§ Sir WILLIAM BULL
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to add, at the end of the Address, the words:—But humbly regrets that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to the censorship of the Press and the lack of information on matters of public interest of past events supplied to the Press.I move the Amendment standing in my name for the purpose of bringing under review what has taken place since the censorship was established. Like my predecessors, I have brought the matter forward in no party spirit, and I do not speak on behalf of the Press so much as on behalf of the public. There are certain questions which I think it is right should be ventilated in this House in the Debate on the Address. I cannot help feeling that there was a considerable amount of irritation at the start. The Press censorship started badly. I do not know how it was. I think there was an undignified quarrel as to whether the Press should go in at the front or at the back door. I will not go into that. But I cannot help thinking that any friction was largely due to the fact that in the Press Censorship Office there were very few persons who understood anything about journalism. With the exception of Sir George Armstrong the Press censorship staff was singularly devoid of experience in matters of journalism. That may seem to be a small thing in the management of a Press censorship, but I am myself convinced that 124 matters would have worked very much more smoothly if the Government had incorporated into that staff some men who understood how the papers are worked. In my speech I am not going into any particular instance of things which I do not consider were rightly done I am merely going to touch briefly upon where I think things have failed. But I will here and there mention where I think the Press censorship has failed for want of that knowledge of professional journalism which was so necessary for smooth working. Let me take one case.
In the issue of news there does not seem to be the slightest consideration given to the Press as to the time of the issue. Last night, for instance, the Press, as a whole, knew of the sinking in the Downs of the "Niger" by a torpedo. I believe they received the news at 11.30 o'clock yesterday morning. The news went to the Censorship Office and was not published till 12.30, midnight. What was the result? In technical language the whole of the morning papers had gone to bed, having finished their mechanical operations preparatory to printing the paper. I should like to know from the Press Censor why that news could not have been given out to the public an hour earlier? It would have been invaluable for the morning papers to have had it an hour before they did. It was given out after midnight, just at that aggravating moment when the whole of the papers had gone to press. It was then, I say, that the Press Censor, in the language of the office, "released" that particular piece of information. There may, of course, have been grave reasons why it should not have been released till then, but it is very difficult for the ordinary public to understand why the present condition of things should be. There have been denunciations of the spy danger; we have heard of cases where this has been rigorously censured. I am glad to note the Press Censor in his place, and I will give the right hon. Gentleman examples of what I am speaking of privately, for in the public interest I do not think it is desirable to relate matters in detail. But the Press has been censured in its denunciations of the spy danger; in its criticism of the transport of the wounded, and of the Paymaster's Department in the delay in paying out money to the wives and dependants of soldiers, and the soldiers themselves; and there has also been the question of foreign policy where it dealt with neutral countries.
125 I suspect very much that the Press Censor will hide himself behind the military authorities, exactly as the Home Secretary has stated that he has no authority, or very little, outside what the military and naval authorities allow. I expect that, but I would humbly suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that as Press Censor it surely is within his own personal jurisdiction to say why these subjects which I have named have really anything to do with the conduct of the war, or would be likely to affect it in any way. The Press censorship is really in danger of becoming an autocratic authority which will stifle all criticism—and nothing surely could be worse for a Government, even whilst carrying on a war, that there should be no criticism of its actions! I am told by one authority in the Lobby that the Press is practically terrorised in a very large number of cases by the Press Censor's Department. I know of news that the newspapers have been frightened to send up to the Press Office, whether it should be censored or not. I could give chapter and verse, and will do so later on, if necessary, and privately. Again, I should like to ask how it is that the French official reports, Governmental reports, are censored over here when they are published all over the world? It cannot help the Germans, yet the official report of the French Government is censored over here for the English newspapers. That also applies to the papers in Rome and Holland. Reports come from these papers. They are published broadcast over the world. Yet when they get here the blue pencil of the Press Censor is put through them. Enormous and inexplicable delay takes place on such an occasion in relation to the news from the Press Censor's office. Why news is held up for such a time is a puzzle! Let me quote a speech that Sir John French made some time in August. Sir John met the remnants of the Sussex Regiment during a halt in the retreat from Mons and he addressed them as follows:I want to tell you how pleased I am with your work on the 29th inst. You cannot realise how valuable it was. In two or three days England will know of it—Mark that!The Empire will know of it, and will ring with your glory. I knew you in South Africa, and knew what you would do, and knew that you would distinguish yourselves. I am proud of you, and hope very soon to be able to give you a rest.That is a splendid speech to a very gallant regiment. Sir John French, did not think the report of such doings would help the enemy. That is plain, or he would not 126 have said what he did. The Germans have 400 prisoners of this regiment in their hands, and they must have known all about the regiment that had opposed them. Instead of three days—would the House believe it!—it was absolutely two months before England heard of that event. I venture most humbly to submit that by keeping facts like these quiet the Press Censor is doing enormous harm to recruiting. During the last two or three months I have been busy recruiting night after night in the open air, in cinemas, in theatres, and music halls, speaking to the men, and doing all I could. But the dreary lists of dead and wounded, and no accounts of the battles that have taken place, is bad. I am not speaking for one moment of any prognostication of what is likely to take place on the battlefield, but of what has taken place. These events do not receive that intelligent attention at the hands of the Press Department which they ought to receive. Of course, I am not blaming the Censor personally. One knows that it is impossible for him to supervise the office in person. I think the faults are largely due to the fact that his immediate subordinates do not work on a settled plan. Each seems to have a plan of his own, and in some cases they are most arbitrary in the stuff they censor and in the stuff that they leave alone. I have an article in my hand which I do not propose to read out, but I would like to hand it to the hon. Gentleman, and I would like to ask him to point out the reason why the Press Censor in his wisdom has blue pencilled certain sentences.
Reference has been made to the execution of the spy Lody on Friday last. The news was not allowed to leak out until Wednesday midday, and it is difficult to conceive the reason why the news that Lody had been shot should not have been immediately telegraphed over the Empire. There are a great many spies who never believed we should shoot anybody. The Home Secretary said that up to a certain date no spies had been shot, and I think those spies in the country would be at any rate encouraged between Friday last and Wednesday to think that Lody had not been shot. I should like to have the opinion of the Press Censor, if he thinks fit and is able and willing to give me the information, as to why that particular fact was kept back? Of course I do not pretend that the Press are infallible; the Press have made and will make 127 mistakes. The Prime Minister himself made a mistake on one occasion when speaking at Penarth. The Prime Minister, as Chairman of the National Defence Committee, when speaking at Penarth, told us of the arrival of the Indian troops at Marseilles. The notice went over the world from the Press Censor that whatever the Press were to do with the Prime Minister's speech they should please delete the fact that the Indians arrived at Marseilles. I think that was an exercise of power by the Press Bureau over the Prime Minister which was hardly right or necessary. What I hoped and believed was that we should have had a Committee of experienced journalists and war correspondents skilled in war who might have been trusted, I think, to deal with these matters. I cannot imagine William Howard Russell, the "Times" correspondent, or Kingley, or some of these men of the past making mistakes in this direction. If the broad lines were given by the military authorities as to exactly what they wanted known or not wanted known, I am perfectly certain you could have left these skilled men to deal with the Press, instead of these amateurs who are not and cannot be used to the methods of modern journalism. Now and then newspapers send to the Press Bureau and ask as to whether a matter should or should not be known. The general attitude of the Press Bureau seems to be that of the nursery maid who said, "Whatever the baby is doing, tell it not," with the result that the Press has got very much discouraged and run risks they need not run if they had more confidence in the Bureau.
Finally, I should like to know this: What are the pains and penalties attaching to the disobedience of the orders of the Press Bureau? Vague and varied threats are held over some of the newspapers if they dare do this or that, and I think the Press Censor will acknowledge that without these threats the Press have very loyally done their best under very difficult circumstances, to obey the orders of the Press Censor. I am sure the Solicitor-General will agree that splendid silence was kept whilst our troops were going across from Southampton to the ports upon the French coast at the commencement of this War. It was known to hundreds of people and probably to thousands of people, yet not in a single instance did the British Press give away the secret in any way. I could bring other instances 128 where the same loyalty is observed through weeks and months, and the Press Censor must be aware of facts at the present time known to the Press which they can be absolutely relied upon not to disclose. All that makes it all the more important that we should take this opportunity to have some little explanation from the Press Censor as to the way the Press censorship is managed and as to what he thinks of it at the present time. I do assure him that there is a great deal of public annoyance, if I may use the word, with the Press censorship. I cannot feel that the work is done with intelligent sympathy. I do not think the majority of the people in the Press Bureau understand the difficulties which journalism works under, and I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will pardon me for this very frank criticism of the methods of the Press Department.
