HC Deb 27 March 1917 vol 92 cc295-318

I desire to call attention to the very important matter which is set forth in the Resolution of which I have given notice—["That the greatly increased stringency of the censorship which has come into force during the last six months, the one-sided and unfair method in which the censorship is applied, and the practice of directing the Press as to the views and opinions which they should cultivate amongst their readers, are injurious to the State and ought to be discontinued."]—namely, the present administration of the censorship, which I declare has been greatly increased in stringency, which has been also characterised by a one-sided and unfair method of administration, and appears to have for its object the cultivation of certain views by withholding one class of information and fostering other information calculated to cultivate the view which the Government desire should be expressed. When this new Government was formed the Prime Minister himself in his very first speech declared that it was the policy of the Government that people should know all about the War, and he went on to explain that he had always held the view that there was nothing to be gained by keeping back bad news or the news of defeats, or news of any kind that could be revealed and made public without injury to the military situation. Subsequently, in this House the First Lord of the Admiralty declared on behalf of his Department that he proposed in the same way to open a new chapter by giving the public much more frank and full information as to Admiralty occurrences, and particularly as to the submarine campaign and the amount of damage done than had been the custom before. That is what was understood by the public from the declaration of those two statesmen.

What has happened? Let me point out and recall the memory of the House to what was in the minds of hon. Members at the opening of this War when we entrusted these enormous powers to the Government. I remember several Debates and questions being asked in the early months of the War, and the Government over and over again disclaimed any desire to use the censorship for the promotion of any particular policy or to use it for the purpose of screening the Government against criticism, and they said that the censorship had only been used for two necessary purposes (1) to prohibit and prevent the publication of any news calculated to endanger military or naval operations; and (2) for the purpose of preventing the advocacy of disturbances or strikes or any public movement in the country of such a character as to endanger the safety of the realm. Those appeared to be two perfectly proper and reasonable purposes; and in the early days we all remember what were the nature of the complaints, which were very grave and well founded. We all recollect the early dispatches in which no village in France was ever to be mentioned. We read long military telegrams stating that the troops of—Regiment arrived at—and moved on to—and after a brilliant engagement succeeded in capturing—It has now been proved by the present form of our military telegrams that all that was perfectly unnecessary, and this, to a certain extent, carries out the original purpose of the censorship.

Then there was a great scandal which did enormous mischief in regard to the censoring of cables to America, and the correspondents in the American Press were very irritated at the persistent refusal to allow their cables to go to America, with the result that they adopted wireless and other means, and all this tended to annoy the American people and hinder our propaganda in America. All this was against the policy which had been approved by this House. Within the last six months the censorship has been put to a wholly new use, which was formerly not thought of, and which, in my opinion, constitutes a new policy, for which the Government has never sought the approval of this House and for which I am sure they will not be able to obtain that approval. The censorship is now much more stringent than it used to be. It is one-sided and unfair. It suppresses in the newspapers the publication of facts with regard to the truth which would tend to make the public take the view that the Government do not desire them to take, and it does not prevent the publication of untruths so long as they tend to create public opinion in favour of the Government. That, in my opinion, is an intolerable use of the power of censorship, and I think I shall be able to prove beyond all question that that system is now in full operation.

8.0 P.M.

There is another matter to which I wish to draw attention, and which I am inclined to think is unknown to many Members of this House, and that is the practice of issuing long statements of precautions and instructions to the Press of this country directing the Press what views they are to cultivate in the minds of the public; and this has now become a regular and constant practice. Long documents are sent out asserting that it is extremely desirable that certain views should be discouraged and others encouraged, and this brings the Press down to the level of the reptile Press which used to be controlled by Prince Bismarck. The Prussian ideal of Prince Bismarck was that the Press should be used to cultivate in the minds of the people those views and opinions that the Government desired should be cultivated. I charge the Government of this country that they have taken a leaf out of -Prince Bismarck's book, and it is now the practice of the Government to issue instructions to the Press as to the views they are to advocate. It may be said that the Press are not compelled to follow those instructions. That is quite true, but surely everybody who knows the extent to which the censorship can annoy and inflict injury on any newspaper editor, will understand that the receipt of a circular such as I have described from the head office of the censorship means very strong pressure—I put it no higher—and the newspaper editor who defies the censorship must have something of the courage and power of Lord Northcliffe himself. Let me refer to one of the charges I am making. I pointed out that in two speeches, one made in this House and one made in Wales, the present Prime Minister declared, as he had often done before, that the people of this country were so constituted that they could stand bad news, and that it was bad policy on the part of the Government to attempt to hide unfavourable news. He also said that in the future the truth would be told and people would make the best of it We all remember the expression which was so common a few months ago, although I do not see it used now—it has disappeared with the ginger group—the expression "Hide the Truth Press." Certain organs of the Press, mostly Liberal, were denounced and exposed to odium as hiding the truth. But all the Press has become "Hide the Truth Press" now, not from choice, but from necessity, and when any subject is embarrassing to the Government, which they do not desire to have written about, or the facts disclosed, they send out orders—it is no longer a question of censoring some special news—but the newspapers get orders to suppress all news referring to such questions.

