§ Mr. PRINGLE
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
I make this Motion in order to discuss a recent administrative action, taken in the first instance by an isolated Department of the Government, but for which now the Government as a whole has assumed responsibility. This particular action raises in an acute form a question which has been frequently raised before in the course of the War, namely, the question of the freedom of the expression and publication of opinion. Upon that question, whatever may be the record of others in this House, I think I can lay claim to complete consistency. On the first occasion upon which the question of the suppression of a newspaper arose I had the honour, with my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) of championing the cause of a Tory editor, the late Tory editor of the "Globe" newspaper. On another occasion, only a few months later, it was also my duty to challenge the personal action of the present Prime Minister, at that time Minister of Munitions, in suppressing a Glasgow Socialist newspaper for giving a fairly accurate report of a notorious meeting which he held with certain workmen in Glasgow. I did not suspect that it would ever be necessary for me to have to challenge the conduct of the Government in regard to any Liberal editor. Their conduct up to the present has been so unimpeachable. Their docility and tameness have bordered upon servility, and in consequence it was not to be expected that even the most autocratic Government would quarrel either with the reports which they gave or with the opinions which they published. On this occasion, however, the new Government has raised this issue in a specially challenging form. They have taken issue with one of the great organs of opinion in this 1599 country, an organ which is regarded by the great majority of one of the parties in the State as one of the best exponents of its views and which has a long and consistent record of fearless, independent, and able advocacy of Liberal principles.
In answer to a question to-day the Leader of the House informed us that the foreign circulation of this paper had been stopped because certain articles which had appeared in it on the 3rd and 10th of March had helped the enemy. No man in this House, and I think we may say no man in this country, desires to see any publication in this country or anything done in this country which will assist our enemies, and if there were any real foundation for the case that anything published in this or in any other newspaper would be of material assistance to the enemy in obtaining a decision in his favour in this War, then we should say that such a publication should be dealt with, but at least that those responsible for the publication should have the advantage of a fair and just trial. But what has happened in the present case? The offending articles appeared on the 3rd and 10th March, and no notice was taken of them. No communication was made to the editor or to the publishers of the newspaper. Two, three, four, five weeks were allowed to elapse, and nothing was done. Then the first intimation made was an announcement sent by the War Office to the foreign agents of the paper to the effect that the foreign circulation would be no longer allowed. It is peculiarly gratifying that the Prime Minister, in the midst of the heavy responsibilities which rest upon him in the conduct of a great war, should have come to the House to defend the suppression of a great Liberal paper. Of course, this method of dealing with a newspaper is not quite a novel method. I had not realised before that other papers had been placed on the index, as it were for export. The "Labour Leader," and the "Herald," which, I think better than any paper represents the popular view of the Russian revolution in this country, are forbidden export abroad. I am also told that a paper which has assumed the challenging name of "Common Sense" has received the same treatment, but there may be some excuse in the latter instance on the ground that, in war-time, of common sense there is no exportable surplus in this country. Certainly the action of the Government in 1600 certain directions would drive one to that conclusion. But what is the offence in the present instance? We have had a number of official and semi-official statements regarding the matter. There are certain newspapers which have more or less excellent claims to inspiration at the present time. We have, for example, the "Daily Chronicle," which was the first to tell us what exactly had happened and how far the Government was responsible. We find this in the "Daily Chronicle":Writing on Saturday last, Mr. H. W. Massingham, editor of the 'Nation, referring to the fact that no copies of the current issue of that publication were allowed to be dispatched to its subscribers and purchasers abroad, said, Mr. Lloyd George's Government has now added British Liberalism to the list of prohibited exports. There is no justification for such an odious imputation against the Prime Minister":That is an odious imputation which they are going to defend to-night and which was defended by question and answer this afternoon. The article to which I am referring goes on:Inquiries made by a 'Daily Chronicle' representative have elicited that the Government have had nothing whatever to do with this insensate prohibition.The Prime Minister has come down in person to-night to defend what the "Daily Chronicle," his inspired organ, describes as an insensate prohibition.The responsibility for it belongs to the Intelligence Department of the War Office. Neither the Government nor the Propaganda Department of the Foreign Office appear to have been consulted or informed on the subject.The Propaganda Department of the Foreign Office, mark you, have never been consulted on the subject, yet we are told that, in the view apparently of some unknown official in the War Office, the article was calculated to help the Germans. But we have an equally, if not more, inspired oracle in the Press in the evening paper which is known as the "Pall Mall Gazette." I always go there because I realise it is really the fountain head for information regarding His Majesty's Government. If the First Commissioner of Works has ploughed up a new park, or if a new controller has been appointed, or if a new circular has been issued, the first news of it is sure to be in the "Pall Mall Gazette." If you see it in the "Pall Mall Gazette" it must be so! In the "Clubman's Gossip" the explanation is this:The exploration put forward by the military gentleman responsible is that the paper was quoted in enemy countries. This in itself is no sufficient excuse for Government action. Everything depends on the actual nature of the matter which was published in the book, and if this was in any respect against the interests of this country, the editor should be called upon to answer any allegations that may be put 1601 forward. In this way there would be the advantage of a fair trial, and the public would be able to judge for themselves as to the real merits of the case.That is a sound, legal, constitutional, and British doctrine, not the method of the lettre de cachet, or the Russian ukase.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Of course, I said what I did say about the late Government, as my hon. Friend says, and not always with his support. I continue the quotation:Instead of this course being adopted an attack is made by a military gentleman without any explanation, which is so utterly anti-British in its character that the sooner the matter is put right the better for the Government.…I thoroughly agree with that doctrine. Apparently it is to be put right by a defence of this method of administrative action, by the edict and ukase, and not by regular methods, by the fair, legal, and constitutional method of trial. We have another advantage. The "Pall Mall Gazette" comes to our rescue once more. It anticipated the answer which the Leader of the House was able to give us this afternoon. Last night it told us thatThe justification was the artiole which appeared on the 3rd of March, and that the matter was in the course of yesterday afternoon receiving the attention of the War Cabinet.As I said before, if we see it here, it must be so! I find in this article that certain passages which were quoted by the German Wireless are italicised. I will read the whole of the passages, so that the House may be in a position to judge of the terrible character of the opinions expressed:The event towards which our efforts had been directed for almost five continuous months has at length come to pass.That is the German withdrawal, and that is the intimation that our efforts had succeeded. The writer goes on to say:It found our soldiers wanting.That is, that they were taken by surprise, which everybody knows to be the case.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am entitled to make comments on a quotation if I wish to do so.The greatest retreat on the West since the Marne has taken place; but in this case almost all the honours go to the enemy.I thought that was admitted by nearly every journal in this country at the present 1602 time. That is the whole passage which was quoted in the German Wireless. The context is this:It is true we cannot pass any final judgment upon the retirement until we know its dimensions. But we know something of its manner, and it is not encouraging. For some time our Army has been relentlessly pressing the sector from which the Germans retreated, yet we find that the enemy silently slips away, leaving few prisoners or material behind him. When the Russians escaped from Warsaw by the sacrifice of a strong rearguard and the garrison of Novo Georgievsk, we justly appreciated their achievement. But the Germans evacuated Grandcourt without our knowledge,and they have since abandoned one place after another, Seare, Miraumont, Warlencourt, which we had been battering and isolating for weeks, and have staved off pursuit with a handful of snipers.That is a pure and simple recitation of the facts. The most interesting thing of all in this matter is that an exactly similar account of the situation was given by the "Times" newspaper:We must be careful not to exaggerate the possible consequences. It has yet to be seen how far the enemy will go.… The loss of their elaborate entrenchments may not be quite the sacrifice it seems.… The change will impose increasing demands on our troops; it may require modifications of training and it will certainly tax more severely the capacity of commanders of all grades. Again, we may take it as quite certain that the present German movement on the Somme and the Ancre imply an intention on the part of the enemy to shorten their line. If, as may be expected, they ultimately shorten it by many miles they will have additional reserves in hand for special objects. But the German withdrawal may mean far more to us. It may temporarily disarrange our plans for the spring campaign. If our preparations have been made in the expectation of finding the enemy on a certain line, and when the time comes to strike he is many miles behind that line, delay is inevitable. Probably the German Staff, whose decision to fall back was not made yesterday, have fully counted upon these considerations".All showing the same conclusion, that at this period the German withdrawal was a calculated movement on their part in respect of which our troops had been unable to interfere. There is another organ of the Press which was even more emphatic—that is the "Observer." Here is what Mr. Garvin says:The retreat was bound to be represented by the Germans as a supreme triumph of Hindenburg's genius, baulking the Allies, establishing Germans on another yet still stronger line, and even serving the profound purpose of some mysterious offensive plan, which would expose the Western Allies to overwhelming defeat in a more gigantic Tannenberg.Then he describes it as "a military masterpiece of which nothing could have been more competent, inasmuch as it left the German armies absolutely intact and was calculated to severely dislocate our own arrangements on this part of the front." I am only giving a couple of extracts, and I do not wish to overburden the House. There were articles of a-similar tenour in the "Daily Mail." We all know that the "Times" and the "Daily Mail" have far larger circulations on the Continent and 1603 abroad than any other newspapers in this country, consequently the news and the views which they report are calculated to have a far greater effect in helping the enemy than anything which appears in a paper of a more limited circulation. Yet while the "Nation" is penalised for putting this view of the German retreat, absolutely no action whatever is taken regarding these other offenders, if, indeed, they are offenders. I do not deny that the article from which I have quoted is a pessimistic article. But pessimism, I should have thought, was the last thing that the Prime Minister would have banned. We all remember a great attack made by a former Home Secretary, in a Government of which the present Prime Minister was a member, on the "Times" and the "Daily Mail," and what was the attack made upon those newspapers? It was that they were circulating news and views abroad which were seriously prejudicing the position of the Allies with neutrals. I have taken the trouble to look up that Debate, and I find this statement there by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in dealing with the particular article in the "Daily Mail":I do not say that this particular article hart that particular effect on that particular man, or anything of that kind, but it is common sense that such articles as those published by the great official Press, and by the newspaper most widely read next to that one on the Continent, must have had a discouraging effect upon our friends in Bulgaria, and an effect tending to produce the impression that we really were done for, that our workers were idlers and drunkards, and things of that kind, and are not really prepared to make the sacrifice necessary in order to carry this War to a triumphant conclusion."— [OFFICIAL. REPORT, 30th November, 1915, col. 600. Vol. LXXAVI.]That was the view put forward at that time by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs speaking from the knowledge he had at the Foreign Office. Yet the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman then was a member, took no action whatever to interfere with the foreign circulation of these papers. It is true that he himself, as I have indicated, has been a great dispenser of pessimism. I think no man has said more to give comfort to the enemy in this War than the present Prime Minister. I do not say he has done it for unpatriotic motives; I do not say so for a moment. I think he was doing it from the point of view of enabling the country to have a true appreciation of the situation, just as I believe this article was intended for the same purpose. Let me quote what he said about another great 1604 retreat—a retreat, by the way, which was represented as a considerable triumph by the military writer in the"Nation"— but this was the view of the present Prime Minister:With the resources of Great Britain, France and Russia, yea, of the whole industrial world at the disposal of the Allies, it is obvious that the Central lowers have still an overwhelming superiority in all the materials and equipments of war. The result of this deplorable fact is exactly what might have been foreseen. The iron heel of Germany has sunk deeper than ever into French and Belgian soil; Poland is entirely German, Lithuania is rapidly following; Russian fortresses. deemed impregnable, are falling like sand castles before the resistless tide of Teutonic invasion.Yet the man who said that is objecting to these inoffensive remarks of a military critic in the "Nation," on the ground that it is helping the enemy. Could there be anything more preposterous and absurd?