§ Colonel YATE
I beg to second the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend and I should especially like to say how entirely I agree with what he has said as to the enormous amount of harm done to recruiting by the reticence caused by the censorship of the Press. Take one case. The records of the deeds and doings of our gallant men and their brave acts are suppressed, and I do hope and pray that the time has now come to put an end to the keeping back of all the details that come home from day to day. I trust that the Censor who is now here present will be able to give us an assurance upon that point, and that greater freedom will be allowed in this respect, and that we shall have full details of the gallant actions done at the front.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Stanley Buckmaster)
I myself cannot help wishing that this Debate might have been conducted under conditions that would have enabled me to give a fuller and more lengthy exposition of the objects and methods of the working of the Press Bureau than the somewhat short Debate raised upon the Gracious Speech from the Throne permits.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
Surely it is open to anybody to speak when I have finished, and I think the hon. Member might allow me to continue. The history of the Bureau is not a little useful in considering what are the functions it discharges. I think 129 myself it would be well if its functions were fairly defined, if its powers were clearly indicated, and if there were some more general knowledge as to the way in which it works than it is obvious exists at the present moment from the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. It has always been my view that the real rule by which this office which I now hold should be guided is the consideration as to whether the matter that it is proposed for publication should be allowed to see the light tested by whether its publication could afford any assistance to the enemy, whether it could unduly depress our people, whether it could disclose movements and operations of our troops, or of our Fleet, or by any other means whatever, directly or indirectly, imperil the national safety. I also think that subject to one limitation, which I will mention in a moment, that this office ought not to stop criticism. In one sense I do not regard this office as a Government office at all, because I think if an office of this description were assumed to be the creature of any Government, bound to act under its direction in stopping any matter that the Government did not want published, that instead of being, as I think it is, an extremely useful and beneficent office it would become a very great danger to the State.
Therefore criticism of the Government, or of Members of the Government, is not that which I have ever stopped, except where such criticism is of such a character as that it might destroy public confidence in the Government which at this moment is charged with the conduct of the War, or might in any way weaken the confidence of the people in the administration of affairs, or otherwise cause distress or disturbance amongst people in thinking their affairs were in a really serious state. I know that that means the criticism passed must be strictly limited, and within certain limitations that is true, but nothing could better illustrate what I mean than the article put forward by the hon. Member of which he made complaint. This is an article of criticism. It contains I think eighty lines, and out of these eighty lines only eleven have been struck out, and these eleven have been struck out simply because on the face of them it is plain that to allow these eleven lines to go through would enable our enemies, if they desired, to make quotations from English papers in their Press, and to use these as statements of fact with regard to matters now existing. 130 It is quite obvious that cannot be permitted. You cannot allow English newspapers to publish matters which could be reproduced in Germany on the authority of the English Press and enable them to be circulated in neutral countries, or in their own country, as statements detrimental to ours.
The next complaint that I understood the hon. Gentleman to make was a complaint as to the delay that ensued in the publication of news. I say quite frankly my interest is and always has been to expedite, as far as I can, the publication of news at the earliest possible moment, and I say without any fear of contradiction that, as far as my office is concerned, apart from necessary delay that must be occasioned by censorship in transit, which is reduced to the minimum, there is no delay at all, and news is published at the very earliest possible moment. The illustration given was that of the "Nigel." It must be remembered that before any news is to be published with regard to the sinking of any one of our vessels it is absolutely essential it should be confirmed. The object of this office is to prevent the publication of unauthorised news, whether with regard to defeats or victories which would have the most deplorable and lamentable effect upon the community. It has got to be confirmed, and the only source of confirmation is the Admiralty, and a communication is made at once from our Office to the Admiralty immediately news of this kind comes through, and we cannot allow it until the Admiralty says in the circumstances it can be published, and this complaint of us is something for which we have no more responsibility than the hon. Member himself.
§ Sir W. BULL
I only pointed out that where five or six newspapers got information that this ship was sunk in the presence of five or six hundred people in the morning, it is not allowed to be published until 12.30 at night—thirteen hours afterwards.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
I will give the reason. As far as I can gather, the hon. Member seems to think that if the news is received by four or five newspapers it becomes true. May I point out that we have had news sent into us from every corner of the Kingdom, exact in detail, agreeing in particulars of time and place, recording the complete destruction of our Fleet and 131 the annihilation of a number of our capital vessels. If we had acted on the suggestion of the hon. Member opposite, we should have published that news to the world, every word of which was a lie. The hon. Member will no doubt recollect the midnight hordes of phantoms dim which wandered through this country from Archangel to France, and then vanished into the mist. It is said that we have struck out denunciations of spy cases. It is no use asking me to defend such a circumstance unless you place the case before me. I am unaware that any denunciations of spy cases have been struck out, or any criticisms of the wounded. As to foreign policy, I have a word to say about that. Whenever a criticism is brought to my knowledge which deals fairly and temperately with any complaint relating to any one of our systems, either naval, military, or civil, it is not struck out. The people who have charge of the Press, and the people who read it, ought to know that what I am saying is true. With regard to foreign policy, I am absolutely amazed that the hon. Member opposite should think-that foreign policy is a matter, the discussion of which is not to be subject to censorship. Can the hon. Member be aware that time and again during these disputes articles have been published by papers without our authority which have grievously impaired our foreign relations with neutral Powers, and rendered most difficult the delicate task which has to be discharged by the Foreign Secretary.
I wonder sometimes whether the hon. Member has the faintest realisation of the fact that we are at war, and that what we have to do is to strive by all the means in our power to prevent the Press being used as an organ for attack instead of defence. It is my deep and sincere regret that I have not been able to exercise a more severe and searching censorship over the criticisms of some newspapers which have dealt with foreign policy, and I make no apology for what has been done in that respect. With regard to frightening the Press, I should like to know what the hon. Member means. I believe there is no Government office, apart from ours, where complaints are heard hour after hour all through the day by letter, by telephone, or verbally, and which are as far as possible answered within twenty-four hours of their being received. The Press certainly have no fear of me any more than I have the least 132 fear of them. The next complaint is that we have censored the reports of the French official communications. Will the hon. Member tell me when?
§ Sir W. BULL
I should have been doing harm if I had mentioned absolute details, and that is why I abstained from doing so.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
If the mentioning of the matter that was cut out would do harm, it is obvious that I was right in cutting it out. The French official communication alleged to have been censored could have been brought down here, and it could have been handed over to me. I know one occasion when this was done, and my only regret is that it was not done more completely. A statement was made in one of the French official communications disclosing a most critical and important movement of our troops, and I greatly grieve to say that I was too late to effectively strike it out. I tried to do it, but I only partially succeeded. The consequence was that the matter slipped through, and one newspaper after another caught hold of this piece of information, enlarged it, inflamed and explained it, and this at the very moment when it was essential for the safety of our troops that it should not be disclosed. It had, however, been published, and I was powerless in the matter. I do not care what document it is, or from what authority it comes, if once it contains matter which, according to tire best of my judgment will imperil in the slightest degree the safety of our troops or our Fleet, I shall strike it out. The next complaint is with regard to something which General French said on 20th October, which did not come over here until 28th October. It was not submitted to me, and I do not suppose that it was received here until 28th October. That is not a matter that I had anything to do with.
Surely the hon. Member cannot be aware of the way in which this Office works. Does he suppose that I sit there and form a military or a naval judgment and express my own views upon the delicate negotiations with foreign nations conducted by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs? As a matter of fact, as soon as a question of difficulty arises it is referred to the proper authority, and they 133 are asked whether for military or naval reasons this matter should not be allowed to go through. If they say it should not be allowed to go through, that is enough. It is no good appointing people to conduct a war if, when they give their judgment, you are not going to act upon it. The idea that I exercise an independent judgment is the most profound mistake that ever entered the mind of man. I do nothing of the kind. I sit there and to the very best of my power I try to execute the orders given by the Admiralty and the War Office, given in the belief that they are required for the proper conduct of our operations at sea and on land. The next complaint is that I censored the speech of the Prime Minister in regard to his reference to the landing of the Indian troops at Marseilles. The answer is quite obvious. I do not know whether hon. Members in the position of the hon. Member who moved this Amendment have the faintest idea of the risks our troops run at sea. Does the hon. Member opposite wish to disclose, so that it will be in the possession of the Germans, exactly where our transports are, and where they are going to?
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
It was put forward in the shape of a complaint of the way I was doing my duty. The Prime Minister did make the statement that the Indian troops had landed at Marseilles when it was not accurate, because they had not landed. To have published that statement would have been to tell the Germans that our troops were in course of disembarkation at Marseilles. I could not stop that news completely, and it made no difference the news going out to Amercia. But so far as I could I stopped it all over Europe, and so far from regretting what I did, I regret that it was not within my power to expunge that passage from every newspaper. I do not know on what hon Members' eyes are fixed. Are they fixed on newspapers or newsboys selling news, or the people who are reading newspapers by their own fireside. Mine are not. My eyes, from first to last, are fixed upon our soldiers in the trenches and our sailors at sea, and if in the exercise of my discretion, used for their protection time and again, I interfere with the conduct of a newspaper, or strike out something which some other person might think ought to be left in, I comfort myself by thinking that when such interests are 134 at stake it makes but little difference that now and then I may err on the side of safety. It is suggested that there should be someone to supervise the Censor, and that my other duties prevent me from carrying out this work. I am there on an average thirteen hours a day. I come about ten in the morning and leave at any time from eleven to twelve o'clock at night. Someone suggested that we want constant supervision all the time, but the idea that this supervision is exercised in a slack manner, and that I only bestow upon the work the scanty remnants of time which I am able to take away from my duties as Law Officer is a profound mistake.