Take the Salonika question and the question of Greece. The Press have been ordered to publish no news about them at all, and consequently, as we all know, whereas up to Christmas there was a great deal of news, some reliable and some unreliable, about the situation in Greece and Salonika, since then the newspapers have been blank, absolutely blank. That is not because the situation has become more easy—on the contrary it is worse than ever, according to my information; it is more critical and more serious, and it is a situation in which some great decision will have to be come to an the near future, if not actually at the present moment. Yet, so far as the public of this country is concerned in the last few months, since Christmas, they have been kept in absolute darkness and fog, and know nothing whatever, except what we are able to gather from private sources of information, as to the happenings in connection with that expedition and as to the state of the Greek question. Some day an announcement will be made, perhaps of a very grave character, without giving the public any preparation or any opportunity of forming an intelligent judgment upon it. One thing I want to assert is this: We all had the experience of last Saturday's and Sunday's rumours. The city was humming with rumours. Every second man you met told you of some most horrible catastrophe. These rumours are the direct offspring of this policy of hide the truth and concealment. They are the inevitable consequence. That is what used to be said against the late Government, which never practised this policy of hiding the truth to anything like the degree we now have it. It is a policy which invariably leads to all kinds of false alarms.

I want to take three specific cases in which I shall seek to prove; by bringing them down to concrete cases, the reality of the enormous mischief being done by this policy. I will take, first, the case of Lord Milner's mission to Russia. Secondly, the case of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the submarine campaign; and, thirdly, the case of the Salonika and the Greek situation. First of all, Lord Milner's mission. I put a question in the House the other day as to the length of his stay in Russia, and the numerous speeches which he made in that country, a course quite unique in connection with these missions. I asked why were they all suppressed, and I received a preposterous answer to the effect that the Foreign Office knew nothing about it. This is not the first mission which has gone from this country to foreign capitals to discuss questions connected with the War. We have had the Prime Minister himself going to Paris and to Rome, and after that to Calais. The present Prime Minister went to Rome on a very important mission. Each one of those missions, at which there was presumably as much business to do, lasted at the most three or four days, and every word publicly uttered was communicated to the people of this country, as it ought to be. I claim it is outrageous that a Minister of the Crown should leave this country and make speeches in foreign capitals, and that those speeches should be hidden from the people of this country. These have been the uniformly unbroken characteristics of all previous missions from this country to foreign capitals. But here we had a mission which lasted three weeks or a month, in the course of which Lord Milner delivered several public speeches—not one single word was reported in this country. Are not these circumstances, circumstances of suspicion? I think it was a very extraordinary thing that that mission should take on this peculiar character, knowing what we did know of the condition of Russian politics. It was very extraordinary that this particular gentleman should be sent to Russia and remain there three weeks, and go all over the country making these speeches, and we should be denied all knowledge of them. I have here in my hand a very remarkable piece of correspondence which appeared in the "Morning Post" of the 1st March. I have been informed by a very good authority that one "Morning Post" correspondent in Petrograd must he taken as more or less inspired by our Embassy for reasons I need not now go into. Hero is what it says in its correspondence as to the nature of Lord Milner's proceedings. It is the only light we have thrown on them and it conies from a man who is in close touch with the British Embassy: The general impression made on the Russian public is that the members of the Conference have been not a little districted by the internal affairs of Russia. From repealed conversations which I have had with the British delegates, I am in a position to that this Impression is erroneous…Another egregious fable was started here the other clay to the effect that the British Ambassador had recently visited Tsarskoe Selo and arged in the name of England that the Duma should be allowed to reassemble. The date for the reassembling of the Duma was fixed by Imperial order mouths ago. Here is a really important matter in this correspondence—it is extremely serious: Lord Milner's speeches, read in relation to the knowledge of what too many people here have been led to believe about England, furnish a useful counterpoise, and therein lies the negative value of the Conference in regard to toe general public. The positive value apart always from the real work done, lies in the close and intimate acquaintance gained during weeks of labour between the men of the Allied nations. Close and intimate relations between Lord Milner and Mr. Stuermer and Company! That is the positive gain of our mission. The beginning of that sentence is the more sinister because it says Lord Milner's speeches supplied a much-needed corrective to the view which prevailed in Russia. What was the view which prevailed in Russia? It was that we, the people of England, sympathised with the democrats, the Liberals of Russia, and not with Mr. Stuermer. Lord Milner's speech corrected all that. "And in the meantime," concludes the correspondent, personal friendships between members of the respective ruling classes of the two countries are not the least of the important results of this Conference. That is one view of Lord Milner's mission, and then they go on to describe a speech delivered by Lord Milner at Moscow, in which Lord Milner said there was not the slightest foundation for the rumours which had besieged him since he came to Russia regarding the disturbances and troubles there. If I believed one-tenth of what I heard would be in a lunatic asylum. That is his impression of the condition of Russia. It is only by scraps we are allowed any information of what our representative, a member of the War Cabinet, has been saying in the midst of these momentous occurrences in Russia—occurrences which might easily have lost us the War in a perfect cataclysm of misfortunes. These gentlemen, whose friendship Lord Milner cultivated and whose friendship is held up to the British people as the chief result of the mission, are the gentlemen who had agreed to open the Western Front to admit the Kaiser's troops. Here is what a great Liberal Russian newspaper said of this oration of Lord Milner's at Moscow—the oration characterising the extraordinary rumours which he said would drive him into a lunatic asylum. The "Viedomosti" says: Extraordinary rumours betoken an extraordinary state of affairs to which only a popular Ministry could put an end. Observe this: And if this only too well-known Conservative and Imperialist merely wanted to insult Moscow, what right had he to come here at all? That is the comment of a great Russian Liberal newspaper on the speech of Lord Milner at Moscow. What right had the Government to allow this to go on behind our backs? It might have brought down the whole War with a crash to ruin without the people of this country knowing what was going on in their name. Here is another sinister comment on these proceedings, it is from an interview with Mr. Karensky, the Socialist Minister of Justice, one of the most important men in the present Russian Government, reported by Dr. Harold Williams, the correspondent of the "Daily Chronicle," who I believe to be one of those best and most intimately acquainted with Russian life. Here is what he says: We talked of England, and Mr.Karensky expressed an ardent desire that the democracies of England and Russia should be linked by close bonds of sympathy and common effort. Now at last the War will really be a war of liberation. I must tell you frankly, said the young Minister, that we Russian democrats have been latterly rather worried about England because of the close relations between your Government and the corrupt Government we had. There is no wonder that Mr. Karensky and every true democrat in Russia had been worried when they had seen Lord Milner, that well-known Imperialist and reactionary, in close relation with Mr. Stuermer, and heard him sneer, as he did in that Moscow speech, at the absurd rumours that there was any trouble brewing in Russia. It is perfectly monstrous that these performances of Lord Milner should have been suppressed by the Censor and should have been withheld from the knowledge of the people of this country. I asked the question why it was that Lord Milner was sent? Surely, our Government, unless they were quite blind, knew—they ought to have known—that in the circumstances which then existed in Russia and which were well known to some people here, as I shall show from some correspondence, Lord Milner was the last man in the world that they ought to have sent. The man who ought to have gone to Russia was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson). He would have been a suitable missioner to send to Russia under the circumstances, if it was necessary, and I assume that it was, out of respect to the Russian people, to send a member of the War Cabinet. It was a mistake to send Lord Milner with his record to begin with, and then to give him a free hand to wander over the country and deliver these most mischievous speeches it was a marvel that there was not a great deal more harm done. Will not M. Gutchkoff, now Minister for War, who has gone to the Riga front to steady the troops there, who is one of the leading men of the whole of this revolutionary Government, whose past record is well known throughout the country, and who as a volunteer with the Boers warred in the Transvaal against us, give a nice idea of our Government when it sends Lord Milner to represent it? Surely these matters ought to have been known to the Government before it sent Lord Milner?

