§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn till Monday next."—[Mr. Gulland.]
§ Mr. SHERWELL
Before the House adjourns I desire to refer to a matter 727 arising out of the Home Secretary's statement yesterday concerning the Press censorship, which I had not the opportunity of doing, as I hoped to have, last night. I make no apology for bringing this matter before the House, because apart altogether from its extreme importance and the very considerable amount of public misgiving there is concerning the existence of a system of censorship, this is probably the last effective and secure opportunity we may have before the House rises of discussing this question, and, more particularly, of examining the statement made by the Home Secretary yesterday. I very much regret the absence of the right hon. Gentleman—I have no doubt for sufficient cause. He has been informed of the fact that the question was to be raised on the Adjournment to-night. [An HON. MEMBER: "He will be here!"] The House was very considerably relieved at the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, but some of us might have felt more relief still if he had been at some pains to explain more fully the character of the proposed changes which he announced, and had been able to give this House some clear idea of the reorganisation which he indicated, and what the suggested reorganisation is intended to cover. We are, at least, glad to know that in respect of what I still claim to be a matter very vitally affecting the universal interests of this country—certainly the Press censorship must very vitally touch public interests at many points—that under the assumption of responsibility by the right hon. Gentleman this matter is, for the first time, regularised. May I be allowed to say, in passing, that in calling attention to this matter and in claiming that the new step taken does very happily regularise the position, I am very far from desiring to make any reflection whatever on the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith). I have always felt, as I believe the House felt, that in accepting that position on the conditions under which that appointment was made the right hon. and learned Gentleman was placed in a very false and also a very embarrassing position.
The Home Secretary was good enough to state yesterday that, under the changes which are to be consequent upon his 728 assumption of direct responsibility, the methods and scheme of the Press Bureau and the Press censorship are to be reorganised. I should very much like to know what the right hon. Gentleman really means by reorganisation. It would resassure the House if to-night he could give us some indication of the lines of the suggested reorganisation. The only point upon which he did inform us was that under the new arrangements the Staff of General Sir John French was to be enlarged by the appointment of special officers who would devote attention to reports of actions. There are one or two points from which it is very desiraable that the House before it rises should have some clear information. I ask these questions and raise these points out of the fruits of experience we have had during the last few weeks. The first point I would put to the Home Secretary is this: Is the proposed scheme of reorganisation to secure us now and for the future uniformity in the application of the Press censorship? Within the past week—I am going to confine my remarks entirely to events which have arisen during the last few days—the Press Bureau in their application of the Press censorship seem to have swung round from one extreme to the other. While there was an extensive lack of discrimination in the censorship prior to the last few days, during the last two days, or within the last week, the Press Bureau seem to have swung round to the other extreme of rigidity of prohibition. Messages and reports have been censored, and are apparently being censored, without any attempt at other than an individual system of prohibition.
May I give one illustration to point my argument? It is within the knowledge of the House that during the past weekend information was given by the Press Bureau announcing the loss, the very deplorable loss, of His Majesty's ship "Pathfinder." The message that was given from the Press Bureau was a very meagre message. I have no complaint to make upon that. There may have been sufficient reason. But the message was not only merely meagre; it suppressed all details of locality, and was a colourless message, apart from the acknowledgment of the unhappy loss of the vessel. It is 729 within the knowledge of the Press Bureau that other accounts, very much fuller and supplying details of locality, did find their way into the Press. It happened that on Sunday night last the editor of a very influential Scottish journal—the editor of the "Scotsman"—acting under a loyal desire to conform to whatever rules and honourable obligations might devolve, as a consequence of the Press censorship upon influential journals, applied direct to the Press Bureau and informed them that a definite statement had been made regarding the cause of the disaster which was at variance with the official bulletin, and asking whether he, the editor, had authority to contradict this report. At the same time he asked the further question whether he was at liberty to mention St. Abb's Head, which had been given in a Scottish evening paper on Saturday night as the scene of the disaster. Some three-quarters of an hour after this, certainly with very commendable promptitude, he received a reply in these terms:—The answer of the Admiralty to both questions is 'No.' They want nothing said about 'Pathfinder' beyond the official statement.An hour after the receipt of this reply from the Press Bureau, a circumstantial descriptive account by an eye-witness of the disaster was received, which was put into print and submitted to the Press Bureau with a request to know whether they were allowed to publish it. They received in reply to that a peremptory prohibition of its publication, with the further intimation that no news beyond the official information was to be communicated. But there were a number of papers in Scotland and elsewhere which actually published this descriptive account by an eye-witness of this unhappy disaster, although the editor of the "Scotsman," acting under a very honourable obligation and sense of honour, did himself suppress the publication of an article under the prohibition of the Press Bureau. The significance of this incident lies in the sequel. On Monday night a representative of the "Scotsman" saw, I believe, the chief of the Press Bureau in London, and explained to him the history of this particular incident. After some discussion, this responsible reply was given to the 730 representative of the editor of the "Scotsman":—The Bureau acknowledge the loyalty of the 'Scotsman.' They admit the 'Scotsman' has a grievance, but only against the other papers who did not submit this matter to the Censor. These other papers will be communicated with.I submit to the House that that official reply is a very extraordinary illustration of the apparent lack of perception on the part of the Press Bureau of the full responsibility and obligations of their office. It is to me an extraordinary suggestion that when an editor has submitted an article to the Press Bureau and has been refused permission to publish it he should then be told, when other journals have not submitted that article to the Press Bureau but have published it, that his grievance lies not against the Press Bureau but against the editors of those journals who have not taken the trouble to submit that report to the Press Bureau, but have published it on their own responsibility. The picture conjured up in my mind is this: that the Press Bureau, having had a particular report submitted to it—a report on a very important matter—censors that report and prohibits its publication, and then folds its arms and takes no step whatever to communicate to the entire Press of the Kingdom that what is prohibited to one journal is prohibited to all the journals. I cannot help thinking that the Home Secretary, in the new methods he has indicated as the working methods of the Press Bureau, should be able to give us an assurance that there will not be this unfair discrimination—unintentional discrimination, I am prepared to allow—between particular journals, and that when a report is prohibited for circulation, the prohibition should not be confined to a particular journal that has had the sense of honour to submit it, but that the prohibition should be made known to the entire Press of the United Kingdom. Under these conditions, and these conditions alone, can there be anything like equality of treatment among the journals of this country.