With the generous assistance of the Attorney-General I have been able to leave the execution of our legal work to him, and I devote myself solely and unremittingly to this work. The hon. Member said that we had not got the right staff, and that we wanted trained journalists. Does he know that we have got them? In our military room we have two highly expert journalists, and in our cable censor room we have more of them. The idea that our censorship is exercised by ignorant people is a mistake which obsesses the minds of people who think they can express their patriotism by finding fault with the Press Bureau. I am asked what are the penalties. They are perfectly plain. If orders which are given for the safety of the State are broken the punishment is punishment by court-martial, and if the offence is one committed in complete ignorance without knowledge of the order, without any intent to disobey, the punishment is three months' imprisonment, and if committed with knowledge it may be imprisonment for life. These are the penalties, and they are sufficient authority for what I do, and I have sufficient power behind my hand to enable me to do my duty. I have never denied that the Press have helped in many ways to enable me to carry out my duty, and I do not deny that it might be serious if they disobeyed. But none the less, without their loyalty, it would be impossible that our work could be carried out as efficiently as it is. I confess that I do get a little impatient when I hear complaints of our office of such a trivial character as those which have been raised here this afternoon.
I know that we are regarded as the enemy of the Press and the enemy of the public. We are neither. We are the only 135 institution that stands between the Press and the untempered severity of Martial Law. If it were not for the office I hold, and if any newspaper published any matter that in the minds of the naval and military authorities in the slightest degree imperilled what they believed to be the safety of our forces on land or sea, they would have no defence. It is only in their interest that this office exists for the purpose of enabling them, when they have submitted their matter to us, to obtain from us a critical examination, and a sanction which will save them from the consequences of mistake. I say that the Press—notably that section represented by the pink coloured proof that was produced by the hon. Member for Hammersmith—when they criticise our work and complain of what we have done, failed to realise what is the true position. I say, further, that we have deserved well of the public. We have saved them from being depressed by the circulation of untrue statements with regard to disasters on land and sea. We have saved them from the sick reaction that would have followed on the news of victories published and proclaimed from one end of this country to the other that had no foundation in fact. And, even if we had not, as I believe we have, deserved well both of the Press and of the public, I believe that every single member of the staff that works with considerable devotion and diligence in that office would find their reward and satisfaction in this, that they have been able more than once to afford some protection to our great-hearted soldiers in their long thin wavering line of fight, and to our gallant sailors whose ceaseless vigilance keeps our shores inviolate.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
The warning which the learned Solicitor-General gave in one of the closing paragraphs of his speech has thrown a significance on this discussion, and has given an importance to the necessity of debate upon this Press censorship which I myself had not suspected belonged to it before. He made that very significant and most impressive statement. It was never suggested to us by any responsible Minister on that Bench that by consenting to the establishment of the Press Bureau we were forfeiting the rights of freedom of publication in the Press which had belonged to us from time immemorial, and which I venture to tell the learned Solicitor-General is one of the privileges and possessions which even a Liberal 136 Government at a time of national crisis cannot lightly filch from the Press or the nation of this country. If the Solicitor-General tells us to-night that by consenting to the establishment and appointment of the Press censorship, the Press of this country rendered themselves liable to penalties on the arbitrary or capricious statement of the naval or military authorities—
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
If the hon. Member would like to know the true position I will tell him. It is not that. It is that by the Defence of the Realm Act, 1914, and the Order in Council, the Press becomes subject to martial law, and not by virtue of the constitution of my office at all.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I am glad to have that explanation, although I think there is still room for comment on the prerogative that applies to the naval and military authorities under the Defence of the Realm Act. The very fact that this question has been raised to-night and that the Press of this country has been reminded that they are liable to penalties and risks that have never been so frankly stated before at least justifies a brief Debate tonight. Any debate on this question suffers always from two great disadvantages and disabilities. When we press home particular cases which want justifying, explaining and defending, we are always told by the representative of the Press Bureau, with the head of which I have always expressed my profound sympathy—I cannot conceive a more onerous or a more thankless task than that which the Solicitor-General has taken up in connection with ibis matter—that the Press Bureau itself is not responsible, but that the responsibility lies at the door either of the military or naval authorities. We in this House find ourselves helpless, because we can never get any proper justification of acts which in our judgment and thought require very strong justification or explanation. That is one of the disadvantages. The second disability under which we lie is that which gives a general cover or cloak to the action, justifiable or unjustifiable, of the Press Bureau by saying the whole of the action of the Press Bureau is dependent upon a general principle or upon several general principles.
Yesterday the Prime Minister said that the exercise of the censorship was entirely subject to and dependent upon military considerations. The learned Solicitor-General to-night in his speech has gone a 137 little beyond that and he has suggested other categories, such as "information calculated to depress the mind of the people"—all of which are governing considerations in the exercise of the activities of the Press Bureau. I hope that last category will not be pressed too seriously in the exercise of the censorship, because I think I may remind the Solicitor-General that he may much more seriously depress the people of this country if they have a suspicion that disquieting news is being kept from them lest they should be depressed or disquieted. I do not think the temper and spirit of this country and the realisation by the people of the gravity of the issues that are at stake will lead them to take an unduly depressed view of any reverses so long as they feel that the Government are dealing with them fairly and squarely in this matter. Let me take one principle which both the Prime Minister and the Solicitor-General referred to, and said must be the determining and governing principle in the exercise of any Press censorship. Everything published must be subordinate to military considerations. If we could be assured that from the beginning or even in the most recent past in the exercise of this censorship publication had been prohibited owing wholly to military considerations, there would almost be an end of the Debate. But may I take a comparatively trivial illustration of a very recent date? Last week the Belgian headquarters report which had been published broadcast on the Continent was censored before being allowed publication in this country. I put it to the learned Solicitor-General: Can it be suggested for a single moment that a Belgian headquarters official military report which had already been published broadcast through France and Belgium required for military considerations the suppression of any part in this country? That is only one illustration, and a comparatively unimportant one, which shows that the general cover or cloak of military considerations does not explain or fully justify what sometimes seems capricious action on the part of the Press Censors in this country.
May I take another point? There is a very considerable feeling of disappointment in the country, and it is a matter which I think has affected our recruiting efforts, that we have not had sufficient information or news given to us of the heroic conduct of our troops since the beginning of the War. I want to ask this question 138 quite frankly and plainly: Can it be suggested that a narrative of events which took place weeks ago could possibly prejudice any military interest at the present time? The other day the country was thrilled by a report of the action of the London Scottish. No one appraises the value of their action and valour more than I do, but that was only one solitary incident in a long series of most valorous and heroic actions during the last three months, and it is not fair to troops that have been passing through perfectly incalculable dangers and risks for three months to have their action and their heroism slurred over and ignored, while information of comparative recent date which does not stretch back more than a few days may be published broadcast through the length and breadth of this country for the benefit of those interested in the London Scottish. No representative of the Bench opposite, since these discussions were first raised in this House, has attempted to give any explanation to show how the publication days afterwards of a narrative of heroic efforts in the conduct of the War can supply information to the enemy. To suggest that to publish the names of places where a fight has taken place a few days ago would involve giving information to the enemy seems to me one of the most puerile defences that could be put forward. I grant that the learned Solicitor-General has not attempted a flimsy defence of that kind to-night.
I wish to mention one other point. We have heard it lamented that the military and naval authorities of the country have not thought it well to allow certain accredited Press representatives to be at least within such contact with the conduct of the War as to allow them to publish in this country a more vivid appreciation of the facts of the War than unfortunately is now provided. It so happens that within the last few weeks one paper in this country—I will not mention its name, but it is a paper to which we are under a very great debt for the information it gives us from time to time—it so happens that one paper in this country has published intensely interesting narratives from the personal observation of its representative possessing, so it is claimed by the newspaper itself, a very important position in the Army. One paper has been allowed facilities at the front—unlimited facilities as is claimed. Why, I would ask, should there be any discrimination in this matter? Why should one journal or individual 139 receive facilities which are denied to other reresentatives of the Press? You should make your rule absolute and universal.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
In this particular instance the statements printed at the head of the narrative itself are such as I have indicated, and the paper carefully explains to its readers that its Special Correspondent has received' exceptional facilities, while he, too, states that he has passports which have carried him everywhere on the field of battle. There is a very strong feeling—and I do not think it is altogether a surprising feeling on the part of many influential representatives of the Press—that there should not be this unfair discrimination in the interests of particular papers. I only want to close with the comment with which I began my speech. I think the Government may, or ought to, realise that the country is getting a little impatient of the arbitrariness—the powers of arbitrary action that are increasingly claimed by individual Members of the Government. I do not quarrel with the tone and emphasis of the learned Solicitor-General to-night, but I think that he and his colleagues will find out that if the country have a suspicion we are to have certain minor modern Napoleons claiming arbitrary powers, without consulting either this House or the people, they may find that they have sadly miscalculated the temper, spirit, and traditions of their own countrymen.