I now come to the next point. I wish to attach all this to the question of the censorship, because my complaint is that the Government, having committed the enormous blunder of sending Lord Milner, then by a grossly indefensible application of the censorship tried to keep the people of this country and the Members of this House in ignorance of what had been said by its representative in the most critical condition of things which existed at that time in Russia, and which was perfectly well known to some of us. I had a very intelligent Russian gentleman call upon me six weeks ago, and he told me of the whole thing. He said, "In a few weeks you will see the Russian Government destroyed." It all came true. This representative of the War Cabinet must either have been ignorant of what were the real conditions in Russia, or he must have deceived the British people. Let me try to prove that fact, because it is a very strong statement to make. Lord Milner came back to this country on 5th March, and on 6th March there appeared in the "Times" newspaper, and some other newspapers, the following statement: The King received Lord Milner at Buckingham Palace yesterday. I suppose that was by way of adding weight to the mission. In giving his impression of the conference to a correspondent after his interview with the King. Lord Milner said that it was largely owing to His Majesty the Czar and his hearty support that the results of the discussion were so satisfactory. Listen to this: About the continuation of the War and the part that Russia was playing, I could not rind any difference of opinion whatever. What are we to say of our missioner, a member of the War Cabinet, who comes home and uses language like that after he has been three weeks in Russia? On all hands there is only one aim—to bring it to a rapid and successful conclusion. Mr. Stuermer and company, of course, are included. It is quite wrong to suppose that there is in Russia any controversy about the waging of the War. It is as I say merely a question of administration; in fact, much the same class of controversy as we have here in England. I say, deliberately, that statement is an outrage, and the publication of that statement, in view of the facts of the situation, is an absolute outrage on the British people. The other day I put the question whether that statement was submitted to the Censor, and I was told that it was and was passed by him. The Government either knew what was going on in Russia or they did not. If they did not know, they are not lit to govern this country for another hour, and the destinies of this country are in terrible danger if men so grossly ignorant and incompetent are at the head of affairs. If they did know, and they must have known, then it is a shameful use of the censorship to allow such a statement with the authority of the Censor to be published and to suppress statements which warned this country fully of what was going on. Lord Milner, when he published that statement, either was ignorant of the true facts of the situation in Russia, which is hard to believe, or he was deliberately deceiving the British people for some purpose which I utterly fail to follow. He cannot escape from that dilemma. There is no escape from it. Either he was ignorant or else he was deceiving the people of this country, and whichever horn of dilemma he seeks to be impailed upon he is not fit to sit on the War Cabinet for a minute longer. I made a charge that the practice of the Government now in the censorship is to pass things, no matter how false, provided that they support and buttress up the view that they desire to cultivate for the moment, and to suppress news however true which works against their views. I have in my hand a copy of the "Daily Telegraph" of 19th March—that is, more than ten days after the interview and some days after the outbreak of the revolution—and in that we are given extracts from letters received from Dr. Dillon, the great correspondent, from Paris. These letters were suppressed. The first of them is dated Paris, 19th January, 1917 It was suppressed. The "Daily Telegraph" evidently was not allowed to publish these letters until the 19th March, two months after they were written. The first letter begins: I make hold to tell you this for your own information: Russia is on the verge of revolution. For over two years the country has been in a condition of ferment. The revolutionary elements were all ready to act. just as a mine might explode, if the spark were applied. The Russian mine did not explode because the men who had it in their power to apply the spark held their hands. That was Dr. Dillon's warning, written on the 19th January. He proceeds: Few people in Great Britain or France understand' the full meaning of these nominations. The new President of the Council of the Empire (the Upper Chamber) is Shtsheglovitoff—the worst type of a turncoat, sycophant and tool that Russia has produced. He was a Liberal first and opposed the autocracy. Then he became a partisan not only of autocracy, but of every crime that seemed necessary or helpful to the consolidation of the autocracy. He hushed up the murder of Liberals the attempted murder of Witte, in which I should have perished—for we were to have been blown up by bombs. He arranged the great trial of a Jew on the charge of having put a Christian to death for ritual purposes. This trial and its sensational character were first announced by me in the "Daily Telegraph' mouths before it began That is one of the friends of Lord Milner, who comes home and boasts, when giving the great result of his mission, that he has cultivated relations of intimate friendship with a criminal, who is now in gaol awaiting trial for his life, and would have been shot but for the fact that the Russian people, in their great outburst of liberty, have decreed the abolition of the death penalty. I trust that they will keep him in gaol for the rest of his life. That is the gentleman your representative cultivated so warmly. The main result of our mission was the close intimate relations which have resulted between the govern- ing classes. Dr. Dillon wrote again a letter, dated 6th February, from Paris, in which he said: The situation as I sketched it for you in my last letter is unchanged. The Czar, who is by no means stupid, is sawing off the bough on which he is sitting—over an abyss. In words, he is yielding and conciliatory; in deeds be is provocative to a degree that I should hardly have deemed possible to a man who is so shrewd as he. He goes on to say that the revolution is absolutely inevitable. That was the truth, and it would have told us here where we were two months before the revolution took place. That was suppressed. Lord Milner comes home with all the honours of his mission on his brow and issues a most false, scandalous, and deceptive interview that is passed by the censorship and sent out to the British people with all the authority of the Government, because people who read things in the newspapers know that the Censor has passed them. There is no getting away from the dilemma that either the Government and Lord Milner were grossly ignorant of what was going on in Russia, or imminent there, or else they deliberately deceived the people, and stupidly deceived them, because I cannot conceive what purpose they had in mind. I said just now that some people in England knew all about this Russian revolution long before it came to a head. I mean to say that they knew that Russia was trembling on the verge of revolution. By some extraordinary piece of good chance, the Russian correspondent of the "Sunday Times," who is an extremely able man, whoever he may be, warned us of it over and over again. He had told the public in this country from private information that a revolution might break out any day. Yet it seemed highly desirable and necessary to keep the country as much as possible in the dark. So much for Lord Milner. I think I have made out a very strong case against sending him on that mission at all, and, secondly, against his conduct in issuing the interview which I have read. Before I pass from that part of my speech I should like to say that the Russian Government has the most appalling task before it. It is already complaining bitterly of the tone of some of the newspapers in this country. I cannot help connecting that with the whole tone of the Milner campaign. The "Times" and several newspapers in this City are doing their best to hamper the new Russian Government. They are charged to-day by one of the correspondents from Russia with circulating in this City rumours and reports against the Russian Government, which have been tracked to the Tsarina and her agents. In my opinion the Government would be much better employed in using their censorship—if they had the courage, but, of course, they have not—in stopping the circulation of that kind of stunt, calculated to injure the Russian Government and trying to hide the truth from the British people.