There is a further question I should like to ask. As the House is aware, over and above and apparently independent of the Press Bureau itself, there is a Press censorship relating to the transmission of cable communications abroad. I want to ask the Home Secretary whether he is able 731 to promise us any change in the method in the application of this cable censorship? Is there to be reform in this important direction at the same time? It is well known that at the present time messages which have been published here with the approval of the Press Bureau are again and again censored by the cable censors, sometimes entirely suppressed, and sometimes refused, except in a mutilated form, to be allowed to be cabled to the newspapers of the United States and elsewhere. May I again take a single illustration to bring out my point. There was published in the London "Daily Chronicle" the other day what I venture to think, and far more competent critics will agree with the judgment, was the most brilliant article yet written, which was written by Mr. Philip Gibbs, describing the actual operations of General Sir John French's Army during the last few days. There is an arrangement by which Mr. Gibbs' articles are published simultaneously in London and by the "New York Times," and are cabled over to permit of simultaneous publication. Mr. Philip Gibbs' brilliant article was published without comment and criticism in the London "Daily Chronicle," but it was absolutely prohibited by the cable censor, and, so far as I know, it has not yet appeared in the American papers. I cannot help thinking that it is deplorable and disadvantageous to a very high degree that articles of that character, which cause every one who reads them to thrill with pride in the British soldier, should be withheld from the reading public across the Atlantic.
I understand that Sir George Armstrong has been appointed Director of Naval Censors. It would be a matter of very great importance for this House to be informed whether the Sir George Armstrong who has been appointed Director of Naval Censors is the gentleman of the same name who was summoned to the Bar of this House and severely censured by Mr. Speaker—
§ Mr. SHERWELL
Only a few years ago. It was for the improper publication of a report affecting the privileges of Parliament.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I want to know whether this is the same gentleman, and if it be the same gentleman, I want to ask on what ground that particular appointment can be defended? It is surely not to be suggested by any Member of the Government that this gentleman, who has been heavily censured by Mr. Speaker at the unanimous desire of the House, has been appointed because there is no responsible editor among the whole number of uncensured editors who has the necessary qualification.
May I turn back to the main point. What is required in order to make this Press censorship very much more effective, and very much more satisfactory than it is at present? I have already indicated that in my judgment the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) was placed in a very false and unfortunate position under the conditions and terms of his appointment. I cannot conceive how anybody responsible for the establishment of a Press censorship can hope to establish a satisfactory censorship without at least the guidance and counsel of responsible and experienced journalists. I should certainly have liked to see a number of responsible journalists appointed on the Press Bureau, but at least I would suggest to the Home Secretary that if he is desirous of making the Press Bureau and the censorship satisfactory to all interests in the community, he should at least consider seriously the desirability and the great advantage of occasionally conferring with a number of selected responsible editors and journalists, in order to secure from them some suggestions for his guidance, in conducting the Press Bureau in future. I have brought this matter before the House because I believe the Home Secretary may be assured that there is probably no single important fact in the great War in which we are now engaged, which is causing such serious misgivings and disquietude, and has already produced a heavier crop of grievances and injustices 733 than the present methods of the Press Bureau, and I hope the Home Secretary will be able to give the House some satisfactory assurance on this point.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. McKenna)
I rise at once, because the detailed criticism will be dealt with, I hope, by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith). I want to say, in the first instance, what are the principles upon which we propose to act. I think it is only right that it should be stated at once that so far as I have been able to discover, after as careful inquiry as I can make from all sorts and conditions of men during the last forty-eight hours, overwhelmingly the greatest part of the complaint against the action of the Press Bureau in the past has been in respect of a matter for which the Press Bureau has not had the smallest responsibility. That is a strong statement, but one which it is very easy to establish. Amongst all the critics whom I have sought out and asked what is the chief complaint of the action of the Press Bureau I have had in every instance the reply, "The unnecessary suppression by the cable censorship of news which ought, in the interests of this country, to have been telegraphed abroad." Everyone is agreed that that has been the chief matter of complaint—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—so far as I have been able to discover.