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put, and negatived.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I am not quite sure whether the subject to which I wish to refer concerns the Home Office entirely or only the Postmaster-General's Department, but I will put my point briefly as representatives of both Departments are present. In a manifesto issued by the Home Secretary, on 5th August, he said the Post Office had dismantled all private installations of wireless telegraphy, but he did not say whether any licences had been granted to private individuals to maintain such installations. In a subsequent manifesto it was laid down that no person should, without the written permission of the Postmaster-General, buy, sell, or have in his possession, any apparatus 140 for the transmission of messages by wireless telegraphy. It is clear from this that private ownership was apparently still contemplated and countenanced by the Government, and it would, under existing circumstances, be interesting to know—if there is any objection from the public point of view I will not pursue these remarks—it would be interesting to know whether any such licences for private wireless installations have been granted since the War broke out, and if so, how many have been granted to persons, whether naturalised or not, of alien origin. I will not press for further details, but I should like as a matter of principle to get this particular information in order that the public may be instructed upon a matter in which I believe it is very much interested. I would like also to refer to the case of a man called Falkenberg, or Falconer—an employé of Messrs. Siemens, a firm which was said by the Home Secretary to employ very few Germans. This man was charged with being in possession of wireless telegraphic apparatus and with having failed to register himself, he being an alien enemy. I will not delay the House by going into the details of this case, but I may remark that the man in the course of the hearing said he had applied for a commission in the Royal Engineers Wireless Corps, a most impertinent thing to do. He was remanded, and from that day to this no further information has been published with regard to this case. If the representative either of the Home Office or of the Post Office will give me any information on the subject I shall be greatly obliged.
There is one other matter to which I would like to refer, and that is the matter of the use of coded messages in cabling. I will not go at length into the representation made by the mercantile community regarding the hardships they suffer, and the very serious extra expense to which they are put by these new regulations prohibiting the use of a code. All these matters are before the Post Office, which, no doubt, had its reasons for the action it has taken. Nevertheless, I would point out that this is an extremely serious matter for many houses of business. There seem to be little matters which, apart from the principle concerned, are rather pettifogging in character. For instance, why should "c.i.f." and "f.o.b.," which are A B C in the City, be each treated as three separate words; why are money payments made and never returned 141 when they are due, for instance, when a message has not been sent; why are two codes only sanctioned of the many British codes, while the two foreign codes most in use are both sanctioned; why do not ten letters now count as one word; and why is an extra fee charged for coding the message? These are little matters, perhaps pin-pricks, which possibly the hon. Gentleman, upon consideration, may see his way to remedy. I have no wish to dwell upon them. I do urge that the mercantile community is put to very great expense, and that everything that can be done without trenching upon what is required and necessary in the present crisis should be done. As the preservation of all the means for carrying on our commerce during the War is one of the great vital interests in the present crisis, no subjects can be more worthy of the attention of the Post Office or the Home Office than those to which I have ventured to call attention.
There is only one other matter to which for the moment I will refer very briefly, because the Attorney-General was good enough to give me an answer, and I thanked him for his courteous consideration of the representations I made on the subject in the House last Session, and acted upon his advice. One eminent firm of solicitors gave a legal opinion as regards the validity of a contract with an alien person, say, a German dwelling in this country and not naturalised. One eminent firm of solicitors, as the right hon. Gentleman will admit them to be, said:—The contract is not void and the contracting person as bound to abide by the contract.Another firm of solicitors, equally eminent—indeed, the right hon. Gentleman would be impressed if I were to mention their name here, and he would say there is no more eminent firm—said:—We can only say we do not agree with this opinion,and they advised that the contract with the German alien is void by reason of the outbreak of War. Having taken the action advised by the right hon. Gentleman, and having contributed those fees to the revenues of the two firms of solicitors concerned, which is one of the advantages upon which he dwelt in taking this action, I am left exactly where I was before. This is not a personal matter, because it affects a great many persons, although it is a concrete case of which I can give him details. I should like to ask whether it is not possible, for the assistance of the commercial community, for the 142 Government to take some action in such wholly exceptional circumstances, seeing that the latest recorded cases are upwards of sixty years old.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir John Simon)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that since he raised this matter some time back, some cases have arisen in the courts. I happen to know that some of them, also dealing with the subject of alien enemy, are coming before the Court of Appeal next week. I do not think it can be doubted that any uncertainty due to the antiquity of the decisions referred to has been completely removed by the decisions recently given.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I am glad to hear that. There were one or two of the cases heard and reported which did not resolve my doubts, and did not give that general principle which I am so anxious to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman, as to which I think he remains obdurate and is not more likely to help me than he was before the House rose.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Captain Norton)
On behalf of my right hon Friend I am authorised to say that since the 5th August, the date upon which my right hon. Friend made a statement, no single licence has been issued, and, furthermore, my right hon. Friend took steps to have all these private stations dismantled. All the aerials wore removed and the instruments were stopped. He took still further precautions and made arrangements whereby all these instruments were examined from time to time, so that there is no danger of any of these stations being reopened. Therefore the hon. Gentleman's mind may be at case with reference to any stations for which we, the Post Office, have given any licences. As to the stations to which licences were given in the time of peace, great care was taken and a certain fee was charged, therefore all those stations are absolutely known to us. As regards stations which may have been constructed surreptitiously, we have taken all the steps in our power, and every communication that has been made to us has been carefully investigated, but if the hon. Member knows of any special cases where he has reason to suspect that any surreptitious aerial station exists and will bring the matter to our knowledge, it shall be very carefully investigated.
§ Sir J. D. REES
What I was particularly concerned with was whether the hon. Gentleman's Department had granted any licences for such installation since the war began.
§ Captain NORTON
I said to begin with that my right hon. Friend had made a statement, I think here in the House on the 5th August, and that since that date no licence had been granted.
§ Captain NORTON
That is the case. With reference to the special case of Mr. Falconer in Siemens, I am not in a position to state what took place. I have no definite knowledge of that, but if the hon. Member will communicate with me, I will give him whatever information I am permitted to give him. With reference to the other matter he raised—the question of the cables—we are in no way concerned. That is purely a naval and military matter, and it has passed out of our hands. Whatever is being done in connection with cables is being done by the authority of the naval and military authorities, and we, the Post Office authorities, have nothing to do with that matter.
§ Sir HAROLD ELVERSTON
I feel I should like to have some statement from the Government as to their policy in the matter of certain supplies to the men at the front. During the last few weeks we have all noticed and become familiar with certain appeals to the public generosity—I do not use the word "charity"—for the supply of various articles which I consider to be necessities and not in any way luxuries. For example, it was announced in the Press that Lord Kitchener had asked the Queen to appeal for a supply of 300,000 socks and 300,000 belts for the men. Then we had later the announcement that these socks and belts can be bought for about 2s. 6d. each in certain places. I want to know, in case this unofficial effort is only partially successful, does it mean that some of the men have to do without these useful articles? Does the War Office regard these things which are being begged from the public as necessities or as luxuries? Surely they are necessities. Would the nation be content to leave to voluntary effort the equipment of the mechanical instruments of war? Would the nation be content to leave to voluntary effort, say, the provision of rifles or of ammunition or of something of that kind? We know, of course, that they would not. Then I want 144 to know why they leave the equipment of the human instrument to this voluntary effort. Surely the human instrument is a greater factor than the mechanical instrument and yet one at the present time is wholly equipped by the nation and the other only partially.
It comes to this once more, that the British soldier and sailor has always fought like a hero and has always been treated like a pauper. Only the other week we had from Sir John Jellicoe a telegram to Lady Jellicoe in which he said "An extra blanket and a thermos flask for each man would be very useful." Surely these men are at present the very life blood of the nation, and I am astonished that it should be necessary for Sir John Jellicoe to send such an appeal as that. Then we have Lord Roberts appealing for field glasses for the use of noncommissioned officers and men at the front. He makes a statement that he has already sent 14,000 pairs of glasses to the Army, and Sir John French has written to him that they are a very valuable asset to our men. If this is so, and surely we must take the opinion of such men as Lord Roberts and Sir John French as being quite final, I want to know again why is this left to voluntary effort? Is it a question of cost, or is it a question of the inability of the War Office to get these supplies? I cannot think for a minute that they are trying to shift part of the cost of this War on to certain private shoulders, but I am quite certain that it is not the wish of a single person in the House of Commons or the country that any of our men at the front to-day should be obliged to face extra hardships or should be in any way rendered less efficient for the sake of saving the State £100,000 or £1,000,000. Then I would point out one other thing. I can quite understand that the Government is anxious that private people should take a direct interest in this War, and that they will not want to damp off this feeling in any way. Then, by all means, let the public supply our men at the front with what may really be termed luxuries, but do not let them depend upon private generosity for what are real necessities.