Let me come to the second point in my indictment—that is, the one of the conduct of the First Lord of the Admiralty in connection with the submarine campaign. We were promised in categorical and unmistakable language, and in a most solemn manner, that we should be supplied with more information, and more accurate information, than that with which we had ever been furnished before The First Lord adopted an heroic attitude. He was very gloomy and pessimistic, buthe was against withholding the facts. Then, to the amazement of everybody—I have had several letters from journalists on the subject—instead of getting more news, we get far less. The late Government always let us know the names of the ships torpedoed, their tonnage, and the fate of their crews. That was published regularly. The present Government, with their grand new system under which the truth was to be made known, is a fraud—that is a straightforward expression—an absolute fraud, because now we get nothing but the number of ships of over 1,600 tons. It might be 20,000 tons, 40,000 tons, 50,000 tons, or 100,000 tons, but we get no information at all and we are not told the names. If the Government were to come forward and say that they have made up their minds to give no information about the submarined vessels, I do not say I would agree, but I could understand it. But after coming forward and telling the people that you are going to tell them everything, to tell them less than they were told before is not good enough. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the censorship, How is he going to explain or defend that? Does he intend to maintain that course in future? The result, of course, has been in this case, as in others, that the wildest rumours are afloat and great public alarm prevails. I do not wonder, because no one knows what the truth is, and when everyone knows that submarines are very active and a great many ships are being sunk it is inevitable, if you will not tell the truth, that rumours will be spread, probably exaggerating the state of affairs, and the result is that rumours of a most alarming kind are flying about. That is the second illustration I have of the deliberate policy of the Government to suppress the truth and to circulate falsehoods. I think it is perfectly monstrous.

