HC Deb 09 April 1918 vol 104 cc1449-56

I regret very much that the Chief Secretary is not here, as I desire to read a telegram I have just received from Ireland:

"On behalf of the workers, skilled and unskilled, the members of the Typographical Association, bookbinders, lithographers, etc., of the Athlone Printing Works Company, Limited, we ask you to enter a strong public protest against the shockingly cruel action of the Military Governor of Ireland, who last Friday morning seized with soldiers and police the company's plant and flung out of employment in this starving Irish town over 100 workers, many of whom had dependent upon them large families of young children. The reason assigned was that one of the many publications printed by that firm contained a paragraph or report, unspecified, to which the authorities took exception. Eighty-five per cent, of the hands victimised were not employed directly or indirectly on the paper in respect of which the seizure was made, and the entire business closed down. The brutal and callous conduct displayed in thus depriving a large body of workpeople of their means of subsistence should be made to ring throughout the labour world of the Kingdom. Is this the liberty for which men are laying down their lives?


Secretary, Athlone Branch,

Typographical Association."

I would ask the Home Secretary if he would kindly see into this matter, and at the earliest possible moment, allow this printing establishment to resume its ordinary duties.


I wish to add a few words-to what my hon. Friend has said because of what has taken place in county Clare where a paper called the "-Clare Champion"was suppressed, and although that paper advocated the Sinn Fein policy—and I may say, in parenthesis, was always opposed to myself—yet looking at the part issues of that paper, and especially those immediately preceding the seizure of the plant, I was unable to find anything in the paper which could be reasonably held to justify such a measure. In the last issue I saw of the paper, the "Clare Champion" distinctly and formally repudiated pro-Germanism. In the same number, I believe, it argued against rebellion. Therefore, taking these two elements, which are not necessarily associated with Sinn Feinism, at all, and, according to the "Clare Champion," are very seldom associated with Sinn Feinism, there is nothing left which could not form part of a perfectly constitutional movement. Therefore, as one who has been often attacked in this paper, and who is consequently not naturally in sympathy with its aims, I beg to make a formal protest in this House to the Chief Secretary against their arbitrary proceeding, which tends to influence and embitter public feeling in county Clare, and to make the work of any kind of reasonable Government more and more difficult.

There is only one other small matter, which I will refer to again and again if something satisfactory is not done. That is in respect of an answer which was given to me in this House over a matter which is in itself relatively unimportant, but which therefore, for that very reason, perhaps, shows the want of wisdom with which Ireland is being administered. I asked in this House if school girls usually resident in county Clare require passports in going to and from school if they leave the county? I was assured not. Since that time I have had several letters from Clare, from the parents of these girls, who tell me that passports are required for a schoolgirl with her hair down her back—I mention this detail to give an indication of age—who leaves Clare to go to the neighbouring place of Limerick, and that not only are these passports required, but that the police and military officers, in their supposed duty of ascertaining whether the girls have been provided with passports, are rude and often insulting in their manner. I would like to know how it came about that an answer from the Government Bench was given entirely denying that such a state of things existed? Are the authorities really informed, or, if they are not informed, do the military exercise their great and almost unlimited powers in Ireland with an utter disregard not merely of public opinion in Ireland, not merely in violation of elementary right and justice, but with an absolute disregard even of common-sense? That is all I will say at this moment because, perhaps, the Chief Secretary has been a little taken by surprise, but I shall return again and again to this question unless this particular cause of unrest is dealt with.


I desire to ask the Noble Lord the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury a question. Stories have been going round among Members of the House that to-morrow a time-table for the discussion of the new Military Service Bill is to be the first Order of the day, and there is some doubt whether it is to be taken to-morrow or the following day. It will be for the convenience of some hon. Members to know tonight, before they leave the House, whether the Second Reading is to be the first Order to-morrow; whether the Government contemplate getting the Second Reading without suspending the Eleven o'Clock Rule or by suspending the Eleven o'Clock Rule; and whether a time-table is to be proposed?

Lord EDMUND TALBOT (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)

The Government have decided, in response to the appeal made to them to-day by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that they should give a longer time for the discussion of this Bill, and that time will now be extended until Tuesday next week. To-morrow the Government hope to take the, Second Reading of this Bill and to get it by eleven o'clock without suspending the Eleven o'Clock Rule. On Thursday the Government will bring in a guillotine Motion, of which the details will be put down later.


Will that be on the Paper to-morrow?


No, on the following day. The Committee stage will be proceeded with on Thursday, as soon as the guillotine Motion has been disposed of.