I should like to ask another question. Would it be really impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to fix a regular date for the introduction of the Budget into this House? This House is a demoralising and bewildering place so far as its business is concerned, but I feel 145 that, at any rate, we should have one definite fixture in our programme, and that is the date for the introduction of the Budget. During the last nine years the date has varied from 2nd April to 30th June. This year, for example, it was postponed in the first place because the Chancellor of the Exchequer had a sore throat. Then it was postponed once more, because the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) had a private political engagement in the country. Then, again, it was postponed because the Members of the Opposition wished to raise a Debate upon the Ulster question. Representatives of businesses who are directly interested in various dutiable articles have raised this point with the Government, because it is to them a great inconvenience that the question as to what the duties will be upon certain articles shall be left uncertain for months at a time. This is a question of very considerable importance to the business community, and I, for one, certainly think that the convenience of our traders should be considered as of greater importance than the convenience of any solitary Member of Parliament. Unfortunately, in the future we must expect that our Budgets will be a more important consideration to us than they have been in the past, and for that reason alone I think it is very desirable that the Government should, if possible, let the nation know when the Budget is going to be introduced, and that that date should be regarded as a fixture, no matter what may arise in the meantime.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I would reply to the first part of my hon. Friend's speech if I were qualified to do it, but it related more particularly to the War Office than to my Department. I think, however, I could give him an explanation why requests are put forward for particular articles which appear to be of themselves necessaries to be given to the soldiers and sailors. There are two sides to the question. On the one side a great many people feel—I am sure my hon. Friend feels, and we all feel—that we should like to do something personally for the individual soldier. We want, if we can, to show our personal interest in the comfort and the satisfaction of the individual and to know that we are helping in some way. They naturally inquire what would be the article which the soldier would most like. There are a great many things which 146 may be regarded as necessary in one sense, such as a comforter or a hood, which are not ordinary articles served out to the soldier or sailor in any country in the world, and they cannot really be considered as necessaries. They perform a useful function and add to the comfort of the soldier, but they would not in ordinary circumstances be served out as part of his kit. That is the kind of article which it has been suggested should be given to the soldier. It does not increase his fighting capacity, but it adds a little to his comfort, and although it takes the form of an article of clothing it must not therefore be regarded as an article which would otherwise be given by the Admiralty or the War Office. I am not aware of the case as regards blankets, but there may have been some special difficulty in getting them. I will ask the representative of the War Office to consider that point. Upon the subject of the date of the Budget, I think I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that the Budget will be introduced quite early enough to please him or anyone else who has to pay the taxes.
§ Mr. HOGGE
A great number of points arise out of the King's Speech which have not yet been spoken to, and the uselessness of raising them is emphasised by the fact that there is nobody now on the Front Bench who can reply to any of the questions which I want to raise. That is obviously not the fault of the men who are here, but of the method in which these Debates are conducted. For instance, today we have had to listen to abbreviated discussions started from the other side of the House with regard to important topics which have been put down on the Paper as Amendments, but which have never been pressed to a Division, and those of us who wish to raise points on these issues have been precluded from doing so from the fact that the Minister in charge of the particular question has so frequently risen after the first two speeches which have been made from the Opposition Benches, which are now so crowded, that those of us who desire to deal with points find it entirely useless, seeing that the Minister cannot reply a second time. But in spite of that, I want to deal with a number of these points, and I hope that such of the Ministers as are left will take copious notes and convey them to the respective heads of the Departments.
With regard to the Press Bureau, I am extremely sorry that the Solicitor-General 147 is not in his place. He listened quite attentively to a speech made by a Member of the Opposition which was seconded in a few words. They were immediately replied to by the Solicitor-General, who made a great point of the fact that there had been no debate on this subject, and that there was really nothing to reply to. I want to ask the Solicitor-General for information on a very important point. I notice that the Press Bureau, which tells us nothing, although it is continually printing information, went out of its way a week or two ago to say that the opinions expressed in the leading columns of the "Times" newspaper did not express the views of His Majesty's Government. That seemed to me a most serious statement. I have not been able to recover from it yet, because, as a humble supporter of His Majesty's Government, I have been led to the assumption that, with the exception of that particular article to which the Press Bureau referred as not interpreting the views of the Government, the other articles express these views, and I have been perplexed since then to know whether I have been sitting on the right side or not. Why did the Press Bureau go out of its way to announce to the whole world that the "Times" did not in that particular article express the views of the Government? Does it mean that the "Times" newspaper has special facilities with the officials of the Press Bureau? Do they get information which other papers do not get? Is there any particular reason why that particular paper is chosen—why a paper which requires no puff should get it, and why a little paper like the "Daily Citizen" does not appear to get any information which requires a statement contradicting it?
I wish to ask the Solicitor-General why it was that the Press Bureau prevented the distribution of all newspapers printed in Great Britain and Ireland on a particular date—why none of those papers were allowed to leave this island. I understand that on that occasion the offender was the "Times" newspaper. There appeared in that newspaper information the nature of which I do not know, but I am told that the Press Bureau considered it inadvisable that our enemies should have access to it, and on that account every newspaper was by the authorities refused permission to be sent out of the country. One 148 does not understand why the Government give these facilities to the "Times" newspaper. It is current rumour—it can be contradicted if it is not true; I am taking for the moment the line of argument so common this afternoon—that a certain well-known proprietor of that paper has actually been in the fighting line at the front. I do not know what he was doing there, unless he was seeing that his particular paper was being distributed at the front, because I understand that a special edition of one of these papers is now distributed at the front, and that this particular owner of the paper had that access to the trenches and the fighting line which is only given, apart from combatants, to those who have served on the Front Government Bench or the Front Opposition Bench.
With regard to the information supplied from the Press Bureau I am sorry I did not hear the Solicitor-General's explanation. That is not my fault. I have waited in the House much longer than the Solicitor-General, and if the hon. and learned Gentleman can only give ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, and if he prefers to reply before points are put, it is not the fault of Members, but the fault of Ministers. There are a great many points of interest with regard to the Press Bureau which one desires to raise, but which it is useless to raise in the absence of the official concerned, because there is no possibility of getting a reply. Therefore, one will require to resort to the Question Paper instead of Debate to put these particular points. I wish to say that one has been impressed to-day with the unreality of the note that has run through most of the speeches. We have had Amendments proposed in this House which have been dummy Amendments, inasmuch as they have not been pressed to a Division. These Amendments have made attacks upon certain Ministers. The question that has occurred to me has been: Who is really responsible for the state of affairs discussed to-day? I do not mind saying who, I think, is responsible. The Minister of War is responsible. Lord Kitchener is responsible—the man whom the newspapers called for when the present Lord Chancellor was acting as War Minister. Everybody was calling for the incomparable organiser who was to organise cosmos out of the chaos which would otherwise exist. Now, what do we find? I am sorry there is no representative of the War Office present. I do 149 not know whether I should have given notice that I was going to talk about this matter.
§ Mr. HOGGE
One of the Junior Whips says "Hear, hear," but I would retort—What is the use of telling any Minister you are going to raise a point if you do not get a chance of raising it? That is the point of view of the man who talks from below the Gangway. Let me take a case in point to illustrate what I mean. I do not want to go over the difficulties that have been encountered in regard to recruiting, the payment of soldiers, the payment of allowances, and that kind of thing. It is very easy for every one of us to bring a sufficient number of instances to prove the charges that have been made today. The one about which I want to put some questions is to me a very real one, and illustrates the principle at the present moment animating the War Office. I believe, on the invitation of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War, and with the co-operation of the Education Office, a committee was invited to meet together to consider one of the most important questions in connection with the leisure of the men who at the present moment are in our camps, and I would beg my hon. Friend the Junior Lord of the Treasury (Mr. Gulland) to bear in mind this fact, that there is a great distinction between the men who are joining our Army to-day and the men who join the Regular Army. The reason you are having all this criticism is simply this, that, if each one of us thinks of his particular circle of friends, there is not one of us who has not got some intimate relative in the King's Army. More people have joined the forces on this occasion than ever joined the Forces before. More homes in this country are represented in the Army than were ever represented before. These are our own flesh and blood. They have joined, not because they wish to be soldiers who desire to take up the Army as a profession, but because, for the time being, they are prepared to assist their country, and at the close of the War the bulk of these men will return to their different trades and professions in the country, and that is why one feels the distinction that is drawn between the treatment meted out to them in these circumstances and what one would reasonably expect.