§ Mr. McKENNA
No, that is quite a different matter. It is not a question of suppression at home; it is a question of absence of information at home. So far as the suppression of information is concerned, the complaint has been that news which would be valuable in the British interests to have circulated abroad has been stopped by the cable censorship. The cable censorship until the last few days has not been under the control of the Press Bureau in any sense whatever. That has been one work of reorganisation which has been undertaken—to place the control of Press information passing over the foreign cables under the Press Bureau so as to ensure that the news or the articles which are published in this country, which have passed the censorship here, should be allowed freely to circulate abroad.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I really think my hon. Friend, by the implication of his question more than by the question itself, is a little bit over critical. The War broke out very hurriedly. Everybody would agree that some form of censorship had to be introduced over foreign cables. The duty necessarily fell in the first instance upon the military authority, and a very large staff had to be immediately appointed to censor all foreign cablegrams. It is not easy to institute a great staff of that kind, to set it at work, to give it the necessary instruction and to sec that this staff shall act upon principles which would recommend themselves to my hon. Friend. It is not easy to undertake work of that kind quickly. No doubt great mistakes were made, and in due course, when the question is raised, the blame has to be laid upon the right shoulders. The blame must not be laid upon the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) as he had no responsibility in that matter whatever. That I have found has been the chief cause of complaint. As to the other cause of complaint, my hon. Friend believes it to be the suppression of internal news. I am not dealing with a particular case like that of the "Pathfinder," which the right hon. Gentleman will deal with. I am dealing only with what is believed to be the general suppression of news from the front in this country. There has been no suppression.
§ Mr. McKENNA
My hon. Friend ought to be fair. When he speaks of a famine he suggests, and he means to imply, that that famine of news has been caused by the Press Bureau, and that the news was there but that in their discrimination the Press Bureau suppressed news, and he really believee—I suppose he must believe—that we have had continuous dispatches of a most interesting and valuable kind from the soldiers at the front, that they have been submitted to the Press Bureau, and have been one after another suppressed.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Unless my hon. Friend meant to suggest some responsibility for the Press Bureau suppressing news, what does it mean when he says that the Press Bureau has been responsible for a famine? Unless they had the news and suppressed it, what does he mean by saying they were responsible for the famine in news? Our troops were engaged in active operations, you may say almost within twenty-four hours of their arrival in France. Anyone who reads Sir John French's dispatch knows now what the nature of these uninterrupted fighting operations have been from the first. I think my hon. Friend might appreciate the extraordinary difficulty Sir John French's staff must have had in these circumstances in sending dispatches. The famine has been caused for the reason that no dispatches, except what have been published, have been received from the front, and I think Sir John French's dispatch now affords us an absolute answer to any complaint of the dearth of previous dispatches. The Prime Minister, who felt, naturally, as Leader of the House, very keenly the criticism which was directed from all quarters of the House against the military authorities for not giving fuller and more frequent information upon the military details of the War which could be properly published, stated to this House that steps had been taken in order to ensure that there shall be present on Sir John French's staff officers who, if the circumstances of the actual military operations permit, will be in a position to afford us more regular and detailed information which can be properly published. These steps have been taken, and we have only got to wait until those officers are in a position to give us the report which we expect to receive from them. I hope my hon. Friend is satisfied, from the really full statement of the case that I have endeavoured to give him, that such famine as there has been, a famine which we all admit and deplore, has been absolutely unavoidable in these circumstances, and has not been the work of the Press Bureau.
On the contrary, I would appeal to my hon. Friend to consider the ordinary problems of human nature. It clearly would be the desire of the Press Bureau to 736 publish rather than to suppress. The Press Bureau receives applause for all the telegrams it is able to publish. When it does not publish news it receives censure. I think one or two dispatches—they have been able to publish very interesting and full dispatches—have been received with great thankfulness by the public. I think it might be fairly left to the Bureau itself to take every step, so far as it can, to ensure that full information shall be received, and I can assure my hon. Friend that it will be my most earnest desire to see that as much information as possible is obtained from the front. Yesterday, in answer to a question, I explained how it was that correspondents could not be allowed with the troops, and I think the whole House was completely satisfied with the explanation given. I see that dissent comes from my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge), but with that single exception I believe the whole House is satisfied that this country, when acting with an ally, could not take up an independent course with regard to permission being given to correspondents. The first question asked by my hon. Friend was whether the supposed scheme of reorganisation will in future secure uniformity in the censorship. That was the point which I thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) dealt with very fully and conclusively in the statement which he made last week.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
My point was, Will the Home Secretary tell us that when a particular report is censored the intimation that it is not to be published will be made universally throughout the British Press?