I was not in the House at the time the questions were raised with regard to the newspapers in Ireland, but the hon. Member (Mr. Byrne) has handed me the telegram relating to the newspaper at Athlone and the plant of the printing business. I can only say that any suppressions of newspapers at Athlone or in county Clare which have taken place are in respect of the publication in the newspapers of seditious matter—not an individual incidental publication of seditious matter, but a systematic publication of matter tending to incite disaffection. I have not the details in respect of the "Clare Champion" and the "Westmeath Independent." The matter the hon. and learned Gentleman raised in regard to the printing establishments of Athlone is, of course, entirely separate. I am quite sure there is no intention on the part of the military authorities by the seizure of a newspaper to put unoffending printers out of work. Having been brought to my notice, I will have inquiries made. The hon. Member (Mr. Lynch) made a complaint in respect of what he called the requirement of permits and the attendance of children at school. He said some answer had been given from this bench which was contrary to the facts. I was not aware that any question had ever been asked in regard to the issue of permits for going in and out of county Clare. Certainly it was not asked of me.


A question was put down, but it was not reached. I afterwards found it answered among the Written Answers.


Probably it was asked shortly before the House rose, when the duties of my office required my presence in Dublin. I was not aware that it had been asked. I really do not precisely know how the issue and the points raised would affect the transit of children from, for instance, Clare into Limerick. One of the irksome inconveniences of the system of the creation of a special military area such as Clare has been declared is that permits may be required for passage in and out of the county; but I cannot imagine that there is any desire that children who are going to and from school should be made the subject of a requisition for a permit, but if the hon. Member desires I will inquire about it. He has called public attention to it, and I have no doubt it will receive the attention of the officers. From the criticisms I have heard coming from the county itself, the conclusion I draw is that Clare is distinguished generally for remarkable urbanity and mildness, and the officers are on uncommonly good terms with the local population.


With regard to the seizure of the "Clare Champion," the right hon. Gentleman says that has been done on account of some seditious publication. Who decides whether any publication is seditious, and is it ever referred either to him or to his own office?


Certainly; in many cases the seditious publications are referred to my office, and in some they come under my particular notice. There is no general scheme of interference with newspapers because they are newspapers. Where certain newspapers are published regularly and distinctly with the object of spreading sedition and provoking disaffection, and as part of a revolutionary propaganda, I cannot shut my eyes to the facts. I do not say the "Clare Champion" has come within that category. I do not profess to have details with regard to the suspension of the "Clare Champion."


The right hon. Gentleman says 85 per cent. of the work which the machinery used to do has now been seized. If the machinery is taken away altogether it deprives the employés of all their other work which they used to do outside the newspaper work. They have taken the machinery with the intention of suppressing the newspaper, but the newspaper only represented 15 per cent. of the work done by these men.


The effective mode of suppression of the edition of a seditious newspaper is to withdraw the material and operative parts of the plant. That has been done in London. It is very often the case that the publisher of a seditious paper is a prosperous jobbing printer. If you are to stop the publication of this seditious paper by withdrawing the operative parts of his printing plant, and unhappily there are people who are not affected by the sedition, but who suffer by the suppression, I am sorry, but they must bring the inconvenience of it home to the person who is really at fault. I am afraid that, in the absence of other or more effective means of preventing the publication of a seditious newspaper, the loss and inconvenience which innocent persons may suffer must be attributed to those who devote their machinery and their time to mischievous purposes.


Surely there is sufficient intelligence on the part of the military authorities to know the difference between a printing press and a newspaper press! Mr. Chapman contracts for the printing of the jurors' lists, and the printing press for job printing is a wholly different article from the printing press for a newspaper. Surely the military authorities ought to have sufficient intelligence to know that the producing of newspapers has to be done on one kind of press and that you prepare jurors' lists, bills, etc., on a machine of a wholly different character! To make your objection to what appears in his newpaper an excuse for ruining an individual without notice is wholly wrong. Even under the Coercion Act of Hicks-Beach, in 1875, notice was given, and under the Defence of the Realm Act the Preamble recites that as little interference as possible with property should be made. It is intolerable that under the Defence of the Realm Act these gentlemen, on the pretence of stopping a newspaper which represents only one-tenth, apparently only one-hundredth, part of this man's business, should sweep away the whole of his business without notice. I do not think the English newspaper illustration given by the right hon. Gentleman is a true comparison. I do not know that there was attached to the "Globe" newspaper or to the "Morning Post" a huge, well-known printing business or job printing works. I do not think it would be tolerated by people in this country that without notice you reach this state of things, that you destroy the whole of a man's business, and act punitively as regards his business because you take offence at a particular branch of it. You expect people to give their lives and blood, and you act in this way. The right course would have been to give notice to the editor: "The course you are taking is a perilous one, and if we have to act we shall not be able to distinguish between your job printing works and your other works. Be on your guard." I do not think that a gentleman whom I know to be a Conservative and a Protestant should have his business ruined because he may have a fiery editor. Many newspaper proprietors, I agree, do not exercise sufficient supervision over the whole of their business. It is useless for the right hon. Gentleman to compare London and Athlone. A London printer who loses his job can walk into some other employment, but that is not the case in Athlone, and there is no comparison between the two cases. I say respectfully that the right hon. Gentleman has not been criticised severely at all in connection with newspapers. I have not read these newspapers. As regards some of them, I did not even know that they were in existence, but what the right hon. Gentleman says is, "Because you have a corn on your foot I will cut off the whole leg."

It being Half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of 13th February.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock