§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
It is just three weeks since, taking an occasion which seemed to me suitable, I drew the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the uneasiness and suspicion engendered by the new connection as it seemed to many of us which had been established between the present Government and the Press. Since then I have pursued the matter no further. I have waited until my right hon. Friend was ready to make a statement on the subject to the House.
74 I think, if I may say so, that my right hon. Friend was wise to decide that the time had come when such a statement should be made, and made by him, and when the House should have an opportunity of discussing it if it wished to do so. It is quite true that some of the critics of this House outside the House tell us that we are of no consequence in these days, and that all we have to do is to get on with the War. For my part, that is all I wish to do, but I wish to be assured that others, and in particular that His Majesty's Minister on whom that duty presses most heavily, have also that purpose and that purpose alone in their minds and are not allowing themselves to be diverted or turning their attention to any other and lesser subject. If I had not thought that the suspicions which have been created by a series of unfortunate events, however we may look at them, were in themselves weakening the hands of the Government and lessening the confidence which is felt in it, I should not have thought it necessary, or indeed right, to take up the time of the House on this matter.
As regards our own position, I am afraid that it is true, and frankly I for one regret it, that the House no longer exercises, or does not for the time exercise, the same authority and possess the same confidence in the country which previous Houses of Commons have dons. That is perhaps inevitable in the circumstances in which we are placed, when so many of our Members are serving abroad, when all ordinary party differences out of which we derive our special mandate are for the moment hushed, and when the problems which are before us are of a novel and very serious kind. I regret it, because I know of no other public organ which can take the place of this House or which can fill the part which this House used to perform. I permit myself to observe, in passing, that if the critics who are so fond of telling us that we have lost the confidence of the country, and have lost the influence which we once possessed, think that influence has accrued to them, they are very much mistaken. If the House of Commons has suffered, so has the Press. The confidence which the public places in the Press has been gravely and seriously diminished by recent events, for which a section of the Press, and a section only, has been responsible. I regret that only less than 75 the loss of influence by the House of Commons, for the influence of. the Press, a free and independent and a responsible Press, is only of second importance in the working of our democracy to the influence of this House itself.
I make no apology for returning to the subject of the connection of the Government with the Press, now that my right hon. Friend has made the statement for which I asked. In considering that state-meat, I take as they have been given the assurances my right hon. Friend has made to this House as to the grounds of action which he has taken in the past and as to the limits of the action which he has taken, and any comments which I shall make will proceed upon the basis of the statement which he has just solemnly addressed to us. I do not undervalue the importance of the statement which he has made. I think, if my appeal to him three weeks ago has had no other result than to produce that statement, it has served a useful purpose, even if it has not done all that I had hoped it might do. What is it that my right hon. Friend has told us? In the first place, he has told us, and he has laid it down as a principle of action and not merely as a fact concerning the present Ministerial appointments, that any newspaper proprietor who becomes a Minister must absolutely and completely disassociate himself from the control of his newspapers or newspaper as long as he holds Ministerial office. My right hon. Friend said that followed precedents set in regard to company directors. The House has been jealous in regard to the position of directors of companies. The House, and Members of the House, at times have not confined their jealous suspicion to the action of directors of companies, but have thought it necessary to search the files of Somerset House to find who were the shareholders of companies, and they have thought that they have traced, or, at any rate, that there might be suspicion, that the mere ownership of shares was sufficient to render a man unfit to serve his King. It is easy to exaggerate the grounds for suspicion. It is easy to impute blame where no blame is due, whether in the case of gentlemen connected with the Press or of gentlemen connected with industrial undertakings, but I do not think that the analogy which my right hon. Friend drew between the two is complete or satisfac- 76 tory. A company director is serving a private company. The Press proprietor is responsible for one of our public institutions, and the value of that institution depends upon its independence — the independence alike of the praise or the blame which it bestows upon the Government of the day. If its independence is not publicly recognised, its support of the Government becomes useless. If its independence is supposed to have been sacrificed by the acceptance of Ministerial obligations, then the Press loses its freedom, and with its freedom it loses its authority.
My right hon. Friend cannot at this time of day be under doubt that in speaking as I did a little time ago I expressed the general sentiment of this House, without distinction of party, and I expressed an opinion which is widely felt outside this House, and which is largely shared by the independent Press of this country, who see a danger to the Press as great as that which I see to the Government in the supposed collusion between the two and the loss of independence by the one or the other. My right hon. Friend, however, has laid it down that no Minister is to exercise any sort of control over a newspaper while he holds Ministerial responsibility. That is something. It is something not merely on account of the very great safeguard which it imports, but because of the moral principles which underlie it and to which they must conform in the spirit no less than the letter. In the second place, my right hon. Friend has repeated categorically, in. regard to the attacks both upon naval and military men serving under his Government, that he himself had neither part nor lot in them, and that he has satisfied himself that no member of his staff had any such part either. That is also satisfactory. It is not merely satisfactory in itself as regards the facts, but it is satisfactory because it is the avowal, or perhaps I should say the assertion, that any other course of conduct would be wrong.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
And that he will not tolerate it in anyone connected with him. Again, my right hon. Friend has said, in regard to the appointments which were criticised, that he made each one of them on its merits and on its merits alone. That is 77 the assertion, of the principle that any other motive of action would have been wrong, and that it would not be right or tolerable that any Prime Minister or Government should seek to buy the support of a section of the Press by introducing people connected with that Press into Ministerial positions. The principles are satisfactory. [Laughter and cheers.] I am not grateful to the hon. Gentlemen for their interruption. They and I do not act from the same motives or pursue the same objects. I have tried from the first since this War broke out, whether under the Premiership of my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Asquith) or under the present Prime Minister, to support the Government of the day in carrying the War to a successful conclusion. When those hon. Gentlemen can say the same, and not before, shall I desire their cheers or their approval. I say that the assertion of those principles is satisfactory. My right hon. Friend cannot be and must not be under any misapprehension as to the effect that they will produce. There has been too much coincidence. I take it as pure coincidence that certain papers have attacked particular servants of the Government, and that shortly afterwards the Government have found it impossible to continue those servants in the offices that they held. One of these gentlemen addresses to the Prime Minister a public letter which I should have thought was contrary certainly to practice and perhaps to the honour able traditions of confidence which prevail in public life to have published at all, in which, with an insolent and offensive patronage of my right hon. Friend, he combines an equally insolent and offensive criticism of my right hon. Friend's colleagues. As I have said, the Government finds it impossible thereafter to retain in their offices the officials who arc specially attacked, and the people who have been specially associated with those attacks and with this letter are shortly after found, in each case on their individual merits and that alone, to be indispensable to the Government in particular offices. That is coincidence, but it is very unfortunate coincidence, and for no one is it more unfortunate than for my right hon. Friend and his Government, because coincidences of that kind will breed suspicion. As to what my right hon. Friend has said to-day, though I think it will do much good, and though I hope it has cleared the air as to the past and will prevent so much suspicion 78 being engendered in the future, or even the causes for that suspicion arising in the future, yet it is impossible that the Government should associate with itself those who have been equally deeply concerned in attacks on officials serving under my right hon. Friend, and on colleagues serving with him so immediately after these attacks without leaving a very uncomfortable feeling in the public mind which, in the interests of the Government itself, he would have done well to avoid.
I am not concerned to define exactly what is' the relationship which ought to prevail or what are the limits of the relations which ought to prevail between the Prime Minister or a Government or any newspaper. I admit it is very difficult to give an exact definition. I admit that any rule you lay down is not incapable of evasion, and, if it be an answer to the rule to say that in another way, moving underground, the same results can be obtained, that would be destructive of making any rule at all. But I believe that the assertion of these rules and of the principles of action laid down by my right hon. Friend arc in themselves something gained, and I believe it is important to have that gain in the present circumstances. Relations between the Government and the Press are always dangerous. The relations of any Government with the Press at the present time must be specially so. There is a censorship at work and prosecutions have sometimes to be undertaken. It is not possible that a Minister, recognised as a great newspaper proprietor, should remain a Minister if there is any question of the prosecution of the paper which he owns. That is not possible. The mere fact that some of them are Ministers will make the discharge of his duties by ray right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the other Ministers concerned more invidious and more difficult. It will not deflect their actions a bit, but it will lay them open to a suspicion against which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would have done well to guard. That is not all. There is a vast amount of confidential information — information of the most highly confidential character. I do not see how the Minister of Information or the Ministry of Information is to do its work without having a great deal of this very confidential information submitted to it. I think it is a very invidious position for these gentlemen themselves, or anyone serving under 79 them — I am not now talking of Ministers only — to say, "We are going to lay before you a vast amount of the most highly confidential information, every word of which you must forget from the moment you return to your newspaper office. "It is a very difficult position for them. It lays them open to the same kind of suspicion, and, though I welcome the advance that has been made, though I think that these discussions have done something to clear the air, for my part I regret that the colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman who were specially concerned have not relieved him of the embarrassment in which their appointment has placed him, and that he himself has not seen his way to make a clean cut and sweep away once for all the whole atmosphere of suspicion and of intrigues which it has engendered.
§ Mr. SPENCER HUGHES
We have had a statement from the Prime Minister, and we have had also a speech from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain), who has occupied Cabinet rank and who again may occupy Cabinet rank. It is just as well, perhaps, that the Prime Minister and the House should hear some of the views of a very ordinary and a very private Member — one who has never attacked this Government, or the late Government, or the Government before that, because, as far as I am concerned, I have regarded each one of those three Governments as trying to end this War by the only way which I regard as possible or acceptable — by winning the War. But we have a subject here which is a very interesting one to me, and which obviously divides itself under two headings — firstly, the presence of newspaper proprietors in the Government, or in positions under the direction of the Government; and, secondly, the supposed influence of the Press over the Government, or of the Government over the Press — I do not know exactly which it is. [An HON. MEMBER: "A little of both!"] Possibly it is "a little of both." The justification for the presence of newspaper proprietors in the Government depends upon this: Is it or is it not desirable to have a campaign of propaganda pursued in this country, in Allied countries, in neutral countries, and in enemy countries? I would begin by assuming that it is. Governments are often a little unfairly criticised in mat- 80 ters of this sort. I agree with the wise saying of a man who knew this House-longer than I did, thatNo Government is as good as it ought to be, and no critics of Governments are half as virtuous-as they pretend to beThe critics in this case take this line-about propaganda: If the Government do-nothing, they say, "Look at what Germany has done by propaganda in Russia and in Italy! "Then, if the Government start a campaign of propaganda, they say, "What is the good of spending all this money, and making these appointments?" There is obvious unfairness in that view. I begin by assuming that it is well to have such campaigns conducted. The question then arises, Who are the best men to conduct it? I think that practical and experienced newspaper men are the beat men--I would add, men who are not likely to be hampered in their proceedings by what Dr. Johnson has termed "needless scrupulosity." Let us see how far two of the chief representatives of propaganda in the Government — Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Northcliffe — answer to those simple conditions. About Lord Beaverbrook I will say little, because of what may seem to some an inadequate reason — that I know very little about him. I once did him a service unwittingly and unwillingly. I went and spoke against him when he stood as a candidate for this House, and he got in. I think he got in because of more potent reasons, and that my absence or presence did not matter. I have seen allusions to him in the Canadian papers, allusions of an amazingly frank and even libellous character; but I do not accept them, and I know nothing about the facts of the case. I will only say that if one-tenth of what is said in the Canadian Press about him were true, it only shows that he will never fail as a Director of Propaganda, because of "needless scrupulosity."
Let us turn to a much more potent and interesting personality — Lord Northcliffe. I shall approach the study of his character from a standpoint of absolute impartiality — what Burke has called'The cold neutrality of the impartial judgeHe never did me any good; he never did me any harm. Only once in my life have I written an article for one of his publications. It had nothing to do with politics, and he had what I may call the good taste and sense to publish it. I may say that 81 there is a difference between writing for the Press and writing in the Press, as some hon. Members may have found out. In his case, too, he stood as a candidate for this House some years ago at Portsmouth. On that occasion I did not speak against him; so he was rejected. In regard to Lord Northcliffe, I think that the attacks made upon him have been ridiculously overdone. It is always a mistake to overstate your case. He has been held up as a sort of sinister figure, brooding over this country and over a great part of Europe with a hidden hand — a cloven hoof — an evil eye and a forked tail. That is the wrong way in which to criticise Lord Northcliffe. No man really resents being called a "monster." It adds to his sense of self-importance. I believe that any man would rather be called "a colossal monster" than "a well-meaning man." I remember the case of an archibishop, no longer living, who some few years ago felt very much hurt at being described as —A man of much pie[...]y and some learning.No doubt he would have been the first to recognise and even to urge that piety is better than learning, but he did not like that way of putting it. The way to approach Lord Northcliffe is to begin by recognising, as I do, that he is human. I believe he resents the suggestion himself, and it might go hard with any member of his staff who stated the fact to him bluntly. The fact remains that he is human, and, being human, he is subject to some of the faults and failings which are inherent in human nature. I believe all his faults and failings can be traced to one cause, that is that he thinks he looks like Napoleon. This has inflamed him with the "lust of universal conquest and world-wide dominion."