I come to the other point. My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo suggested that this line of thought on the part of military writers was expressly enjoined upon them by the secret Press instructions of the Government. These instructions on two separate occasions enjoined these writers to state to the public of this country that we should look for no striking military success, that we should not exaggerate, but that we should rather minimise any successes that were attained—that, indeed, there was to be no great military decision. We were to look for a war of attrition, dragging on into 1918. Those were the instructions issued to the Press exactly one week before this article was published. I know for a fact that the military writer of the article has always been an optimist with regard to this War. He has always believed that our Armies could break through in the West. I am not going into that question. I think recent events have tended to prove he is right in that conclusion. He has always believed that, but, in face of that injunction, and in face of the orderly character of the German retreat without losing any guns, with a loss of hardly any prisoners— [HON MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, at that period, before the 3rd March. This gentleman put the situation fairly as it was at that time. The strange thing is that the prohibition did not affect that particular number of the "Nation." It was applied to a number which came out last week, which gives his view of the more recent successes. He sings a paean of praise for the valour and for the capacity of British soldiers. He describes it as the 1605 greatest victory in the West. Surely that is the right way to put it. We have had far too much rejoicing in the Press over bogus victories of this country, and when we get a real victory the people do not know when to cheer, and that is all due to the policy of the Government. This man has been trying to put a correct account of the facts before the people of this country, so that when a great victory was won, as it was won last week, he should be able to carry the people with him and enable them to appreciate thoroughly the magnitude of the success that has been won. Surely that is not the type of critic to discourage. We used to hear in the old days a great deal about the "Hide-the-truth Press" and the "Hide-the-truth Government." The right hon. Gentleman himself in those days was one of the foremost advocates of a policy of candour and frankness. His colleague who now presides over the Admiralty equally shared that view, but their practice now with respect to certain aspects of the War is in marked contrast with the professions which they then made of the policy they then advocated. They are now not the truth-tellers but the truth-concealers, and it is in complete harmony and keeping with that character that they said, by administrative edict, interfere with the circulation of a candid, fair, and an honest opinion regarding recent military movements.
I think I have made a case that the Government have not put forward a reason for this oppressive action which can hold water. They are ostensibly suppressing a paper for expressing an opinion regarding military operations for which they themselves, by their official notice, called for. That is practically what it amounts to. Anything more unjust or tyrannical it is impossible to conceive. Is it not obvious that the reason which has been put forward cannot be the real reason? Why have the "Times" and the "Mail" and those other papers in the past been left alone? Why have they been allowed to continue criticising military operations in much the same way as the "Nation" with complete impunity? Because they do not criticise the right hon. Gentleman, and because the editor of the"Nation"— one of the most fearless and courageous men in British journalism, as the right hon. Gentleman himself knows—has had the courage not to take in every respect his marching orders either from the Press 1606 Bureau or from 10, Downing-street. No, Sir, there is a larger matter involved. You are stopping a paper of high reputation which puts forward well-considered and carefully balanced views, which represents the greater part of Liberal opinion in this country, as the right hon. Gentleman will find out when he wants his General Election. You are stopping that paper from going either to our Allies or to neutrals. You have here a paper which, better than any other journal or newspaper in this country, has represented the position of the United States both here and abroad, you have that paper tabooed; you have also the paper which has given the soberest and soundest views of the Russian Revolution put under edicts. Can there be anything more deplorable from the point of view of the good name and the character this country should bear among other nations? We have rejoiced and the Prime Minister himself has ontrivalled his own eloquence in praising the Russian revolutionists in setting up freedom of opinion in Russia and abolishing the censorship there. He has welcomed with open arms the advent of President Wilson into the War, but the men who are most sympathetic, and the organs of opinion which are most sympathetic both with I resident Wilson and with the Russian Revolution are to be dealt with by the iron hand of this Government.
It is not only America and the other Allies who will suffer. This paper, which gives a considered view of our politics both in relation to the War and in relation to domestic affairs, is not to go to the men in the trenches. We are told that these Gentlemen on the Government Bench are anxious to have a General Election in which the men in the trenches are going to vote. But what sort of vote is it going to be when you are going to suppress every opinion which criticises you and with which you disagree? Is that the way to obtain an intelligent verdict from the soldiers in the trenches, who are surely as much entitled as the people at home to? know exactly what is transpiring here? No, they are to be favoured with the "Daily Mail" and "John Bull" These are the brands of Liberalism which the right hon. Gentleman is going to export to our fellow-countrymen who are fighting our battles, and the old watchwords are to be heard no more. Upon every ground of public policy this is a regrettable matter, and I trust before this Debate is over 1607 the Government will be able to announce the withdrawal of this most objectionable edict.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I have to claim the indulgence and courtesy of the House, and I regret that I was not able to be present at the commencement of the Debate. I had an engagement at 8.15 at the American Embassy, but I found myself called upon to take part in this Debate, and I hope the House, after I have stated what I have to say, will not regard it as an act of discourtesy if I do not remain. No act of discourtesy is intended, but my engagement is a dinner to the very distinguished naval officials who have come over from the United States of America. I should not have been down here at all except for the fact that my name has been directly associated with the subject matter of the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend. He has stated that it was asserted in the "Daily Chronicle" that I was in no way responsible for the prohibition of the export of the "Nation" newspaper, and that is substantially accurate. I had nothing to do with the paraparagraph that appeared in the "Daily Chronicle," but it is an absolute statement of the fact; and the first I heard of the prohibition of the "Nation" newspaper was Mr. Massingham's letter in the "Times." I want to state that at the very outset, because I want to make it clear that if any action was taken against the "Nation" newspaper, it was not on account of any attacks it had made upon me or any other member of the Government, and it was done in the ordinary course of the action of a Government Department following precedents which had been set by the late Government.
I want to make that quite clear to the House. The Government who issued this i edict were carrying out the policy initiated by the late Government, and: they carried it out by means of the same officer and in exactly the same manner. What was the policy of the late Government with regard to prohibition of the export of newspapers? They drew a distinction between the suppression of a newspaper at home and prohibiting the export of that paper abroad. The first would be undoubtedly an interference with freedom of discussion at home, which is 1608 sometimes absolutely necessary, but the other was put upon a totally different ground. The prohibition of the export of certain newspapers was put on the ground that if they were sent abroad they would tend to encourage the enemy. What was one of the first cases in which that policy was carried out? It was the "Labour Leader." It was forbidden to export the "Labour Leader" out of Great Britain, but there was no interference with its publication here. There were very violent articles in that paper, and there were articles which not merely criticised the Government and members of the Government, but condemned the War, and, as far as I know, there has been no suppression of that newspaper and no attempt to interfere with its articles. The late Government discovered that the articles in that newspaper were quoted abroad to the encouragement of the enemy and undoubtedly to encourage the enemy. [An HON. MEMBER:"NO!"] Undoubtedly it did encourage the enemy, with the result that the late Government took the step of forbidding the export of the "Labour Leader."