§ Mr. McKENNA
The right hon. Gentleman will deal with that point so far as the particular case came before him. I think, on reflection, my hon. Friend will see that what he asks would be impossible. It would be impossible to say to the Press, "You must none of you publish a particular account of a particular event" unless you have told them what that particular account was.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
When the report of a particular event has been refused publication by the Press Bureau, is no information to go from the Press Bureau to the Press generally that that has been prohibited?
§ Mr. McKENNA
The only trouble would be that to intimate to the Press generally that that particular account was prohibited, you would have to inform them of what the account was. Of course, the subject-matter o£ the account they are informed of, generally speaking. I am sure my hon. Friend means something different from the only interpretation I can put upon his words. I see my hon. Friend's point. I do not see how in practice it could be carried out. As regards the appointment of any particular members of the staff, I would remind my hon. Friend that my connection with the Bureau is less than fourteen hours' old, and I would ask him to postpone any consideration of the question of the staff. On his fourth point, as regards the appointment of responsible journalists—or, at any rate, the appointment of responsible journalists to advise us on our proceedings—I am happy to be able to tell him that that course has been taken. Responsible journalists, both as members of the Committee in their collective capacity and in their individual capacity, are constantly consulted. It is absolutely essential for the proper working of the Bureau that we should be in harmony with the general Press feeling of the country. Every step will be taken to secure as far as possible—it is an extraordinarily difficult task—that general satisfaction is given to the Press as a whole, and that every man will feel that no preference is given to one paper, or set of papers, over any other paper, or set of papers. Every precaution will be taken in that matter. As to the earlier point of my hon. Friend, namely, the statement with regard to forbidding the publication in other papers of news for which permission to publish has been refused to an individual paper, I do not know that he meant to suggest that where news has been censored for one paper and the same news appears in other papers which have not been censored, punitive action should be taken against the offending papers.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
The point I made was that the Press Bureau officially informed the editor of the "Scotsman" that no communication concerning the loss of the "Pathfinder," except the official communication of the Admiralty, was to be published. Does my right hon. Friend 738 suggest—I am sure he would not suggest—that it was impossible for the Press Bureau to acquaint the rest of the journals that nothing but the official report was to be published?
§ Mr. McKENNA
That matter will be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend. I think I have said sufficient to assure hon. Members as to the way in which we propose to act, and I hope that my short acquaintance with the work of the Bureau, which is only recent, will be sufficient excuse for not now going into details. I think it only right to say this. Such experience as I have had of the working of the Bureau has led me to the conclusion that it is a marvel that they have been able to do as well as they have done under the conditions in which they work. I hope I shall be able to give them better housing and a larger staff, and, generally speaking, to provide a Bureau with conditions under which their operations, now very extensive, can be properly conducted.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I think my right hon. Friend who has just spoken has entirely justified me in making a clear distinction between the Press Bureau and the cable censorship. Up to a short time ago, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, the work of the one was independent of the work of the other. I do not intend to comment upon the general work of the Press Bureau. I said before that I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) has shown great public spirit, unselfishness, and zeal in regard to the work of the Press Bureau, and, so far as my observation is concerned, I think that journalists have met from him nothing but consideration and a desire to meet their views. But while making this statement one is bound to admit that there has been a lack of co-ordination. One censor apparently has come to one decision, and another censor has come to a different decision, with the result that the newspaper which came under one censor was forbidden to publish news which another newspaper, coming under another censor, was permitted to publish, as in the case of the "Pathfinder." There were special circumstances in that case. This lack of co-ordination must lead to different 739 decisions, and different decisions must lead to apparently different treatment of newspapers. There is the case which might be mentioned of a newspaper being allowed to publish a placard, when another news paper was obliged to sacrifice £200 or £300 worth of placards containing exactly the same statement.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
Well, there has been a placard stopped, and perhaps I had better leave the hon. Gentleman concerned to make a statement himself in regard to that matter. Of course, that must cause a feeling of discontent, and a sense of injustice, if it takes place. But I base my main criticism of the whole affair on the action of the cable censorship. On the very first day that question arose in the House I made a suggestion, which was that the cable censorship required above all other forms of censorship a large, well-instructed, and experienced staff, and I hold that the staff can only be supplied, so far as the preparation of the work is concerned, by trained and experienced journalists. I do not like to give further publicity to some of the statements which have been made, but everybody knows that in regard to the censorship of cablegrams there has been something like a scandal. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had no responsibility for the matter. In fact, as far as my knowledge goes, I think he has done his very best to reform the state of things. What occurred did not arise in connection with the office over which he presides. Still I am not quite satisfied. The reason why I have taken such a keen interest in the cable censorship is not merely a professional reason, but it is this: There is no public opinion in the world which ought to be so well informed with regard to the causes of this War, or the incidents of this War, or the principles of the War, as the opinion of the united States of America. I have regarded a proper supply of information regarding our case as not merely a question of journalism but as a question of the gravest political interest for this country.