There are others among his critics who complain of him that every now and then he makes "all the organs under his control play the same tune." I will not say he raises "one grand, sweet song," but, at any rate, there is a sturdy chorus, and then he says, "Look at this great outburst of independent public opinion!" But that has not always been the case. Lord Northcliffe was not ever thus. His Napoleonic instinct at one time induced him to address the public in effect in this way. He would say, "If you do not like the Unionism preached in my London papers, try the Liberalism and Free Trade in the "Leeds Mercury," or observe my honest sympathy 82 with Labour in Glasgow. If, as is only too possible, my humorous papers, such as "Comic Cuts," sadden and depress you, you will always find an excuse for an. honest laugh in my religious publications," for they are really funny. Instead of always stunning you with what has been called "similarity and simultaneity," he has some times presented all the attractiveness of a variety artist.
All this goes to show that Lord Northcliffe might make a very successful Minister of Propaganda, and being human — I pointed out that as he is human, he is subject to faults and failings — he also has merits and virtues, though they may be negative virtues. There is one which has always attracted me. He is not, and has never pretended to be, a philanthropist. He is not one of those pestilent people who pretend to run newspapers, in order that they may "leave the world a little better than they found it." People cannot be made to see that the best way for them to leave the world better than they found it would be to leave the world at once. What is it that the Government requires Lord Northcliffe to do as Director of Propaganda? It is to collect — I will not say to concoct — information, to distribute the information,, and to get the people to believe the information. He has been engaged in that arduous task for years with varying success, and so I think a case is made out for him as the Minister for Propaganda. He is absolutely the man for the position.
When we come to the influence supposed to be exercised by the Press, over the Government, whereas the appointment of Lord Northcliffe is a matter of fact, the other is, to a great extent, a matter of conjecture; and here again I think the critics of the Government are very often mistaken. They say, "Look at the Northcliffe Press, and other papers, which attack certain individuals, and then those individuals go under." But we should remember that it is a very old art of the Press to find out what is going to happen, then to advocate it, to insist on it, and then, when the thing does happen, to say, "See what we have done!" No one was more candid about that than the late Mr. Labouchere, who has often told me, with chuckling satisfaction, of his successes in that way many years ago. The influence of the Press I regret to have to say it— I think is ridiculously over-estimated and exaggerated. There are papers which do exercise 83 influence quite properly. They have earned the right to exercise it. In London I will mention the "Daily Telegraph." Out side London, I think you find more influence. Take papers like the "Scotsman," the "Glasgow Herald," the "Yorkshire Post," the "Manchester Guardian," and the" Birmingham Daily Post." Those great organs exercise influence as they ought to do, and the reason, I believe, is that they have as editors independent men of judgment and character, who direct the papers. But in London nearly every paper is now directed by the proprietors, and needs must when the proprietor drives, as every well-trained and well-broken-in editor knows. I have sometimes thought, when I have seen in certain papers these personal campaigns of attack on men like Robertson and Jellicoe, that they have their grotesque side, for had it not been for the exertions of such men as Robertson and Jellicoe, the Germans would have been in Fleet Street by now — [Interruption] — I mean hostile and openly-avowed Germans — and would have made the music of some of those critics mute.
It is well for us here to condemn these personal attacks. It is even better for them to be condemned, as they have been, in the other House, because Lord Northcliffeis a member of the other House, and can go there if he likes and listen to his critics, and can answer them. But I am not very much impressed when some other newspapers raise one eye to heaven in self-righteous indignation, while keeping the other eye fixed on the "main chance." And I cannot help thinking "that some of these critics in the Press, at any rate of Lord Northcliffe, are inspired by that querulous ness which comes to disappointed rivals who have been beaten at their own game. We know that the Northcliffe Press conducted a campaign of insult and slander against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). That was a proceeding on the part of these papers which I regarded not only as deplorable, but as detestable. I have sometimes wished, when I read those criticisms of public men, that we could have the man who wrote the article produced, and put by the side of the man he assailed. Let us judge which of the two has rendered the country and the Empire the greater service. Let us judge which is the more like a thinly disguised "Bolo". While I 84 state my views on that campaign, I cannot forget that there are other papers which conduct a quite similar vendetta against the present Prime Minister, and in the case of their criticisms some of them pretend to be writing "open" letters to him, openly boasted about and quoting, or misquoting, what they say has been said by him in private conversation. Those who can stoop to such practices need not lecture any other part of the Press upon propriety of conduct! The fact is that the modern Press is to much too great an extent run on methods which were well described by a young Oxford editor some years ago in a valedictory address when, in taking farewell of his readers, he used these words:We have never hesitated to stand up for the light when we felt that public opinion was with us. We have always protested against the wrong when we saw it to be unpopular. We have stated the truth when we happened to know the facts, and have never hesitated to resort to fiction when we have been convinced of its superior validity. We have never employed the lumberings and tedious methods of demonstration when we felt we could rely on the credulity of our readers, and we have never asked for gratitude when we have found self-satisfaction the surer road to happiness.A good many papers are run on those lines to-day. I cannot think it is right that the fats of any public man — statesman or sailor or soldier — should be left in the hands of papers so conducted, nor can I think it right, indeed it is scarcely credible, that the policy of such papers should control or influence in any degree the policy of any Administration which is worthy the name of Government.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I had put on the Paper a Motion to reduce the Vote by £ 100, and I should not have been able to do that unless I had risen at once when the Vote was put to the House. But I was most anxious, naturally, that the right, hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) should initiate the Debate. The House probably is aware that I am unable to move the reduction now, and therefore no Division can be taken except on the main Question, I wished to move the reduction as a protest against the appointment of Lord Northcliffe as Minister of Propaganda and as Chairman of the American Mission to London. I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on drawing the attention of the House to the supreme importance of this subject. My grounds for taking this action are twofold— first, the disadvantage 85 attaching to the duality of the position; and, secondly, the unsuitability of Lord Northcliffe for the post. I think sufficient has already been said with regard to the disadvantage of duality, and I will therefore come to the second ground of my contention — the unsuitability of Lord Northcliffe to occupy this position.
Hon. Members may be interested to know that the Mission headed by Lord Northcliffe arrived in the United States in May, 1917. Its head offices were established in New York. The Commission was recruited by Lord Northcliffe from his own offices at home, and it was arranged that a supply of news should be furnished to the American Press. There are some facts I should like to quote. The Commission was composed of various Departments. There was the Treasury Department, with Sir Hardman Lever, K.C.B., a Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and a staff of three; there was the Purchasing Department, with a staff of forty-three; a Munitions Department, with a staff of forty-one; a Production Department, with a total staff of 436; and an Inspection Department, with a total staff of 951. I ask the House to realise that the Mission absolutely consisted of 2,000 people or more, and, I ask, Was such a staff necessary for the work? Does any hon. Member believe it was necessary to have 2,000 individuals to carry out the objects of this Mission to the United States? I understand that Messrs. Morgan were our Purchasing Agents there, and I would like to know what was the object of giving Lord Northcliffe power to engage such a large number of persons. I would like to ask, further, What did he do? Why have we not had some Report to this House on the work of this Mission? More than six weeks have elapsed since I gave notice that I would raise this question, and I submit we are entitled to know from some representative of the Government — from the Prime Minister, who, I understand, is to reply — what really was done by this Mission. We are entitled to have some defence of this indefensibly extravagant idea of employing more than 2,000 people to carry out the work of this Mission. I understand that a large proportion of them were engaged in the United States of America. I say it is a monstrous waste of public money for which no justification can be shown, and it is, therefore, right and proper that we should 86 demand from the Prime Minister an explanation why these. people were employed and what, in fact, they did.
We have been told that the general expenses of the Mission for three months were about £ 11,000,. and that it is not possible to form, a reliable estimate of future expenditure. We have, however, bad the further information that the item for salaries and office expenses will be about £ 12,000 a year in the United States and that another £ 5,000 would be expended in this country, so that the outlay is likely to be very considerable. My suggestion is that Lord Northcliffe was most unsuitable for this appointment, and that he is equally unsuited for the post recently conferred upon him — that of Minister of Propaganda. It may be asked on what ground we are protesting? I think we are entitled to look at his newspapers as an indication of his fitness for the post. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) recently referred to the vendetta against Lord Jellicoe, and we cannot also forget the vendetta which was carried on in these papers against Lord Kitchener. I think such campaigns should have made the Prime Minister pause before appointing this Noble Lord to such an important post. I propose to touch briefly on the tragic events of past years in order to point, out the many inaccuracies of which the Northcliffe Press have been guilty, and these in accuracies, I suggest, are sufficient to prove that his Lordship has not the qualifications desirable for this important post.
§ Mr. MASON
That is a very proper request, and I hope I shall be able to satisfy the hon. Member that the organs controlled and directed by Lord Northcliffe have, over and over again, proved to be inaccurate. Let me give the first I have in my mind, the statement which appeared in the "Times" newspaper early in the War — and a very grave statement it was — which gave the world to believe that the British Army had been defeated in France.
§ Mr. MASON
I do not know the date and place, but undoubtedly the statement 87 appeared in the "Times" early in the War, and it gave the impression I have stated to the world. My second instance of inaccuracy is that in which the "Daily Mail" published a grossly inaccurate statement regarding the position of the British Navy. I have referred to the attacks made on Lord Kitchener as well as to the later attacks upon Lord Jellicoe. But there has also been the vendetta against Sir William Robertson. I am surprised the hon. Member should ask me for examples seeing that the whole career of the Northcliffe press is full of examples of inaccuracy.
§ Mr. McKEAN rose —
The hon. Member is not entitled to interrupt another hon. Member when he is making his speech.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MASON
I am only too pleased to give the hon. Member instances. I have already cited the vendettas against Sir William Robertson and Lord Jellicoe and the House and the country know that in consequence of these attacks the country has lost the services of these great men. The right hon. Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) has admitted that Lard Jellicoe was a great seaman, while the right hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) has told us that he regards Sir William Robertson as one of the most distinguished soldiers in the service of this country; yet, owing to certain machinations in the Northcliffe press, the country has lost the services of these two men, one of whom had obtained the confidence of a former First Lord of the Admiralty, a former member of the War Cabinet, who has stated that he was not consulted when this particular distinguished public servant was withdrawn from his office. We also know from the evidence of an ex-Prime Minister and of many other great military authorities that this Empire in the middle of a great war by some means has been deprived of the services of a distinguished soldier. These facts should make us pause before sanctioning the appointment as the head of a great Mission like this, of the proprietor of newspapers which carry on such campaigns. It is monstrous that 88 the country should thus be deprived of the services of great men. I am not going into the merits, of the question as to whether it was wise to adopt the new arrangement at Versailles, but I do urge that the position of the Press in this country and in this House should not be exaggerated. The Press only came into this Chamber as a great privilege. It has no right here; it comes merely because we choose to allow it. This House, after all, 1st he most effective representative of public opinion, and we cannot allow the Press or any other body of men to rule us; if we do that we have only ourselves to blame. I say that when we know that the country has lost the services of those two great men on the strength of that, and that subsequently the office of Minister of Propaganda is filled by the Noble Lord who is the proprietor of those very newspapers which helped to bring this about, it is a scandal against which this House ought to protest and which ought not to go forward. It may be asked: What can you say against Lord Northcliffe himself and in regard to his personal merits? I came across a dispatch by the Count de Lalaing which is dated 24th March, 1907, commenting on the events of that time, and he wrote this dispatch stating what was the prevailing political atmosphere and what events were taking place in the political world. His name is well known as a distinguished Ambassador for Belgium, and he was speaking without prejudice to any country:A certain section of the Press known here under the name of the Yellow Press is in great part responsible for the hostility that exists between the two nations (England and Germany). What, in fact, can one expect from a journalist like Mr. Harms worth, now Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of the 'Daily Mail,' 'Daily Mirror,' 'Daily Graphic' 'Daily Express,' 'Evening News,' and 'Weekly Dispatch," who in an interview given to the 'Matin,' says: 'Yes, we detest the Germans cordially. They make themselves odious to all Europe. I will never allow the least thing to be printed in my journal which might wound France, but I would' not let anything be printed which might be agreeable to Germany.' Yet in 1899 this same man was attacking the French with the same violence, wanted to boycott the Paris Exhibition, and wrote ' The French have succeeded in persuading "John Bull" that they are his deadly enemies. England long hesitated between France and Germany, but she has always respected the German character, while she has come to despise France. A cordial understanding cannot exist between England and her nearest neighbour. We have had enough of France, who has neither courage nor political sense.'89 Just conceive of a man who could express such statements as I have just read presuming to be a Minister of Propaganda — the type of man who apparently can write to any creed and who can speak of declining to allow anything to appear in his paper agreeable to Germany! There are many people, if we go back to past history, though it does not serve any good purpose to do so, who did fan the flames of ill-feeling between ourselves and Germany. But here is evidence of a man who was prepared to say on the one hand that he would allow nothing to appear in his paper which was agreeable to Germany, and on another occasion to say the same thing in regard to France, which he described as a country which had neither courage nor political sense.
