§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
I wish just to venture on a matter connected with the administration of the Press Bureau arising out of a question which I put to-day to the Solicitor-General. The question which I put to the Solicitor-General was concerned with an individual cablegram, but I also asked him something with regard to the general procedure of the Press Bureau in dealing with these Press cablegrams, and his reply to me with regard to the general proceedings was, I confess, so very astonishing that I thought certainly it was important enough to press upon the attention of the House for a few minutes. The last time there was any discussion in thin House on the question of the Press Censorship there seemed to be some misconception as to where the responsibility lay, but I do not think that arises with reference to the matter I am dealing with, because the hon. and learned Gentleman, as I understood this afternoon, frankly accepted responsibility in this particular case. Therefore I need not complicate the matter by referring to any divided responsibility. The matter is this: Not very long ago, as the House knows, the Government in their wisdom appointed to to the command of a brigade at the front a right hon. Gentleman a Member of this House. The brigade which he was appointed to command includes, among others, a considerable body of Canadian troops. I have not the slightest intention of making any criticism one way or the other as to the merits or demerits of that appointment. I am perfectly willing to assume that the Government had the 1221 desire, and carried out that desire to the best of their ability, of appointing the best man they could find.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Well, he is a Member of the Cabinet. We are all acquainted with the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility. One Member of the Cabinet cannot make an appointment without the concurrence of his colleagues; therefore this is a matter of the Government. However, that is not the point on which I wish to dwell. The fact that any particular soldier or civilian, that this or that individual, was appointed to the command of that brigade, was a matter of very natural and legitimate interest to the people of Canada, who had sent these troops over here, and who very likely expected that they would be taken to the front under their own officers. Consequently, when in the wisdom of the Government, or of Lord Kitchener, it was thought better not to appoint a Canadian officer, or anyone else, whoever it might be, that was a matter of legitimate interest to the Canadian people. Canadian opinion expressed itself. I dare say there was more than one sort of expression of opinion, but Canadian opinion was sent over here by the correspondent of the "Daily Express" newspaper to the "Daily Express" for publication in this country. That correspondent was instructed to send that cablegram.
The editor of the "Daily Express" very naturally thought, as I think, that this was a matter of legitimate interest to Canada. It may be he also thought that what Canadian opinion might be upon a point of this sort was a matter of legitimate interest to the people of this country. He consequently instructed his correspondent in Canada to send over, as is very common, whether from our own Colonies or foreign countries, a précis as far as he could of opinion as expressed in the Canadian Press. Nothing more was heard of it. The newspaper received nothing. They did not know whether their instructions had gone wrong. They did not know what had happened. They sent out a further inquiry to the correspondent in Canada asking why he had not obeyed his instructions, and they then got the reply that he had sent the cablegram as instructed, and he supposed the Press censorship had it. That is the point on the general procedure which I think so astonishing in the answer of the hon. and learned Gentleman to-day.
1222 But, first of all let me say, if I may, with no animosity one way or the other against the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, as I do not entertain any such feeling towards him or the Government on this point, that surely we are entitled to challenge the hon. and learned Gentleman's exercise of judgment in a case of this sort! He tells us that, exercising his own discretion, he refused to allow this account of Canadian opinion to be published in this country. Why? Is that information that could have been given to the Germans, and would have been harmful to this country? On what possible grounds can it be said that opinion on a matter of this sort entertained by our own fellow-subjects in the Dominion of Canada is a dangerous or mischievous thing to publish here? The last time there was a discussion about the Press Censorship the hon. and learned Gentleman laid down the principle by which he was guided as being that he did not allow anything to be published in this country which was likely unduly to depress the spirits of our people here.
Some of us might have understood it, having regard to that principle, if he had not allowed to appear in the "London Gazette" the appointment of this right hon. Gentleman to the command. But, having allowed the appointment to appear, why opinion in this country should be depressed or the spirits lowered by knowing what the Canadian people thought about the commander of their own troops seems to pass comprehension, and I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will explain to us why, on this particular occasion, his judgment was exercised in this particular way. But the much more serious point was the way in which he acted. This cablegram came addressed to the newspaper in London, as I have said, on instructions from the editor, and I think anyone would have thought, accepting the censorship as a most necessary office, as we all do, that the very first thing, as soon as that cablegram arrived, would have been, in courtesy, if for no other reason, to send a message to that newspaper office saying they had received from its Canadian correspondent a cablegram dealing with such and such a subject, of so many folios, and that, having to exercise their discretion, they were very sorry to have to suppress it. At all events, if nothing more, the bare intimation might have been conveyed that the cablegram had been received and was stopped. That surely is information which every newspaper is entitled to have.
1223 These cablegrams have to be paid for. Hoes he not think it right that the Press of this country should know before they pay for services rendered how far their instructions have been carried out? Docs he not think it is important, having regard to the great organisation of the Press, that numerous correspondents all over the country should be protected from any misapprehension as to their neglect of duty? This gentleman referred to in Canada, had he had a more hasty chief, might have concluded that this man was not obeying his instructions and he might have got a letter of dismissal, or at any rate a strong reprimand, simply because his work was confiscated in London when no notice of that fact had been sent to his chief. How is this system working in other respects? The French newspapers have a number of correspondents in London, and they are very anxious that as much information as possible should reach their readers in France compatible with the interests of the Allies. They have found in the same way this difficulty. They send their messages across to Paris; they have to pay for them before they can be sent, because they are sent over the Post Office wires. They have to prepay their messages, and they have found by experience, after consultation with their chiefs in Paris, that their messages are very often not sent, and even if they are sent they are generally mutilated, and as payment is made by the length of the telegram they have absolutely no way of making up their accounts with the newspaper offices in France, and the French newspapers never know whether their correspondents have been sending messages or have been silent, or whether the few scrappy lines which reach them is all the correspondent has produced, or all the Censor has left. These French correspondents have given up using the telegraph and they are sending their dispatches by boat. The only result is that an unnecessary and vexatious delay is imposed upon the publication of news from London by the French newspapers.
The American correspondents are in quite a different position. They do not prepay their telegrams, but make arrangements with the cable company, and they have constantly acted in a different way from their French confreres and made arrangements with the cable companies under which they only pay for the messages which are left after the ravages 1224 of the hon. and learned Gentleman's blue pencil. Let me come to an example of the really great hardship that the newspapers suffer from this method. I know a case in which a gentleman, not on the regular staff of a newspaper, sent a long and very costly telegram from South America to this country addressed to a newspaper office, but it was never delivered and no intimation was sent to the newspaper office that the message had been received at all. This gentleman was not in the employment of the newspaper, and therefore there was no curiosity felt about not receiving his message, but when he came home long afterwards he inquired what had become of his message, and put in a claim for what he supposed had been used. It was only then that inquiry was made at the Eastern Telegraph Company's office and then the only answer that came was that they were precluded by instructions from the Government from giving any information whatever, and nobody knows to this day what happened to that message—whether it was actually received at the offices of the Eastern Telegraph Company in London or not. The gentleman I speak of can produce a receipt for having handed in the message on the other side of the Atlantic, and whether it went in the Censor's waste-paper basket or not, nobody knows.
There is another rather serious case. The "Daily Express" sent out a lady correspondent to Serbia, probably to secure an account of Serbian opinion. She sent home, not by telegraph but by post, a number of dispatches of considerable length to the newspaper office, but these disappeared in the same way and no notification whatever was sent that they had been received and stopped. The consequence was that not only was there anxiety from the newspaper point of view as to the loss of material and as to what their correspondent was doing, but there was also anxiety for her own personal safety on account of her silence because of the fact that the correspondent was a lady. As the conditions of our censorship have not been made public it was naturally thought that as she must have been sending messages which had not been delivered something had happened to her. This is a method of carrying out the censorship which is both vexatious and unnecessary. I would not put it higher than on the grounds of relieving anxiety and making it a businesslike procedure between the Censor and the newspaper 1225 office. I say the newspapers are entitled to know of every case where a message has been received and addressed to them which has not been delivered. Whether the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks it right to suppress them without giving any indication of the principle which has guided his judgment is another matter. I have brought this up in reference to an individual case, and I think that case is an example of the exercise of the hon. Gentleman's judgment in a very extraordinary way, and I do hope that in his reply he will explain to us exactly what danger he apprehends would result to this country, or to the interests of this country, from allowing us to know what the Canadians thought of the appointment of a particular brigadier to the command of their troops.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
The criticism of the hon. Gentleman differs from the criticism directed against this office in former Debates because it relates to a matter for which I am personally and directly responsible. No other Department and no other individual is responsible for the matter of which the hon. Member complains excepting myself. I think, when the facts are stated, the House will readily see that there is no serious ground for this complaint at all. What are the facts? The Government appoints a Member of this House to a high military command. It is obvious that such an appointment is open to criticism in the Press. The Press is at liberty to criticise the Government for making the appointment. Nobody suggests that any such criticism as that has in any way been interfered with by my office, but I am quite certain that hon. and right hon. Members will see that if once the criticism is transferred from the Government to anything like a personal attack upon the officer, that nothing could be worse in the interests of this country at the present time. Anyone could, if they pleased, create for themselves imaginary situations in which our generals were the subject of complaint. I hesitate to give illustrations of that kind, and it seems to me even to associate our generals at this moment with hypothetical complaints against them would certainly be unpleasant to myself and unpleasant to the House. I think, if hon. Members will fashion in their own mind some irresponsible and groundless complaint against an officer, they will readily see that to permit its publication and widespread dissemination in the Press might be gravely subversive of military discipline and con- 1226 trary to the best interests of the nation. In the case which the hon. Member refers to he has stated enough to indicate that the paper was the "Daily Express;" but the individual instance which caused him to ask these questions led him to think that there had been some general prohibition issued by my office to prevent the discussion of this appointment, because the first question he asked me was if I would state for what reason English newspapers are forbidden to publish Canadian comment on this appointment. No such prohibition was ever issued, and I think I informed him so when he asked the question.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I cannot see the distinction. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman defends his action by preventing an individual newspaper from publishing certain news, the only inference is that other newspapers would be forbidden to do so.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