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes; I am coming to that, and I am going to say what happened in that case. The War Office, in conjunction with the Home Office, stopped the "Labour Leader," and the same official of the War Office who has operated here consulted the Home Office. After obtaining the assent of the Home Office, the "Labour Leader" was forbidden, and probably that fact remains up to this very hour. The same official acted here with the consent of the same Department, but in the case of the "Labour Leader," representing a powerful section of the nation, was there any Motion for the Adjournment? Did my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Pringle) get up in the House of Commons and move the Adjournment of the House?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There was a question put in the House of Commons by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). The House of Commons was notified of the fact that the same thing had been done there as has now been done in the case of the "Nation," and 1609 there was not a single word of protest except from the hon. Member for Blackburn.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
My right hon. Friend said that what has been done in the case of the "Nation" was exactly the same thing as was done in the case of the "Labour Leader." Would he explain to the House what the same thing is?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I say that the same thing was done, and I am going to tell my right hon. Friend what was done. He must really allow me to finish.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If the right hon. Gentleman at the end of my speech finds that I have not given him an answer, he had better ask me, but he must allow me to go on. What happened in the case of the "Labour Leader" is exactly as I have stated. The War Office official consulted the Home Office, and the Home Office—there was then a Liberal Home Secretary—assented to the prohibition. What was the ground for that action? The ground was that the articles in the "Labour Leader" were encouraging the enemy, and that they ought not to be sent abroad. Exactly the same thing has happened in this case.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Let us see what has happened. For some time articles have appeared in the "Nation" pressing for peace on the ground—that was the general drift of the argument— that a military victory was impossible and that it was practically a deadlock. You may say that is a perfectly proper thing for discussion amongst ourselves, and it may be. The Government took that view. They have not interfered with any discussion on that ground. It is a very different thing, however, when you get articles in a paper which not merely claims to speak for Liberalism, but in the columns of which Liberals in the House of Commons claim that it is a most important spokesman of the whole of the party. When these articles first appeared, the view of the Foreign Office was that the actual copies of the paper in which they appeared ought 1610 to be prohibited, but by that time the articles had appeared, the paper had gone, and you could not be it. The articles continued, and they culminated in an article— because the whole drift of the articles was on these lines—which appeared on the 3rd March. If my hon. Friends will look at the "Nation" week by week they will find that was the general drift of the argument.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes, I am going to give an instance now. Let us see what was said on the 3rd March, because that was the article upon which action was taken. Let me read just an extract. I am reading this extract from the copy which was circulated by the German wireless agency throughout the whole of the neutral countries:The outlook is thus threatening and almost critical on the sea. But this may now also be said of the War upon land—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] I forget whether that was quoted by my hon. And learned Friend.The event to which our efforts have been directed for almost five continuous months has at length come to pass, but it has found our soldiers wanting—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Certainly. "It has found our soldiers wanting."[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"]The greatest retreat in the West, since the Marne, has taken place; but in this case almost all the honours go to the enemy.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is no use quoting articles, whether from the "Times" or "The Daily Chronicle" or any other paper, which are military criticisms upon the retreat. That is one thing, but where is there a single passage in any paper of that kind which says that our soldiers have been found wanting? "The honours belong to the enemy." After two or three years of the most gallant fighting that has ever been seen upon land or sea our soldiers are found wanting! What is the good of quoting articles which contain criticisms of the German retreat and what it means! I am told that this 1611 is Liberalism. There ape letters which have been published, some of them last week in the "Nation," from right hon. Friends of mine saying that it represents Liberalism, and that it is a suppression of a report of public opinion. Is that the public opinion of this country? Another hon. Gentleman said that it is the view of the great body of sober Liberalism throughout the country. Is it really the view of sober Liberalism that our soldiers have been found wanting? I do not believe it. I decline absolutely to take that view.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There is no reason to suppress it! Let my hon. Friend wait. I have only spoken for about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, and I listened to my hon. and learned Friend in the most absolute silence and patience during the whole time of his speech. Let us see what happened. First of all, these three Government Departments I have mentioned considered this article separately. The first was the War Office, which actually issued the edict, the second was the Home Office, the third was the Propaganda Department, which is in the Foreign Office, and, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) reminds me, it was also considered by the Foreign Office itself. Four Departments of the Government considered it separately, and they each of them came to exactly the same conclusion, that it was extraordinarily mischievous to allow articles of that kind to be circulated.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Let me put another fact. We had actual representations from headquarters in France about this article, saying that it was most discouraging to the soldiers that things of this kind should be published. Of course it is. To circulate articles in a paper which claims to represent a party which is half of the population of this country and which claims to be the spokesman of that party, saying that our soldiers have been found wanting, that they have been outmanœuvred by the enemy, and sentences of that kind, of course discourages them. Here there were these five different representations, and upon those representations, much stronger than in the case of 1612 The "Labour Leader"—in the case of the "Labour Leader" two Departments considered it, and in this case four separate Departments considered it, and there was in addition representations from France— the same action exactly was taken as was taken in the case of the "Labour Leader" without any protest from any section of the House of Commons at all. I have no hesitation in saying that not merely did it encourage the enemy, but that the enemy thought so themselves. What did they do? My right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill) is very amused at an article which attacks our soldiers in France and which says they are found wanting. What is there amusing in that?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is very easy for my right hon. Friend to say things of this kind, but if he says them he must wait to hear the reply to them.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I listened to my opponents with absolute civility. I never sneered; I never laughed. My right hon. Friend must learn to listen to his opponents in the same sort of way, and when he does he will be treated exactly the same way as I claim the right to be treated myself. In these circumstances, I ask, what could any Government Department have done, unless it had departed from the policy which was laid down by the late Government?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Oh, no! They were not got rid of because they protected the honour of our soldiers in France.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean)
I think the House desires to hear the Prime Minister's speech and every other speech with as little interruption as possible.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is the position with regard to this article. I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no interference either in the case of the "Nation" or of the "Labour Leader" with the circulation of its opinions here at home. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about America?"] America will look after its own freedom of speech. Here we are not, so far as the "Nation" is concerned, interfering with the discussion of any opinions which it chooses to put forward. I do not agree with those opinions. When 1613 the enemy think that articles which appear in a newspaper are an encouragement to their own forces and a discouragement to ours, and which do harm to us in neutral countries, we are entitled, for the protection not merely of our own soldiers, but for the protection of the people at home, and in order to prosecute this War, to save bloodshed and to bring it to an end at the earliest possible moment, to stop its export. Let me ask the House of Commons what an article like this means. There is no doubt at all about the economic pressure on Germany. There is no doubt in the least about the fact that they are suffering privations. There is no doubt in the least that they have constantly to make appeals to their people to keep them up to the mark. How does anyone know whether this War will end in the trenches or by economic forces, or whether it is going to be by a combination of the two? See what an article like this means! Just at the moment when the pressure is at its greatest, when the discouragement to the enemy is growing, here comes an article in a paper, which claims to be the spokesman of half the people of this country—I am not going to discuss the question whether it is—which says that in the field our soldiers have been found wanting and that they have been outmanoeuvred. Does anyone mean to say that that is not an encouragement to the enemy 2 What is the first thing the enemy do? They circulate this in every newspaper throughout their own country. If an article of that kind had appeared in a paper which claimed the same status in Germany, does anyone imagine that it would not be circulated throughout the length and breadth of this land in order to encourage our own people? Are we not entitled, when encouragements of that kind may make all the difference at any moment between peace and war, when they may make all the difference between a prolongation of the War and bringing it to an end and to the horrible bloodshed which gallant men are facing—are we not entitled to say we will take no risks about that? That is why we have done it.
We found these articles circulating in Germany, quoted at full length, with an exaggeration of the power and influence of the paper. Here we know its power and we know its influence. We know exactly the forces behind it. We know perfectly well that it has a pacifist directorate. I would not say a word willingly against Mr. Massingham because J do not 1614 want this to appear as a sort of quarrel between the Government and any particular newspaper, but, at any rate, it has a purely pacifist proprietary. Articles written by some of the directors of the "Nation" have actually been picked up in the German trenches, circulated for the encouragement of their soldiers. I have one of them here. This is the point of that: the sentiments expressed in that letter are exactly the sentiments expressed in the articles in the"Nation"—it is the same thing, the same line— circulated amongst the soldiers in the German trenches, published extracts in order to encourage the German troops. Are we really not entitled to protect our own soldiers in these circumstances against the export of articles which may have the effect of prolonging the War in the judgment of every adviser we have? I agree absolutely with them. Do not let the House of Commons be misled by a very natural sentiment against anything which appears to be like a restriction on freedom of speech. There is no restriction of freedom of speech and discussion within the limits of this country.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
So far as this paper is concerned there has never been the slightest interference with it on the ground of attacks on the policy of the Government or criticism of the War. We have never even attempted to suppress it on the ground even of articles of that kind. When we know the extent to which moral force counts in sustaining the strength and courage, not merely of this nation, but of the nations with whom it is warring, we are entitled at any rate to protect ourselves and to protect our soldiers by forbidding the export of material which is the greatest encouragement the enemy can possibly get.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I thought I understood from my right hon. Friend that he intended to remain, at any rate to listen to a single speech in reply to his. It occurred to me, and I think to most Members in the House, during the course of the admirable speech of my hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle), and still more during the impassioned oration to which we have just been privileged to listen, that we run a risk of making too much of this on both sides, and I am very sorry my right hon. Friend has not remained in order that we might have procured his assent to certain 1615 propositions to which I think he would very readily have agreed, and which would, I think, have shown that the differences which exist on this matter in the House are not nearly so wide as have been represented by the two very excellent orations to which we have listened. I have read these articles in the "Nation." I read them since the matter was raised at Question Time, and I am bound to say, after all this thunder that has occurred, I cannot see what reasonable ground there is for taking exception to them. If I were to take up the time of the House in reading the whole article, it would not be necessary for anyone to say anything further on the subject. The article of 3rd March in relation to the whole position in which we stand is absolutely immaterial and innocent. I say that without any reference to the opinions contained in that article, or to expressions of agreement with them or disagreement from them. You must observe a sense of proportion in these things. We have as our first resolve to beat the enemy, but we also wish to preserve some decent and sensible principles of government in this country for our own use and enjoyment, not only now but in days to come.