150 These men are training very hard. There would be a great deal more complaints with regard to their treatment were it not for the fact that the bulk of those men are there because they want to be there, and they have made up their minds to say nothing about it. We know a great number of men who are undergoing undesirable conditions in camp and elsewhere who are not grousing at all, but who, if you meet them personally, will tell you the complaints which they have, and the way in which they think that their grievances could be remedied. At the same time, those men who are suffering those inconveniences are the last men to make an informal complaint, so that the criticisms which is made is a real criticism and not a pretended criticism. The Prime Minister and Lord Kitchener, acting in their own name, did formally call together a Committee to deal with the question of providing facilities for the men in our camps. In a great many of our camps at the present moment the men are under canvas. The nights are dark shortly before five o'clock. Five o'clock is an unreasonable time for the average man to go to bed. The only facility that the great number of those men have in their spare time in camp is the facility afforded by the candle in an ordinary camp lamp, and the newspapers which may be bought. As many men are sleeping fourteen and sixteen in a tent, one may imagine how much room there is for such kind of recreation which is possible. The Committee was to deal with that particular point. The Prime Minister was prepared, and Lord Kitchener was apparently prepared, to undertake the organisation of special facilities to deal with the leisure time of the men, between the end of their training each day and the time at which they had to go to bed.
I was not on the Committee; I am never invited to be on these Committees. To that Committee were invited all sorts of representatives, including representatives from the War Office. The day on which that Committee met none of the War Office representatives turned up—they had not even the courtesy to attend—and the Committee has gone no further with its work. The Committee, I was going to say, has been disbanded, but it has not been disbanded, because it has never been really created. Lord Kitchener, the heaven-born organiser, who was selected by the newspapers of the country for the post which the Prime Minister previously 151 bad, having taken this duty on himself, hands it over to a particular officer—a general—to see it through. This general is asked to provide sufficient men to deal with the leisure time of the men in the camps, and when he has been on this particular work for a number of days, where does he go to get the men whom he wants? He applies to the Board of Education, over which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Pease) so ably presides, and this Department was prepared to do the work. They had the men upon whom they could lay their fingers to do the work. They could provide the teachers and lecturers who were required to make the proper kind of provision for a whole lot of men who were very different from the average recruit. I do not suppose that at that moment this gentlemen had succeeded in capturing five teachers or lecturers of the 400 who were required. What is the meaning of it? Why should the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War invite the co-operation of a number of people, who unfortunately happened to be civilians, to deal with a question which, after all, is not a military question, but is one affecting the leisure time of those men? And the whole thing has been controlled by the War Office. Does it mean that the War Office does not want any civilian help? Does the War Office believe that it alone is capable of doing this work, and that all of us had far better hold our tongues and accept what is sent to us?
Personally, I think that one of the greatest mistakes made in connection with this War was the appointment of Lord Kitchener to the place which he now holds. I do not think that we ought to have a soldier in that place. We have in the House of Commons here two junior representatives of the Government to deal with those questions. That was due to the fact that the Secretary of State for War used to sit in this House. Therefore it was less necessary that those who filled the other post should be such responsible men. But now, in the House of Commons, which is called together when it is convenient to the Government, and adjourned when the Government do not want us to come, the War Office is represented by two junior Ministers, neither of whom is able to speak with any great authority. I should like to say in passing that the Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Tennant), the Member for Berwickshire, in my opinion, has been the most efficient man at the War Office in 152 connection with the present War. There is no official at the War Office who answers one more quickly, and takes more trouble over the cases that one brings before him, than the Under-Secretary of State for War who sits in this House. But with regard to the Financial Secretary of State for War (Mr. Harold Baker), I confess that his defence of his position to-day in this House left me entirely cold. I never heard a lamer defence of the incompetence of the Department over which he presides than that which he offered to-day from that Front Bench. Where does the representative of the people, after all, come in? I happen, by the vote of my Constituents, to represent a Division of quite an important city. My Division has sent, I suppose, more soldiers per square yard to the Army than any other part of that particular city. These men have left their wives and children behind them. They expect those of us who represent them in Parliament to look after their interests. I think everybody will agree that it is only right to look after their interests. You come across some poor woman who says that she has not had her separation allowance. You are told this and that from those Front Benches on that point. All I have got to say about it is this, that I have never known a case paid up until one approaches the War Office about it. The celerity with which payments are made when the matter is brought before the War Office, and it is suggested that there might be a discussion about it in Parliament is really remarkable.
We come across poor women who have had no separation allowance paid to them for six or seven weeks. A woman in this position may write to one of the Paymasters in Scotland, say, Perth. She can get no reply. She then writes to the Member of Parliament representing her place, and he probably writes to the Financial Secretary to the War Office, in that particular instance. Generally he acknowledges the letter, but frequently takes no notice. Then the Paymasters-General, who, after all, are servants of this House, take absolutely no notice of the letters written by Members of this House. No Paymaster has ever responded to any letter of mine that I have written, conveying a complaint about wages which the woman was not able to convey for herself. I do not mind not being answered, and that does not worry me, but what I complain of is that this poor woman who cannot put her case for herself, 153 must naturally seek the man she thinks will do it for her, and no man with any heart could fail to render that service. I think we are entitled to some sort of reply. All this nonsense about the pressure of work and so forth, which is put forward as an excuse, is so much clotted nonsense. There is not a man in this House who could not meet any rush that is put upon his particular business. That kind of excuse is really trumpery. For instance, the War Office just now are putting on temporary clerks who are obtained through the Labour Exchanges in the City of London. Those men are working from 9 o'clock in the morning till 8, 9, or 10 o'clock at night, and ten hours on a Sunday, and later. Though there are heaps of clerks in London who want work, and who have responsibilities, yet those clerks are kept working even ten hours' overtime on Sunday at 10d. an hour. Why cannot they increase the number of clerks? The work those clerks do does not require any particular training; it is merely copying a simple form that must be got through, and anybody could do it who has any gumption, as we say North of the Tweed.
There are a great many other points to which I might refer, and among them is an omission from the King's Gracious Speech to which I wish to call attention, and I think it is perhaps more important from many points of view than the questions to which I have just been referring. I hope some explanation will be given about that mysterious Committee that was called by the Prime Minister and Lord Kitchener for the provision of facilities for the soldiers. Although called, that Committee was practically countermanded by Lord Kitchener, who apparently does not want any help from civilians. I do not think it is fair for the Government to take all the time of the Session, and to say that if the question is important enough they will move the adjournment before the Government business and give us an opportunity to talk. The business may be very important, but it may be very inconvenient to have it discussed, and in that event the importance of it will diminish in correspondence to the inconvenience that it would be to the Government to have it discussed. Where does the private Member come in at all this Session? In fact, need he come here at all? Arrangements have already been made that this House should rise as soon as possible, perhaps at the end of next, week. Yet the Prime Minister 154 suggests that the Government should take all the time up to Christmas. They do not require all the time up to Christmas, if they are not meeting after the end of next week. By rising next week they are depriving private Members of the opportunity of raising a great number of points. If the House met for questions only it would not be an undesirable innovation. If we are not to have Debates, why should Members be deprived of the right of putting questions? I notice that there are already questions put down which ought to be answered in the ordinary way by the heads of Departments, but because we can not get the answers in that way we shall be inevitably driven up against the red-tape of the Government Departments, where the official seems to think that there is no other man on earth who could do his job.
The omission from the Speech to which I refer is that there is no reference to the distress which is likely to arise as the result of this War, nor is there any reference to the provision to be made for distress. I believe that the Local Government Board have an Intelligence Department which is dealing with distress in the country, and the result of the investigation is practically that, so far as the country is concerned, the only portion of it where there is real distress—and after all that distress is not so much poverty as under-employment—is in the county of Lancashire, and in districts such as the Potteries, where you have specialised industries, and in certain restricted areas on the East Coast. Apart from those particular districts, there is no actual distress in the country which could be described otherwise than as underemployment. The reason of that is that, owing to the War, there has been such a number of special orders of all kinds up and down the country that industry is really doing extremely well, and in many parts of the country trade is actually booming. I think that everybody who has considered this question will agree that the real moment for provision to meet distress is when the War is over. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, in the speeches they made yesterday, both gave utterance to a sentence which I hope will be prophetically true, and that is that the War will last a- much shorter time than most of us originally anticipated. If that is so, what I want to ask is if the Government are making arrangements, 155 and, if they are, will they tell us what arrangements, for dealing with that situation? At the close of the War you will have to re-absorb into the industries of the country over a million men who have joined the Army, and you will have immediately shut down the great factories which are working at special work, the necessity for which will immediately cease on the declaration of peace. There are no boards and no authorities for dealing with this question which are amenable to criticism in Parliament. Your Road Boards and your Development Commissioners and your Prince of Wales' Fund, and organisers of that kind can snap their fingers at this House of Commons and can do what they like with the money they raise. They can use it in any way they like to use it. Of course, you will have a certain pretence of popular election.