740 The most desperate, and I think the most extensive, efforts have been made to poison public opinion in the United States of America by all kinds of false statements with regard to the origin and the incidents of the War. I think that none but trained journalists can appreciate this. In the first place, the expense of these cables is enormous. I am perfectly certain that I do not exaggerate when I say that a cable message of 500 words may often cost the newspaper which has got it as much as £500. A correspondent has been sent from the United States, and his expenses must be large in time of war. The expense of telegraphing from the seat of war must be enormous. Sometimes his messages have to be sent by motor cars running thirty, forty, or fifty miles in order to get to the telegraph station. This is an additional expense, and I repeat that I am perfectly sure a cablegram of 500 words may cost £500, or even £1,000, to the newspaper to which it is sent.
When we come to the cable office what do we find? We find two, three, four, or five military gentlemen who were never inside a newspaper office in their lives, and many of whom have never written a line in their lives. You find them in a stuffy office with 40,000, 50,000, or 100,000 words before them. Does not everyone think that every word of the remarkable dispatch of Sir John French was transmitted by cable? I am sure that every word has been sent to America, and if there had been an opportunity of describing the battle in full detail, I am sure we would have found in the newspapers of New York, Boston, and Cincinnati as full a description as we have had here. But if 50,000, 60,000, or 100,000 words go into a cable office how can the staff exercise the censorship? Many of us have been in newspaper offices all our lives, and we know that there is no department more carefully manned with more experienced, discreet, and alert men than the sub-editor's room. Take the case of the "Daily Telegraph," where you may have eight or ten men sub-editing the news as it arrives. They get 50,000 or 60,000 words every day in their lives, and they have to compress them into 10,000 words. That cannot be done except by a large staff of competent 741 and thoroughly trained men, and to suppose that a number of military gentlemen, who have probably been put to that work because they have ceased, not through any fault of their own, to be able to undertake more active duty, can do that work in an adequate way is out of the question.
Another point I wish to impress upon my right hon. Friend is the importance of time with regard to these telegrams. I have talked with correspondents sending cablegrams to the extent of 50,000 words. These cablegrams must have cost thousands of pounds. They are sent to the cable offices by correspondents who very often work at the risk of their lives. The men who sent these messages have, in their zeal for the performance of their professional duties, run through all kinds of perils every day they are engaged in the work. These messages of 50,000 words are held back five, ten, or forty-eight hours, and at the end of that time they are waste paper, after thousands of pounds have been spent in obtaining the news. I have spoken to correspondents on the matter, and I have communicated with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in regard to the complaints which have been made. I was rather surprised at statements which have been made to me as to the question of time. The correspondents were representatives of rival telegraph agencies. One of them had proposed that there should be a central office, and the other said, "That is all right for you, you are within five minutes from the central office. It is not quite the same for us, we are twenty minutes from the central office." One of the gentlemen who made that objection came round to me and said, "Do you realise that if one of our dispatches arrives later than that sent off by my friend, we hear by cable immediately as to the delay?" These are the conditions, and again I do press upon my right hon. Friend the vital necessity of keeping public opinion in the United States thoroughly well informed, through their newspaper, of our case and of the incidents of this struggle. Some reforms have been made. I understand that some journalists have been added to the staff of the cable censor. I am very glad to hear it. Perhaps I may take some 742 parental pride in that reform, but I do implore my right hon. Friend not to be niggardly in the addition of journalistic assistance to the cable censors on account of the vital importance of time and the saving of time by the expedition of the censor. Everybody is doing his best to relieve every class driven out of employment owing to the War, and I think I am entitled to put this consideration before the House. There is no class of the community on which the War has fallen more heavily than the newspaper profession. I could give to my right hon. Friend the names of a dozen experienced, excellent, trustworthy journalists who, owing to the exigencies of this War, have been deprived of the means of earning their livelihood. The War, of course, swallows up all other interests, and men who are not able to write about the War, but who, in one form or another, devote themselves to other departments of journalistic work are in many cases deprived of their livelihood by this War. I do not base the claim for an addition to the censorship staff on this ground, but I do say if the service of journalists are demanded, as they are demanded, that ought to be some additional reason for them not to be allowed to suffer any more than any other class of the community from the effects of the interference with their work which has been caused by the War.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I do not know whether it would be convenient to the House that I should make a short statement now. The change which I indicated in reference to the cable censorship became operative for the first time last night. So far as I know there has been no serious complaint made at all since last night, since the new system has been inaugurated. The Press Bureau has been elsewhere somewhat freely criticised, and I am at least entitled to notice with satisfaction that a very representative committee of the Press, representing a number of the most influential papers in London, asked unanimously that the functions discharged by the Press Censors should hereafter be discharged by the Press Bureau. That can be attributed either to the extreme badness of the Press censorship or the merits of our censorship, or it may be drawn a little 743 from both sources. On the occasion of our last Debate, the complaint made centred very largely about an incident which had its origin in South Shields. The hon. Baronet (Sir A. B. Markham) who introduced the subject to the House, and the hon. Gentleman who represents South Shields (Mr. Russell Rea) in this House, spoke of it. That was the occasion on which it was said that my hon. relative had used Teuton methods of reply. There was no incident in the Debate which attracted so much attention as that. No notice was given that it was going to be raised. When I got home I looked up the matter and went through the correspondence, and it was discovered that the gentleman in South Shields who had written, as far as we could discover, to at least five Members of Parliament describing his grievance and describing a prohibition which came straight from the War Office to the Admiralty as "idiotic," had actually written to us and expressed his recognition of the reasonableness of our decision before the Parliamentary Debate ever began.
I may now say something about the "Pathfinder" which was referred to by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell). May I point out at once that he really must not suppose that we are quite so foolish as to have attempted to start this Bureau without the idea of associating ourselves with the profession of journalists? The hon. Gentleman comes forward with the idea as if it were some brilliant inspiration that had occurred to him. The very first day that I was asked to take up this work, I went to the Representatives of the Press Committee of London and made a suggestion to them that they should appoint to the Bureau a journalist chosen by them. For reasons, into which I need not enter, that invitation was not at that time accepted. As I understand, what is proposed is that we should be reinforced by the presence of a certain number of journalists who possess sub-editorial experience which is the very class of experience in which we are lacking. Now I come to the "Pathfinder" case which is the only specific case now brought forward. I think that the hon. Member really misunderstood the facts. No regulation is more elementary 744 and none is more readily understood than the regulation which is not laid down by us, but is actually contained in terms in the Defence of the Realm Act, that nothing shall be published which would in any way disclose the position of the armed forces of the Crown, whether on land or by sea. I need not labour the necessity of this because it is obvious. When the incident of the "Pathfinder" happened this was the position: There was a definite rule that the position of a ship should not be mentioned or the position of an army if it could be of any assistance to an enemy. To have announced the position of the "Pathfinder" would have been of the greatest assistance to the enemy, and I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. When we recently announced the disaster to the "Pathfinder," we announced, because we believed it to be true, that it had come into contact with a mine. Very shortly afterwards there was reason for suspecting that it had come into contact with a submarine and not with a mine. Of course the Admiralty was most anxious that it should not be announced to the world that the injury had been caused by a submarine. It was quite obvious that otherwise the operation of catching and destroying the submarine might have been interfered with most vitally.
The position was this: Under our general prohibition it was quite wrong for any paper dealing with the "Pathfinder" incident to make the least reference to the locality in which that incident occurred. The mere fact that our notice excluded any mention of the locality-showed that the policy of the Admiralty was that no mention should be made of the place where the disaster occurred. That was the position at the time the "Scotsman" made the application to us. In the view of the Admiralty at that time the time had not come for the removal of an existing prohibition of which the whole Press was aware. We did not even decide the application of the "Scotsman"—to show how careful we are—in our own Admiralty room, though there is a very competent officer, but we made inquiries in the trade room and the military room, and we were told that on no account could this prohibition be withdrawn. Every other paper knew, just as the "Scotsman" had known, that the prohibition existed, and it was because the "Scotsman" knew it 745 that they applied it to us. I think that there were two papers which published the news without coming to us for leave. They behaved extremely badly. They had no right to publish the news. They were communicated with at once, and it was pointed out to them that they had behaved badly, and they attempted to make no serious defence. The "Scotsman" must not complain to us. We could have done nothing else. The hon. Gentleman will see the futility of suggesting that if one newspaper comes to us with a piece of news and asks, "May we publish it?" we should tell all the newspapers not to publish it. Take, for instance, the proximate landing of a large number of men who have to be protected by the Navy, a case in which it would lead to a great public disaster if it was known that they were going to be landed. Can the hon. Member conceive that if a paper came to us asking, "May we publish so and so?" we should telegraph to every paper in England requesting them not to publish the information? That is absolutely impossible.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I quite agree as to the insuperable difficulty of the Press Bureau on its own initiative issuing broadcast a prohibition against a particular message the existence of which may not be known to other papers. That is not the point. My point is this: On the initiative of the "Scotsman," the Press Bureau had reason to know that certain papers were publishing an unauthorised report. The Press Bureau was already informed by the editor of the "Scotsman." The statement had already appeared in one paper, and then the Press Bureau find it necessary to issue an announcement to the "Scotsman" that nothing is to be published except an official communication of the Admiralty. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that if there was a misconception on the part of some editor as to the publication of the news, it was not desirable for the Press Bureau to remind the Press generally that nothing but the official communication was to be published?