Now I come to another case. It is the case of Salonika and the Greek situation. I take that in two departments. In the first place, the question of the whole policy of the Salonika Expedition. If we had complete confidence in the new Cabinet and could shut our eyes, knowing that they would follow the best policy that could be adopted, the present system of government might be tolerable; but no one in this House has that confidence, and to do what they have done, that is to take the case of a great military and political question where politics and policy and military considerations are inextricably bound up together, and to put an extinguisher on it and shut it out from public knowledge until the catastrophe comes, whether it is favourable or unfavourable, is, in my opinion, an outrageous use of the censorship. We know perfectly well that a great struggle is going on behind the scenes as to whether the Salonika Expedition shall be abandoned or not and also as to whether, if it is kept on, it will be made a reality. Further, no one knows anything about the policy of Greece, which is vital to the Salonika Expedition. Rumours have reached some of us that Greek bands have attacked our troops and that ugly and savage encounters, characterised by very great outrages, have been taking place between the French troops and the Greeks. I hope it is not true, but I am afraid it is. We do not know in the least what is the situation in Athens. I believe it to be extremely bad. I am told by one gentleman who says he is very well informed that we have carried over a large part of the Greek Army by day, and when night falls they all come back and are now beginning to appear in the shape of the well-known Greek insurgent bands. That is the kind of story one hears. But we do not know. No information is allowed to be published. I have talked this thing over with men who have more knowledge and better means of judging than I have. I have, always regarded the conduct and policy of the Government in connection with the whole of the Salonika Expedition as nothing short of moonstruck madness. Either we ought to have abandoned the Salonika Expedition long ago or to have occupied Greece as a basis for that Expedition.

This is one of the reasons why I take this opportunity of making this strong-protest against the disgraceful and infamous use of the censorship in connection with the situation in Salonika. Last year 60,000 of our men were down, although they were unable to do any serious fighting, with perhaps the most malignant form of malaria in the world. Now we are approaching another summer. We have now, all counted, a very large force—I should say over 400,000 men. Are these men to be left there in the delta of the Struma and the Vardar to die like flies? There has been talk about draining the marshes of these rivers. I was talking the other day to a gentleman who has been there for months, and he says it is folly and nonsense. You cannot drain the rivers because when the snows melt in the spring they flood the entire plain, and our unfortunate soldiers, who are not making, and apparently are not going to be allowed to make, any real offensive, are tied to this wretched pestilential swamp. What is the dark band—it is not military but political—that leaves our unhappy men to die in this swamp, and does not allow them to do what I am certain they are eager to do, and that is to get at the enemy? In God's name solve this Greek question in one way or the other. There is the whole of Thessaly and Portovolo and the whole of that great fertile and most healthy country open to us as a base. What is the moral difference between occupying a pestilential swamp at Salonika and taking such a base as will enable our troops to drive the enemy from Monastir and up into the mountains? I was talking to a man the other day who has been all over this ground, and who has been throughout the thickest of the fighting for the last two years, and he told me that in his deliberate conviction it would be easy for the Army that is there at present, if they got fair play and were allowed to do it, to march towards Monastir and cut the railway.