The right hon. Gentleman who sits for the Strand Division (Mr. Walter Long) said this afternoon that he is a member of the executive of the Prince of Wales' Fund. I do not know who put him there unless it is the hon. and gallant Member who is now on service at the front, who was Chairman of that Committee and who presided with distinction and ability over the Member for the City of London and the Member for the Strand and other summary gentlemen whom he elected before he left for the front. That is all pretence. That is really all humbug.
That is a continuation of the policy which I am trying to criticise now in these irrelevant remarks, namely, that no Department which I know of wants any help, and none of them at all believes that anybody else can do their job except themselves. What provision is being made for this state, this potential state, of unemployment? We were told this afternoon that eight or nine hundred thousand pounds of the money contributed to the Prince of Wales' Fund has been spent already in paying money which the War Office ought to have paid. Thus the people of this country have been contributing out of their munificence to do what the War Office and the Government, which have been grappling with the situation, ought to have done themselves. If that kind of thing exists, what confidence can anybody have that the Government are really making provision for dealing with the most serious situation which will arise after the War, namely, the question of the provision for 156 unemployment? When, for instance, are we to be called together again? I suppose we may meet only for a fortnight on the present occasion, and I presume—and I think there is something to be said for it—that we shall not be called together again until something is required by the Government, until they want more money. The suggestion has been made that we may not be called together again until February, and then I presume the Government will again take all the time of the House from Christmas, which is the close of this year, until the close of the Session. Where do we come in? Do we come in at all? My hon. Friend suggests we are getting our opportunity now, but I have had to wait until nine o'clock to get it. It does seem to me that the Government ought to realise that the private Member exists and has his rights.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
The hon. Member has been addressing the House for thirty-five minutes, and, as other hon. Members may desire to speak, I would call his attention to the fact that he has said the same thing several times over.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I usually bow, Sir, to your ruling with great grace, but I very respectfully suggest that, with the exception of my reference to private Members, I did not touch on any one topic twice. If I have done so I promise I shall not touch upon it thrice. I address myself to a question which I have not yet raised, and which I desire to raise in connection with the King's Speech, and that is what is going to happen to certain domestic policies to which the Government are pledged and which we have not heard of in the King's Speech. I do not want to raise controversial points, but I want to know where we are. This is one of the illustrations of the way in which we are treated and of the way in which we are not given information. For instance, we are meeting in the Fifth Session of this Parliament. We have on the stocks a Bill in which a great many of us are interested, namely, the Plural Voting Bill. There is no mention made of it in the King's Speech, and I can quite understand why. I can understand that it is desirable and necessary, and, as far as we are concerned, we are perfectly willing to see that done, that there should be what is called a "truce of God" with regard to those political controversies while the War lasts. At the same time, is any responsible Minister I going to tell us what we are going to do 157 this year. This is the last possible year in which this Bill can be passed. If we lose this Bill this Session and nothing happens with regard to the prolongation of the Session and of the Parliament, and if there is an election, what is our position with regard to that measure to which we are pledged? I suppose if the Plural Voting Bill is not mentioned in the King's Speech as a point of domestic legislation it will be a point for the Leaders of the Opposition to say that it is unfair to discuss it at all this Session, because no mention has been made of it in the King's Speech. I do not know whether the Junior Lord of the Treasury, who is to reply to this speech, can speak with any authority on this point. But I can assure him it is one in which the House is very gravely concerned, and on which a great many of my colleagues desire to make speeches in order to ascertain the decision of the Government. I agree, after all, that this kind of speech is not very useful, but I have made it for one simple reason, namely, that I do think we ought to receive as private Members a little more attention from the Front Bench. All the attention to-day has been given to the Opposition. They put down three specific Amendments on the Paper and they have got in their questions, which I again emphasise were dummy questions which they did not intend to raise, and which, when they did raise, were directed against the wrong man, Lord Kitchener being responsible for every one of the questions raised, and if there is any bad administration it is the fault of this heaven born organiser who was put in on the cry of the Tory Press and Opposition to look after the affairs of the day. It is because of that I felt it my duty to make the speech I have made.
§ Mr. KING
I must not allow the very brilliant speech to which we have just listened to pass without a word of concurrence, complete concurrence, with all the sentiments that it has so eloquently expressed. I thank the hon. Member for having referred especially to one matter which I am sure is very much upon the mind of active politicians at the present time, I mean the Plural Voting Bill. I will only say this about this subject, that last Session, after the War period began, the Prime Minister enunciated this doctrine, that no interest which was looking forward to legislation being passed under the Parliament Act was to be prejudiced by the outbreak of war, and I understood— 158 at any rate, my reason would make me conclude—that that pledge applied also to the Plural Voting Bill. Therefore, although there is no reference to it in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, I have every hope and confidence that it will appear later on in the Session.
I very much congratulate my hon. Friend upon having, perhaps in language a little stronger than I should have ventured upon, referred to the very anomalous position of the Secretary of State for War. Lord Kitchener is a man to whom, this country owes a very great deal, for whom in his special way we have the profoundest admiration, and for whose services we feel truly grateful; but I must say that as soon as his appointment was announced I felt that it must inevitably bring with it certain disadvantages. Lord Kitchener has done an enormous amount of work in our Empire, but very little here at home; he certainly has had no experience whatever of the temper of Parliament, or of the democratic temper of the people of this Kingdom. I feel quite sure that some of the difficulties—which have been serious—in connection with the War are due to the fact that we have Lord Kitchener at the War Office. It is quite obvious that he is determined that there shall be as little information as possible given to the public. That might be quite intelligible in India or in Egypt, but it is not an intelligible position to take up in the British Isles. Many steps, or changes of policy have been initiated—as in connection with the internment of aliens—in connection with which the accompaniment of a few words of explanation such as we have had to-day would have swept away at once a large amount of doubt, hesitation, anxiety, and even alarm, which these steps in policy, which I believe have been quite right and reasonable, but quite unintelligible to the public at large, have aroused. If we had had a few words of explanation at the time we should have had a great deal more confidence and a great deal less of the alarm, anxiety and criticism which have been really rather painful at times.
I wish to refer to one other question which really illustrates the point I have been trying to make. I refer to the difficulty which has been caused in a number of places by the various restrictions in connection with the opening and closing of public-houses. I believe myself that the principle of restricting the hours of sale of intoxicating liquors is a sound one.
159 It has been absolutely necessary, and in most places accompanied by very little difficulty, but there have been cases of contrast as between different districts, public-houses having been allowed to remain open in some districts very much later than in others, apparently without any reason. If more consideration had been paid to public opinion and to the views and judgment of local authorities in this matter there would have been a great deal less difficulty. I hope that an the various orders which will be made it will not be only military considerations that will be taken into account, but generally the feeling of the public, and, as far as possible, the public interest. I will conclude with one sentiment which I do not think has been sufficiently expressed in this Debate, and that is the feeling of admiration and gratitude which we have for the Government as a whole for the way in which they have been carrying on the work of the country under very arduous and unprecedented circumstances. After a very trying and arduous Session, just at the moment when the holidays seemed an absolute necessity for the Cabinet and other Ministers, they were plunged into a crisis and time of strain, anxiety and overwork, quite without parallel. In spite of this and the great strain that the crisis must have brought, they have carried through the work of the country in a most admirable way, and I am sure that I am expressing the opinion of all parts of the House when I say that we are grateful to the Ministers for their services to the country in this crisis.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) spoke of the problem that is likely to arise after the War, when a million or so of men will be thrown on a restricted labour market. I think that that danger is before the eyes of men who would be likely to enlist, and it seems to me that one thing that the Government might do to increase recruiting is to undertake to pay for a few months, six or twelve, after the declaration of peace, the sums that have been paid to men as soldiers, so that the men would not be confronted with the fear with which they are confronted to-day, that immediately the War is over, before they can find a job, they will be thrown on the scrap-heap. I believe, very strongly, that the rectification of such matters as these is the right way to provide the men required for the defence of the realm. I am par 160 ticulary glad to have heard speeches from all parts of the House pointing to the disabilities under which soldiers suffer as the barrier to recruitment. I have taken up the position myself that the first thing to do, before asking other men to fight for us, is to see that they get proper conditions of employment, and that their wives and other dependants are properly safeguarded from penury by the State.