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
In reply to the hon. Gentleman, so far as my recollection of the incident goes, when the "Scotsman" originally applied to know whether they could publish the information, I think I am largely right in saying that they said, 746 without giving the name of the paper, that a paper had published this news. As I understand—I did not see this particular document until the incident was over—what happened was that we asked for the name of the paper in order that we might deal with it. I have no doubt that, if the name of the paper had been forthcoming, then we should have sent a telegram to the paper stopping it at once. I think that the name of the paper was not forthcoming until the next day. When attention was called by the "Scotsman" to the fact that these papers had published this, we immediately dealt with them. Both the papers actually publishing this were disobeying a prohibition which was in force, and which they ought to have known was in force. The "Scotsman" knew when they were asking us for leave to depart from a prohibition which was at that time in force. I rejoice indeed that this is the most serious case which the hon. Gentleman has thought it necessary to bring before the House after five weeks of work of a new office for which there was no precedent, for which there was no staff, and for which there were hardly any arrangements. I make the hon. Gentleman an offer. I invite him to come to the Bureau himself, and he had better wait until we get into our new offices. The moment we get into our new offices I invite the hon. Gentleman to come there and spend a week, either day or night or both, and at the end of that week I invite him to come to the House of Commons to tell them what he thinks of our methods and in what respect he thinks they can be improved, and to say whether the work there is not done faithfully, intelligently, and cautiously.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
The matter to which I rise to call attention does not affect the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but I should like to say that I myself appreciate what has been said by the hon. Member (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), as to the courtesy which the newspaper world has invariably received from the right hon. Gentleman. Though mistakes have been made, yet, at the same time, we should know that this is a new Department, started in a very great hurry, that a censorship bureau is a thing entirely foreign to this 747 country, and that, therefore, it was inevitable that some mistakes should be made. The gravest mistake, in my opinion, was the mistake of having two departments of the Press Bureau. It should have been in one from the commencement, with the assistance of thoroughly trained and responsible journalists. I think one result of the criticism in the House has been the reform which is now being carried out. The question to which I desire especially to refer is to some extent associated with the complaints that have been put forward. I desire to ask the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in supplement to the question I put to the Foreign Secretary this afternoon, whether he is considering the question of taking prompt steps to deny misleading and lying statements which are being published in the leading papers of neutral countries? I do not think I need labour the point as to the statements which are appearing at the present time. I have a Swedish paper here in which the sinking of four battleships off Hull is described in the most graphic manner. An account is given of interviews with two witnesses, who go into the whole of the details as to how the operation was performed. Of course, that has a very great effect in a country like Sweden, where German influences at the present moment are exceedingly strong, and where they are trying to make them stronger. What I want to bring under the notice of the Home Secretary is that an organisation should exist which shall be able to give a prompt and final denial in Sweden or elsewhere to a statement of that kind before it can do any injury, which undoubtedly it would otherwise do.
Another point is that we should arrange that the foreign Press, especially in neutral countries, should be able to obtain news, if possible, from London, and not from Berlin. I think the Under-Secretary is in full sympathy with that contention. Take the question of sinking the ships ort Heligoland. News was sent from Berlin to a leading paper in Italy—I have the paper here—and was published in Italy twenty-four hours before we allowed a telegram to go from London giving our version. They had twenty-four hours' start in Italy with their version, and it is 748 obvious that it must have had some effect on public opinion. I want the Under-Secretary generally, therefore, to give his attention to the question of giving as much attention as possible to the representatives of foreign journals in London, and especially to the representatives of American journals here. I think the representatives of American journals, or some of them, have grave ground of complaint in consequence of the manner in which they have been treated. I will not discuss the question to-night, especially as it has already been referred to by my hon. Friend. There is the question of delay, and there is also the question of preference. There is the case of a leading newspaper in New York, "The New York Times," which, I think, has very grave ground of complaint indeed in regard to the manner in which they were treated in respect of a recent matter. As to preference, hours make a great difference to competitive daily journals, and I ask the Under-Secretary to make a special point of affording every facility, in the first place, to representatives of foreign journals here; to arrange, if possible, that news should be allowed to go through without any undue delay, and that he should, further, arrange for prompt denial being given to damaging statements published abroad. It seems to me that that would have a very good effect, and if the hon. Gentleman himself will arrange, although I know he is very busy, to give this matter his personal attention, I can assure him it will be productive of a very great deal of good, not only to journalism, but to the best interests of the country.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Acland)
As I understand that this is the only question to which my attention is required, I rise to reply. I think the House knows that the Foreign Office has not been responsible for the cable censorship, the delay in which has caused, as my right hon. Friend has just said, the great bulk of the complaints that have been made. We have had to bow to the organisation just as other people have bowed, and we are just as grateful as other people that matters are now on a different footing. I am afraid that there is still a good deal of delay in getting telegrams through to 749 Italy, though that has been erroneously put down to the cable censorship here, while it has really been due to the partial breakdown and congestion of the lines through France. We have had delays of our own telegrams from Italy, due solely to the congestion and, breakdown of those lines, and that has no doubt been the case also in regard to telegrams sent the other way. It would not be fair to say that the delay—which has in fact resulted in news from Germany getting into the Italian papers there hours and days in advance of news from England—has been the fault of any person in our censorship offices. The delay, I believe, can to some extent be overcome by the use of a different route via the East, and I believe, already by using that other route, the delay of telegrams to Italy is a great deal less than it has been.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I quite admit that there has undoubtedly been delay in the cable censorship department, but I only want to point out that the whole of the delay has not been due to the failure of the working of that Department. I have been asked particularly what we are doing with regard to facilitating the transmission of full and accurate news to neutral countries. We entirely recognise the very great importance of that. We were not prepared for what has happened in neutral countries. Germany, a country which represents itself as caught by surprise and attacked by its enemies, has itself a war Press machinery in neutral countries which has, with surprising readiness, been able to forward news. In England, though we are represented in Germany as adversaries who had caught them by surprise, we had made no such previous organisations in neutral countries, and therefore we were perhaps unprepared for this extraordinary campaign of misrepresentation and calumny used against us by the enemy in neutral countries. We have had to try and get up and take steps to deal with it. First of all we have taken to sending out quite regularly reports of authentic news which is issued in this country. We send out officially from the Foreign Office, both by day and night, statements summarising the news of 750 the day to our representatives in the neutral countries of the world. That has already, as my right hon. Friend stated at question time to-day, a very good effect, and has discredited the supposed news issued by agencies of the enemy, and is already in many neutral countries being relied on as the only really truthful material which can be thoroughly relied upon to present things in their proper light.
