be very useful for this war, but it will be necessary for that society to be supported by charitable funds, and I ask the Government when they make a general appeal and ask all those benevolently and charitably inclined to subscribe only to that fund, whether they will put aside a portion of that fund and place it at the disposal of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association in order that they may carry out that work which is very immediately required. No less than seventy letters came to the office this morning all asking for instructions and some for immediate assistance, as the homes were left practically destitute of money, the breadwinner having been called to his duty to join the general Reserve.

6.0 P.M.

These are all matters that require attention and immediate attention. For my own part I cannot help thinking that we ought to have allowed the first appeal to have been made for the wives and families and the widows and the orphans of those who go to fight our battles. I think they have the first claim upon charitable consideration, and that the first claim should have gone out on behalf of them. But if we have not been first in the field, I only hope that the case of those whose claims I advocate may not be in any way neglected, and that a good share of the funds will be placed at the disposal of the Royal Patriotic Corporation and the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association, so that they may distribute the Fund in accordance with the regular scale and rules which we have framed after long experience of these matters. I wish to say that I have been personally occupied in this work for over ten years, and this organisation have at their disposal very efficient machinery for the distribution of these funds. We have accumulated a very large amount of experience, and we have very seldom been found fault with. Besides money, there are so many other ways of assisting these wives, and widows, and orphans. For instance, there are schools in which to place the children, and ways of apprenticing the boys and girls, and all kinds of things which we can do through that committee, which really has at heart their interest and welfare. It would be a great pity if the machinery which has been doing such good work for so many years should not be utilised. The Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation is a statutory body with representatives of the War Office, the Admiralty, the Treasury, and the county council upon it. I think that body should be encouraged to do its duty towards those who may fall in this war, just the same as was done during the last war.


While I desire to support the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham, I wish to ask those who represent the Army and the Navy Departments to realise that the wives and children of many of these men require immediate assistance. In one place alone that I have heard of there are at least 3,000 families who will not have any of father's money coming in this week. If the Government could publicly announce the provision which they are making for these people it would be a very good thing.


I raised this question earlier in the Debate, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested that I should deal with it later on. I now take this opportunity of again asking what the Government intend to do with reference to the pay of the Reservists and provision for their wives and children. These men are entitled to 1s. 1d. per day, or 7s. 7d. per week. As hon. Members know, during the Boer War county associations were formed to augment the Government allowance. Here a question of principle arises. I maintain that it is not the duty of the Government to ask for charity for the purpose of looking after the wives and children of the men who have gone to the front. It is the duty of the Government to provide sufficient funds so that the wives and children of these men should be maintained in a state of citizenship while their husbands are fighting at the front. It must be better for the State to take up that duty rather than make an appeal for subscriptions to the public at large, for, although the public are extremely generous in these matters, there are always a certain number who never subscribe to any good office, and, after all, Parliament more or less endeavours to put the burden of taxation upon those best able to bear it. Therefore, I hope the Under-Secretary will see his way to inform the House that this allowance of 1s. 1d. per day will be increased to such an amount as will enable the wives and dependants of these men to live comfortably. There is one other question which has arisen during the course of this war, and that is the publishing of false news, which has become a perfect scandal. Reports appear in the Press from hour to hour stating that victories or otherwise have been achieved by British arms or French arms, and the majority of these reports turn out to be absolutely devoid of foundation. Really the Government ought to take some steps in this matter. I do not know what powers the Government have in regard to suppressing these lying organs which spread this false information. These rumours, once set going, spread very rapidly, and cause intense irritation to the public.

The object of all this is to sell the papers and make money by publishing false information. I would like the Department concerned with this matter to bring before the attention of the Law Officers of the Crown the fact that these papers are sold in London, stamped 6.30, and they can be bought in the suburbs at 4.15. This is done merely for the purpose of obtaining money, and the best thing for the Government to do would be to take the public into their confidence in these matters. Nobody wishes to have any information made public which it is not in the public interest to give, but I hope my hon. Friend who represents the War Office will see his way during this time of national stress to furnish to the post offices throughout the United Kingdom a statement of all the official information which comes to the Government Departments, which it is of public interest to disclose, for this would give great satisfaction to the public. After all, this is what they are entitled to demand from the Government. They have a right to demand that they should be furnished with the most accurate and latest information as to the news coming from the seat of war. I would like to call the attention of the Home Secretary to the fact that at two o'clock this morning people were crying papers for sale in the street which contained false information. The public are simply being robbed by these dishonest newspapers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Name!"] They are all very much in the same boat. I ask the Under-Secretary to furnish to the public at the earliest possible moment all the information which comes to his Department, and more particularly that applying to the Admiralty. There appears to have been several small minor engagements in which we have been successful, but this lying Press marks every message official, whether it is or not. Therefore I hope the Admiralty will take some steps to see that the first information which it will be safe to disclose in the public interest will be furnished to all the post offices. The representatives of the Government ought not to forget that in the country districts where the people have not facilities for obtaining this information the anxiety is equally great, and they would be doing a great public service if they would take into consideration the suggestion I have made.