§ Mr. MASON
I have already given the date. If the hon. Gentleman would attend to my remarks instead of interrupting, he would get the dates. This dispatch is dated 24th March, 1907, and refers to a man who was apparently equally willing to traduce either Germany or France. That is not the type of man we desire. We want a properly qualified Minister, and I am not here to protest against the appointment of a properly qualified Minister. I agree we ought not to have directors of great newspapers as Ministers of the Crown. But now I am taking it on the merits of the case, which is the ground upon which the Prime Minister took it when he said that these men were appointed because they were the best qualified for that purpose. I have given evidence to this House which ought to shake the confidence of this House in this appointment, if it is possible to do so. This House, as the right hon. Gentleman said, has no confidence in these appointments. I do not propose to go into the cases of Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook, but I will confine myself to this one.
§ Mr. MASON
I quite agree. Lord Northcliffe has been appointed to look after propaganda in enemy countries, and Lord Beaverbrook is Minister for Propaganda, and therefore my remarks have reference to the appointment of Lord Northcliffe as the Minister of Propaganda in enemy countries, and as 90 Chairman of the American Commission, which 1 couple with it. To my mind he is not suitable for either, but is most unsuitable, and the evidence I have given proves that. I say we ought to hesitate before going further with this appointment of a Minister in charge of enemy propaganda, because his whole public action during these years has been to accentuate the hate between this country and our enemies. I submit that while there may be some differences of opinion among certain Friends of mine as to methods which might be adopted in bringing about a satisfactory peace, in the main, both in this House and throughout the country, there is no dissentient voice with regard to the justice of our cause and of what brought this country into the War.
This House is a united House and the country is united on the main and primary objects for which we entered this War, and I say we do not require a Lord Northcliffe to stimulate our hate by faked stories of German corpse factories and other absurd stories. Our cause rests on a moral foundation — we believe we have a just cause after the action of Germany towards Belgium, and it is not necessary to have Lord Northcliffe giving us stories of German brutalities or excesses, or of corpse factories and things of that sort, to stimulate and to confirm us in our action. Our action shows no sign of faltering as to the main objects for which we entered the War, and the effect of Lord Northcliffe's appointment is to create distrust in the country. The Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) referred to this when he said that the newspaper connection created a distrust. While we do not see eye to eye in all things, our main foundations are the same when we agree that the duality should cease to exist. I go further and say that the man is unsuitable for such a post, and that while I desire we should have a proper Minister for propaganda and a controller of propaganda in enemy countries, I say he should be a man who commands respect and confidence of the people, who has not taint or faltering as to the purposes of the War, one who has some idea of statesmanship, and whose career is not strewn with inaccuracies, and one who has not been prepared to take the side of France on one occasion and to attack her on another occasion. I say in a case of this kind and in such 91 a crisis we should have in charge of enemy propaganda a man of unblemished hon our, of great integrity, and of a character which commands the confidence of all.
§ Colonel LOWTHER
I had not the good fortune to hear the whole of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but I protest against the criticism of a man who holds high office if that criticism is only because he happens to be a journalist. The Prime Minister has taken upon his shoulders a great responsibility. He is conducting this War with an energy which is worthy of a thousand men, and surely he is the best judge of who is to help him and who he thinks could best conduct propaganda for this country and fill the other posts which have to be filled. After all, because a man is a journalist, has he to be debarred from holding high office? Is that the reason? Is it the principle my hon. Friend objects to, or does the Member for West Birmingham object to all journalists holding high office merely and solely because they are journalists? Since when has journalism become a synonym for criminality? Since when has a profession which Lord Coleridge, Thackeray and Dickens adorned become a profession which is to be the synonym for criminality?
§ Colonel LOWTHER
If that is so, I withdraw the observation, but I do protest against the principle that a journalist should be debarred from holding a high position under the. Crown. I object still more to certain back-handed innuendoes, Lobby gossip, and certain cryptic utterances in regard to the personal character of Ministers of the Crown. Surely if Lord Beaverbrook were guilty of any action which was unworthy of a British Minister, or of a Member of this House, any Member of this House, instead of making back-handed innuendoes, ought to have the pluck and the courage to get up and charge him openly with this crime, whatever it is. I have repeatedly, when I have heard all sorts of 92 cryptic utterances, endeavoured to find out what was true and what was not true, and whenever I have sifted anything which has been said there has been no basis as foundation far those rumours. I think it is cowardly. I think it is unmanly. I think it is un-English, and it is certainly not the beat and truest traditions of this House.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
I confess that I was of those who regarded with some apprehension a system which we thought before to-day's Debate was unfortunate, namely, the appointment as a member of the Government of an editor or proprietor of a great newspaper controlling and directing public opinion. The person holding the appointment was, as we thought, and is most people in the country thought, to hold the two appointments at one and the same time. After all, the function of a newspaper is to criticise, and the most useful purpose which can be discharged during a time of War is a moderate, well-reasoned, sensible, and patriotic criticism of the Government, and I think there was considerable unrest and a good deal of dissatisfaction felt in the country at the thought that the proprietor or editor of a great newspaper was going to be placed in such a position that he could not be legitimately expected to criticise the Government, because he would himself belong to it. The statement that has been made to-day by the Prime Minister seems to me to alter the whole situation, because in answer to a question by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham he has told us that all these gentlemen, these great judges, who have accepted office, direct or indirect, under the Government, will disassociate themselves from any control of the newspapers with which they are associated. It seems to me that that ought at once to lay at rest any ill-feeling and any anxiety which has been felt in the country, and it reduces the question simply to this, that you are going to pursue a plan which has fortunately been pursued during this War, of the Government- choosing for particular Government work those experts whom they can find to carry it out, and it is idle to contend otherwise than that this work, the dissemination of public information in an attractive form, this educational process should be carried out by the best men, and surely the best men to carry it out are those whose life has been spent in work 93 of that kind. These three great gentlemen are architects of their own fortune, and have built up for themselves great positions in the country and are doing exactly the class of work which the Government are now calling upon them to perform. That alters the whole situation, and I should have thought that the mere announcement of that fact would have brought this Debate to a speedy termination.
The only point that seems to be in the minds of some hon. Members is that some of these gentlemen now called to high and useful office, although they may not be editors of newspapers, are in the position of shareholders or proprietors, and control the policy of the newspapers which they partly own. I have no knowledge of the interior conduct of the newspaper world, but I do happen to have read pretty constantly one of the newspapers alleged to be controlled by one of these three new officials, Lord Beaverbrook, and that is the "Daily Express." I say without fear of contradiction that since the beginning of this War that newspaper has at no time carried on an attack upon any individual. The attacks which have been carried on in the "Times" are part of the function of criticism which that great journal carries out, but it does not in my mind show that the attacks were unfair because they ultimately resulted or coincided with the dispensing with the services of the people whom they attacked. The "Daily Express," so far as my reading of it goes — and here I might mention that I have no connection with the paper directly or indirectly — has never associated itself with any attack of that kind. I believe from such information as comes for me that that paper is edited and controlled by a gentleman absolutely independently of what the proprietor may desire. After all, every great journal should be conducted on those lines, and I do not think you will ever find in this country an editor who is worth his salt unless he retains the independence of control of his journal. If he has to call his proprietors together to consult them on every occasion before a decision had to be made his position becomes that of a mere servant, and no journalist of standing would consent for a moment to accept such a position. I do suggest that after the explanation given the whole of this Debate might cease. Certain personal criticisms which some hon. Members think right to levy against journalists is 94 the sort of criticism which might apply not only to every journal in the Kingdom but to every individual. The question, resolves itself into this simple point that you are to get experts to do certain work, that the best experts which the country can demand have given their services to the country at this time of need, and that the Prime Minister is giving them no more than their due when he says that the country ought to be grateful to them for accepting the offices which they now fulfil.
The hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. D. Mason) charged Lord Northcliffe — for whom I hold no brief, and for which I am sure his Lordship will be very grateful — and his papers with inaccuracy. I respectfully submit that when any hon. Member makes a charge of inaccuracy he has to substantiate it forthwith. The hon. Member, after having made that charge, proceeded on his way without any evident intention of supporting the charge. Even when I challenged him for examples he was very slow to give-them, and when he did give them they were excessively vague and indefinite. The first instance of inaccuracy on the part of the Northcliffe press was that the "Times" gave currency to a report about a defeat; but he could not tell where it took place and what was the date on which that inaccuracy appeared.
§ Mr. McKEAN
What I want to know is, when the "Times" pave currency to a report that there had been a defeat. I want the lion. Member to give me the date when the "Times" did that?
§ Mr. McKEAN
I think it is a very material point. The second instance of inaccuracy was equally vague and indefinite. It was about some similar statement in the "Daily Mail" about some hypothetical naval defeat. The hon. Member went on to attempt to justify this charge by quoting attacks made by the "Daily Mail" on the late Lord Kitchener, and on Admiral Jellicoe and Sir William 95 Robertson. All I can say is that from the Irish point of view alone the attacks upon Lord Kitchener were more than justified. Lord Kitchener justified his existence in one way as an. organiser, but with regard to his treatment of recruiting in Ireland he was condemned on more than one occasion in this House by the late Mr. John Redmond, and if ever any man in a high position deserved censure and deserved to be removed from his office it was the late Lord Kitchener. I submit that the hon. Member entirely failed to justify his inaccuracy against the Northcliffe press and against Lord Northcliffe in particular. The position of those who are attacking to-day is that ostensibly they are attacking Lord Northcliffe's position or appointment as Director of Propaganda in enemy countries, but there is a far wider and greater charge involved. If I understand the position aright, the grave men of the charge is that the Government is led by the nose by the Northcliffe Press. That, I think, is the real charge. That charge may or may not be well founded. It may or may not be a justifiable charge, but the real question is whether the Northcliffe Press has been right in the various suggestions made from time to time as to the conduct of the War and as to the direction of public policy.
If the suggestion of the "Daily Mail" and the other Northcliffe organs have in the main been right and expedient, the only charge that remains is that the Government itself failed to foresee what the "Daily. Mail" and the Northcliffe organ saw, and that the Government was lacking in foresight. That is certainly no charge against the "Daily Mail" and the Northcliffe organs- On the contrary, I say that, in the whole history of journalism, there has been no record to equal that of the Northcliffe Press, no record for service to the country in which it circulates. Take the history of the "Daily Mail" in any one department you like. Take this question of aviation. if ever a man tried to forward any one department — and such an important department too — it was Lord Northcliffe in the matter of aviation. Years ago,.when his voice was as that of one crying in the wilderness, he offered his £ 10,000 prizes over and over again for flights from one place to another. Again, the "Daily Mail" and the "Times" warned this country over and over again as to the peril in which it was owing to its un pre- 96 pared ness for the War. These papers recognised that this War was imminent, that it was inevitable; but the Governments closed their ears and fell back on the old platitudes and clap-trap of peace, retrenchment, and reform, and allowed Germany to continue its preparations. As I say, I hold no brief for the "Daily Mail," but I love fair play. You Englishmen pride yourselves on your love of fair play; we Irishmen love fair play and justice, and I, as an Irishman, love fair play and justice, and since no one else will do it I have no hesitation in paying this tribute to the wonderful services which the "Daily Mail" and these other organs of public opinion have rendered to this country. Take any other department you like. What was the first paper to discover shortage of munitions of war and of shells? And it is so all along the line. It is not for me to go into these matters in detail, but if I liked I could show hon. Members that the debt of gratitude which England is under to the "Daily Mail" and the "Times" and these other newspapers is simply incalculable.
The hon. Member for Stockport made an amusing speech to which everybody listened with great pleasure, but the issues involved in this Debate are not comic issues, and though they have their humorous side I think they deserve to be treated in a serious spirit. It ought not to go to the public that Lord Northcliffe and the "Daily Mail" have not justified all their reasons and all their policy with regard to this War and the direction of affairs generally. The "Daily Mail," to my mind, is an institution in this country. If the "Daily Mail" and Carmelite House were eliminated from the institutions of this country there would be created a void that absolutely nothing could fill. The "Daily Mail" is giving to this country what it wants very badly, and what the Government are not able to give to the country — leadership, initiative. The "Daily Mail" is not afraid to strike out. It has no respect for persons. It is not one of these servile organs of the Press that we find round about us everywhere. The bane of the Press is it servility.. Thanks be to God that it is not venal in this country, but it is servile to the last-degree, but if there be any one organ of public opinion that is not servile, that is independent — and I honour the "Daily Mail" for its independence— that paper is. the "Daily Mail." It gives the country one thing which the country wants and 97 which it gets from no other quarter — direction. Ministers in this House cannot see beyond the tips of their noses. They never have. They need the direction of the Press. They could not get on without the direction of the Press. Instead of Members of this House getting up and protesting against the interference of the Press, they ought to be glad to welcome it, but because these Gentlemen take some little petty views of their own instead of taking the broad public view, and because the "Daily Mail" sometimes has rapped them on the knuckles, as they richly deserve, then they get up and make these protests here. I admire great things when I see them, and I am able to see in the "Times" and the "Daily Mail" one of the chief institutions of the country, and instead of criticising them I think that you ought to be erecting a monument to the "'Daily Mail" and the "Times" in the streets of London.
In reply to the hon. Member opposite I am surprised to find such words uttered by one who belongs to the Nationalist party. Unless there is some prospect of the "Daily Mail" backing a policy of Home Rule for Ireland I cannot quite understand why the hon. Member has become converted to the views which he has expressed.