If you cut that railway the War is over. I do not believe the War would last a month after the railway was cut. Every day and every night, this gentleman told me, long trainloads of large cannon and munitions of war go on to Constantinople from Prussia to the Dardanelles, and other long trainloads crowded with Turkish soldiers go up to the assistance of the German troops on the Rumanian frontier. If you cut that railway you would paralyse Turkey at once, and she is out of the War and the Straits are open, and to this hour the people of this country have never been allowed to penetrate by a single hair's breadth into the dark mystery which involves the whole of that expedition. Are you going to go on wasting tens of thousands of tonnage, which this country can ill spare in maintaining a body of men to die in a swamp and do nothing, or are you going to allow that expedition to take the field and do the work that it was sent out to do? At all events the people of this country are entitled to know something of the Salonika Expedition. Every day we have long telegrams from the Western front—the Westerners and the War Office take care of that. Every time a village is taken we all rejoice and are proud to see what has happened. It loses nothing of its importance in telegraphy. Everything that is done is published to the world. But these unhappy men in Salonika, whom the War Office is determined it will not allow to do anything because they are not on the main front where all the glory is to be reserved for the main body of the Army, are banished. They are cut off from us, cut off as it were from civilisation. It is a perfectly outrageous use of the censorship to boycott our own men and practically to drive out of our memory this expedition. It is one of the most scandalous things that the Government has engaged in, and that abuse has greatly increased since the present Government came into power. I spoke just now of the dark hand, and I shall continue to raise this question on every available opportunity until I get an answer to the question: "What is the influence that has done this thing?" There is some mysterious influence. Everybody who has come back from Salonika has the same story to tell of the mysterious influence concerning this Salonika Expedition. What is it that protects the King of Greece? We are told by people somewhat behind the scenes that the influence which protected the King of Greece was the Czar. That has been freely stated. If that is so, I think it is a most sinister thing, because then the dark hand could be easily identified. The gentlemen who are prepared to open the Eastern front and to let the troops of the Kaiser in to maintain their rule in Russia did not want the Salonika Expedition to succeed, and did not want to cut the railway and end the War in that way. If those dark influences were at work they have now been removed. If that be so, let the Government of this country take its courage in both hands. Let them either abandon the Salonika Expedition or make it a reality. The point I want to drive home is that the boycott ought to be taken off. We ought to be allowed to get news of this expedition. We ought not to have a large body of our troops there, treated as though they were outlaws and marooned in this district as if the whole Empire had forgotten their existence and took no interest in their career or in their achievements. We ought to have a decision from the Government one way or the other. Let them make this expedition a reality during the coming summer, or let them clear out of Salonika and get into Thessaly and Porto Volo. Let them boldly attack the enemy, or else abandon this expedition, with its loss of human life and its demands upon the tonnage of the British Navy. One word more, and then I have finished my indictment. I will give another instance of the one-sided conduct of the Government. I have here the third of a series of articles of an extremely interesting character that were being published in a paper failed the "National Weekly," and entitled "The Truth about the Greek Situation." These articles give certain statements on behalf of the King of Greece, explaining how it was that he adopted the course which he has taken. I do not sympathise with these articles, though they are extremely interesting They show that the King of Greece had a great deal to say for himself. Though I have bitterly denounced him, I always said that he had a grievance, because he offered to join us. He said that if we would land 150,000 troops in Salonika and would convince him that we meant business and did not intend to run away he would mobilise the Greek Army and join us. He did offer to join us; but that is not my point. My point is that this is a cleverly written article, and I cannot find in it a single word which justifies suppression. All that one can find in it is that it states certain facts which the Government do not like to be known, not that they injure the military situation in the least, but that they show that the Government, in the opinion of the writer, made certain very bad blunders.

Seeing that in the early days of the Greek situation the Prime Minister declared that the whole Balkan business was one prolonged muddle and a series of disastrous blunders, I think it is rather hard that an English journalist should have his articles suppressed because he gives what he says is the truth about the relations between ourselves and Greece. I do not pretend to know whether his statement is true or not, but I can say that the statement is very interesting and goes a long way towards explaining how it came about that the King of Greece should be so obstinate as he has been in withholding his support from the Allies. He offered his support, but he came to the conclusion from our operations that we never meant business at Salonika, and that if he joined us we would skedaddle when it suited our purpose, and he would be left, as he said, to the fate of Belgium, Serbia, and Roumania, which he said was going to be destroyed. He was a true prophet there. I did not believe he was a true prophet, but he was. Every single small country that has joined the Allies has been wiped out of existence, and he says, "You must not blame me if before I submit my people to this awful fate which has overtaken every one of your small Allies, and whom you have abandoned one after the other, I insist that I must see before my eyes a sufficiently strong expedition. In that event I will put my Army into the field." I do not say whether that is true at all. Although this action does not quite come up to the stupidity of the policy of the Government in regard to the Milner mission. I think it is wrong for the Government to be afraid of the statement of a case because they dislike some of the facts. If the censorship is carried out on the lines which I have now described, I shall raise this subject again and again.


I think I had better rise at once before this Debate passes to another subject, and say a few words in answer to the hon. Gentleman. I have listened very carefully to the whole of his speech. He has done, as I understand it, two things. He has made an attack upon the censorship in this country, and he has also made an attack, first, upon the policy of the Government in sending Lord Milner to Petrograd; and, secondly, upon the leaders of the Army for their conduct of the campaign in Salonika. I am only responsible, in so far as I have to answer in this House, for the Press Bureau, and I propose to say a few words in reply to the hon. Member's attack upon that institution. I am not responsible for the other matters of policy to which he referred, and he will not expect me to dwell upon them or deal with them at length. He has made some strong statements against the censorship and the Press Bureau. He stated that the censorship is one-sided; that it suppresses facts simply because the Government dislikes those facts, and encourages other statements which are untrue. That is a general statement, and I believe it to be wholly unfounded. I know something now of the principles upon which the censorship is conducted, and I say without fear of contradiction by anyone who knows anything about it that the principle upon which statements for the Press are censored by the Bureau is that they are either wholly untrue or, if true, are of such a nature that if published they would interfere with the conduct of the War or prejudice our relations with our Allies. Those are the grounds upon which statements are usually censored. That being so I listened very carefully for some evidence, or some statement in support of the general charges which were made, and I made a note of the specific statements which the hon. Gentleman has made. First he says that general directions are given to the Press as to what they should publish, and he went on to say that pressure is put on the Press to publish these statements and not to publish others. I do not believe that the Press of this country would submit to any such attempt if it were made. It is inconceivable to me that any Government would venture to say to the Press or indicate to it in any way, "This is our view Publish it. If you do not, you will suffer." Yet that is the charge which the hon. Member made.


No. It is better to be quite clear. I said that a custom had arisen of issuing long documents to the Press advising the Press to support certain views. I said specifically that the Press might take no notice of these state- ments, taut I said that the Censor has it always in his power—I do not say that he would try to do it—to annoy and worry the Press.


That is the statement which I had in mind. The hon. Gentleman said truly that the Press are not bound to publish these statements.


Or to act on them.


But he went on to say that the Press knew very well that if they did not act on them, matters would be made unpleasant for them. Therefore it amounted to a charge of coercion by the Censor. That is the statement which I am repudiating. I believe it to be wholly unfounded. I believe that such pressure, if it were attempted, would not be submitted to. If the hon. Gentleman had given some evidence in support of his statement I would attach more importance to it than I do at the present moment.


Before the right hon. Gentleman assumed his present important office there was the case of the "Globe."


The "Globe" published a statement which was not true.


It has been republished since on the authority of a Noble Lord.


It was absolutely untrue and it was very injurious to us in the conduct of the War. Steps were at once taken against the "Globe" in order to put an end to the practice. The censorship was exercised in order to prevent a publication which was untrue and would prejudice the conduct of the War.

9.0 P.M.

Then the hon. Gentleman went on to refer to rumours which were current on Sunday last. What has that to do with the matter? The rumours were untrue. If any of the Press brought them to the Press Bureau and said, "May we publish this?" they would have been told, I have no doubt, "These rumours are untrue. You had better not put them in." What is there to complain of in that? Nothing was done to spread the rumours, nothing except to guide the Press by informing them of what was true and what was not. I cannot see any possible cause of complaint in that. The hon. Member proceeded to deal with the mission of Lord Milner to Petrograd. His complaint was, I think, that Lord Milner's public speeches in Petrograd were suppressed in this country. I myself read in this country some reports of Lord Milner's speeches in Petrograd. In fact the hon. Gentleman read them himself, for he commented on them, which shows that his statement is not wholly true. Is it true in any particular? Was there even one speech of Lord Milner's made in Petrograd and telegraphed to this country which was not published here? The hon. Member will not say that there was. Yet unless he does so his case wholly fails because his case against the censorship is that it suppressed reports of Lord Milner's speeches. I should like him to instance even one speech of Lord Milner's which was telegraphed to this country and was not published here. I know of none. I have made inquiries and, so far as I can ascertain, no single speech of Lord Milner's which was sent to this country was withheld from publication. If that is so that is an end of that charge.

The hon. Gentleman wont on to refer to Lord Milner, in order, I think, to show that a mistake had been made in sending a very distinguished member of the Cabinet as our envoy to Petrograd. I do not think that that statement will tend to improve our relationship with Russia. I think that it is very much more calculated to do us injury than to do us good. The hon. Gentleman attempted to make the House believe that Lord Milner entered into relations with only one class in Petrograd. I believe that to be absolutely unfounded. It was his plain duty to enter into relations with the Russian Ministers who were in power at the time. Nobody representing this country and going to Russia could take any other course, and naturally, and as a matter of course, he must have had conversations with those who had charge of the foreign affairs of Russia and the conduct of the War. There can be no doubt that our Envoy was bound to take that course, even though the internal policy in Russia may not commend itself to the hon. Gentleman.


Did it commend itself to you?


It is not my duty at all to comment on it. I am dealing with the attack on Lord Milner, which was wholly unfounded and unjustified. I go further, and say that everybody in the House knows that the relations between Russia, the mass of the Russian nation, and this country are of the happiest possible character. No nation in Europe stands higher in the whole body of Russian public opinion than this country, and to endeavour to embroil us and to throw doubt upon the action we have taken in going into consultation with Russian Ministers is to do a disservice and not a service to this country. At any rate, I cannot see any ground in that fact for an attack on Lord Milner or on the Government, and still less for an attack on the censorship.

The next point is that the hon. Gentleman says that an article by Dr. Dillon was not allowed to be published in this country for some time after it had been written. If so, I think that the extract which the hon. Gentleman gave from the article justifies the refusal to allow it to be published, because according to him this article referred to a Minister of an Allied Power as being a turncoat and a sycophant, and it went on to charge him with a series of murders. Is it really suggested that an article that makes charges of that kind against a Minister in control of the country of one of our Allies if published in this country would do no harm to our relations with these Allies? The quotation which the hon. Member made was reason enough for the course which he says was taken with regard to this article. The hon. Gentleman then went on to a second specific point.


The right hon. Gentleman has not alluded to the interview with Lord Milner, published in the "Times" of 6th March.


I am not competent to say whether that account of an interview with a Minister of the Crown was accurate, but, if it was, I do not think it would have been the duty of the Press Bureau to suppress a report of that interview. I do not take the view which has been put forward, that we must pass everything that we like and suppress everything that we dislike. I think we are bound to allow the publication of a statement which is put forward as being authentic unless it interferes with the conduct of the War. I have not had an opportunity of seeing the account or verifying the statement, nor can I say whether Lord Milner's views were correctly reported.

I proceed to deal with the attack upon the censorship for not having published more news as to attacks by submarines upon British and neutral and Allied ships. That certainly does not concern the censorship. These accounts are issued by the Admiralty, and it is quite impossible for the Censor to take it upon himself to reduce the statements made by the Admiralty, and still less to ask the Admiralty to make them fuller than they are. At all events, that part of the hon. Gentleman's attack does not concern the Department with which I am concerned. I have very little sympathy with Members of the House who complain that their curiosity as to military matters is not satisfied because information is not given in the public Press which they would like to have. The information which is given is necessarily regulated by military considerations, first and foremost, and I have no kind of sympathy with the feeling of a man who, knowing that the authorities in control, whether of the Army or the Navy, consider it right, in the interests of the conduct of the War, and in order to prevent information from reaching the enemy, limit the publication of information, complain of that limit being imposed. We are bound to accept the statement of the Minister who tells us that to give either the names or the number of ships which are attacked or sunk or to give the tonnage or other information would be injurious to the interests of the country. To give all that information does no good in the world to the country, and it might do us a great harm, for it at once goes to our enemies abroad. I venture to think that is the answer to all these complaints. The hon. Gentleman said that less information is given now than was given before, but it is only recently that the submarine menace has developed, both around our shores and at considerable distances, and it is for the Admiralty to consider and decide what information to give.


Is not the First Lord of the Admiralty giving more information?


He may be giving more than he has given before, but whether that is so or not I really do not care. I am satisfied, and I believe most Members are satisfied, that the First Lord has given all the information which can be given without injuring our interests in the conduct of the War. The last point taken by the hon. Member was about Salonika. He complains that he has not had suffi- cient news from that theatre of war. There again that has nothing to do with the Press Bureau.


I think it has.


I think not But whether it is so or not, the only point for me is, and I cannot act upon any other, that not all the statements which are made can be published without injury to our Army. That is the only thing I care about. If a statement is submitted which would injure us in the conduct of the War it is better that it should not be published. Even though the hon. Member may be dissatisfied, I would far rather have him dissatisfied than that a statement should be published which may do harm to this country. The hon. Member referred to rumours he has heard, all kinds of pessimistic rumours, as to a coming catastrophe and soon, and he complains that these rumours are not published It does not occur to the hon. Gentlenifin that these rumours may be wholly untrue, and if so what would be the use of allowing rumours which are unfounded to be published in the Press? I listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech and I heard him make many statements which I know to be untrue, and I think that to have published them in the Press would have done us harm. The hon. Gentleman exercising his right makes those statements in this House at his own risk. No one can prevent him, no one would desire to prevent him from saying what he thinks is right, but would he say—can he fairly say—that when articles are submitted to the Censor which contain false statements it is not their duty to consider whether those statements ought or ought not to be published?

I do not propose to follow the hon. Member into his advice as to how we had better conduct the War. He maintains that we ought to occupy Greece, and to go on to Uskub, and to cut the railway somewhere between Nish and Constantinople, or at some other point, and so end the War. If these things had been possible they would have occurred to the Commander-in-Chief in Salonika, and, with all respect to the hon. Member, I prefer the judgment of the military officer in command to the advice that he has given us.


How do you know that it did not occur to him, and he was not allowed to do it?


I do not think it worth while to follow that up. I think that the country has confidence in the commanders in the field and knows that they receive the full support of the Government at home. I do not think it necessary to follow the hon. Gentleman into that part of his speech any further. I think I have said enough to discharge my duty, which was to repudiate and, as far as possible to disprove any statement as legards the Press Bureau or the censorship, that there is a desire to allow the publication only of that which they like and to suppress that which they do not like. There is no ground for such a suggestion, nor is there for the suggestion that statements which are untrue are either encouraged or allowed to be published in the Press with the authority of the Press Bureau. On that point I venture to submit to hon. Members that the charge has not been made out.