The complaint the hon. Member raises was believed by him to be one which had been affecting a large number of newspapers. It is quite possible for an individual message to an individual newspaper to be stopped for good reasons that do not affect other messages of a proper character to other newspapers. Had this message been stopped because it was a subject of a general prohibition preventing English newspapers from publishing Canadian comment on this appointment it would clearly not only have been improper, but a most unwise thing to have done. What are the facts? I am not in a position to discuss the terms of this message before the House, but it did in fact contain some references to Canadian comment, and that subject matter I should have been allowed to pass, but there was in the middle of this a cable, quite a short one, containing a statement with regard to this matter, the terms of which, in my judgment, I thought it most unwise to publish. I do not accept the view that it represented Canadian comment, and I have seen no Canadian comment which would have justified the statement of the "Daily Express" itself, who published what purported to be the comment which it was suggested had been the subject of my censorship, but that did not touch the particular phrases which formed the centre of this cable which I thought I was bound to excise. If I had passed the rest of the cable with 1227 those passages cut out I should have been subject to a perfectly just complaint that I had taken out the real meaning of the cable and had left in nothing but mere meaningless and valueless comment.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
I thought I had explained exactly what occurred. I thought I said that the words which I considered were objectionable were a few words in the middle of the cable. If I did not, let me make the matter plain now. The words which caused me to suppress this cable were those of a short passage in the body of the cable.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Was the passage which caused the right hon. and learned Gentleman to suppress the cable a comment of the correspondent in Canada or was it a quotation from a Canadian newspaper?
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
If the right hon. Gentleman had any knowledge of cable English—he probably has not—he would find it rather difficult to answer that question. My view is that it was not the expression of comment in Canada at all. I may be wrong, but that is my view. It certainly is not an easy thing to say. The right hon. Gentleman will accept the statement from me that the passage in the body of this cable was one which, in my judgment, it would have been a mischievous thing to publish. When once that is said, people may say, "Oh, we do not trust your judgment." That is all well and good, but I can do no more, and I should be neglecting my duty if I did less. I do not mind in the least who it was that was appointed; I do not mind whether he came from this side of the House or from that, but if an officer holding high command is made the subject of statement which will imperil, or may even reasonably imperil, his authority with the forces which he has to control, well, I am quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would be the last to say that such statements ought to be disseminated wide-cast and recklessly throughout the Press. I wish, more than I can say, that I had the pleasure of speaking to more of the right hon. and gallant Members of this House; I am satisfied that there is not one of them who would doubt the wisdom and justice of what I did. 1228 That is the whole of the mischief so far as this telegram was concerned. The hon. and learned Member thought that it meant that there was a wholesale prohibition against the publication—
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
Well, he asked for what reason English newspapers are forbidden to publish Canadian comment. There is nothing of the sort. English newspapers are not forbidden to do anything of the kind.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not wish to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman unnecessarily, but he is reading from a question I put to him some days ago. I am quite willing to admit that his answer corrected me on that point. I said nothing whatever about it to-day, and my case does not in the least depend upon it.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
I was pointing out, and rightly pointing out, that the hon. Member from this one instance attempted to build up a big general grievance. He was wrong. When I pointed it out to him his answer was to ask me if I was aware that statements had appeared in more than one newspaper to that effect. There are no newspaper communications on this subject which have been censored. I know of none, excepting the one case to which the hon. and learned Member has referred. He asked this question again to-day. I gave him the same answer, and then I had the additional pleasure of being asked by another hon. Member opposite whether it was not the exact opposite of that which I said three days ago, and whether I had not three days ago denied that any message had been stopped on the subject, when I had, in point of fact, explained in plain terms that the one message to the one paper had been stopped for the reasons which I have given. Then the hon. and learned Member complains that no communication was made to the newspaper upon the subject, and he speaks as though the newspaper had been the subject of a special grievance. Once more he seemed to have thought that I had singled out this particular newspaper for special and harsh treatment.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
There was nothing of the kind, nor did this newspaper suffer any manner of harm. If the newspaper had thought that its correspondent over there had not obeyed their directions and had not sent over the message they desired, all they had got to do was to come and ask whether a message had come over which had been stopped, and they would have been answered.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
If it never occurred to them to do so, it does not appear that their resources are very great.
§ Mr. McNEILL
It did not occur to them that the censorship could so act. On the contrary, they thought the blame lay with their own correspondent, and it was only after they had heard from him again that they had their eyes opened as to what the censorship was getting at.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
That is to say, not knowing what he had sent, they thought it must be certain that it would go through. Can anything be more ridiculous than to imagine that anything gathered together by correspondents at the ends of the earth for the purpose of making a spicy article in a newspaper must necessarily be passed by the Press Bureau when it affects a question of such vital importance to the public interest as the appointment of our officers? However, it did not occur to them to appeal to us, and they did not ask. They were not told for this reason: We have very large numbers of cables coming through our hands, and in the ordinary case the fact that they are stopped is not communicated. We simply could not do it. Some of the difficulties do not appear to be understood at all. It would be impossible to communicate, but what we do is this: If a special cable—I do not mean a cable with some snarling or quarrelsome statement in the middle of it, but a special and important cable—is stopped, and we think there is good reason why it is matter which might be communicated in messages to the paper to whom it is addressed, and why the fact that it is stopped should be told to them, they are always told, and there is no paper with which I am acquainted which has made complaint with regard to the rules which we have made in this matter, though it is well known to them all, excepting the paper that has come here and complained through the 1230 hon. Member to-night. The real truth is that, so far as the Press are concerned with regard to the exercise of this censorship, everything that can be done for the purpose of avoiding any unnecessary inconvenience is done.
I have recognised from the first that the existence of this office must impose difficulties and hindrances in the way of newspapers carrying on their business, and I have pointed out to them, and I am sure it will not be necessary for me to point out to the House, that inconvenience and that hindrance is part of the national burden which they must bear. I have no sympathy and I have no manner of consideration with anyone who, in the moment of this national exigency, complains of a burden justly and rightly put upon his shoulders by the national needs; but, at the same time, I think that it is of the utmost importance that the peculiar condition in which we stand should not be made an excuse for putting unnecessary and removable burdens upon anyone's back. I have therefore done everything in my power to prevent the hand of the censorship laying too heavily upon the newspapers, and I have done everything that it is possible to do, compatible with my view of the national safety, to prevent the exercise of my office being burdensome or irksome to them; and, what is more, in spite of what the hon. Member has said, and in spite of certain complaints in certain newspapers I am convinced that on the whole I have succeeded, and that journalists and newspapers as a whole—I am not speaking of the newspapers who may think that their pride is interfered with, and that their privilege is slighted by the introduction of a censorship at all, and who therefore use every possible opportunity, right or wrong, for the purpose of attacking the censorship; I am not speaking of a paper like that, and I do not refer to the paper to which the hon. Member referred, but I am speaking of the big body of English journalists and newspapers—have submitted cheerfully to the existence of this censorship, and have recognised readily that everything that can be reasonably done has been done for the purpose of preventing that burden being needlessly severe.
Then the hon. Member referred to a matter of which I wish very much indeed he had given me notice. It is with regard to these French messages. I hesitate to 1231 speak with certainty now I am away from the office, but my belief is that the messages are only paid for according to the words that are sent. I know quite well that I have secured, with the assistance of the Post Office, that privilege for all the newspapers which are sending cables abroad, and I am certainly surprised to hear that it does not exist with regard to French messages. I trust that the hon. Member in making the complaint has got some real and recent case in his mind, because, if not, I should imagine that there is no substance in the complaint at all. None the less, I will have that looked into, because it is obviously unfair that people should pay for messages they do not send. I do not believe that at this moment that is the arrangement.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I understand that the procedure is that French messages sent over are not censored in this country, but 1232 in France. The messages sent over from here have to be paid for beforehand.
§ Sir S. BUCKMASTER
That is another instance of the way in which I am to suffer for the sins of other people. How can I control what is done in France, or be responsible for what is done in France? How can something which happens in France and which is not under my control be a matter of urgent public importance to which to call attention in this House?
§ Mr. McNEILL
If our Government charge for messages which are not accepted afterwards, they should be refunded.
It being One hour after the conclusion of Government business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of 3rd February.
§ Adjourned at Two minutes before Seven o'clock.