§ Mr. McKEAN
I am not converted. I always believed in the "Daily Mail," from the time that I recognised its qualities. It is a Home Rule organ.
I am surprised that this Debate has to a certain extent fizzled out and that the Government have evacuated the Front Bench in spite of the fact that one of the most important questions has been raised and one about which a great deal of misapprehension has been aroused in the country. After listening to the speeches this afternoon I do not think that the country has received the answers to which it is entitled. The Prime Minister told us that it was his intention, at any rate for the future, to take steps to prevent the Press acquiring undue influence in the affairs of this country. I may give one instance, only one of many instances of misunderstanding during the last twelve months. The fact that the House of Commons has not played its proper place in the direction of affairs of the country one feels more and more has been due to some extent to the fact that Members are quite complacent and quite prepared to allow their proper sphere in directing 98 affairs to lapse without any protest being made. The real point which we have to discuss this afternoon is whether the Government is to run the Press or the Press is to run the Government. I was very much struck some time ago in a Debate of this House, when the hon. Member for Hornsey, who has a great deal of inside knowledge in all these matters, informed us that at the beginning of 1917, when the present Coalition Government came into power, they had it in contemplation to dispense with the Commander-in-Chief, but the reason why they did not do so was because they were afraid it would involve great newspaper opposition. The Member for Hornsey speaks with great authority on all questions relating to the Press, and we are to understand that at the end of 1916 the Government said that they had made up their minds they were going to change the Commander-in-Chief at that time, and follow the example of the Germans when the offensive failed at Verdun, and the hon. Member comes to this House and practically tells as that Lord Northcliffe, or the Press as he calls it, dictated to the Government then that this should not be done.
If that statement is true the Government is under Lord Northcliffe, and he is the real power behind the throne. He says whether commanders-in-chief are to be made or not, and he takes the direction of affairs with entire responsibility upon his own shoulders. Then there is another point. After that date Lord Northcliffe went to America. Apparently the Prime Minister thought that it was a good method of get-ting him out of the way to send him on the Special Mission which was dispatched to the United States. Be that as it may, Lord Northcliffe did not remain there very long before he came back to this country and started a fresh Press campaign, and the way in which this campaign was carried out was a very ingenious one, because there were articles written in various papers with which Lord Northcliffe and his friends were connected, and these articles were boosted in all the other papers in the country, which must have involved the spending of very large sums of money. For instance, I find on 2nd November that the "Westminster Gazette" had a whole-page advertisement of a great article -which was going to appear in the "Sunday Pictorial" the following Sunday, and in which attention 99 is drawn to the late Government. The Government, it says, is too late in moving here and in moving there, too late in coming to this decision and in starting that enterprise, too late in preparing. Its footsteps have been dogged by the mocking specter of too late — and so on. We have all this quotation from the speech of the Prime Minister in December, 1916. Then we are told that those fateful words "Too late" apply to the Government of which Mr. Lloyd George is the head today. That was followed by this article, which appeared in the "Sunday Pictorial" and which had been boosted in all the papers of the country. Money was spent in advertising that article, of which we are told by the writer, who is editor of the "Leeds Mercury," which, I learned for the first time, is another of Lord Northcliffe's papers: —What is now put forward as a suggestion will soon be forced upon the Ministry with an insistence which the Prime Minister can only resist at his own peril.That was putting up the flag with a vengeance. Next we were told, at the end of the month, that Lord Rothermere and Lord Northcliffe had accepted office under the Government. That is one of the coincidences to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham referred. Here you have that statement made in regard to an article which had already been advertised, far and wide throughout the country, in almost every other paper. That was on 4th November. Subsequently, on 15th November, Lord Northcliffe wrote his famous letter refusing the Ministry of the Air Forces. That was replied to in an equally famous letter by Lord Cow dray, in which he informed the country that he had never heard of it, and that he had no notion that he was expected to resign his position in the Air Ministry. On 26th November Lord Rothermere was appointed to the Air Ministry, and, in regard to these articles and those appointments, one naturally endeavours to use one's common sense and to put two and two together, and the result of all this, as far as I can make out, is that deliberate pressure is put upon the Government, and gentlemen are placed in high offices of the State who have never been Members of this House. They have proved to be men of great ability and aptitude when occupying important positions in the newspaper world, but they have never been responsible for their action in 100 the Press, nor have they ever been in this House. It seems to me, with all deference to the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon, he has not really covered the facts, nor given all the explanation to which this House is entitled. Of course, the Press becomes a most convenient method of getting rid of Ministers from office, or, instead of keeping them hanging about the doorstep, or asking them quite frankly to resign, the first intimation is conveyed through some article in the morning papers. I submit that these new methods are not in the best interests of the country, nor are they in consonance with a democratic Constitution, and I think the time has come when the House of Commons ought to put its foot down and inform the Government that it must not adopt any more of these man oeuvres. There is no doubt that the Press itself has to a very great extent gained powers which previously belonged to the House of' Commons, and it would be a very bad day for the country if the House, as the trustee of the country, were so brought down, in the eyes of the people generally, that it has to take a back seat in the direction of public affairs.
§ Mr. LYNCH
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down (Major David Davies) spoke about the democratic tendency of the present day, and he went on to point out that democratic movements were subject to waves of public opinion. Those waves are interpreted by the Press and sometimes created by the Press. That is a detriment to democracy which is inevitable, but even these arguments prove, at least, the importance of the Press. In listening to the right hon. Member who opened the Debate (Mr. Chamberlain), I felt inclined to call out, in the words of my old friend Byron:O for a for cy-parson powerTo chant thy praise, Hypocrisy?—And not necessarily that the right hon. Gentleman uttered any sentiments in which he did not believe. Rather, the whole speech of the right hon. Gentleman, so far as concerned this subject, was immersed in an atmosphere of unrealities. It would be well if it could be realised in our public life that those high standards which he had in mind — and which I devoutly desire to see effective — have never at any period in the history of this Parliament received much consideration, and certainly not now. The matter might be regarded in this way: One feels the- 101 undoubted influence and force of the Press. A democratic Government must live by popular favour. Popular favour depends on the opinion, of the people. That opinion is formed not necessarily by argument, but in all sorts of subtle ways, of which the Press has the secret, so that no Government in this country can live for a month if there was a decided set of public opinion against it, or in other words, translated in more graphic form, if there was a great body of the Press opposed to it. In Elizabeth's day it was the pulpit which exercised influence or interpreted events; it was, as Hudibras called it, the "drum ecclesiastic." But now, in modern times, the Press fulfils that function. It is the drum political. I do not think that the Press always judges by true standards, but neither have their standards exercised influence in Government circles. Men have been elected to high offices, and even to the office of Prime Minister, where the standard of fitness has been something apart from excellence, something more immersed in questions of political pull or partisanship. I think that if the right lion. Member for Birmingham, in referring to that aspect of the case, introduced the bare standard of efficiency, he would have caused a far greater sacrifice on the Front Bench than would be brought about by the sporadic attacks of the "Daily Mail."
It was Bismarck who said that he would rather have to face ten hostile regiments of Cavalry than one hostile newspaper. Bismarck's method was to muzzle the Press or to make of it an instrument and a servitor. The present Prime Minister, though remote from Bismarck, acted in a like manner in regard to the formation of his Government. When the Prime Minister sat down to make a selection did he consider the men in the country who possessed the talents and character best fitting them to occupy a particular position, and did he then make appointments accordingly? The Government was a masterpiece, not of statesmanship, but certainly a masterpiece of Machiavellian fabrication. Men are selected, not for their fitness, but in the good old style of Tammany, that every man who is selected must be able to justify his position by his political pull, by the influence he can exercise in keeping a number of men together who help to form the majority in this House. That is the way to form a Government, though it may not be the 102 way to beat the Germans. But leaving that question for the moment, is this propaganda necessary? I think even the hon. Member for Coventry would be inclined to say "Yes." Remember that the Germans recognise propaganda as one of the great arms of defence, and the situation in Russia and the set-back in Italy were very greatly the direct effect of the propaganda set up by them with that direct and determined purpose. Their bureau, which is now doing dangerous work of propaganda, has quarters in Switzerland and other neutral countries, and one of its great figures is our old friend Constantine, who for two years after he was known to be the agent of the Kaiser was propped up artificially by this very Government. The hon. Member for Coventry cited articles having a tendency quite opposed to what is now current and fashionable here. After all, these are regrettable, but something of the sort might be urged against almost every paper in this country. I remember, when I first came to London., the German Kaiser was very popular here, and when the Kaiser visited this country the papers, Conservative and Liberal alike, allowed themselves to flatter the German Kaiser in such a form of abject adulation and servility that I can only describe it in the words that Robbie Burns addressed to "Tam o' Shanter" —I wonner didna' turn your stomach?6.0 P.M.
Lord Northcliffe's press may have praised the German Kaiser and criticised the French, but a few years ago that was the vogue of all the journals. We have to deal with the present. Let us take another point put forward by the right hon. Member for Trinity College, who blamed the "Times" for its onslaught on Jellicoe and on Robertson. But did that paper step beyond its legitimate role? It is the function of newspapers to examine the character of public men, the validity of their acts, and to test their success by results; and, where they are found wanting, it is the function of any newspaper to criticise, severely even, as long as it treats the man fairly, and founds its criticism or its attack upon the facts of the case. Those attacks were justified or unjustified. If they were justified the whole case of the right hon. Gentleman disappears. If they were not justified, then the blame rests not on the Northcliffe press, but on the Government, which yielded under the 103 pressure of a Press attack and proceeded to commit an unjust act. In that case the charge is not against the Northcliffe press, but against the Government which submitted to the dictation of the Northcliffe press, bowed even before undue influence, and submitted to an unalterable form of pressure. I do not think that this Government is strong enough even against unjust pressure of the Northcliffe press. The Northcliffe press is their mother and their father, the Government has been nursed, fostered and spoon-fed and brought up to its doubtful maturity by the Northcliffe press. What the Northcliffe press has made it can unmake, and to-day the Government dare not have an opinion contrary to the Northcliffe press. That situation existed in a more dangerous form before these appointments. What these appointments have done is to regularise an illegitimate situation and to bring it before the world and to make it more respectable, even if at the same time more subject to criticism. But there is another and larger issue involved. Recognising the necessity for propaganda, let us ask ourselves this one question, namely, whatever the faults of these men, are they the best men for the position? It required some courage on the part of my Irish confrere (Mr. McKean) to defend the "Daily Mail" and other papers, as he did in all sincerity. I differ from my hon. Friend, and think that on the whole these newspapers have been great enemies of the Home Rule movement. Lord Beaverbrook as far as he has appeared in public life, through the Press has revealed himself rather as an opponent of Home Rule. If the Home Rule movement were the subject of debate, we would be prepared to attack Lord Northcliffe's position with the utmost energy, but, after all, it is hardly fair to judge a man in a public position simply from the one standpoint of our own prejudices, or even of our own rightful sentiments. We must look at the question all round and judge a man on his own merits.
It seems to me also that a case has been made out for Lord Northcliffo, even by his opponents. What we want for the position of a leader of propaganda in enemy countries is not an Angel Gabriel — I daresay that even an Angel Gabriel would have a hard time, judged by the standards of the conditions of Parliament-we want a man, whatever his 104 faults, who is most capable of doing the particular business. Even the charges made against Lord Northcliffe have brought out the fact that he is a man of power, a man of force, a man who knows his own mind, a man who will carry his own way, and that he is something of a Jupiter, the cloud-compeller, or, at all events, an opinion compeller, and therefore that he is the kind of man required, particularly for newspaper propaganda. No one will deny his energy or his keenness and his zeal in public affairs, and even if he makes mistakes in judgment, he has the quality of recognising that fact; he drops a movement which his judgment has shown to be bad, and with a superb somersault he is quite capable of landing safely on the opposite side. I have differed from him often in opinion of political polity, or in the judgment of persons, though I recognise that it was he who had his finger the more surely on the public pulse. Propaganda in enemy countries requires a man who knows those countries and who has travelled fairly extensively. Lord Northcliffe fulfils all those requisites. It requires a journalist. Lord Northcliffe, at any rate, is an experienced journalist. It requires a man versed in the manipulation of Cabinet affairs, accustomed to look at matters on a large scale, accustomed to what the Yankees call the power of "swinging a big line of contracts, "who, in face of such a task, can set on foot and work a machine which will accomplish his objects. Regarded from those points of view, Lord Northcliffe's claims are incomparable. If you grant that propaganda is necessary, it is not merely sufficient to show certain weaknesses in Lord Northcliffe, or to show that he is subject to criticism. You must show that some other man, who, I think, by the facts of the case, must be a journalist, possesses in a higher degree than Lord Northcliffe the qualifications which are necessary to fulfil the duties of the office. It has been evident rather from recent speeches that the position is not high enough for Lord Northcliffe's abilities, and that he ought really to be a sort of Grand Vizier, effectively and officially the power behind the throne, instead of being in some furtive or concealed way the instigator of many of the acts of the Government.
Before I leave the question of Lord Northcliffe I will only give this expression of my own personal opinion.
105 I have known Lord Northcliffe now for many years, and for himself personally, and simply in his own personal character, I have not only respect but a veritable affection. For Lord Northcliffe in his public career I would be inclined to utter criticisms as to want of consistency and so forth, but with all those inconsistences of character he has put his finger on the pulse of public opinion far more surely and effectively than I would have been able to do. But viewing his career from the beginning and his acts, and also the decisions which he has forced on the Government, I would say that in nine cases out of ten those decisions have been right and salutary and in the best interests of this country and particularly in those late cases which have caused this Debate and have produced the most violent attacks. When Lord Northcliffe asked for the super session of Admiral Jellicoc and of Sir William Robertson he rendered the cause of the Allies a signal service. Let me refer also to Lord Beaver-brook and Mr. Donald. Lord Beaverbrook distinguished himself above the ordinary in this House, and by the whole course of his career he ought to have been a democrat, since he is the architect of his own fortunes. I for one would give him full credit for the achievement of that fortune. In this House he showed himself to be a man of ability and a man of amiable character, a man of integrity. Since then Lord Beaverbrook has often been in the limelight and in every instance, I think, in a perfectly honour able capacity. He has shown a good deal of power and zeal and energy as a representative of one of the Dominions, and I for my part wish him well.
As for Mr. Donald I have also known him for years. He has conducted one of the leading papers of London with great tact, with great ability, and with great knowledge of public affairs. He is less known perhaps to the general public than Lord Northcliffe, but he is a man who by virtue of his abilities alone and by virtue of his high character and those peculiar moral qualities which are so difficult to define and yet so real and which make a man popular' without his sacrificing anything to obtain that popularity, I say that the character and abilities of Mr. Donald would entitle him to any position whatever on that front bench. And remembering his tact, his knowledge and information, and his power of influencing public opinion, T venture to say that in that 106 regard also no better selection could have been found than the editor of the ''Daily-Chronicle."
Mr. PR INGLE
At the beginning of his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) deplored the low esteem into which the House of Commons has fallen. I do not think that the discussion this afternoon has done anything to enhance its reputation. Undoubtedly we have been ostensibly discussing a subject of considerable public importance, namely, the relations to the Government and Parliament of the Press of this country, so far as it affects the conduct of the present War. Unfortunately, during the discussion we have been mainly concerned with purely personal considerations regarding two Gentlemen who have been elevated to prominent positions in connection with the Government. It seems to me, however, that the reference to the House of Commons which the right hon. Gentleman made is very relevant to the position we are now considering. The House of Commons, to my mind, lost its old position in the Government of this country when the Coalition was formed in May, 1915. From that date it became impossible for the House of commons to exercise its normal functions of criticism and supervision. There did not then remain in the House any responsible body of men who could exercise those functions, and if indeed in the course of his remarks to-day some of my friends, as well as myself, came under the lash of the right hon. Gentleman, it was simply because some of us felt it to be our patriotic duty, inadequately indeed, to discharge those functions. But if the House of Commons lost its place immediately the functions of the House of Commons fell into other hands. To some extent the function of the House of Commons was transferred to the Cabinet which in the past had been really an executive body, but which to a large extent after the Coalition, became simply a deliberative assembly. Instead of having questions of public policy thrashed out in the House of Commons, where they ought to have been thrashed out, deliberations upon them was transferred to the Cabinet, and to that is to be attributed a large part of the indecision which marked the course of conduct of the late Coalition Government.
107 But there was another effect. The abdication of the House of Commons transferred the functions of public criticism to outside bodies. You had, in consequence, an undue elevation of the Press and of other bodies not representative, but apparently representative, such as trade unions and labour conferences, to which successive Governments, to my mind, have given undue attention. I think the elevation of the Press was inevitable, but it has been attended to with what, I believe, must be admitted to be very unfortunate results. During the period of the late Coalition Government it became the practice of certain Cabinet Ministers, and particularly of the present Prime Minister — I am sorry he is not here to hear what I am going to say — to endeavour to obtain the ends which they desire by communications to the Press, and by the stimulation of Press campaigns. This is not the first time that I have alluded to it. The first occasion was, I think, in November, 1915. We had then the first of these autumn campaigns — the campaign against Lord Kitchener. Many hon. Members will remember that one of the incidents of that campaign was the suppression of a leading Conservative newspaper called the "Globe" — suppression without any judicial procedure on the part of the Government.
There was one significant thing in regard to that suppression. The "Globe" was not the only paper which made the offending announcement. The announcement for which the "Globe" was suppressed appeared in a large number of other newspapers, but these announcements in the other newspapers passed with impunity. 'What was the reason? The "Globe," in making the, announcement, was the only paper which made it with the direct intention of continuing Lord Kitchener in office, whereas all the other newspapers which gave the information did it with the intention of driving Lord Kitchener from office; and the con sequence was that the "Globe" was selected for suppression, whereas all the other newspapers went scot-free. I alleged at that time that the favour shown to those other newspapers — this undue discrimination — was largely due to the influence of the present Prime Minister. The second incident, which, to my mind, also showed a connection between the right hon. Gentleman and the newspapers —
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am afraid my hon. and learned Friend's memory is vague on that matter. But I am passing to another incident which is more directly associated with the Prime Minister. An December of the same year we had the first controversy regarding military service, and on 27th December there appeared in the "Daily Mail" a statement that the present Prime Minister had delivered an ultimatum to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife. In the course of Debate, a few days afterwards, I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether that statement was authorised or whether it was merely the concoction of an enterprising journalist, and, although in the course of his reply to me then he denied very explicitly a large number of other statements I made, he declined altogether to refer to this communication to the "Daily Mail." I think the inference to be drawn from his silence then was that he knew how the communication got into the "Daily Mail," and that he approved of its appearance there. We know that this scandal of Ministerial communications to the Press so grew in its dimensions that in May, 1916. the late Government had to issue a special Regulation under the Defence of the Realm Act making it a punishable offence for any newspaper to make any reference to what had taken place in the Cabinet.
I pass from that period to the time when the present Government was formed. There is a good deal of gossip going as to the incidents which precipitated the fall of the late Government, but everybody knows that there was a meeting of the Unionist Members of that Government in a private house in London on the Sunday before the late Prime Minister's resignation, and that one of the resolutions passed at that meeting was a resolution with relation to what had been going on in the Press in regard to certain Cabinet and Government matters. The effect of that resolution has never been disclosed, but we have had a still more interesting thing which is public property. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife spoke at a meeting of the Liberal party at the Reform Club after his resignation, he referred to a very strange coincidence — I am using the neutral word which the right 109 hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham thought it best to adopt. The ex-Prime Minister then stated that there had appeared in the "Times" newspaper a statement regarding certain transactions between himself and the present Prime Minister on, I think, the previous Saturday morning — a statement which made the reconstruction of the Government under his Premiership practically impossible. The right hon. Gentle man the Member for East Fife said that these transactions were only known to himself and to the present Prime Minister — that, as a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife did not communicate to the "Times," which was rather a gratuitous piece of information. That left it a mystery as to how this interesting piece of news got into the "Times" newspaper. The present Prime Minister denied all connection with it. But how did it get there? He must be very unfortunate in his friends. It is obvious that it could only have come from one or other of these sources, and the fact that no explanation has ever been offered by the present Prime Minister has done a great deal to strengthen the belief that he has continuously had close relations with the group of newspapers of which the "Times" and the "Daily Mail" are the leading representatives.
But I go on. We had another Ministerial crisis in the month of August. We all remember the incidents connected with the resignation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson). We remember the difference which arose between him and the Prime Minister regarding the Stockholm Conference, and the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made in this House on his resignation — a statement to which the Prime Minister replied. I wish to read two passages from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle. He said, to begin with:May I say, in passing, that the Press campaign to which I call attention was organised with such perfection that the first intimation I received that my resignation had been accepted came not from the Prime Minister, but from the columns of the ' Pall Mall Gazette'—" (Interruption.) —Of course, my right hon. Friend has not been appointed to the Propaganda Department, but I understand there is a reconstruction of the Government going on, in 110 which we expect to see him occupying a post which he will worthily fill and equal; adorn —And I should emphasise the fact that never: during the whole of the time since I sent mi resignation to the Prime Minister had I left the office of the War Cabinet." — [OFFICIAL REPORT 13th August, 1917, col. 909, Vol. 97.]That is an example of very efficient Pres; management. There must have been; lightning conductor to justify this expedition. Later on, the right lion. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle, who has been for so long a colleague of the Prime Minister, said:There is no better Press Bureau in the country than the one controlled by the Prime Minister." — [OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th August 1917, col. 921, Vol. 97.]Now the Prime Minister replied to the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle and, in face of these very serious imputations in regard to the Prime Minister, he made absolutely no allusion to them, and I think that everybody in this House who heard that Debate believed that the allegations of the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle were well-founded, and that it was a matter of fact that the Prime Minister had the most efficient Press Bureau in the country. I come to another colleague of the right hon. Gentleman, and this arises from a Debate which we had in this House only last week. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) was then dealing with the resignation of Lord Jellicoe, and he said:Over and over again, while I was at the Admiralty, I think it is right to say that, I had the most constant pressure put upon me — which I need hardly say I absolutely resisted — to remove officials, and among them Sir John Jellicoe? For what reason? I had asked it over and over again. For what reason? Look at the attacks in the Press." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1916, col. 2024, Vol. 103.]Now here you have the situation — pressure brought to bear upon the First Lord of the Admiralty to get rid of the First Sea Lord — pressure apparently brought to bear by the Prime Minister. For what reason? On account of the attacks in the Press. And we have been told by another colleague of the Prime Minister that the Prime Minister has the most efficient Press Bureau he ever saw. It is easy from these statements, made by two recent colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman, to draw certain inferences, namely, that the Press attacks upon admirals and generals have come from the Press Bureau, and then these Press accounts are alleged to the responsible 111 Ministers as a reason for getting rid of the admirals and generals. I think it is an extremely serious thing that you have a situation of that kind. But, to take one of the appointments that have been referred to, it is very interesting to notice this, in connection with the appointment of Lord Rothermere to the Ministry of the Air, only a week or two before the appointment certain articles appeared in one of his newspapers, the "Sunday Pictorial."' Now these articles were advertised, I think, almost more extensively in the Press than any articles that have been recently published by obscure individuals, because the authors of these articles were undoubtedly obscure individuals. Whole-page advertisements, the cost of which must have amounted to many thousands of pounds —
Mr. PR INGLE
Yes; that is a matter to which I have drawn the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the hon. Member has done the same thing. The cost of these advertisements must have amounted to many thousands of pounds, and that was done for the express purpose of calling attention to the attacks made. What was the substance of those attacks? They were not attacks upon the Government; in fact they mainly contained fulsome adulation of the Prime Minister as a kind of man of destiny, the one necessary man, the Moses who was to lead us out of the wilderness into the Promised Land of Victory. But he must act; if there are generals who have failed, if there are admirals who have failed, he must summarily dismiss them. He must do as President Lincoln did with General McClellan. And the result of this campaign was that within three weeks the proprietor who was responsible for this policy became one of the most important Ministers in this country, a new Secretary of State. I think all these instances amount to a strong case showing the approval of the Prime Minister of these campaigns, if indeed he did not indirectly instigate them. I am not going to attack the appointments of the Ministers which have been so much canvassed this afternoon. I have never made a personal attack in this House upon Lord Northcliffe. Lord Northcliffe is a great journalist; to my mind the greatest journalist in this country. But it does not follow that he 112 is a good politician, and, as a matter of fact, I think his political judgment has been at fault is a great many matters. But undoubtedly he is the most powerful journalist in this country, and probably on that account he may be useful for the particular service to which he has been, appointed.
I do not desire, either, to make any personal attack upon Lord Beaverbrook. Indeed, I have never been able to ascertain the exact grounds of the marked uneasiness which has appeared among his late Unionist colleagues regarding that appointment. I should have thought they would have looked with a mild eye upon that colleague of theirs in the House of Commons who had been singled out for such marked favours — firstly, his speedy elevation to the baronetage, then to the peerage, and finally to the position of one of His Majesty's Ministers. As I know nothing against Lord Beaverbrook, I have been at a loss to understand why this extraordinary flutter has arisen. But there is one advantage it seems to me in these appointments. We have now the position made clear; it is regularised. We know now, and the public outside will know for the future, that all the newspapers owned and controlled by these men are official papers. It may be true that the proprietors have retired from the direction. I do not know whether they have divested themselves of their interest-in the papers. I should have some doubt about it. I should doubt, even if they had divested themselves, whether those who-had taken their places were any more than nominees; that they were only colourable transfers.
But the point is, if their controlling-hand has gone, what is going to be the policy of the editors'! The editors are naturally left without direction; they are as sheep without a shepherd, and the natural result will be that they will simply in every case defend the Government. They will send their runners along to No. 10, Downing Street, to the usual room in that official residence, to find out what ought to be said and who ought to be attacked, and when they have got that information that will be the policy of the paper. I think that regularises the situation. The public will know now that these are official papers, that they are tied and bound to the Government, and that, consequently, everything the Government does is defended in those papers, and no opportunity whatever will be given for 113 any form of criticism, no matter how disastrous the action of the Government may be, and no matter how grave and serious may be the condition' of affairs. They are become, therefore, a kind of kept Press, a sort of maison tolereée they are the same thing — they are inspected.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
That is the situation in a nutshell, and the one great advantage that accrues from this Debate is that the public now know definitely that the majority of the newspapers of the country are no longer independent newspapers; that they have as little independence left now as the House of Commons, and that they are equally to be disregarded. It will know also if there arc any campaigns against generals and admirals there is direct encouragement and stimulation. There is one thing that we may take as an absolute certainty from now and henceforth, and that is no matter what the Prime Minister, no matter what the War Cabinet of five, the supermen who are understood to be put into "Win the War" and "Do it Now," and to get rid of the. "Too Late" and "Wait and See" methods — that no matter what these men do, there will be no word and no breath of criticism from these kept newspapers. The country, knowing these things, will know what attention and what weight to give them. They will know to look to other sources of information for the truth. In the old days it used to be the favourite device of that powerful group of newspapers to describe the other newspapers as the Hide the Truth Press. But everybody in the country will now know that these kept newspapers have become the main instrument of the Hide the Truth conspiracy, and that if there is, first of all, to be any publication of accurate news, and if there is to be fair and patriotic criticism of the Government in the conduct of the War, it will not be found there, but the public must look to other organs whose proprietors and whose editors are not subject to any Ministerial influence and the members of whose staff have no direct or indirect association with His Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. ASQU1TH
I listened, as I think the great majority of the House did, with much interest, to the temperate and weighty speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, and, while I agree with him that in the answer which the Prime Minister gave us 114 at the end of Questions, there were reassuring statements beyond any, I think,, that have previously been made, at the same time, in view of the subsequent course of the Debate, I think it is perhaps-a matter to be regretted that some immediate reply was not given. I had very great doubts myself whether to intervene in the Debate at all. I have never taken a very active line in this particular controversy, partly for reasons of a personal character, and also because I have not yet succeeded, in spite of a good deal of evidence, which perhaps ought to have convinced me, in divesting myself of an old heresy of mine, which I have professed and believed during the whole of my political life — that there is a great disposition among politicians to exaggerate the power of the Press, not as a vehicle of information, but as an instrument for the dissemination and propagation of opinion. The average man, of course, takes his facts, or what he believes to be his facts, from the Press, because there is no other accessible source of information as to the current events of the day; but I doubt very much, and I speak from a rather long experience, whether he takes his judgments from the Press to anything like the extent that both public men and Press men suppose- I could, if it were relevant and necessary, have given some illustrations which I think would afford primâ facie proof of what I have been saying, but in the two or three minutes. for which I intend to occupy the time of the House I should like, if I can, to call their attention to one or two considerations not of a personal, but of a general kind. I refer to the relations between the Press and Parliament and the Government of the country.
In the first place, we have had during the last, shall I say ten years, or perhaps going a little farther back, a very great change in the structure and organisation of the journalism of this country. Thus, what used to be a number of separate and independent organs, not only of metropolitan but of provincial and local opinion, have been gradually more and more consolidated and absorbed in a very few hands. There was always a certain amount of artificial authority attached by the ordinary man to the anonymous editorial "We," but in those days there were a great number of "We" in various parts of the Kingdom, who to the best of their lights and within the limits, of their circulation, expressed their own 115 views, and, to do them justice, spent a good deal of their time in slinging ink at one another. That state of things has passed, either for better or for worse.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am dealing with facts and not with opinions — for better or for worse. As my hon. Friend who intervened earlier in the Debate — in a speech of extraordinary wit and charm which delighted the whole House and made us regret that he intervenes so rarely in our Debates — very truly pointed out, you have got now an enormous curtailment of what I may call the arena of journalistic free play; and instead of having a number of separate, independent, and disconnected units, you have got, to a large extent, what may be called a series of megaphones of varying degrees of range and stridency, but to a very large extent, at any rate, vehicles of one and the same voice.
Next, side by side with that change in our journalism, concurrently with it, and perhaps consequential upon it — the memories of those who are as old as I am will bear me out — we have seen a great transformation in the relationship between the editors and the proprietors of those journals. The great editors of the past, the Barnes, the Delanes, the Hills, and the Bagehots, would never have dreamt of taking their orders as to what line they should adopt from the capitalist who happened for the time being to be the owner of the larger and controlling number of shares in the business concern. Happily we have still amongst us eminent editors who are preserving the best traditions of the Press, and who will not now put upon their shoulders that humiliating yoke. I am stating facts which, unpalatable as they may be, are with in the cognisance of everybody, and I say there has been a very large and a very deleterious change in the relationship between those responsible for the conduct and policy of the papers and those who own them.
That being so, and these two changes of evolution in our modern journalism having taken place, it is obvious that one practical result follows. It is very much easier — I am not using the word in any offensive sense — to manipulate the Press in these days than it ever was in days gone by. You are dealing with a comparatively small number of independent 116 persons, and it is a matter of elementary strategy, or rather of tactics, and it is a much easier operation than it would be if you had a scattered and dispersed number. As my hon. Friend has said, it is quite true that the compulsory silence, or relative silence, of the House of Commons during the War is a silence which has not been imposed upon the House by the arbitrary will of the Government, but is the result, and the proper and legitimate result, of the patriotic discharge of obligations felt in all quarters of the House. In the compulsory or relative silence of the House produced by these abnormal conditions, undoubtedly the Press became for the time being, or seemed likely to become, the most natural and appropriate organ for outside discussion and comment.
I am not going to bring any railing accusation against the Pres of the country. On the whole, I think the Press has discharged its duty during the War with patriotism. It has never, in any conspicuous or important instances, given away confidential information to the service of the enemy, and with regard to the great bulk of our journals they have been conducted in the same spirit in which the great bulk of our people have acted and spoken, and have been silent during the conduct of the War. Undoubtedly the facts stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham do not admit of question. There has been on particular occasions with regard to particular persons an organised campaign conducted with great assiduity — often apparently with special means of information — for the overthrow or removal of particular servants of the State.
I am not complaining, and never shall complain, of procedure of that kind directed against politicians, men who are Members of one or other of the two Houses of Parliament, and who upon the floor of the House here or in another place can defend themselves, and who can give intelligible reasons for their conduct to their fellow members and their fellow-countrymen. I do not complain of that. It is a very unpleasant thing, and sometimes I think it is a very unjust thing, but we can take cam of ourselves, or at least we ought to be able to do so. What is in the highest degree reprehensible is when this kind of campaign is directed, not against politicians, but against those who are serving the State as soldiers and 117 sailors in positions of public responsibility of a most arduous kind.
In the first year of the War, as my hon. Friend who has just sat down reminded us, when Lord Kitchener was Secretary of State for War, he became the first target, and I think the first of these attacks, and it was a most virulent one. In a sense, however, he was not so defence less as some others, because he was a Member of the House of Lords, and a member of the Cabinet. He was attacked in his political capacity with regard to strategic and other matters which fell within his province and scope as a soldier. But Lord Kitchener was a man who was very indifferent to that kind of thing. I confess that I, who was his political chief, felt it very keenly, so keenly that I advised He Majesty the King at the first available opportunity to give Lord Kitchener the Order of the Garter, which His Majesty was pleased to do, and Lord Kitchener — I may be forgiven the reminiscence — has more than once said to me, in perfectly good humour, for he had an admirably thick skin and an imperturbable temper, mentioning the name of one journalist, "I owe him no grudge; he gave me the Garter." I think that is the proper retort to this kind of criticism, but it would be the worst possible example if it could be supposed that these great servants of the State, who are unable to defend themselves, could not always rely with the most absolute confidence upon the loyal support of those who are their official superiors. I only say that for the purpose of leading to my concluding observation.
I am not making any criticism of a personal kind, but I do think — and I say this with all sincerity and with friendly sincerity to the Governments that in the abnormal conditions in which we now live, it is of the utmost importance that the Government should be free even from the suspicion of direct association with the operations of the Press. I understand from what the Prime Minister told us this afternoon that although Lord Northcliffe still retains his connection with his newspaper, the other two Noblemen whose names have been referred to, and who are technically members of the Government — which I understand Lord Northcliffe is not — have disconnected themselves wholly and entirely —
§ Mr. ASQUITH
—with all direction and responsibility for the control of the policies of the newspapers with which they have hitherto been associated.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
So far, so good. Lee me add that I quite appreciate, and do not deny that I myself have acted upon the principle that, for purposes of propaganda, and the machinery of propaganda, Press men have some special qualification, and I do not think you could work a successful propaganda in a war like this without enlisting the services of members of the Press. But let there be an absolute water-tight division between those who are engaged in that most important public function, and any association, or suspicion of association, with direct or indirect influences such as persons even in a most subordinate position necessarily have with the actual policy and proceedings of the Government itself. That, I believe, is universally felt without any distinction throughout the country, and I trust that one result of this Debate will be to make it perfectly clear that it is the judgment of this House, as I trust it is the judgment of the Government, that any association of that kind is to be deprecated, and ought not to be permitted in any shape or form.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have not had the privilege of listening to all the speeches delivered in the course of this Debate, but I have had very full notes of everything that has been said in my absence, and I am cognisant of the criticisms, and not merely the criticisms, but also the support which has been given to the action of the Government. I think it will be generally felt that it has been a very good-humoured Debate, and from that point of view I have nothing of which to complain. What strikes me is that there has been no real challenge of the action of the Government after the explanations which have been given. I do not think there is anything in the speech of my right hon. Friend from beginning to end to which I can reply. I listened to all the very sound principles which he laid down — his review of the organisation of the modern Press as compared with the old — but I would point out to him that, although the Press has now got into the hands of a Trust, it is not one Trust. The criticisms up to the present directed against Lord Northcliffe would leave the impression in the public mind that you have only one great 119 newspaper Trust, manipulated and directed by one great master mind- But that is not the case. There is another great trust. Since we are using names, there is the Cadbury and the Rowntree Trust.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There is also the Manchester Trust, referred (o by my lion, and learned Friend. There is no representative of that Press of whom I know in the least connected with any Department of the Government. I mean the Manchester Trust. I am not referring to the Cadbury Trust.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not aware that Lord Derby has anything to do with it. He is certainly not a director.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is not a trust. I was only referring to my right hon. Friend's review of the new position of the Press, in which you have now great trusts owning a very large number of newspapers.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Quite so; but I think it was necessary to emphasise that, it had been rather overlooked. My hon. Friend (Mr. Hughes), in his extraordinarily brilliant speech, has pointed out that the attacks on leading men in this country have not been by any means on one side. The virulence with which attacks have been made upon one politician by one set of newspapers has been more than equalled by the violence of the attacks upon rival politicians by the other section of the Press. So that I think we might cry quits on that point. The real point is this: First of all, are newspaper proprietors to be excluded from the Government of this country? No one has ventured to contend that. In France the head of the Government is a newspaper proprietor. He owns a newspaper now, and he edited a newspaper before he formed the Government. If he went out of office to-morrow, he would be not merely a newspaper proprietor, but a newspaper editor as well, His Foreign Secretary is one of the most distinguished journalists in France, and I think he is also a proprietor. There are 120 one or two other newspaper men in the French Government. In Italy probably about the most powerful member of the Government owns a newspaper. In America the same thing applies. There is a newspaper proprietor in the President's Administration.
This is the only country where, up to the present, you have not had newspaper proprietors in the Government. I am not sure whether there have been newspaper proprietors in the past — I cannot recall them — but. at any rate, we have had journalists in Administrations. We had a very distinguished journalist in the Administration of my right hon. Friend, and there was Lord Morley, one of the most distinguished publicists. Therefore, I do not think anyone can lay down the rule that newspaper proprietors must be excluded from the Government of the country, if, on other grounds, they are fit for their posts. That is the comment, which I would pass upon the speech of my right hon. Friend. It was a very moderate and fair speech. Towards the end of it he used arguments which would make it impossible for newspaper proprietors at any time to join the Government. For instance, a newspaper proprietor, if he be a Minister, must necessarily have access to the same information as any other Minister. That fact has got to be faced in this country, as in any other democratic country. You cannot lay down a rule that men of any trade or profession or business, or that men of no business at all, can join Governments, but that newspaper proprietors must be rigidly excluded, though men who are journalists may join. The whole point, therefore, is whether these gentlemen who have been chosen for these posts are fit for them.
With regard to propaganda, as my right hon. Friend points out, it is obviously a job for newspaper men. I think both his Government and the present Government have suffered from too great a reluctance to use newspaper men, very largely, perhaps, for reasons which have become quite obvious. The moment that an appointment is made, there is a great outcry. People say, "You are picking a political supporter; you are picking this, that, or the other man," and we rather shrank from the appointment. I think it was a mistake. There is no doubt that the men appointed for that purpose are 121 great news organisers, men who have the knowledge of getting news, and men who know all about the machinery of distribution of news. We tried all kinds of men, in order to avoid appointing the one type of man who was the best qualified for that particular position. I knew that there would be a row about it, and I was right; but I am absolutely certain that it was worth facing, because I can see, now that we have got these men actually working at it, where it is that we have gone wrong through not having that type of man on the job before.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend appointed two quite able journalists, and I do not want to say a word about them which would be in the least disparaging — I would not like the House to think that I am attacking them — but obviously they had not the equipment for this particular kind of work. They are writers. One of them is a very able writer of leading articles. He writes for the "Nation" and the "Daily News,'' and I have no doubt that he writes very able articles. The other gentleman, I believe, was on the "Manchester Guardian." But they are not newsmen, and, therefore, in spite of the fact that they are journalists, they had not the journalistic training that was the slightest use for the purpose of this particular department. Lord Northcliffe is a man who excites very violent prejudices. Men of any personality generally do. I dare say there is a good deal in what my hon. Friend says — it may or may not be true, but, at any rate, no one can deny-that from the point of view of news organisation he is a man of genius- It is not an extravagant phrase to use about him. He is the ablest, and he is' one of the greatest news organisers in the whole world. Is not that exactly what we want?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Therefore, when we were on the look-out for men for organising this particular Department, I am certain that we were right, from what we have heard he had done in Canada, in choosing Lord Beaverbrook, and I am equally certain that we were right in choosing Lord Northcliffe.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
agree that it would have been better done either by the present Government or the late Government long ago. Take the case of Lord Beaverbrook, who also manages to excite a good deal of prejudice. There is no doubt at all about the success of the Canadian propaganda. I made some inquiries about it before his appointment, and I have heard a good deal about it since. It was a very remarkable piece of work. He was the first man who broke down the War Office rule that you are not to single out particular units in the field for public recognition of their valour. He was only able to do it because they were Canadians, and he had the pressure of the Canadian Government behind him. The War Office were resolutely opposed to naming any particular unit.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not want to put the blame upon the War Office. There was official opposition to singling out for special mention battalions who had done heroic things in the field. Does anyone doubt that we suffered a good deal from that? Does anyone doubt that the breaking down of that rigid and narrow rule has had a good deal to do with keeping up the morale and the enthusiasm of the troops? Lord Beaverbrook was the first man who succeeded in getting behind that rule. What is the other thing that he did? He was the first man to realise and to utilise the cinema and the film for propaganda purposes. He was the first man to do that, and ho did it so well — [Interruption.] Attacks on him have been listened to, and I think that his defence ought to be listened to in any fair assembly, and I am sure that the House of Commons above all is fair. He was the first man who used the cinema for propaganda purposes, and he used it so well that, although it was done on a considerable scale, and although it advertised the valour of the Canadian troops throughout the whole of America, it was done without any expense to the Canadian Government, though there was a Grant.
Our propaganda, costing I dare not tell the House how much, achieved nothing like the results which the well-organised and well-directed propaganda achieved in advertising the valour and achievements of the Canadian troops. We suffered in America from the success of the Canadian propaganda, and are suffering to this day.
123 [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did he give it up?"] He was anxious to give it up because at the time he was suffering from ill-health, and he resigned his position after he had organised the task. Sir Robert Borden begged him to remain at the head of that great work. There is no doubt that he is a man of great and exceptional organising ability. There is no doubt, to use the ordinary word, that he has a flair for this kind of work. He has already achieved great results by it. I looked everywhere for a man to put at the head of it. I consulted Members of this House. I see my hon. Friend the Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill), with whom I had is talk about it some weeks ago. I asked him about someone else, and he made some inquiries. I sought everywhere, because I was anxious to have no trouble of any sort about an appointment of this kind, and I came definitely to the conclusion, after consulting a good many people, and trying to find someone who would do the work well, that no one of whom I knew, or whose name had been submitted to me, would do the work so well as Lord Beaverbrook.
Since the appointment I have seen men who have come to me, and criticised this appointment. I have said to them, "Would you mind giving me the name of anyone who would do it better?" I have never had an answer up to the present. After all, the business of the head of the Government is to find the best men, without regard to any prejudices, to carry out any war work. I beg the House to look at it purely from that point of view. However much they may like or dislike the personality of any particular man who is put in charge of any Department of this kind, they ought to judge it, and I am sure they will judge it, entirely from the point of view of whether they are men who are likely to discharge these functions successfully. I have not the faintest doubt that these men will do this work, certainly as well as any men you could choose in the British Empire. Whether it is too late, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) has suggested, is another matter.
I am only anxious to deal with the points that have been raised in the course of the discussion, and I think I have dealt with all those that have been submitted to me. I would say, in conclusion, that I am quite willing to discuss the extent to which 124 Governments ought or ought not to be associated with the Press. But I am absolutely certain that this is not the first Government which has had associations with the Press. It is inevitable. In the United States of America it is a recognised institution that the head of the State should regularly see the representatives of the most important newspapers in the country. I agree with everything that has been said about attacks either upon great officials or small officials, and upon great leaders either in the field or in the Departments of State. If any member of the Government or anyone associated with them inspired attacks of this kind, there is no language too strong to condemn such action. There I am entirely in agreement.
What applies to members of the Government applies also to officials. It is vital that they should not use the Press to attack the Government. My right hon. Friend referred to "well-informed attacks." I can give him attacks upon the Government and members of the Government In the course of the last eighteen months with information that could only have come straight from official sources. Surely that is wrong.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Therefore, I agree with anything that has been said about the impropriety of making attacks upon officials. I agree that it is the business of the heads of Departments to defend them when attacks are made. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty — I am not sure whether I heard it; at any rate, I remember reading it — on the first opportunity when he came to speak in the House repudiated in the strongest language these attacks.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Honouring the men who make the attacks! Do let us preserve some sense of proportion! Lord North cliffe is now undertaking a task which was discharged before by a clerk in the Foreign Office.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
He is undertaking a task which was discharged before by a clerk in the Foreign Office. That is the reward which is given to this great newspaper proprietor for his attacks upon admirals and upon, soldiers! It is sheer nonsense 125 to talk like that. He has undertaken a duty, a difficult duty. I am not sorry for this discussion; in fact, I am glad we have had it, but I do hope that after we have had hours of discussion, in the House of Commons upon this subject, having had endless criticism of the Press, these men, and others also, will be allowed to get on with their work. They have a very difficult, delicate, and invidious task. It is very difficult for them to organise this Department under the incessant fire of criticism, and may I say of insult, which has been perpetually hurled at them for weeks. I think it is fair, I think it is in the interests of the State, that they should be allowed now to get on with their work without any of these attacks being carried on. I have deprecated attacks upon other officials. These men have become officials of the State. Let the same rule be applied to them as has been directed against them.
Having said that, I will only add, as one who has had as many Press attacks upon him as any man in this House — I am not sure that I have not had more Press attacks upon me than any Member of this House — that this is the first time I have alluded to them. I allude to them now, not because I resent them, not because I particularly care about them, but simply in order to say that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hughes) that these attacks may be very considerably exagger-rated. I do not believe they do any particular harm; indeed, I am not sure I agree with him that they do any particular good, but, at any rate, this incessant talk about the Press, as if the Press were directing affairs, as if the Press had such an intelligent anticipation of what was going to be done as to be able to direct in advance the! conclusions which had been come to — all that is beside the mark.
I do not agree with my right hon. Friend that the House of Commons has lost authority. If the Press has increased its power in recent years, during the War, it is very largely because the platform is not occupied. I remember Mr. Gladstone once saying, at a private dinner party, that when there was a stand-up fight between the platform and the Press, the platform generally won. I am not sure that he was right, but of this I am certain, that if the Press take a certain line and persist in it, the House may depend upon it that very largely they are 126 interpreting public opinion. They are more sensitive to public opinion. then even the House of Commons. They are more watchful of public opinion than the House of Commons. They have a means of-testing public opinion, certainly from week to week, if not from day to day. Therefore, I would suggest to the House of Commons that, when they complain that the Press is taking a certain line, they must not be too sure that the Press in that respect — I am not referring to-any particular Press, I am referring to the Press as a wholes — is not interpreting very largely the voice of the nation. In the main, during this War the Press have-played a patriotic part. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend in one respect. I believe there is more independence among journalists than he is prepared to acknowledge, even in the quarters to-which he has referred. There are some of these men who would no more be dictated to by great proprietors than he or anyone else. I sincerely trust that the House of Commons, having examined this proposition, and having cleared the air we shall be able henceforth to proceed without any further discussion.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I would not have intervened in the Debate, but for a remark made by the Prime Minister. So far as regards the persons who are concerned in this matter, I do not propose-to deal with their merits or demerits. My own view is that they are eminently qualified for the work which they have undertaken. Speaking as an independent Member of the House, I ask independent and private Members to consider what is the meaning of the declaration of the Prime Minister at this moment? He has admitted in the fourth year of the War that what I regard as the most vital factor in the waging of the War has been absolutely and completely neglected. That is a thing of which note ought to be taken and the responsibility ought to be placed on the proper shoulders. The Prime Minister will remember that soon after the War broke out I brought before him the necessity for propaganda in neutral countries and in enemy countries. I was receiving cablegrams and telegrams almost every day — this was within a month of war breaking out, and he will confirm what I say — from Vienna from Stockholm, and all the neutral countries; from my own friends, who asked whether nothing could be done to present the British case there, as the Germans had 127 over run the place, were buying the newspapers, and were getting public opinion on their side. In Bulgaria and Turkey it was the same. I went almost on my knees and begged him to appoint some organisation of journalists to deal with the matter. We find it is going to be done now. My light hon. Friend immediately took action and brought it before the "War Cabinet and some kind of organisation was set up. I will say nothing about the way in which they have carried out their most difficult job, but I do say that our propaganda abroad has been scandalously neglected. The House will excuse me speaking of myself, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will confirm it. I proposed within a month of war breaking out that we should have a Committee of Editors, presided over by a. Minister or someone else of impartial authority. Why did I suggest that? Because every editor is in touch with every centre of information abroad. He knows the men with whom to communicate, and he has wires at his disposal. In that way he is a proper Press organiser. But nothing was done, and if proper steps had been taken at the beginning of the War in regard to Press propaganda the War would have been long since over. You would never have lost Turkey, you would never have had Bulgaria against you, and Russia to-day would have been entirely different, because the scandal of the way in which we failed to advise and assist Russia through our Press and by other means is, of course, the great calamity of to-day. It is because, with their eyes open, our Governments have neglected the obvious thing to do with regard to propaganda that we are in the serious position we are in to-day. Independent Members of the House and the public outside ought to take note of the fact that this organisation which we are setting up to-day — and it is important and desirable that it should be set up — has been carried out by a clerk in the Foreign Office. Can we wonder that the War has gone on so long? Can we wonder that it has been going against us, for in a matter of this kind it is scandalous and gross neglect? I do not think anything else need be said on that aspect.
In regard to the question of information to newspaper editors and proprietors, is the House aware that practically every week there are set meetings "between responsible editors and the most 128 confidential men in connection with your Army and Navy? Is the House aware that every editor knows all about our reserves, knows where they are, and knows every fact in connection with our organisation, and has known since the beginning of the War far more than Members of the House about it? Can anyone point to a single case in which any editor has betrayed the trust which has been placed in him? I do not think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) need be uneasy about any information which any gentleman who is appointed to deal with these questions of propaganda may have.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman did not suggest that. I am sure he will agree that the experience of the War shows that responsible editors of newspapers can be fully trusted.
Sir H. DALZIEL
That is foreign to the exact point. I presume my hon. Friend is alluding to the "Morning Post" case?
Sir H. DALZIEL
I do not know which particular case it is, but my reply is the same on every occasion. It is no good Ministers or ex-Ministers whining to the House of Commons and saying, "the Press have treated us badly." Heaven knows they have all the power given to them by the House of Commons to-day to deal with the Press if they care to exercise it. They can suppress newspapers without trial, they can prosecute them, or anything they like. It is unfair and unjust to the Press generally that there should be these complaints made. The First Lord complained about the way subordinates are being treated. If subordinates of the Crown are attacked, first of all warn the newspapers that they have been guilty of an offence, and then there has been neglect somewhere if action has not been taken. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) was a member of the Government until recently. Some of the most violent attacks which were ever made in regard to servants of the State were made during the time he was a Cabinet Minister. Did he think it his duty to bring it forward and urge upon the War Cabinet that action 129 ought to be taken? I lose sympathy with this or any other Government which complains of the Press. They have the power in their Hands and can exercise it if they choose.
