HC Deb 08 August 1914 vol 65 cc2230-4

May I refer again to a point which I raised at Question time? I wish to impress on my right hon. Friend the absolute necessity, in regard to a military censorship, of having it supplemented by journalistic experience. Persons engaged in newspaper offices deal with a large amount of news by cable, and it requires great promptitude, great intelligence and very considerable training. Owing largely to the necessities of the case this Department—I am not speaking of the Department over which presides the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith)—ought not to be left entirely to military men. I think that they require to be supplemented by trained journalistic experience. Last night I endeavoured to send a cablegram to the United States, which revealed no military secrets, but dealt with the ordinary political aspects of the situation in this country. And there are scores of other journalists in London who are in constant communication with their newspapers on the other side of the Atlantic. There is also a large number of business men whose daily occupation is to be in cable communication with the United States. I am afraid that if this difficult work is left entirely in the hands of the military gentlemen, there will be a great deal of unnecessary delay, and a great deal of unnecessary friction. I would suggest to the Government that the military censor or censors should have the assistance of trained journalists, in order to prevent pressure and interruption of communication between this country and the United States.


I wish to support the few words that have fallen from the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). There is no censorship in this country as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it does not exist, and it seems to me that what has taken its place is not working, and cannot be expected to work with great efficiency. The officers sent to discharge this duty are not men trained, as my hon. Friend says, to handle news and other literary matter quickly, and they raise technical objections which there is no great object in enforcing. For example, I can give the right hon. Gentleman an instance which occurred a few nights ago, where telegrams were stopped because a foreign correspondent sent them under a surname which is identical with a common Christian name in this country. I do not say that was not an accident which could not have been prevented under the rules which were laid down for the guidance of the officers in question. I am not blaming them. I say this red tape is a mistake, and it could be avoided if men of trained capacity accustomed to dealing with news, like journalists or others who have had the same sort of experience, were introduced either in substitution for the military officers, or in addition to the military officers. If that were done, then there would be greater case in working the machinery, which must of course be liable to friction, and which it is most necessary should be adapted as quickly as possible to public requirements.


My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) and the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Harry Lawson) have raised a very important question. I agree that in the working of the Censor Bureau it is most essential that there should be what we may describe as journalistic common-sense, and that messages should not be stopped merely from ignorance of the censor of these matters. I shall represent the views which they have expressed most earnestly to those responsible for the Bureau. It has only just been established, and when the machinery is in full working order, I trust most earnestly that there will be no ground for complaint.


I wish to bring a matter which strikes me very forcibly, to the notice of the House and of the Home Secretary. We heard this morning of the dissemination of false news and of the cruelty and hardship which is inflicted in that way. The right hon. Gentleman himself is constitutionally and by statute master of telegraphs and of communications, and may I ask him to represent to the Postmaster-General that it would be very useful if the news that comes from the Official Bureau were telegraphed to all the districts in the country where there is a Post Office and telegraph connection. The public are intensely interested and have a right to know and to be placed in full information of everything in connection with this War. It is in the interests of the Government and of the country that the information should be conveyed to the people as far as it can be directly. The expense would be very small in comparison with the great public interests involved. Such news would give a sense of confidence. It could be communicated immediately, and the method would render ineffective the disposition of certain people who, in order to obtain small sums of money, try and harrow the deepest feelings of their fellow countrymen. This news is public property and is of such interest and so vital to every one of us that it should be communicated at the earliest possible moment.


I will communicate what the hon. Member has said.


I desire to refer to a matter which was mentioned earlier and that is with regard to communication with Ireland. It was then denied by the President of the Board of Agriculture that there had been any interference. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."]


made a remark which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.


Privately I was assured that nothing was known, and the correction shows almost as much laxity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] I do not think that is too strong an expression. We have now ascertained that communication between Fishguard and Rosslare is entirely stopped, and that the ships have been taken away to be used as hospital ships. They cannot be absolutely dependent on those particular three ships, and there must be communication with a great many places cut off. Other ships engaged with this traffic might very well have been used for that purpose instead of these three vessels. We have heard also that the communication with Dublin by Holyhead has been reduced by one-half. It seems to me a great pity that those changes should have been made if they could have been avoided. I think almost every other connection ought to have been restricted or interfered with before connection between this country and Ireland at the present time. Ireland is practically entirely dependent upon this country for its food supplies, and we, now that the supplies have been cut off from Denmark and other continental countries which send in dairy produce, are almost entirely dependent upon Ireland for such goods. Just at this crisis we find these changes made in the first few days. I think that some explanation might be given by the Government, with a promise that a restricted service, if necessary, but still a sufficient service for the supply of the necessary food for the people on both sides of the Channel will be restored without delay and maintained almost at all costs. I hope I have said nothing that will irritate my right hon. Friend; I know that his efforts in this direction are always very well conceived; but I think that this is a matter which should receive the immediate attention of the Government.


I do not think that any blame attaches to the Department of Agriculture in Ireland in connection with this matter. The three services connecting the South of Ireland with the South of England, which brings the largest amounts of butter, bacon and eggs from Ireland to England, has been commandeered by the Admiralty for an indefinite period. That was done, I understand, without communicating with the Irish Department; therefore, the Irish Department are in no way to blame.

And, it being half an hour after the conclusion of Government Business, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of 17th July.

Adjourned accordingly at Seven minutes before Two o'clock till Monday next, 10th August.