This article of 3rd March consists of mere expressions of opinion on military matters couched in moderate language. There is no disclosure, such as has "often occurred in many newspapers, of military or naval facts. There is no shrewdly informed speculation about plans and forthcoming operations. That is another great danger, because really instructed discussion about future operations maybe of value to the enemy. There are no attacks of a personal character upon naval or military commanders in the field, such as might make bad feeling between them and the men who have to risk their lives on the faith of their judgment and authority. There is nothing in this article about submarines so alarmist as what was said by the First Lord of the Admiralty in the City. There is nothing so alarmist as was said by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hayes Fisher) when he described our situation at a public meeting as being one of dire peril. There is nothing in this article half so alarming or so fruitful from the point of view of enemy propaganda as that. The Prime Minister, who left the House just now, made a speech—I well remember reading it last year—in which he said the British 1616 Government was always too late, and he dwelt on this with all the powerful oratory and iteration which is the aid of the oratory in which he excels, and he pressed this point, and if there was anything which could have encouraged the Germans it would have been this speech by so prominent a Minister. There is nothing in this article like that. We must look at facts. Rhetoric, prejudicial arguments, all these things have their place, but there must be cool and loyal study of facts in the House of Commons. Everything in this article makes mild reading compared with the Dardanelles Report from the point of view of public confidence. If the House will allow me to say so, I noticed several very objectionable passages about that Report—very objectionable. But we must not allow personal matters to come into these questions. Then there are in this article a series of, I must say, fairly obvious remarks about the German retreat in Champagne, which was being proclaimed as an immense victory for our Armies and as a great disaster for the Germans. As a matter of fact, everyone now sees that the Germans were very well advised to make that retreat, and if they had been so foolish as to wait they would have suffered under the massed artillery of our Army the same kind of ill-usage as they have received in front of Arras. But that seems to be a very cogent and a very reasonable observation to have made at that time, and I cannot conceive what there is improper in it. Anyhow, it was an unauthoritative, unofficial expression of opinion, not accompanied by disclosure of information or forecasts of plans.
We have been told by my right hon. Friend, who has just left us, that it discourages our troops. Has it discouraged our troops? Does he really think that our troops in the trenches, in close and continual contact with reality, knowing the whole of this as no other human beings can know it, are going to be discouraged by what they read the editor of the "Nation" has said about the character of the German retreat? What they are concerned about is the demeanour of the enemy on their front and the amount of artillery support they have from their rear. They are not in the least likely to be discouraged because they know Mr. Massingham has expressed an opinion that the Germans were well advised to accelerate their retreat. They have got a great deal more dis- 1617 couraging and difficult obstacles to get over than that. Then we are told that it will encourage the Germans. I never thought I should hear that argument from my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister. I remember the contempt, the robust and manly contempt, with which he used to treat that argument when it was used about encouraging the Boers. He knows perfectly well, and so do most Members of this House who have been in it for the last fifteen or twenty years, that the military authorities always are inclined to resent any criticism of an unpalatable character, and to say that any criticism of that character has the effect of encouraging the enemy. It is the cheapest kind of argument, and, pushed to its logical extreme, it would lead to a universal harmonious chorus of adulation from morning to night about whatever was done until some frightful disaster took place.
Are we really to believe that the German General Staff are going to derive encouragement from Mr. Massingham's military opinions of the present operations on the Western front? Conceive the position. Here are the great leaders of the German Army gathered together at their headquarters. They have to grapple with the most formidable problems that have ever confronted human beings. The capture of 10,000 prisoners, the forcing of great positions, the accumulation in their front of immense masses of material, 100,000,000 Americans declaring war against them, and that at this moment of deep depression there suddenly arrives the "Nation," which shows them for the first time their retreat in its true light. Then we are told, "Ah, it may not affect the Staff opinion, but what about the opinion of he German masses, the masses of the German people?" Their rations are reduced, but never mind, they have Mr. Massingham's article to encourage them. The House knows perfectly well that all the newspapers of these belligerent countries have continually throughout the War clipped unfairly extracts apart from their context, and twisted them, and made whatever mutilations they thought convenient, from newspapers of the other belligerent countries. That has been the universal system.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think that the German Press is extremely fertile. I do not know what the experience of other 1618 Members may be, but my experience in reading the newspapers throughout this War has been that very much more frank and virile admissions are made by German newspapers than are made by our newspapers. That is not entirely due to the censorship. It is due to the fact that our newspapers very largely confine themselves to optimistic statements. There is hardly a day goes by but we see very damaging statements in the German Press, ii words can damage now. One of the most extraordinary facts of the situation is the lack of the power of words and of ideas. If words and quotations did play a real and vital part in this War, I see every day that German papers contain statements, indiscretions, criticisms, and admissions which would be of a damaging character. Does one really pretend that snippets from newspaper articles weigh for an instant or weigh for a pennyweight in forming the opinions of immense masses of millions of people, gripped by a great war and bowed under the cruellest afflictions that have ever racked the human race? Does anyone suggest that in this time of suffering and privation, universal over the nations of Christendom, that a few little snippets from newspapers, cut here and there from amongst other things, are going to influence nations, to influence their fighting value, and to make a difference in their capacity for continuing this War? It is absurd.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
My hon. Friend must settle that with this Government, of which he is a strong supporter.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Then we are told that the Germans used these kind of articles as propaganda to mislead neutrals. I want to know what neutrals were misled by the "Nation's" article. It certainly did not mislead the United States. If we are to attribute these tremendous evil influences to occasional 1619 articles in a weekly newspaper, that they may, as the Prime Minister has indicated, perhaps, make the whole difference between our winning or losing the War, then it is only fair to attribute also the good things that happen. You may just as reasonably contend that it was these articles that brought the United States in. Is it not quite absurd to suggest that the people of the United States are not perfectly capable of forming their own opinions about the character of the submarine warfare or of the retreat on the Western front? Of course they are. I have studied with some attention American publications during the War, and I have been struck by. the very much greater degree of information and of impartial critical knowledge possessed by the people of the United States, as judged by their periodicals, than is possessed by the people of this country, judged by the publications we have here. Then we are told, "Anyhow the Germans have used the article." That is the real argument which the Prime Minister used. If they think it does not help them, therefore it ought not to be allowed. Do not let us exaggerate the position. Let us look at the real and important point which is at stake. The fortune and the liberty of our Press ought not to be decided or ruled by what use the German newspaper agencies choose to make of it. It ought to be decided on its own merits in regard to definite facts. The administration of this country in regard to newspapers cannot be based upon the caprice of a Munchausen department which collects tit-bits for the German wireless telegraphy. Ever since the beginning of the War the Germans have been sending snippets from all papers, not only from the "Nation." I remember when I was at the Admiralty night after night there were quotations from the "Morning Post," quotations from the "Times," and quotations from the "Daily Mail," which were very disagreeable to the Admiralty. I remember seeing those. I do not recollect that any action of this kind was taken. If the Germans had not telegraphed this quotation from the "Nation" they would have found something else just as good to serve their purpose. There is always something just as good in the vast newspapers of this country which can be cut out and used at the right moment to serve their purposes. I can see that the Government have got into a mess over this simply because, in 1620 the first place, their agents made a weighty matter unnecessarily of this small? point, and because they, in what I think is an undue love of power and an undue love of the assertion of arbitrary power, will not speak a few kindly words to the House of Commons, and indicate that this sort of thing will not occur again. I think that, supposing an article in a newspaper like the"Nation"—a newspaper that carries a great deal of the intellectual and moral thought of this country in association with it—became very freely quoted in the German wireless, it would be quite easy for the Censorship authorities at the War Office to send copies of the German wireless to the editor of the "Nation," pointing out to the editor that "this is the sort of use that is being made of your criticism, and we think you ought to know it." And I have very little doubt, if this were put, especially in a matter of so little importance as this, a mere academic opinion on a technical matter by persons not versed in technical affairs, that the view and wishes of the Department would have been met in a friendly and civil manner. At any rate, that seems to me to be the reasonable thing to do.