I should like to say a word or two in support of the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham has made as to the necessity of the existing organisation being utilised. The notice which appeared in the Press this morning led some people to suppose that that course was intended. I am sure the Government will be ready to recognise that these organisations have already got a number of people who have information and experience in these matters, and they would be most useful in carrying out this great work. I should like to support the appeal which has been made on behalf of the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association. Perhaps that is the most urgent need at the present moment. We have already received notice of hardships arising through the bread-winner of the family being called out as a Reservist or a Territorial, and some particularly hard cases have been brought to my notice in London. In the case of the men receiving 7s. 7d. per week in pay, which has been referred to by my hon. Friend, the money is hardly enough in some cases to pay the rent. I hope the Government will recognise the necessity of having some central fund, and I hope they will not completely ignore existing organisations which has done such useful work in the past, and are only too willing at the present moment to place their services at the disposal of the Government.


I want to ask a question in regard to the powers of the Committee of which the President of the Local Government Board is the Chairman. My question has special reference to relief in Scotland. Let me say for the benefit of the representatives of the Government, if he is not already aware of it, that the law in Scotland is different from that of England, being much more stringent and hard, and the authorities cannot relieve a person if he is able-bodied, and he must be destitute. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. A damson) and myself have been asked to raise this matter, and we were told that we should raise it through the hon. Member for Leicester. We have consulted him as to the powers of the Committee of which the right hon. Gentleman is Chairman, and he has told us that the powers of the Committee are not limited by the general law, and a similar opinion has been expressed by the Secretary for Scotland. All we want is that the people of Scotland shall not be under any misapprehension in this matter, and I shall be exceedingly obliged if the right hon. Gentleman will state if it is a fact that the powers of the Committee are sufficiently ample to cover the point which I have just raised.


I would like to ask if any provision has been made for the dependents of the Reservists in the Navy. I think it is a fact that the Army Reservists have had provision made for them, but the Naval Reservists are unprovided for at the present time. If something is not done, the local committees which are coming into operation may be placed in a difficulty. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make some announcement to this House to the effect that the wives and children of the Reservists in the Navy, as well as in the Army, may be provided for, for such a statement as that would be very much appreciated in the country. A statement made a week or so before these committees get to work would tend to relieve a good deal of the anxiety which exists at the present time.


I wish to support the appeal of my hon. Friend the Member for the Mansfield Division (Sir A. Mark-ham). I trust that the Government will see to it that the wives and families of Reservists do not have to fall back upon charity. If another man goes out and fights for me, I am quite willing to pay and see that his wife and family whom he leaves behind him are kept from the stigma of charity. The man who has the courage to go out to fight is just the type of man who hates charity, and I do think that this nation, which has just asked for a Vote of Credit of £100,000,000, should see to it that the dependants of these men do not fall into the hands of any charitable institutions whatever.


The whole subject as to the wives and children of Reservists who have gone to serve their country, and subsequently as to widows and orphans—the whole subject of what appeals should be made to the public charity, how those moneys should be divided, and how they should be dealt, with, is an exceedingly important one. Whilst I have a very great regard and respect for the Royal Patriotic Society and also for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Fund, I may say that during the Boer War we in Liverpool found that those funds were entirely inadequate to deal with the cases of Reservists' wives and children, and widows and orphans. There were ladies who devoted several days and weeks for a long time on behalf of both of those societies, but their operations were restricted and hampered in almost every direction by the most stupid red-tape, and by the regulations of both those soceties, particularly after the Royal Patriotic was altered and became a sort of State institution. We do not want the administration, either of such funds or of public money voluntarily subscribed, to be hampered by any stupid restrictions of any-kind or description. If a man residing in London is called to the Colours, and his wife and children feel obliged to go and live in Manchester, we do not want that poor woman to be forced to come to London to get the few shillings to which she is entitled. That is the sort of difficulty which arose on the last occasion. The whole subject should be carefully and properly investigated at this stage. The Royal Patriotic Society, on whose behalf my right hon. Friend made such a moving appeal, has got a splendid organisation in a great many districts. There are ladies who are very well experienced in these matters, and they visit all these cases and see that the poor women and children get the proper relief to which they are entitled. I would suggest that the War Office and Admiralty should form a small Committee and get the co-operation of the Royal Patriotic Society and the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Society, and supplement that by the assistance of those locally who have been found so willing both to give money and to see to the proper administration of these funds. Organisation and co-operation are required. There ought to be no question as between one society and another, or one form of administration of this money and another, or as to either getting the fund or distributing it. It ought to be done in a proper organised manner.


I should just like to ask one or two questions as an employer of labour on a large scale. My own firm is deciding how to treat men who are Reservists and Territorials. We should like, and I think all employers would like, to know as speedily as possible what terms the Government are going to give the families of these men. I was very glad to see the other day that one large retail firm in London are going to pay half wages to all their married men who go away to the war, but we shall have to have machinery for discrimination. Some married men have children able to keep their parents. I would therefore strongly put in a word for some efficient machinery of discrimination between those married with children and those who do not require assistance. It is very important that there should be local machinery of discrimination, so that those really dependent should have the best terms. I would also like to ask another question. It will not interest-many people, but it is a question which arises in the case of some of us who have not motor cars. I have a couple of horses. The Government are going to take one of my horses. [Cheers.] Everybody approves of that. Supposing I get another, are they going to take that? If so, what am I to do? [An HON. MEMBER: "Go on getting them!"] The Government are taking most of the cab horses in my town. My next-door neighbour has to ride up the hills. I take him sometimes in my carriage. My carriage is too heavy for one horse. I would like to ask the Government whether they are going to go on taking horses, or whether I may be allowed along with my neighbour to join in one pair. I only want to know for the benefit of horse owners, and more particularly for the sake of delicate people who cannot walk. I have a practicable suggestion to make as regards this false news business. I do not know whether there is a law which provides for it, but we are giving the Government very large powers now, and I would very respectfully suggest, if it can be done, that the publisher of any false news should be called upon to show why he publishes such news. There should be an obligation imposed on those who spread about big lies and make people very anxious and cause disturbance to trade to show cause why they publish them. They should not be allowed to publish big lies and then go scot free.

Captain JESSEL

There is just one point on the question of the pay of Reservists and the money for their wives while they are abroad which I should like to ask. There are a great many Reservists in the employ of public bodies. They have at present no legal power to pay them while they are away. They can pay, but they run the risk of being surcharged. The local authorities did take this course during the Boer war, and they were not surcharged. I do not suppose that they will be this time, but we should like to have a statement from the President of the Local Government Board that this is perfectly legal. We should like to know for the guidance of local authorities throughout the country what ought to be the proper scale of pay. It is very absurd that one local authority, because it happens to be better off than another, should have one scale of pay and another local authority a less scale of pay. There ought to be some advice given on this point. I would like to ask the Government whether they would lay down a general scale for the men in their own employ who are Reservists, so that it might be some guidance to the local authorities. I have put down a question on the paper, and I did not want to bother the President of the Local Government Board to give me an oral answer, but I thought, as the Debate was now on this subject, that it would be convenient perhaps for him to answer the question, and also to state whether he would be inclined to give the local authorities some guidance as to what they ought to do, so that we might have an equitable scale throughout the country for the men who have been called up either for the Army or the Navy.


I desire to support the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes). I would also like to draw the attention of the President of the Local Government Board to the fact that the co-operative societies, which are largely engaged in the distribution of food, are having their horses and their motor cars taken charge of by the military authorities. We have just received a telegram intimating that fact, and, as these horses and motor-cars are largely used in the distribution of food, I think the matter ought to be seriously taken into consideration.


I should like to say one word on the subject of the horses. I know there have been difficulties in the town, but just for the time being there are still greater difficulties in the country districts owing to the tendency, of which I believe the right hon. Gentleman does not approve, of impressing horses which are now being used on the farms for harvesting purposes. I am quite sure the House will agree with me that there is no more important national service you can perform to-day than to have the present harvest carried through properly and satisfactorily. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough in answer to a question yesterday to say that the military authorities were going to be as sparing as they could in insisting upon taking horses on the farms used either for harvesting purposes or other purpose's. During the last forty-eight hours a very large number of horses, particularly in the Eastern counties, have, in fact, been taken by the authorities, although they were actually employed in harvesting operations. There is no more patriotic body of men in the country than the British farmer, and I am quite sure that they are quite prepared to suffer such sacrifices as other sections of the community will have to suffer, but it is in the best interests of the community that our harvest should be got in. It should be borne in mind that a large number of men are now being called up as Reservists, and owing to this fact and to the embodiment of the Territorial Force, farm labour is being to a great extent depleted. It is, therefore, most essential for the next fortnight or three weeks that horses should remain on the farm for the purpose of harvesting, and, what is almost as important, afterwards for putting in seed as soon as the land is cleared, so as to obtain another crop at the earliest possible moment.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)

I will entirely associate myself with the hon. Member as to the desirability of getting in the harvest of this country. It seems to me that it is of the utmost importance that we should gather in our crop. I can assure my hon. Friends who have spoken on this point that inquiries will be made into the matter, and specially into the Norfolk case. I can only repeat that horses of this character are a very small part of the requirements of the Army, and therefore I had hoped—and I regret my hope has not been fulfilled—that there would be no dislocation of business and that no difficulty would be caused by the impressment of this particular class of horse. But with regard to light draught horses, such as have been alluded to, I may point out that they must be acquired in larger numbers. I can, however, promise that investigation shall be made into any grievances which may be brought to my notice, and, perhaps, hon. Members will give me more definite information with regard to actual occurrences.


May I ask what kind of motor cars the War Office are requiring to take at the present time?


I have not come to that. I was dealing with horses. Our requirements in the matter of motor cars have not yet been decided upon. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) mentioned three points—Reservists, wounded soldiers returning home, and the widows and orphans of those killed in action.


Also the wives of men who married not on the strength.


I had no notice that these questions were going to be raised, and therefore I have not such full information as I could have wished.


I was unable to give the right hon. Gentleman notice, because I only became aware a short time ago that I would have an opportunity of introducing this subject. I did not know that we were going to take the Appropriation Bill.


I am not making complaint that no notice was given, I am simply apologising for not being able to give that full information which I could have wished. The right hon. Gentleman stated that, in 1901, grants were first given by the State to this class of widow, and that therefore it is a modern acceptance and acknowledgment of the responsibility of the State to the wives of soldiers who have fallen in action. I think I may claim some sympathy for the War Office in respect of the difficulty in which we stand with regard to money—


After you have got £100,000,000?


We are constantly brought face to face with the fact that these non-effective Votes are eating into the Estimates, and that is a phase of Army administration in which I should like to elicit the sympathy of the House. We very often want to spend more money on effective machinery for war, but are hampered by the large sums demanded for non-effective Votes. Still, I shall be prepared to recognise the obligation of the State to make as full provision as it can afford for those who have been dependent on men who have fallen in action.


Does the right hon. Gentleman include the dependants of men who married off the strength?


I am speaking generally. I am unable to say whether after this war is over, or during the progress of this war, provision will be made for the wives of soldiers off the strength, but I should like to point to the fact that the Prime Minister particularly laid stress on the fact that part of the £100,000,000 voted to-day may be appropriated to cases of real distress, and that Committees under the supervision of the President of the Local Government Board will have the distribution of these funds. I should like to say further that I do not wish to state anything which would discourage the most patriotic efforts made by the right hon. Gentleman himself and one or two great societies of which he is a member—the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation and the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, the latter of which, I may add, will be represented on the Local Mayor's Committees under the scheme of my right hon. Friend.


Will not the Royal Patrotic Fund Corporation also be represented?


Not so far as I am advised, but my right hon. Friend will make a statement later on in regard to that. I should like, in passing, to say how greatly the Government always appreciate the services of these two great bodies, and I do not wish to utter a syllable which will prevent them renewing their efforts in the same direction and continuing that admirable administration which in the past has been productive of so much benefit. My hon. Friend the Member for Radcliffe (Mr. Theodore Taylor) asked me about the question of the disssemination of false news. That is really not the business of the War Office. It is more a Home Office question, but I will certainly put myself in communication with the Postmaster-General to see if we cannot have some scheme for issuing real and true news. I shall give all the assistance I can in it?


With regard to the dissemination of false news, an hon. Member opposite suggested that the Government should take action of some sort against newspapers which publish false news. Speaking as a former editor of a London newspaper, this is a matter in which I have some interest and some knowledge of, and I can assure hon. Members that no reputable newspaper willingly publishes false news. If the country, or the Government, or the House wish to put pressure upon newspapers and still more to subject them to penalties for publishing reports which turn out to be false, then, as far as I understand the position, they will have to make their choice between the present system of leaving it to the discretion of reputable newspapers to take the best means of publishing true news, or else they must submit to having no news published whatever except such as bears the official imprimatur—news which will be subject to a rigid censorship by the Government. Let me give an example of the difficulty which has to be faced. You may see in the newspapers: "It is reported from Hull that heavy firing was heard this morning in the North Sea." The newspaper publishes it, and it turns out, in the end, that it was a thunderstorm. Does the hon. Member suggest that the publication of that report, which in itself was perfectly true, for the noise that was heard was suspected to be firing, is to render the newspaper which publishes it open to reproof or to make it subject to a penalty?


I raised this question. The papers have published full reports that a "Dreadnought" had been sunk and eight ships captured. They have given many particulars, whereas there was no truth in the report at all.


I do not know to what newspaper the hon. Member referred. But if he will take the trouble to read the newspapers carefully he will find that as a rule the information given is given under reserve, or it is given in such a way as to suggest to the discriminating reader that he should take it with reserve. The words used are, "A report reaches us," or, "It is reported" from some reputable quarter that such and such a thing has occurred. How is a newspaper printed in London or Manchester to be in a position to say, in advance, "whether the news it publishes is true or not? Is it under any obligation to withhold from the public the fact that certain reports are current until they have ascertained from the Admiralty itself, whether they are well-founded?


There is no suggestion of reserve in the placards or Contents Bills.


I am dealing with the newspapers, not with the placards. It must be remembered that a great number of nations are now engaged in war, and there will be vast amounts of news accumulating at the various capitals. I hold that it is the obvious duty of the newspapers to let the public know, not merely what they are aware of from their own knowledge or from official information, but what people in different parts of Europe are reporting as having occurred. Obviously if they do not do that we shall be left without any information at all. A correspondent in Brussels may have a telegram from Vienna with regard to something which has occurred in Servia. It may or may not be true. The newspaper cannot possibly exercise discretion as to that. It can only say, "It is reported," and the discriminating reader v ill be able to exercise his own judgment and will know that he must take the news with some reserve, and must await official confirmation before accepting it as undoubtedly true. Yesterday we had an account in the newspapers of the checking of the German advance by Belgians in the neighbourhood of Liege. Some of us did not accept that report as absolutely true, and desired to see it confirmed before so doing. I understand the news has now been confirmed. But these reports will be constantly flying about, and it is not always possible to await official confirmation before publishing them. In case the President of the Local Government Board proposes to reply, I should like to refer to a question much more important than the dissemination of false news. I wish to ask whether the Government have, or propose to take, any power for controlling the publication in our Press of news regarding the movements of troops or of ships. Most Foreign Governments possess and exercise that power. I do not think the reputable papers of this country are likely to be so unpatriotic as to publish information of that sort, but there are some papers which might, and I think it would be an advantage to the public and to the country, as well as to the reputable part of the Press, if the Government would exercise some supervision over the publication of news which might be to the national disadvantage.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. McKinnon Wood)

I should like to reply to a point raised by the hon. Members for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) and the Black-friars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes). They have stated perfectly correctly that there is a difference between the Poor Laws of Scotland and of England. My hon. Friend the Member for the Black-friars Division was good enough to mention the matter to me, and I have been thinking about it this afternoon. On the whole, I think the answer to it is that this Committee would have a much wider scope than the Poor Law. The Poor Law authorities are merely one of the agencies which will be essential. As at present advised, I do not think it is advisable that we should deal with the question through the Poor Law authorities, because we want to have as little pauperisation and as little of the Poor Law in the matter as possible. My idea is that the Poor Law authorities should deal with the paupers, as they do at present, and that the relief of distress outside that sphere should be as far as possible relieved from pauperisation. I hope my hon. Friend will think that answer satisfactory. I do not think I need dwell upon the matter further, because the President of the Local Government Board as Chairman of the Advisory Committee, will give some particulars as to the scope and intention of that body.


Perhaps I may be allowed to answer the questions put to me. First of all, as to how the wives and children of the Reservists will get on when the men have been mobilised and anything happens to them in the course of the war. We have regulations existing now with regard to pensions and allowances for the wives and children, and gratuities to parents and to other relatives of Marines and other persons, partly maintained out of the Greenwich Hospital Fund and added to by grants of various kinds. Those regulations continue. I shall immediately ask the House to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will cover the case of civilians who may be afloat and exposed to war risks, such as men engaged in the coaling of the Fleet, so that they will be covered by the regulations, Being afloat and in this service they would not be, as the ordinary civilian workman would be, under the Workmen's Compensation Act. With regard to the question of the wives and children of Reservists now mobilised, the position is this: Reservists on mobilisation receive a month's pay. Possibly in some cases—the procedure is so rapid and events march so quickly that it cannot be many—a man may be in a position to hand that money on his going to his wife. He can continue to make remittances, for which we offer every facility. Further, he can make a declaration of desire to make regular monthly allotments. It is interesting to note that already quite a large number of these men who have been mobilised in the last few days have sent in notice of their desire to make allotments from their monthly pay to the wives and children. I went into the matter very fully this morning because of a private notice question sent by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mildmay). I do not think we can do very much under our Regulations as they stand, but I shall certainly explore the matter further at once, because the least we can do is to care for the relatives of those men who are fighting. I will certainly consult my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, who is the Chairman of the Advisory Committee, to see whether he can, wherever necessary, assist the cases of women and children who seem in need of assistance.

With regard to the question of the publication of reliable and early news, the Postmaster-General said to-day that he was considering the best method of providing information at all post offices, so that all important news affecting the public may be disseminated as widely as possible. I will immediately confer with him on that, and see if we can send to him, as often as may be, such official statements as we can, which will be official and reliable, for publication through the post offices. As regards the publication of premature information regarding the movements of fleets and troops to the prejudice of the public interest, I should like to say that we are in touch with the Press, and it is only due to the Press to say that it has behaved quite admirably and patriotically in respect to the premature publication of the movements of fleets and troops, which would obviously be disastrous to the public interest. After the comments which have been made, I need not say, whether rightly or wrongly, about the publication of false news, it is only due to the Press that in the matter of keeping out of the newspapers anything which might be prejudicial to our affairs, the Press has behaved quite well.


I am aware of that, and I think I did say that all respectable newspapers were to be trusted in this matter. They are the people, above all others, who would like to have some kind of regulation which would put less reputable newspapers on the same footing as themselves, so that a newspaper which was not actuated by patriotic motives should be prevented from publishing news which another paper might have in the office and yet patriotically keep out of the paper.


May we have a statement as to the amount of money the Reservist is going to receive?


As to the suggested discrimination between newspapers, I should be very sorry to think that there would be any newspaper which would publish news injurious to the forces of the Crown. As to the question raised by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Crooks), so far as we are concerned we have no separation allowance in the Navy. The sailor gets it in pay. I can let the hon. Member have the rates of pay for the different grades, but I do not know how much a man would set aside by the method of allotment to his wife. The number of sailors who do make allotments to their wives and their dependent relatives is very large, it is no less than £75,000 a month. It is interesting to note that already the men who were recently mobilised are sending in asking that all the machinery should be set going which will enable them to allot their pay.


In answer to the question put to me by the hon. Member for South St. Pancras (Captain Jessel), with respect to the power of local authorities to provide for the wives of the men who have been in the employment of those authorities, the local authorities have the power to provide for the families of such men at their discretion, and the members of those authorities are not liable to surcharge. Perhaps it would be more convenient to the House if, instead of answering specific questions, I were to give very briefly a conspectus of the work now being done by the Government with a view to the prevention and relief of distress. The first desirable step is to use every means in our power to prevent unemployment, to keep the ordinary industries going, and to leave men in their present situations. I am glad to think that very many manufacturers and traders throughout the country are patriotically using their utmost efforts, even at some loss to themselves, to keep their mills and works going, and, if they have to restrict employment, to do it by means of working shorter time rather than by dismissing a proportion of the workpeople. From a national point of view, the best thing that the Government can do to maintain our national trade during this time of stress is to keep open the sea, and the Navy is fully alive to the primary importance of maintaining the security of our trade routes. The establishment of the system of Government insurance against war risks is also calculated to enable many of our trades to continue their normal operations. The House and the country will no doubt bear in mind that although our commerce on the Continent of Europe is to a large extent necessarily stopped, on the other hand the commerce from the Continent of Europe to the rest of the world is also stopped, and that our trade is likely to receive in the near future a great stimulus in its operations in Asia, Africa, and America through the cessation of the competition to which our traders are subject from the Continent of Europe.

However, it is certain that, to some extent at least, unemployment is likely to ensue in the near future. Next to the prevention of unemployment, the best course is to provide new and alternative means of employment; that is better than relief. To that end the various agencies have already been called into action. The Road Board has at its disposal a reserve fund of some millions accumulated against a time of emergency, which can be realised and spent upon new works which would give employment to considerable bodies of labour. The Bill which has just passed through Parliament to enable a great new road to be made out of London to the West may provide, also, an opportunity for quickly constructing works which will give employment to considerable bodies of labour. The Road Board are now engaged considering these matters. The Development Commission also has considerable funds at its disposal, again with a view to utilising them in a time of emergency such as this. They are now actively engaged in formulating schemes, and the various Government Departments are considering what works can be put into operation—the Office of Works, for example. The Post Office has lately passed a measure through Parliament to enable a tube railway to be made through London. I believe that in the near future the Postmaster-General may be in a position to take actual steps for the carrying out of that work, and giving a considerable volume of employment.

7.0 P.M.

At my request the Central Unemployment Body of London is considering what schemes can be rapidly put into operation, and the distress committees throughout the country have been summoned by the Local Government Board to meet with a view to planning relief work. Further, all the local authorities have been requested to take into immediate consideration the improvements in their localities that may employ labour. Therefore, by every means in our power we are inducing the responsible authorities, who are very willingly responding, to make plans for the execution of works which will give employment to considerable bodies of labour. These works will not, of course, be put into operation until the necessity arises, but they must be planned in advance, and steps are actually being taken in these days with that end in view. The third group of measures, which are receiving the attention of the Government, is the provision of relief to women and children, and to individuals for whom work cannot be provided. It has already been announced that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is about to issue an appeal for a national fund. That appeal will be made under the auspices of the Government Committee, and an announcement will very shortly be made as to the method of collection. I think the House will agree that it is most undesirable to have a multiplicity of funds competing with one another, and therefore the public are urged to contribute to this national fund, which will use the resources at its disposal for the benefit of all proper objects requiring assistance. The Board of Education is requesting the Education Authorities to see to the feeding of school children under the powers conferred upon them by the Act which has passed Parliament within the last few days. The Poor Law is being kept rather in reserve, and all other methods will first be adopted before we fall back upon that last line of defence.

Lastly, with respect to the organisation of these methods. At the centre a small Advisory Committee has been formed under my chairmanship, which contains among its members the Secretary for Scotland and the Chief Secretary for Ireland, representing those countries, and various of my colleagues in the Cabinet, and which also has the advantage of the co-operation of my right hon. Friend, who for so many years was President of the Local Government Board, and who until lately was President of the Board of Trade, and whose loss as a member of the Government we all deeply regret, but we are fortunate in having the assistance of his long experience in matters of relief work, which he has readily placed at our disposal. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walter Long), who was also for many years President of the Local Government Board, is actively assisting us, and the leader of the Labour Party is co-operating as well. This Committee is an Advisory Committee only. It will have no powers of its own, it will merely seek to co-ordinate all the various agencies, and see that there is no overlapping, and give guidance and advice to the Departments and Authorities concerned. In the various localities of the country the mayors and chairmen of county councils have already been asked at once to form committees with a view to the distribution of the funds collected by the Prince of Wales's organisation. This committee will contain representatives of the town councils or county councils, of the boards of guardians, distress committees, charitable agencies, trade unions, and other bodies experienced in matters of distress. The mayors and chairmen have been specially asked to include among the members of the committees representatives of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, so that the work of that body shall be coordinated with the other relief measures. Further, they have been asked in all cases to see that women are included in the membership of their committee. In the Metropolis the mayors of the boroughs will be called upon to take similar action. They will be asked to work in very close touch with the distress committees which already exist, and to use, as far as possible, the machinery and the experience of those bodies. The Government is taking actively all measures in its power to deal efficiently with the great task which may perhaps confront us in the near future, but if any members, or any organisation outside, will be good enough to send suggestions or advice as to measures to be taken, I can only say that my Committee will receive them gratefully and adopt them wherever practicable.


Most of the information which the President of the Local Government Board has given us will, I am sure, commend itself to the House at large. We are all glad to hear that already so-many steps have been taken in the right direction for the purpose of meeting a national difficulty, but I wish to offer one or two criticisms, not by way of adverse criticism, but by way of encouragement and in order to assist the work which has been undertaken. First of all, I think the right hon. Gentleman has drawn, or apparently intends to draw, too little on-some of the organisations which at present exist. I should like to have heard him mention the Charity Organisation Society in the various districts, which, from my own experience, is often able to guide relief of distress into proper channels, and I hope that in the recommendation which he sends out—because I am quite sure he spoke without wishing to make a complete catalogue of all he was going to do, or perhaps he omitted it by reason of haste, and not having time to think of it—he will include the Charity Organisation Society as a very valuable channel through which to obtain suitable information for the purpose of the relief of distress. Then, with regard to trade unions, I do not know whether he used that expression as a comprehensive method of describing friendly societies, because I should certainly have liked to see some representatives of those bodies on all the local advisory committees, because they are certainly able to give very valuable information, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take that into account.

Also upon the Central Committee, that is the chief Committee, I hope he will add names which are not merely well known in the sphere of politics, but a great many other names. I am glad to think that he has availed himself of one distinguished Member who sits upon the Front Opposition Bench, but I cannot help thinking that in the catalogue of names that he gave us of the Advisory Committee there are a great number of persons, quite outside the sphere of politics, who ought to be placed upon the Central Advisory Committee, and I hope he will go outside politics, and not merely ask for the assistance of distinguished Members, past and present, of the Cabinet to assist him, and some Members of the House, but that he will also go outside among other bodies. I should like to have heard that not only locally, but upon the Central Advisory Committee, he had sought the assistance of one or other of the two bodies which are represented here by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hayes Fisher). Some representative from this body would do very good work upon the Advisory Committee, for they must have in their possession information, and detailed information, which would form a very good start for the Advisory Committee itself. Lastly, there is one matter which the right hon. Gentleman did not touch upon, and which we have been really waiting to hear more about, and that is the question of the widows. I understand that the relief that he is going to disseminate will be given to the wives and families of those who have their bread winners at present either actually at the war or in the Reserve, but he did not indicate that he was going to take the case of the widows into consideration. I do not want a particular class to fall between two stools. We have had three right hon. Gentlemen speaking to us to-night. We have had the representative of the War Office, the representative of the Admiralty, and the representative of the Local Government Board. Several of us have made an appeal for a class which does not really belong to the consideration of either of these great Departments. I speak of men who have married off the strength, who are not recognised either by the Navy or by the Army, and who may be absolutely in want because they are not recognised by the military and naval organisations, and who may also not be within the ambit of the scheme of relief which the right hon. Gentleman has indicated.

Nay, more! If these married women should become widows, it seems to me very probable that they will fall absolutely between the three Departments, and the Local Government Board will say, "That is a matter for the Army"; the Army will say, "No, you married off the strength, therefore we cannot give you any assistance"; and equally that would be the answer of the Navy. We must really recognise that it is a very grievous case which must be met. What does happen? At present a certain number of men are married off the strength. We all know what human nature is, and we may all respect the great number of men who are in the ranks and marry off the strength. Are we to be told that because they have not been fortunate in securing the consent, which, after all, is very limited, of the officer commanding the regiment to their marriage, their widows are to be placed in a less fortunate position than if they had been fortunate enough to have an opportunity of getting that concession? That is an injustice which this House will not tolerate, and I am quite sure that we must ask one of this triumvirate who have addressed us this afternoon to say that they will really take this matter into their consideration. One of the boroughs which I represent is a very large military centre for the Midland district, and this is a matter in which I have a very particular interest, and I say now, and I am sure I say it with the assent of all Members in all parts of the House, who directly or indirectly are greatly interested in this matter, that we must not allow this injustice to happen in this war although it has happened in the past. Our experience ought to prevent us from ever allowing it again.


I wish to ask whether loans obtained by these local bodies from the Local Government Board will be on the terms they are accustomed to or whether the duration will be extended?


I wish to ask one question, which I think the right hon. Gentleman omitted to give us any information about. He talked about getting information as to how much extra employment the Road Board and Development Fund and various local public bodies were able to give, but he did not say whether he was going to ascertain, which I think is rather an important point, how much extra employment private individuals would be able to promise in the case of emergency. I think the local committees in various counties would be able to find that out for him when they are appointed, and I think he will probably find that a large number of people would state that if necessary, and they were called upon, they would be prepared to spend so much on certain work on their own estate or on some public work connected with their own home. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has taken that into consideration, though he did not mention it.


I wish to reinforce the claim made by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Pollock) on behalf of those who are married off the strength. Would the right hon. Gentleman remember that there is no separation allowance for those married off the strength. The question therefore arises immediately—this week—and next week it will be more and more pressing, so that they have really a very special claim upon any public fund—not charitable fund—that is got up to meet the gaps in organisation which at present exist. I have not the least doubt that if time had permitted, the regulations under which people are now married off the strength of the Army would be altered. We have almost a pledge by the Government to make some alterations, but it will not be possible in all probability to make them in the present circumstances. Therefore it is the more necessary that any public funds which are got up should not forget that it is a weekly allowance that these women will be requiring.


The question of interest on loans to local authorities is one really for the Public Works Loans Commissioners. These loans are made by them, and not by the Local Government Board. The Public Works Loans Commissioners act in consultation with the Treasury. I am, however, in communication with the Treasury on the point. I regret that I am not in a position to-day to make any statement on their behalf. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. Bridgeman) for the suggestion he made with regard to additional employment by private individuals. That will be a matter for the local authorities to deal with. That answer to some extent applies to the question asked by the hon. and learned Member behind me. The Central Committee is a kind of enlarged Cabinet Committee. It is not intended to administer relief itself. It is to advise and guide the local authorities throughout the country, and it is to them we look for the actual distribution of relief in connection with the measures to deal with unemployment. But I will say that the suggestion of the hon. Member will be borne in mind We are communicating with the various authorities throughout the country.


I am not quite certain whether the question of the Trade Unions who are administering the unemployment insurance funds is before the House, but I wish the right hon. Gentleman to make arrangements so that those who have been paying benefit out of their funds may have remittances as often as possible through the Board of Trade. Some societies are kept waiting a long time, and I wish the Board of Trade to see that the money is remitted weekly or monthly to those societies. In the building trade there have been considerable demands on the funds, and they cannot afford to wait too long for the money due to them from the Board of Trade. I wish the right hon. Gentleman to expedite matters in that direction.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill to be considered To-morrow.