Then we have foreseen that in those countries our representatives might require extra assistance in issuing this material which we supply to the different Consulates, to the newspapers, and in dealing with reports, enemy reports, and so on which appear in the Press of those countries. Therefore we have allowed our representatives in those countries to obtain journalistic or other assistance to aid them in dealing with those reports and in spreading about the truth with which we supply them. We have also instructed them to employ that assistance in collecting material which appears in their Press or in periodical or pamphlet form, and to send it to us regularly and amply, so that it may be dealt with on this side, and material supplied to the Press accordingly. We are taking steps to see that there is supplied to the Press in neutral countries not only war news, strictly so-called, but also news which we here take to be rather commonplace, but which is of real interest in other countries as to the condition of this country, and information with regard to trade, and with regard to employment and with regard to recruiting, and with regard to all such matters as to which the condition of this country is really of interest to our friends, and to our enemies abroad. We have taken steps to see that that should be supplied properly and abundantly.
There is also the very important point about keeping in touch with the gentlemen here who represent the Foreign Press. Up to the present my right hon. Friend's principal private secretary has been in the habit of seeing a good many of the correspondents of the Foreign Press. His time is very fully occupied, but he has given such time as he could to that purpose. We recognise at a time like this, when the correspondents of the Foreign Press are very anxious in a most friendly way to 751 keep in touch with the Foreign Office, that my right hon. Friend's private secretary is not able to give perhaps sufficient time to that matter, which is one we want to do everything possible to arrange satisfactorily. Therefore as a temporary arrangement—and we shall see, of course, whether it answers or not—while the House of Commons is not sitting a Foreign Office official has been instructed to hold himself available for being interviewed, and seen by the representatives of the neutral Press, for two or three hours at any rate each day. He is the only Foreign Office official for whose complete ability and judgment I cannot vouch, as he will be myself, but I can vouch for his doing his best to give such information as is possible, and as much satisfaction as is possible to those gentlemen who may call. We very much appreciate their efforts to help us in the supply of reliable news to their countries. We very much regret, owing to the undoubtedly faulty machinery with regard to cable censorship, and perhaps other things in the past, that their efforts should so often have been frustrated, and we are genuinely looking after the matter, and, I may say, almost freezing on to the matter of seeing that the complaints they have had in the past shall not be repeated or justified in the future.
§ Sir WILLIAM BYLES
As the Home Secretary made a reference to myself, I desire to say what is on my mind. I do not rise in the least to attack the Press Bureau. I think this Debate has been good for its health, and to the advantage of the public. My complaint is that in 752 this terrible War, in which the whole of the population is so intensely interested, there has been a dearth of news. We have had far too little news, and the public in that respect have been starved, so that patriotic spirit has lacked a stimulus which it otherwise would have had. My right hon. Friend, I understood, said that it was not the fault of the Press Bureau that they did not issue news, because they did not get it. The French Bureau gets the news, and the American papers are praising up the French Bureau censorship at our expense. I understood the right hon. Gentleman also to say that he has now made some arrangement by which he has sent to the front some military correspondents, who will transmit the news frequently and promptly. That is all to the good, and that is exactly what we have been aiming at, and desiring. I contend that the British people who send their brothers and sons to the front have a right to know what is happening. Nothing should be kept back from them that will not injure the military situation Nothing would help recruiting so much as vivid descriptions of the brilliant exploits of our soldiers. I am a great believer in publicity. Truth seldom does any harm, and it is a great corrective at any rate to untruth. It may be sometimes unpleasant, but it prevents a great deal of mischief arising from false statements. Let us have the truth, and, if not the whole truth, as much as possible of the truth, and certainly nothing but the truth.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-seven minutes before Nine o'clock, till Monday next, 11th September, at a Quarter before Three o'Clock.