There must be clear rules and definite principles upon which the censorship is administered. Papers have been prohibited because of sedition. There is a law on that. There are definite canons to which papers must conform or not conform. It is not a mere matter of taste of the tact of some perhaps very unqualified though very worthy person sitting in a small room at the War Office. It is impossible to make the status and position of the English Press, and the regulations applying to them, dependent upon the quotability or non-quotability of that Press by the German wireless agents. That is altogether an illegitimate foundation on which to act in regard to what is fair and right in this country. I have read these articles most attentively, and I say without any hesitation that if these articles are to be penalised, there is no criticism, however moderate, of military operations which may be printed by any paper in this country which could not be equally penalised, and if this paper is penalised there is no paper which has criticised the Government which could not equally be made the subject of these restrictions. And I hope that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law), who is going to represent the Prime Minister in the later phases of this Debate, will establish a little closer con- 1621 tact between the opinion of the Treasury Bench and the universal, or almost universal, opinion of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
My right hon. Friend is a member of a Government which is grappling with the most terrible dangers and difficulties that any body of men were ever called upon to meet. And I say in all solemnity to him, "Do not look for quarrels; do not make them; make it easy for every party, every force in this country, to give you its aid and support, and remove barriers and obstructions and misunderstandings that tend to cause superficial and apparent divergence among men whose aim is all directed to the common object of victory, on which all our fortunes depend." I say, in conclusion, that it is not a remarkable and it is not an important thing that your military censorship should behave in an unreasonable and stupid manner. That is nothing new. We have had that often before. It is unpleasant, but not nearly so unpleasant as other things that happen in war, and it is not very important. But what is important is that the Government should deliberately adopt and make a point of principle of the clumsy and erroneous behaviour of a military censor in some particular case. That is very important and very melancholy, because observe the consequence. A clumsy act of this character will be taken as a starting point for the future. It will be taken as the starting point for future acts of oppression and unreasonable and unnecessary restriction in regard to matters which are very important. I regret very much that the Government have let themselves be drawn into making this a great point of principle, when a few deft words spoken by the right hon. Gentleman at Question Time to-day would have blown the whole thing into the air, and would have removed any objections and difficulties which the Government had with regard to this particular newspaper and satisfied the House of Commons, and terminated the matter on a footing of general good will. But for that purpose it is necessary that the Government should make clear that they intend to deal fairly and justly by expressions of opinion from all quarters in this country, and that they are not going to give or offer us the kind of rhetoric and argument which might do 1622 very well on public platforms, but is entirely unsuitable to the cool discussions in the House of Commons.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
The Prime Minister made it quite clear in his speech that he was not responsible for the suppression of the foreign circulation of the "Nation," and that he knew nothing about it until after it had taken effect. But with the usual loyalty to our permanent officials he accepted responsibility for that suppression, and therefore, although most of us here are content to accept what the Prime Minister and the Government say, I think we may very well offer our contribution of criticism towards an attitude which allows one Department—for, in spite of his speech, it is only one Department—to make this attack upon Liberalism in this country. I do not speak, goodness knows, as a supporter of the "Nation" newspaper. It represents a type of cocoa-crank philanthropic Liberalism which I cordially detest. But I know perfectly well that there is not a paper in this country, whether it be the "Labour Leader" or the "Nation," or even the "Daily Mail," which has not printed during these three years of war something to which objection might be taken. Every single newspaper has done so. Every single Member of the House of Commons, who has spoken on platforms, has said things which he regretted ever afterwards. The question is clear. You allow one party in this country to watch the papers belonging to a hostile party, to which they do not belong, as the cat watches the mouse, and to take a single sentence, like this one which has been quoted ten times to-night, and to say, "Because' of that sentence we will pillory that newspaper to the whole world as an unpatriotic newspaper which is encouraging our enemy and discouraging our troops in the trenches."
I remember not so long ago, in this House, that the "Daily Mail" published a map in regard to Bagdad which was universally held to be an encouragement of the Germans. But the "Daily Mail" was not suppressed. No! The fact of the matter is we have allowed in this matter the War Office, and the War Office alone, to decide what papers are to be penalised and what papers are not. There is nobody, if he hunts the War Office from top to bottom, but will agree with me that he will not find a Liberal in sight. You have got there a body of men who are 1623 brought up under certain conditions. They do not read the "Nation" normally in the War Office; they only read it to spy upon it and see what holes they can pick in it. I, and I think an enormous number of people in this House, resent very deeply taking a single sentence picked out in this way. After all, we are talking about the influence upon civilian opinion of what is published in the "Nation" newspaper. What right have the War Office in this country to decide what is the effect upon civilian opinion? They know nothing whatever about civilian opinion, or they would not have raised this hornets' nest to-day. If it is a question of civilian opinion, then let us trust civilians and not people in uniform. [The hon. Member read several passages from the "Nation."] Is an article which contains passages like those really going to throw our soldiers in the trenches into a state of depression and terror? But I am dealing with civilian opinion. I should like to lay down this proposition: If you are going to interfere with the Press, when you are dealing with a ticklish proposition like Germany, at the present day, what you should prevent from being circulated in Germany should not be those articles which make the case look black for us, but those articles which tell the Germans exactly how much of Germany we are going to secure, what we are going to do with the German people, how much indemnity we are going to get out of them, and suggesting that we should take all their mineral values as a war indemnity. There is not a man in this House who does not know perfectly well that the articles of Count Reventlow in the "Deutschland Zeitung" are examined here with the greatest possible pleasure, and if Germany knew her own business best she would prevent the publication of them in the "Deutschland Zeitung" because of their effect on opinion in this country. At bottom this is really a question of principle. Do we believe that our cause in the world at large can be benefited by strangling the expression of opinion? I do not only protest against the prohibition of the export of the "Nation," but there was, in fact, as the Prime Minister pointed out, the prohibition of the export of the "Labour Leader" and of the paper called "Commonsense," or any of the other papers, the export of which from this country was prohibited.
1624 If we had frankly gone through the War exporting the opinion of every little group we should have been in a better position at the present day than we are now. We should have excited not only more confidence among neutral Powers, but we should have got greater respect from them as well. Now, when we are joined in this War by the greatest democracy in the world, now when we have seen Russia become a democracy inspired and actuated by the same feelings as those with which we are ourselves imbued, is not the time to suppress ideas of liberty and Liberalism. This is not the time to interfere with expression or circulation of opinion. When I was in the United States recently I had a conversation with Colonel House, who said that the papers which he read, as representing opinion in this country, was the "Manchester Guardian" and the "Nation." I stated that I hardly knew the "Nation," but that I believed the editor of it was Mr. Massingham. Everybody in America seems to read the "Nation," and it seems to be in the same position as the "New Republic." What impression is this extraordinary action of our War Office going to make upon American public opinion and the people of America? Anything more silly could not have been invented. What does it matter whether the "Nation" is pessimistic or optimistic? What does matter is our good name, and, because of that good name, I support this Motion.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I was waiting to see whether any Member of the House rose to defend the action of the Government, in order that I might offer to him some reply. No hon. Member seems ready to take that burden upon himself, and therefore I hope the House will allow me now to offer a few observations. We all welcomed the intervention in the Debate this evening of the Prime Minister. I hope that he may never have occasion to come to the House of Commons again with so weak a case. I was astonished to hear him to-day say in justification of the action that was taken in this instance, that it was done on the advice of the same Departments, and the same officials, who took certain action under the late Government. This is not a matter for Departments or for officials. This is a question of policy, which is a matter for Ministers, and when the Prime Minister said that, after all the same officials were installed in this 1625 Departments as were installed there a year ago, I would point out that there has been a change of Ministers, and I have no hesitation in saying that if these articles had been submitted to me when I was at the Home Office, I should not have dreamt of authorising the prohibition of the export of this paper.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
More remarkable still is the argument which the Prime Minister urged upon the House that the late Government prevented the transmission abroad of some newspapers, and that therefore the present Government were justified in prohibiting the transmission abroad of any newspaper, and that, whatever their action, it is covered and justified by the precedent set a year ago. Everything depends on the application in this sort of action, and every case must be judged upon its merits. The case of the "Labour Leader" was, I venture to say, with all respect to my hon. Friend who has just spoken, by no means on all fours with the "Nation." The paper called "Common Sense" was not prohibited by the late Government at all. People who read the "Labour Leader" week after week, and read the "Nation" week after week will realise at once that the two cannot be put on the same footing. The "Labour Leader" from the beginning bitterly assailed the national policy in this War; it has attributed ignoble motives to everyone concerned in the War in this country, and, in the view of many of us, it has been guilty of perversions of facts which cannot be compared with anything that has appeared in the "Nation." You might as well compare— what shall I say?—"John Bull "with the" Spectator "or the" Guardian. "If I had to choose, and if it were really the case that if you prohibited the transmission abroad of the "Labour Leader" you must also prohibit the transmission abroad of a paper of the character of the "Nation," and if the two were to go together and you could not distinguish the case of one from the other, then I would a thousand times rather let them both go whatever the disadvantages might be than prohibit the export abroad of both of those papers.