There is one other point to which I wish to refer, and that is the wholly unsatisfactory reply given by the Financial Secretary to the War Office in the matter of the police surveillance over the wives of soldiers. He suggested that it was the customary thing to make the payment or pension dependent upon good conduct. It may be customary to make payment for services rendered or a pension dependent on the good conduct of the man who receives it, but I know of no precedent of making the payment to a man dependent upon what the police may consider to be or not to be the good conduct of the wife. This is an amount paid by the State as part of the wage of the soldier. That is what it amounts to; and he has no right to be debarred from the receipt of it because the police may think that his wife is not conducting herself in a fit and proper manner. I think that the soldier has reason for deep resentment when it is known to him after he has gone to the front that the police will be taking into consideration the method of the livelihood of his wife. I think it is an insult to the soldiers, and I think such an Order ought not to have been issued by the Home Office at the direction of the Army Council. I hope it will be withdrawn.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Herbert Lewis)
There is one question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh in which my Department is concerned, and to which perhaps I shall endeavour to give a reply. If my hon. Friend had been good enough to give notice of his intention to raise this question, my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board would, I feel sure, have been here to listen to what he had to say, and to reply. The question which my hon. Friend raised related to employment in this country at the close of the War. He said, and said rightly, that at the present time the amount of unemployment in the country as a whole was not great. Indeed, I am glad to be 161 able to say that it is only slightly more than it was at this time last year. My hon. Friend made certain exceptions, local and otherwise, in his statement, and in these I can concur. But his object in speaking was to ascertain whether the Government had at all considered what was to happen in the event of a large number of men returning home from the War, when the manufacture of munitions of war had ceased, and when a large amount of employment directly arising out of the War had come to an end. I am glad to be able to inform my hon. Friend that no sooner had the War broken out than the Local Government Board at once made inquiries of local authorities in all parts of the country as to the schemes of public work which they were prepared to put in hand. I am only able to speak for England and Wales in this matter, but I believe I am correct in saying that similar inquiries were made in the case of local authorities in Scotland. A very large amount of information was collected under that head.
It would, of course, be unwise on the part of the local authorities at the present time—the state of employment being what it is—to press on public works of that character; and I am sure that my hon. Friend does not desire that anything of the kind should be done, but that so far as possible such public works, unless there is some local and immediate necessity for them, should be conserved for the time that the troops have returned from the War. I do not mean to imply for a single moment that the ordinary work which the municipalities are now carrying on should not proceed, provided there is a certain amount of labour in connection with that work. Not only have inquiries been made of the local authorities, but there are as well certain schemes of a general character which have been under consideration. The Development Commissioners have had schemes under consideration. I can assure my hon. Friend that the question which he has so properly raised in the course of the Debate on the Address has been carefully considered by His Majesty's Government. So far as the Local Government Board is concerned the question is not being in any way lost sight of. The Department with which I am connected have their eyes open to the future, and so far as possible preparations will be made for the eventuality that he has put.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
I did not intend to speak but for the speech which 162 the right hon. Gentleman has delivered. As I am a Member of the Local Representative Committee dealing with unemployment I am bound to say that I think his speech rather unsatisfactory, and for this reason: It is not any use the Local Government Board sending instructions to the local authorities and asking them to prepare great schemes, such as road-making and other gigantic schemes, the cost of which will be upon their rates, and to hold these schemes over until the time when the troops return, without they know for certain what proportion of the cost the Government is prepared to pay. That is really the trouble with the local authorities. You cannot very well move them to action until they know from the Government whether the Development Commissioners or the Road Board are prepared to make them Grants towards the making of new roads and other public works, I quite agree with him when he says that he hopes the local authorities will not stop going on with pressing work. They are not doing that. But I know that some local authorities are considering schemes that, owing to the height of their rates, it is quite impossible for them to proceed without they know from the Local Government Board what they are going to do. I should advise the Local Government Board to consider that point, and advise the local authorities what proportion of the cost they are prepared to pay.
I should like to raise another point. I am sorry Ministers are not present, and especially the Financial Secretary to the War Office. I entirely demur to the criticisms which have been cast upon him by the Member for East Edinburgh. I am bound to say that his praise of his Scottish colleagues was not fair to the Financial Secretary. I can speak from experience. I say advisedly that the Financial Secretary—and all those who have corresponded with him about such cases as he referred to, that is to say, the non-payment of separation allowance and allotment, will be able to bear me out—has given great consideration to the matter. So far as I am concerned personally, I have presented a very large number of cases to the War Office, and in every case the Financial Secretary to the War Office had dealt very promptly with them, and the people have got their money. [An HON. MEMBER: "They would not have got it if you had not written."] The mistake which the hon. Member for 163 East Edinburgh made was that he wrote to the Paymaster-General, or the Paymaster in the Division of Perth, when he should have written to the War Office.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
If the hon. Member had written to the War Office I am quite certain that they would have attended to him. But the point I wanted to raise was this: I am glad to see the Chief Whip present; I should like him to present it to the War Office or the Prime Minister: that is the need which we feel in our large centres that there should be an important change dealing with the non-payment of the separation allowance and allotments. I live in my Constituency, and that is an advantage. I am easy of access to the people. I have had a very large number of women coming to me who have not received their separation allowance. In every case where I have written to the War Office on their behalf I have received, as I said, very much attention, and these people have had their separation allowances. What I want to suggest to the Government is this, and it is a practical suggestion for getting over this difficulty. It is a crying difficulty, and it is not easy to do what the Financial Secretary suggested, that is to say, if the women do not receive their separation allowance or allotment they should write to the paymaster of the regiment to which the husband belonged. There are thousands of cases of these poor women who are incapable of doing that. That is really the trouble, and in large towns they come to everybody to write letters for them to the War Office. I have found that in almost every case I have dealt with there were mistakes in the papers, or the papers were mislaid or miscarried. In other cases there were removals, and in many cases, as the Financial Secretary said, there was no proper and correct information in the attestation papers.
I suggest that the War Office should authorise in every constituency and in large towns and counties where the counties are divided into eight or ten divisions, and in some cases eighteen divisions, the committees dealing with old age pensions and dependants, to constitute what I would call an official correspondent with the War Office on behalf of those people in every such centre. These women should be able to go to that correspondent 164 instead of searching here and there for some one to write for them to the War Office. In the towns I am speaking of we have excellent persons, quite independent and impartial, In the officers of the old age pensions committee, and I urge upon the Government the necessity of asking these men with proper payment for the extra work to become responsible, and that women who are not paid separation allowances should have the right to approach these men and ask them to write to the War Office as to why these separation allowances are not paid. The other point I should like to make is this: I think the War Office ought really to pay the monthly allotments which they promised to pay weekly, along with the allowance the Government themselves are giving. I believe if this were done, and these correspondents appointed in our several districts, the complaints now rightly made and the discontent and poverty created through women not receiving their separation allowances would be done away with, and general satisfaction would be given to the dependants of the men. I was very much surprised at the statement made by the right hon. Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Long) with regard to the large amount of money that is being paid out of the Prince of Wales Fund and handed over to organisations not representative of the people or the public. I refer to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. To hand over between £800,000 or £900,000 to an organisation which is not elected by responsible people, and which is self-constituted, seems to me to be a very serious matter indeed and one that requires very much attention on the part of the Government.
I agree with a very large number of the criticisms passed by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Arthur Henderson) on the people that represent that organisation. I am sorry the hon. Gentleman is not here just now. I was very much surprised that he should criticise it so severely because he is a member of the executive of the Prince of Wales' Fund, and it was the Prince of Wales' Fund that brought those people into existence. If it had not been for the Prince of Wales' Fund handing over these large sums to these people, they would not have power to spend this money in the way they are doing. I believe if this public money is to be spent, it should be spent through the representatives of the people and our 165 local bodies. Why not make the old age pensions committees responsible for the spending of this money? In any case, if I were a member of the executive committee of the Prince of Wales' Fund, I should feel it my duty to bring the matter before them and try and stop it there, rather than come to the House of Commons, which is only responsible in an indirect way. I should like to press upon the Chief Whip the points which I have made with regard to the correspondents. It is a very important point to those people. I found that there were weeks and weeks when women got no money, and many women do not know where to go to seek for information. They cannot write to the War Office themselves, and I say the Government should constitute somebody who should become responsible for the correspondence with the War Office, and I believe by that means you would mitigate a great deal of the hardships of which we now hear.
There is one other point. I disagree to a large extent with what has been said about recruiting. I have had some experience of recruiting myself inside a recruiting office, and here again I say, and I am glad to say it, that the men do not consider themselves. The men I have seen leave their work, where some of them were earning £6 or £7 a week, and they enlist absolutely from, a sense of duty. Within ten days I myself swore in between 700 and 800 men, all of them who had been well paid at their work. Not a single one of these men but came to enlist from a pure sense of duty at the present juncture for their country, and the hardest thing I had to do was to tell some of them that a telegram had come from the War Office to stop recruiting. From 150 to 200 men were standing in the hall of the office where I was when that telegram came, and it was a most difficult thing to persuade these men that the War Office were not able to take them on. That stopped recruiting for the time being in the North of England, where recruiting was booming at the time. It was due to the War Office that recruiting was stopped, and it is only now again that men are coming in much quicker than for some days past. On the other hand I am bound to say that the delays in the payments to their wives no doubt has had some effect upon those who remain behind. These things spread rapidly through a town, and it is said that Mrs. So-and-So is living in poverty without 166 assistance in the way of her allotment or separation allowance. The Government having given larger separation allowances, much larger than they have ever had before and larger than during the Boer War, when there was nothing in comparison to what is being paid at the present time. I press upon the Government the points which I have made, and I think if they will turn them into practical effect we shall have a better state of things and much of the arrears will be cleared off.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
§ Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors and Members of His Majesty's Household.