I have looked carefully at this incriminated article of the 3rd of March. If I thought that it really justified the action that had been taken, having my- 1626 self so recently had the responsibility and most difficult task of judging these questions, I should without hesitation get up in this House and say so. I do not think so. It appears to me that there has been no adequate ground for such a prohibition. I disagree with very much in that article. I think it was an unfortunate article. I regret that it should in terms have belittled the achievement of our Armies in a manner which the facts did not justify. I think it is a mistake to go out of our way to pay compliments to the German command. But many newspapers have said the same thing in similar terms. It is one thing to disagree with the terms or tone of an article in the newspaper and it is one thing to disapprove of it, but it is quite another to suppress it by force of law from transmission to other countries. Not everything which may be inexpedient to print and not everything which we may even think might be of some service to enemy propaganda ought, therefore, on that ground to be prohibited from transmission abroad. If there is doubt, there is only one safe rule. If you are in doubt in these cases, and these are very difficult problems for any Minister to decide, the only safe rule is to give the decision on the side of liberty. When you have a newspaper conducted with the literary distinction which characterises the "Nation," which deals in a serious spirit with matters of great national policy, it is I believe a great mistake unless the case is overwhelmingly strong to prevent it being received by thoughtful men in other countries. You give the impression abroad that after all the national position cannot be so strong if it is necessary in this way to silence critics. It does not strengthen our case; it does not help us to win the War if we allow the idea to be spread among the free populations of the world that we are unduly surrendering our national principles of liberty. We see, indeed, the direct advantage of repression, and the military mind is particularly prone to see the direct advantage, but it does not always realise the indirect, impalpable harm which is done by withholding liberty. It appears to me that the Government in this matter have made a serious mistake, and I would venture respectfully to suggest to them that as soon as may be they should retrace their steps.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have not often found myself in such complete disagreement since the War began with my right 1627 hon. Friend who has just spoken as I do at this moment. He made this statement: if you are in doubt, weigh the scale on the side of liberty. I say at once, when you are at war, if you are in doubt, weigh the scale on the side that will not injure you in prosecuting the War. My right hon. Friend said that if this had come to him as Home Secretary he would not have sanctioned this interference with the export of the "Nation." He went on to say that this was a subject matter of policy, and a question, therefore, for Ministers, and not for officials. I entirely disagree with him. How does he draw the distinction? Is the claim that because a particular journal is intellectually conducted and is supported by a vast mass of opinion in this House that therefore it is to be subjected to different treatment from another publication which has not those advantages? If there is to be censorship at all as regards export abroad, it must be done on a very wide scale; it must be left to the discretion of officers, and can rarely be brought to the decision of members of the Cabinet.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
To the best of my recollection, I do not think there was any prohibition during the time I was at the Home Office which did not come personally to myself, except in Ireland, and those were dealt with by the Minister responsible for Ireland.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That may be so; I really do not remember. But I wish to point out to the House a remarkable distinction between the argument of my right hon. Friend who has just spoken and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill). My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee took up this position, and I am going to ask him now if he adheres to it. His position was that there should be no censorship on things exported abroad unless they gave away information which would be of value to the enemy, and that there should be no censorship on the expression of opinion. I wonder if he adheres to that principle. If he does it is entirely contrary to the whole course which has been adopted by every Government since the beginning of the War. My right hon. Friend referred to the point as to discouragement to our soldiers, and he asked: Are they going to be disheartened by receiving a copy of the "Nation"? He is a very good judge of 1628 that, but I would put this to the House as a whole, that possibly the Commander-in-Chief is as good a judge as to the effect on our soldiers as either of my right hon. Friends. I really, if the House will believe me, am discussing this thing without any heat, and certainly if it had been left to the decision of the Government I am afraid I might, against what I believe would have been right, have been influenced by my knowledge of the storm that would be raised in the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee said if we had taken the easy course of saying—and I do him the credit of saying he would not have adopted it—that it was all a mistake of some stupid War Office official, the whole thing would have been put right. I do not think so. His whole case was this:: A great people like the Germans are not going to be influenced by what is said about the course of events by a newspaper writer. I ask the House of Commons, a large number of whose Members cheered that statement, to call back to their minds many Debates in this House in which the previous Government, and perhaps this, so far as I know, although I do not recollect it, has been attacked over and over again for the stupidity with which its propaganda was carried on in neutral countries throughout the world. If that is so, is propaganda of no value? This is the ground on which the export of this paper was prohibited. The ground is that it was admirable propaganda for our enemies. That is the sole ground. Was it? My right hon. Friend made a suggestion which seemed to me very naive. He said we have only to write to the editor of the "Nation" and point out the use that was being made of this, and it was a very small thing, and would instantly stop. I give Mr. Massingham credit for more sincerity in his view than is implied by that statement. The whole gravamen of the charge against the paper is that its whole tendency not in a particular article but week after week—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—week after week, was to put forward this view: "We cannot possibly win the War; then why go on?"
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If the hon. and learned Gentleman puts that question wishing to find out the fact, let him read 1629 The "Nation" week by week, and I am certain that he will agree with me that that is its tendency.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means. The Prime Minister gave one, but I have myself since this matter arose looked through half-a-dozen copies before that, and my opinion is that what I stated is literally true. The whole tendency of that paper is this view—and I do not find fault with it except that it injures our cause—"We cannot possibly win the War, and for that reason it is a crime to go on. "What other effect can that have than to injure us and encourage our enemies? This seems to me the position. The late Home Secretary said there is all the difference in the world between the "Labour Leader" and the ground on which its export was prohibited and that of the "Nation." There is all the difference in the world, but both were prohibited for the same reason. It is perfectly true —although I have not had the advantage of reading it I have seen it—that the "Labour Leader" may, as he says, impute low motives to members of this Government, and of previous Governments, and may even be seditious in its character. But what has that to do with it? Sedition cannot affect us abroad. That only affects us at home. Yet it is allowed to be printed and circulated at home, and the sole reason for which it was prohibited from going abroad was that it said what encouraged our enemies and discouraged our own people in the fighting line. I would like to call attention to another remark made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee. He said—and I do not think he realised what he was saying when he made the remark— [Laughter]—that happens to all of us when we are speaking impromptu—that any newspaper which was obnoxious to the Government could be treated in this way. May I point out to him that the harm a paper which attacks this or any other Government can do from the political point of view is done at home, but if that were our motive the last thing we should do would be to stop the foreign circulation of such a paper, for I venture to say that if I were an enemy of the "Nation" and were influenced by that object the last thing I should have done would have been to give it the splendid advertisement occasioned by the prohibition of its export.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It was announced publicly by the War Office. I do not think this is the small thing my right hon. Friend said. I take an entirely different view. I would like, if it were possible, to preserve the freedom during the War which this country has always enjoyed when there is no war. But no nation at war has found it possible to take that course.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Though I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for the change that has happened in Russia, I would remind the hon. Gentleman that already they have found it necessary to imprison a good many people who were against that Government—I would like to see that if it were possible here, but it has not been done by any Government at war, and I do not think it can be done by any Government at war. This is really the test. Let the House of Commons put away from its mind altogether—for it can do that—any idea that this is done by any politicians in the Government against newspapers to which they are not friendly. As a matter of fact, none of us knew anything about it till it was done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I have already said so at Question Time to-day, and I would point out this to the House, that from the beginning of the War there has been a postal censorship, and this is part of that postal censorship. The object of it is to prevent material leaving this country which would help the enemy. This whole subject has been dealt with in precisely the same way. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee takes the view that these innocent articles could not possibly do any harm to anybody. I will put as against his opinion this fact: It has already been pointed out by the Prime Minister that before the War Office took any action at all attention was called to this newspaper by the Home Office, and they said that its export ought to be prohibited. The Foreign Office also took exactly the same view. The War Office officials, of course, took it. The head of the Propagandist Department, of his own initiative, called the attention of the War Office to these articles, and said they are doing us an immensity of harm abroad. There is the fact. We have a system established by the late Government which has existed since the beginning of the War, the object of which is to prevent the 1631 export of material which will damage us abroad. The same machinery which has been worked from the beginning was at work here, with this difference: that the damage from this particular class of periodical was so great that four different Departments called attention to it, and in addition, as was pointed out, the Commander-in-Chief in France wrote about it, not on the ground of criticism of himself, for, as he said, there was no criticism of himself—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee has spoken—and I think it rather interests the House—of a Government wishing to exercise arbitrary powers. That is very interesting, coming from him. I have no doubt he thinks he is a much better judge of what is important than the Commander-in-Chief, but I am not sure that the House of Commons agrees with him. This is the fact. This newspaper has been dealt with in precisely the same way as every other. The ground on which the "Labour Leader" was stopped is precisely the same ground, with this difference, that it had not the same influence in the House of Commons, and therefore the same protest was not made. I take, I am sorry to say, a very different view as to the importance of this matter from that which is taken by my right hon. Friend. In my real belief this is a test of whether we put peace aims or war aims first, and all that I can say is this, that I would welcome a decision of the House of Commons on this point, and I sincerely hope that we shall not only have speeches, but that we shall have a Division upon it, so that not only the House but the country can judge of the attitude which is taken up.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I regret very much that there has been introduced so much electricity into this Debate to-night. The question raised, and rightly raised, by my 1632 hon. Friend has, I think, had a most unfortunate result. It has changed what I think is the real issue before the House, which I will endeavour to state. Let me say, in passing, that it is edifying to hear the two Front Benches slanging one another on the question of the liberty of the Press. The right hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House from the Front Bench opposite (Mr. H. Samuel) told us that he, and he alone, was responsible for all the cases that came before the late Government. Then he was responsible for about fifty cases of suppression. There are sixty publications—
Sir H. DALZIEL
I think the greater proportion of them were during the last year, before 31st January. Therefore, I think we ought to take into consideration the fact that the opinions of right hon. Gentlemen seem to change according to the side of he House on which they sit, and I refuse to salute the right hon. Gentleman, who has been responsible for suppressing, shall I say, scores of publications in this country, as a champion of the liberty of the Press. Now, let me say that I think the Government were wrong in the action which they took with regard to the "Nation." The "Nation" does not represent my views, and I speak entirely apart from the particular publication itself, and I think that is how the House ought to consider it—not as one individual case, but whether our machinery is right, and whether the liberty of the Press is properly protected. Here let me say that I think we ought to do justice even to Mr. Massingham, and that I think the phrase to which so much importance has been attached has been slightly misrepresented. I admit that, at the first glance—and I certainly thought so—the view expressed to-night by the Front Bench was the right one, and the phrase "found wanting," if used in the ordinarily accepted sense of the term, would be a serious thing, because in that case it would mean that our soldiers were no good and that they were unable to attack the Germans; but I do not read it in that way at all, and I think we ought to be just in this matter. How I read it is that when this retreat took place our soldiers were taken by surprise and that they were unprepared for the particular act of the Germans. I venture to say that that was in the mind of the writer when he wrote it. What I claim in regard to all these matters is that 1633 the question of intention should be taken into account. The question of intention ought to govern the whole policy in regard to the Press in this matter, and I say, therefore, that while I think the phrase was unfortunate, I do not think the Government are justified in the method which they employed.
My first objection to it is that the action of the Government was futile. It served no purpose to prevent a paper that is supposed to be helping the enemy going abroad. You have allowed so many Germans in this country to have their liberty that if anything appears in this country calculated to help the enemy, make no mistake about it that it goes there all right. You give passports to neutrals to go to and from Holland and Sweden. These men may take all the information they desire to give to the representatives of Germany that they meet in their heads, and as the result of their own observations they can give all the knowledge that the enemy wants. The point is that the Government do not succeed in their purpose that these things should not be circulated in Germany. Every page of the "Nation" will still get into Germany —make no mistake about that—and get there probably sooner than before, because this is the most splendid step you could take to secure publicity for the "Nation." I almost wish I could arrange a little suppression with the Government myself. I am jealous of the free advertisement. It is only my loyalty that prevents me doing it.
I object to it further because it is carried out by the purely military authorities. I think there my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House really went a little too far. In war-time—I think the whole House is agreed upon that—we must not talk too much about liberty so long as its exercise interferes with the progress of the War. The military, in regard to military affairs, ought, of course, to be supreme. In Home affairs, where military administration is not touched, I deny the right of any general sitting in the War Office practically to run—it does not do it in this case—an organisation in a single day. I therefore say that the method is entirely wrong, so far as dealing with the Press is concerned. Why? The Leader of the House said there was a long continuance of the articles. It may be so. Then were any steps taken to warn the editor against the line he was pursuing? That is a fair question. It was going on 1634 for weeks. Why not have given him an intimation that if this conduct was continued you would have to take severe action? It is fair that the Press of this country, which has been so loyal and patriotic throughout, should have all the assistance they can get from the Government, because it is very difficult indeed to carry on the Press at all with the many limitations made by the Government. I think, therefore, that any paper that is going to be dealt with in this manner ought first to have the right to be heard, and to state its own case. The principal injury, if it was an injury, was in this case done weeks before. There was, therefore, no object in not delaying on that score.
I have another reason why I object in this case to the action of the Government. It is that the Government only deal with papers which, they say, are quoted by the German authorities in order to help the people in Germany. What does that mean? It really means that the seat of authority in regard to the control of the Press of this country rests in Berlin. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] Yes, it does. The Germans have only to quote certain papers often enough, irrespective of the matter, and it is the judgment of the Germans, not of Britons, that will settle the matter! I object to that. I think the whole method of the Government is wrong in this matter. My view is that if you have a censorship it ought to be a proper censorship; and if I had to be responsible for it, I should say that every military article dealing with strategy and so forth should be submitted to the censorship before being published. It is done so now. Every article published in newspapers by military writers is submitted to the censorship for the sake of the article itself, and for the sake of the liberty of the newspaper. Although not compulsory, it is always done, and that is what I would suggest to the Government should be done in future. They should make it compulsory for military articles to be submitted to the censorship, and then they will deal with the evil, if it is an evil, at the source.
Let me make a practical suggestion to the Government. I think the punishment, if punishment there should be, is severe enough in this particular case, and I would say to the Government that they ought to withdraw the prohibition on an understanding that they submit the military articles in future just the same as other newspapers do. I think that would be a 1635 fair proposal. I do not know whether it would be accepted. I have had no communication with the newspaper or those connected with it, but I do think, with proper censorship, it is unjust to hold this further authority over the newspapers of the country. Therefore I ask the Government to consider that course of procedure not only with regard to the "Nation," but also the "Labour Leader." The power they are taking to deal with the Press on purely military matters, without any civil appeal, is one they do not require in time of war, and I do not think it is a power this House ought to grant.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
As one of those who wrote a letter to the "Nation" deploring the action of the Government, I should like to say a few words before this Debate closes. May I say at once that the letter I wrote was one of a very qualified nature, because I personally am opposed to the action of the Government, not because I think the article is one that ought to have been written, but upon the broader lines put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee. I should like, in the first place, to do what justice I can to the Leader of the House as one who has read the "Nation," I think, every week since its inception, and to say I think his statement as to the attitude taken by the "Nation" during this War is absolutely accurate. I cannot understand how my hon. Friend can for one moment question it. The attitude taken by the "Nation" all through this War has been, in my opinion, perfectly deplorable. I have read it week by week. I read it when I was in England, and I read it during the four months I was in Russia regularly, and I found it was regularly read there. There is hardly a single thing which the "Nation" has been publishing about the War with which I agree, whether its object be peace, whether it is the question of territorial acquisition in South Africa or other Colonies—whatever it may be, I find myself in almost complete disagreement with Mr. Masingham and the paper he represents. But surely we have got to look a great deal beyond that, and it is for that reason I should like to identify myself with the right non. Gentleman who spoke last and to ask whether something cannot be done so far as this paper is concerned for the future? I have 1636 no authority to speak for Mr. Massingham at all. I always like to read his views. I like to read both sides. I disapprove of his views, and I have no right to put forward any suggestion on his behalf; but I do think at this time, above all others, it is deplorable that a paper which represents advanced democratic views in this country should be excluded horn our Allies.
Take the position in Russia. Out there one gets practically very few papers at all except the "Times," the "Daily Mail," and a few other papers. Of course, at the present time delivery of papers is tremendously late, so that there was no chance of anyone reading the papers until a month after publication. But you do not want it all one way at the present moment in Russia, because you are going to find that the Germans, with all their various activities, are going to suggest that the tendency of this country is not democratic at all. I have read with absolute dismay a speech made by the Leader of the House upon the question of what happened in Russia. I also listened with dismay to questions put by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) asking, not about the safety of the 2,000 or 3,000 men who were mown down in the streets of Petrograd with machine guns, but about the safely of the author of that outrage. When I read about keeping out these great organs of public opinion because the Germans are likely to use them against us and to stir up the revolutionaries in Russia, the conclusion in Germany will be that we are really anti-democratic and they are not, and that is a deplorable state of things. I do not sec how we are to fight against that if we are to keep out a newspaper that represents thought of that kind. We have to look carefully at what is happening at the present time. Here is a paper which you find in the hands of every thinking man who understands English at all in Petrograd—I am not speaking only of civilians, but also of soldiers and admirals, who are far more democratic than the soldiers or the admirals in this country. I remember, to my astonishment, when I was out there and happened early in my visit to meet one or two Russian admirals, they looked upon me as a reactionary because I differed from these distinguished men. I spoke with M. Miliukoff, and he remonstrated with me for putting forward views which differed from the hon. Member for Black- 1637 burn (Mr. Snowden). You have a curious state of opinion out there, but it is a great mistake for this country to ignore the whole educated opinion of Russia that reads these papers and who are too intelligent to allow their views to be influenced by what one man says in this country. You have to consider the position not only in France but also in neutral countries. There are certain newspapers that will be read always by the intellectuals of all countries. I agree that no harm has been done to the "Nation," for it has got the best advertisement it ever had, and I shall watch its advertisement columns with interest in the future. But surely in the case of a distinguished public writer like this, is there realty any possible danger of any articles being written in that paper which is going to do serious military damage? There is not a man in this House who would not only be too glad to stop that paper being circulated abroad if they thought it was likely to do any military damage. I feel confident that any little damage which might be done abroad by this paper is far less than the damage that is going to be done to this country by even an apparent keeping back of democratic and Liberal opinion. Hon. Gentlemen have no idea what influence this country has had unconsciously in the great events which have recently taken place in Russia. It is to this country they look as an organ of public opinion, as the home of freedom, and as the one country where you are not put into prison for stating your views, but where you are allowed to state them whether they are believed in by the authorities or not. We should not do anything that takes away that opinion among foreign peoples. It is not only speeches, such as the one I alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman that one has to consider, but one has to consider what we have been doing lately in Russia. Whom did who send there to represent us? I should have liked the right hon. Gentleman to have heard some of the opinions that have reached me about Lord Milner's performances in Petrograd and elsewhere. I am told—whether it is correct or not I do not know—that he came back without having the least idea that there was going to be a revolution.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I do not want to go into it in any detail—I should be out of 1638 order if I did—but I do want to say that this Government, who sends such an Ambassador who, to put it mildly, makes itself publicly ridiculous, have to be very careful what they do next. When we find, first of all, Lord Milner's antics in Russia, and next the Leader of this House making a speech which in my personal opinion was a most unfortunate one, and then the suppression of the one organ of Liberal opinion which circulates in Russia, well, I think it is at least open to question whether we are behaving very wisely. I, therefore, do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. I have not the slightest intention, if this goes to a Division, although I sympathise with Mr. Massingham, of giving a vote to embarrass the Government, but it is the Government of the country, and, therefore, I support it, and the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that I have given very little trouble during the War. I do not like this Government, and I liked less the one which preceded it. If I had had my way we should not have changed the first. Some amiable gentleman, as usual, suggests that one may get a job for saying so, but that, of course, is one of the pleasantries of public life. There are in this House a large number of people who have not the slightest hostility towards the Government, and do not in the least want to press this matter to a Division to make a large show of opinions upon a matter where the Government obviously think that they are doing their duty, and where, I dare say, the majority of the country will think that they are. I am not concerned with that. This House is the place to express our opinions, and I intend to express mine without in the least bit intending, if we go to a Division, of voting against the Government, but I do think that the Government might give us some sort of statement as to what will happen in the future to the "Nation," which during the last few years has done most admirable work in the best literary form. It has fought a hard, uphill fight, and is a first-class typical paper, honourably representative of this country abroad, and whatever punishment there has been there has been enough of it. Surely the "Nation" might be allowed to go on and preach the gospel in which everybody knows that Mr. Massingham believes without the interference of the military authorities, and I do hope that we may have some sort of assurance as to what is to be the future of this paper, and that that assurance will satisfy 1639 the vast majority of the thinking people of this country, even although they do not agree with the sentiments of Mr. Massingham.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) made a reference to what he believed to be the opinion of the majority in this House on the matter, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a somewhat unfortunate remark, which he has since repeated, when he suggested that we should be able to test the degree of opinion in the House by means of a Division. By this time I think he has revised that view. He will have noticed that since this Debate began no person has risen to support the action of the Government. He will have noticed also that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) has said that in his view the Government is wrong. Does he think he will test the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy in the Division Lobby? Does he think that the Division Lobby will give any indication of that view? My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Hemmerde) has just indicated his view that the Government is wrong in this matter, but that he does not propose to vote against the Government when the Division comes. It is surely obvious that the Government, under present conditions, will not collect the opinion of the House in those matters which do not directly appertain to the main conduct of the War. The Division Lobby is no criterion in those matters. Take my own position. I do not find myself in any difficulty or dilemma upon the matter. I think the Government have made a mistake, but I do not propose to vote against the Government. That attitude is quite logical and straightforward. I desire to give the Government my strongest support in the conduct of the War. I desire to strengthen its hands, and as long as I think the Government ought to be supported in the conduct of the War I am not willing to give a vote against it on any of these minor matters, which I believe would lie one of its hands behind its back and embarrass it with the conduct of the War.
I go further than that. I am not content to take the somewhat obvious and easy method of abstaining from voting. I have never done that. It is difficult to say that one ought to have the courage of his 1640 convictions when he is voting against his convictions, but if one thinks, in a great crisis of this kind, that the Government ought to be supported in the conduct of the War, then one ought to carry that to its logical conclusion and give his support in minor matters even when he thinks it is mistaken. It follows from that that in a matter of this kind the Government will not be able to collect the opinion of the House from the Division Lobby. It must find some other means of ascertaining and testing the opinion of the House. The course of the Debate ought to have given the Government some indication in that matter. I do not claim that this newspaper represents Liberalism more than any other paper. I do not want to say I agree with it in the general course of its policy or sentiment or even with regard to these articles. They deal with technical military matters on which I do not claim to form any authoritative opinion or to be able to criticise the opinions expressed by other people. It is not because I agree with these articles or the sentiments expressed in them that I think the Government has made a mistake. I want that to be perfectly clear. But one can only form an opinion as to the Tightness or wrongness of the Gov3rn-ment action from the case that is submitted to one or the particulars which are given by the Government in justification of its action. I think it will be agreed by any reasonable man who looks at this without prejudice that no conclusive reasons have been submitted for the suppression of these articles. No case whatever has been made or has even attempted to be made. We have no indictment against the newspaper. We have not set forth the exact nature of the offending articles, and, indeed, the little illustration which was given was in contradiction of the main gravamen of the general statement. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer both laid emphasis upon this fact, and this was the main reason for the suppression, that for some considerable time the tendency of this newspaper has been to advocate an inconclusive peace on the ground that a military victory was impossible. If that is the gravamen of the charge surely it is possible to give some illustrations of it, to quote a definite article in which that view was put forward. No case whatever has been attempted. We have not had a single 1641 article pointed out in which that is done. We are told, on the contrary, that the articles in respect of which the foreign circulation of the paper has been prohibited are those' for 3rd and 10th March. I am not aware that in these articles any particular reference has been given which would justify that general sweeping statement. One illustration was given. The Prime Minister quoted a sentence with regard to our soldiers being found wanting. But surely that sentence, whatever be the meaning of it, has no relation whatever to the charge which preceded it. That does not substantiate the charge that the paper was advocating an inconclusive peace on the ground that a military victory was impossible.
I think also an injustice has been done to this newspaper in regard to the meaning which has been imputed to that sentence. If it had been used in the sense which was imputed to it that would be. an unspeakable outrage. It would be abominable. It would be a vile slander upon our soldiers. I do not believe there is a single man in this country who in that sense would say that our soldiers had been found wanting, or indeed that in any sense the soldiers as a whole had been found wanting. It is perfectly clear that the sense in which this article is used is that the Higher Command has been found napping, that it has been outwitted and out-generalled by the Germans in the matter of this retreat. That is the obvious construction which any reasonable person would place upon it. I do not profess to know whether these views are right or wrong. They are matters of purely technical military concern on which I am not qualified to express an opinion. But if the utterance of unjustifiable and violent criticism upon our soldiers is to be made a ground for the suppression of the foreign circulation of a newspaper, this ought to be applied equally all round. Here is a sentence reflecting very unfavourably and possibly unjustifiably upon the Higher Command in the Army. I remember a time when there were newspapers in this country which expressed the most unmeasured and, in my opinion, unjustifiable censure and criticism upon the greatest soldier whom we had at that time, Lord Kitchener. If the suppression of the foreign circulation of the "Nation" be a just punishment for the words which it used in this article, then the same punishment ought to have been meted out to those who were guilty of a similar offence at an 1642 earlier time, and guilty of that offence in a much more aggravated form. We have been told that the Commander-in-Chief has referred to this publication, and has suggested that it ought to be suppressed. I think there is a rule in this House that when quotations are made from any specific document for the purpose of influencing Debate, that document ought to be produced in this House. In order to justify the suppression of the foreign circulation of the "Nation" reference has been made to a dispatch, a document, or a minute by the Commander-in-Chief, in which he was recommended that course. I see the Under-Secretary for War here. He is the Minister who can answer on that point. I ask for the production of that recommendation from the Commander-in-Chief, and I ask whether it will be produced in accordance with the rules and procedure of this House. I hope that if it is not produced to-night it will be pressed for on a future occasion. It is a very salutary rule. If there are matters in the letter or dispatch which it would be inadvisable to publish the Government would have been acting properly if they had suppressed any reference to it. By making reference to it as a ground for action in this matter they are bound to produce it and give it publicity.
I intend to continue my remarks. In the mistake that has been made in this matter we are only concerned with one paper, a weekly newspaper, and not with one of the greater newspapers in the matter of circulation. The gravamen of the dissatisfaction with the Government over this matter is that no clear principle is apparent. Even after listening to all that was said by the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite there seems to be no reason that the suppression of this circulation except the whim or caprice of varying prejudice. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]
§ Mr. BILLING
Is it in order for a Member of this House to talk in his sleep? There are two hon. Members who are fast asleep who are saying, "Divide divide!"
I hope that my hon. Friend will not attribute the condition in which he alleges these hon. Members are to my 1643 remarks. It is very dangerous for a Government in these matters to depart from the line of clear principles and definite rules. Its action is apt to broaden, without clear principles and definite rules, so as to apply to all kinds of cases to which it should not apply. This action is very dangerous at home. It may lead to many grave abuses. I submit that it is also very dangerous abroad, and is calculated to do us grave injury abroad. It has been suggested that the views of this newspaper, if circulated abroad, would encourage our enemies and enable the German Government to rally the flagging public opinion in that country.
That may be true to some extent; but how much more will it enable the German Government to rally flagging public opinion if they are able to say on the authority of the right hon. Gentlemen the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of this country that the state of public opinion in this country is so inflamed—that the views which the Government cannot suppress in this country are so dangerous that the Government dare not allow them to be circulated in foreign countries.
As far as Germany is concerned, the action of the Government in this matter is likely to be much more dangerous to this country than any views which may be ascribed to the "Nation."
I desire to make a few remarks— It being Eleven of the clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.