I agree entirely with the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the cause of the increased importance, I will not say fear, of the Press. It began when the Coalition Government was formed. For the first two years one or two hon. Members and my self were practically the only Members who took any part in the Debate. All the Liberal Members were content because the Liberals were in office, and Conservative Members were content because the Leader of the Opposition counselled the policy of no criticism. The Press got power because the opinion of the people outside was not expressed in this House and they found it expressed in the newspapers, and newspapers are rather acute in knowing what their readers desire. The result was that people ceased to have confidence in the House and looked to organs of public opinion for the expression of their views. That is why the importance of the House went down. It was impossible to have a general Debate on a, great and important question in the House because the whole influence of party organisation was brought to bear upon their supporters, and only one or two independent Members were able to express the opinion which was licit! outside the House; and it was finally proved to be correct because of the change of Government which took place. I plead seriously with Members of this House. If they are jealous of the, power of newspapers outside they should stand up against that increasing power by action in this House. The more fair and helpful criticism we have in this House the more people outside will be satisfied and the better it will be for the Government and. for the country. The House itself, in my opinion, has abdicated its power during the last years. I believe it is good for every Government that there should be healthy criticism. There is not enough criticism There are important matters in connection with the conduct of the War at this moment which the House has never discussed and which ought to be discussed, and therefore I hope that in future public opinion outside may be better expressed in this House and in the country and the power of the Press may then be to some extent diminished.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I think the House is indebted to my right hon. Friend (Mr. 130 Chamberlain) for raising this discussion, which has led to some very interesting speeches. I listened with great attention to the Prime Minister. I think he has a very strong case in respect of propaganda. The case he makes, that these gentlemen whom he has appointed to be Ministers of Propaganda are indeed experts in that function, is a case that strongly appeals to the whole House. The only criticism that occurred to me about that matter is that the appointment of Lord Beaverbrook as Minister of Propaganda is only one of the honours which the Government has bestowed upon him. It sounds to me quite reasonable to say that Lord Beaverbrook is a great expert in propaganda, and should be entrusted, therefore, with the work he so well understands. But is he also so ideally well fitted to be a Peer of the Realm? Is he also so ideally well fitted to be Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? The Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster is an office of very considerable distinction. I believe it brings the Minister in close contact with the Sovereign, and it has a certain amount of ecclesiastical patronage. It is, of course, possible that Lord Beaverbrook is equally well fitted for that function as for propaganda, but I am a little suspicious, when I find that these various distinctions have been bestowed upon him, that there is probably some other motive at work leading the Government to honour him besides his fitness for the work of propaganda.
Then there has been a very interesting discussion between the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) and the Prime Minister about the power of the Press. I think it is quite true, as both have said, that the power of the Press is often exaggerated. But the Press is very powerful, not against the great political parties, nor against the great chiefs of political parties, nor against particular bodies of opinion, but against individuals. If a large number of organs of the Press run down a particular man, they have a very formidable weapon at their disposal. They can bring up prominently any mistake he makes — and everyone is liable to make mistakes — and they can absolutely conceal all the things he does well, and they can enforce the lesson by articles which, on the facts as they have made them known to the public, are often very well-founded criticism. That reacts on the minds of officials very mischievously. The Prime Minister the other day commented on the improper 131 action which officials have sometimes taken of trying to get the Press on their side, and even, as has been truly said, of making attacks on their superiors — a most scandalously improper proceeding. But one of the reasons that operate on the minds of officials is that they lose their nerve. They want to have the Press their friend. They anticipate some dispute with their superiors, and their nerve is, as it were, broken by the fear that the Press will be against them, and therefore they enter into relations, which can only be discreditable to them, with the Press. We were all gratified to hear to-night and on a previous occasion the statement that the Prime Minister thoroughly disapproves of any attacks on subordinate officials of the Government. I submit a suggestion to him. Could not they make a definite rule under the Defence of the Realm Act that the name of no one, except a Minister responsible to Parliament, should be mentioned by way of criticism in the Press at all. You might mention the War Office or the Admiralty, or any other administrative corporation, but not the name of the individual, except, of course, a Minister in this House or the other House of Parliament. That is the old constitutional theory, that Ministers are responsible and that they are the subject of criticism in Parliament and by the public. It would be very proper to enforce that constitutional doctrine by putting the names of all subordinate non-Parliamentary officials out of the reach of criticism altogether.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I think it should in logic. My suggestion is not intended to embarrass the Government.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I know that. I do not put it as a debating point, but it is a difficulty. Take the discussion about shipbuilding. The names of officials are bandied about. It is very difficult to say you are not allowed to criticise, if you are allowed to praise, and some may take the view that certain men have done magnificently, while others may take the view that they have failed at their job. It would be very difficult to draft a Defence of the Realm rule which would hold the balance fairly between the two, because obviously it is unfair to give praise when there is nothing praiseworthy, or when there is a good deal to be said on the other side.
§ Mr. BILLING
Does the Noble Lord wish the House to understand that it would be possible for the Government to appoint Ministers outside the House whom no one can criticise?
§ Lord H. CECIL
No; I meant the Minister who is responsible. Although some Ministers have occasionally, in exceptional circumstances, been outside the House, the House has a perfect right to call them to account. The same doctrine of Parliamentary responsibility should apply to newspaper responsibility. If something of the kind could be done it would give confidence to great officials. Their Parliamentary chiefs, perhaps, do not always appreciate how weak the nerve of a permanent official, whether military, naval, or civil, is against public criticism. The politician does not really very much mind what a newspaper says about him, but a man who is unaccustomed to it is kept awake at night.
As to the power of the Press generally and the general relations of the Government to the Press, that, of course, has been conceded on all hands to be a very difficult matter. The Prime Minister adverted to the French example. I am very old-fashioned. I hope we shall not imitate any foreign country in this matter. It is a fear of something of the kind, exaggerated though it is, that is in the minds of a, good many people, but it would be a terrible thing if we went to the example, not of France, but of Bismarck in Germany, who, of course, organised the Press in the most elaborate way possible and had definite articles written, both to attack people he did not like and to arouse public opinion to a particular mood — in fact, did all the things which the present Government is sometimes suspected of doing. That is an example to avoid. The Prime Minister was not present when the lion. Member (Mr. Pringle) was speaking. I do not always agree with the hon. Member's speeches, but he did advert to two very important things which have happened in this controversy which deserve the notice of the Prime Minister and the Government. He adverted to the very definite statement made by my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henderson), who both attributed to the Government a relation with the Press which implied certainly that the Government had some control over the Press, and that there was such a thing as a campaign of the Press either tolerated by 133 or perhaps even inspired by the Government. It is one thing to have suspicions expressed by irresponsible people, but it is another to have statements of that kind made by two distinguished men who have been in the Prime Minister's confidence. I think that deserves his attention. I am quite sure there is a very deep degree of anxiety about that aspect of the matter. People do not want to have a surreptitious alliance between the Press and the Government for the purpose of manipulating public opinion; their desire is that the Press should be a free Press criticising the Government, and they wish the Government to be an independent Government, not disregarding the criticisms of the Press, but responsible only to Parliament.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I have been very interested to hear this Debate on the Press of this country. It recalled to my mind our experiences in Ireland during the last thirty years in connection with the Press there. I remember a witty priest saying on one occasion that whereas the ancient Irish chiefs used to keep harpers to sing their praises the Irish leaders of to-day have substituted the newspaper for the harper. I dare say there were days when in the "Freeman's Journal" my virtues were unduly extolled, and at a later time my character was taken from the pigeonhole, the white paint was stripped off, and tar was substituted. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) has very properly pointed out that we are now dealing with a Press censorship during a time of war, and but for that fact I do not think I should have intervened in this Debate. I think the Prime Minister is quite right in saying that, in a time of war, members of the Government should cease their relations with the Press. Undoubtedly if there were no war there would be little to complain of. There is one other matter I would like to call attention to. We have heard to-day for the first time of the appointment of a Controller of Paper, and this is a matter which must arouse considerable jealousy. The distribution of paper is the life-blood of the newspaper man. The fair control of that distribution over the three Kingdoms will be keenly watched, and it would be intolerable if any person were to use his position in the Government to affect the distribution of paper and paper pulp to the various newspapers. This is a matter which will be carefully watched.
134 In Ireland we have suffered from a very erratic censorship over the Press, but I do not propose to go into that now. I know that the Chief Secretary has many anxious tasks to perform. Still, if he would refrain for a moment from exercising a censorship over the Press I do not think much harm would be done. With regard to the three Noble Lords whose employment has been the subject of some criticism there is this to be said, they are all Members of the other House, and I would suggest that if they are to be attacked, if there is anything in their past, or present, or future that needs to be attacked, let them be attacked in their own House. I do not know Lord Northcliffe. I am not aware that I have ever seen him. I am not sure that he has ever spoken in the other House, but for my part I feel, with regard to the "Times" newspaper, that, although it has been mostly against our political aspirations, yet, as regards reporting the proceedings of this House and of the Law Courts, and matters of that kind, the "Times" has done great, wonderful, and splendid work. To suggest that Lord Northcliffe would stoop to any petty act in regard to some official, whether he be a general or an admiral, or holds any other position — to suggest that he would attack him except with the direct object of trying to benefit his country is to me unthinkable and unbelievable. We on these benches have been opposed to the "Times" during the whole of our career. I cannot believe that some of the criticisms which Lord Northcliffe had the courage to direct against Lord Kitchener were productive of other than good. With regard to the case of Lord Jellicoe I know nothing, but I hold that men who write for great newspapers when they see that things are not going well for the country, are entitled to say, "Here and there we have failed. We put the blame on individuals. Here and there we will venture to take what may perhaps at the moment be the unpopular side." I, for my part, think the Government have exercised a sound discretion in harnessing the abilities of the Noble Lord and of his organs to the work with which they are entrusted. I think they have in that taken a patriotic course, and they are to be congratulated on having secured their services.
I know nothing about Lord Rothermere. I am not even aware of what papers he owns, while as to Lord Beaverbrook, I have to say that I did know him in this 135 House as a Conservative Member. I know Tie went to France in May, 1915, and when he came back I had a chat with him, for we were all anxious to know what was going on in France, and I can only say that his descriptions and his prophesies have every one of them been verified. He complained of lack of transport and matters of that kind, but clearly he brought to bear good business judgment on military affairs, and, in such affairs, business judgment is of extraordinary value. Therefore I hold that the Government, in getting his brains and ability on their side, have very much strengthened their position. I do not know what religious duties there are attaching to the post of the Duchy of Lancaster, and no doubt the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil), whose High Churchism is one of his most distinguished attributes, has some suspicion of Lord Beaverbrook in that respect. But I can only say for myself that an abler man or a man of clearer mind and better judgment I have never met. I have never been able to persuade him to adopt my views on Home Rule, although I have tried many times, but even on that point I hope he may change. We have arrived at a very critical and dangerous stage in this War. I fully realise the impotence of this House. We are impotent by reason of the very slackness which led to the downfall of the Gladstone Government in 1885. We can do nothing now but rely on the Government. We cannot turn the Government out. There is a new register to come into operation, and even if the Government does make mistakes I would like to know who would care to take office on the eve of the great revolution which is to come about in political matters. I do not think the Prime Minister would care, nor do I think would the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith), who in the last eighteen months has greatly raised his character in the public mind by the. quiet dignity and courage with which he has borne attack, by the reserve which he has shown, and by his abstention from criticism. His enormous dignity has greatly added to the value of our Parliamentary institutions, and I certainly do not think he would care at the present time to enter upon a needless political conflict. We are in a position of enormous difficulty. I think there is too much censorship. Instead of the Press 136 being muzzled, it ought in many respects to be freer. So long as its criticism is, I will not say fairly honest, but reasonably honest, the man in the street is able to see whether or not the intention is purely patriotic. On the whole, I think the Government are right in yoking these-able men to the services which they have to discharge. The men themselves can have no complaint whatever to make of the Debate which has taken place. Not a single word has been said of which they can complain; on the contrary, there has been a kindly tone throughout. It can do neither the Government nor the Noble Lords any harm, and I, for one, am satisfied that in the end it will have good results.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Major H. TERRELL
Both the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) criticised severely the practice which has arisen of attacking the fine servants; of the State who are discharging onerous duties in the War, and spoke of the duty of the Government to protect those high officers of the State who are unable to speak for themselves. But whilst they spoke of the duty of the Government in such eloquent terms they have not put that duty into practice them selves. We have heard in this House over and over again attacks made upon military and naval commanders who have passed absolutely undefended by the Government. I well remember on the 20th December last a very violent attack being made in this House by the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle under Lyme (Commander Wedgwood) upon General Haig. He attacked him for his conduct of the operations at Passchendaele, he attacked him for his conduct of the operations of Cambrai, and he attacked him for various other matters. It was a very violent attack. It was immediately answered by the Undersecretary of State for War, and instead of any attempt whatever being made to defend General Haig from these attacks all that the Government, speaking through their Under-Secretary, could say was that the speech which the hon. Member had just delivered was a very sympathetic and eloquent one, the points the hon. and gallant Member had raised were serious points, and that the Under-Secretary would make it his duty to represent those points which had been raised in high 137 quarters. That is all the defence offered by the Government to the violent attacks on General Haig.
If there is anything in what the Prime Minister has said as to the duty of the Government to defend those high officers they should carry that duty out in practice them selves. They should not allow an attack of that kind to go unanswered altogether. From that day to this no attempt has been made in this House to answer that attack. It is a very serious matter for two reasons. Firstly, because it must weaken the confidence of the general officers who are attacked, who cannot reply them selves, and who are not defended by their superiors in this House; but it is a still more important matter because if there is one thing above all others which is essential to the successful conduct of the War it is that the men and the officers serving under the high command should have absolute confidence in the officer who is commanding them. If speeches such as that are, as they undoubtedly are, distributed amongst the men and amongst the officers in France, if they are read by those men who observe that no attempt is made to answer those attacks or to answer the criticism, it cannot fail to have a most dangerous effect upon the minds of those men, to shake their confidence in their officers; and if once the Army loses its confidence in its commanders then, as far as the British Army is concerned, this War is over.
§ Mr. BILLING
If I may express my regret in this Debate it is at the very low tone that has been displayed from almost its initiation until the present moment. There Was one bright spark when the late Prime Minister very nearly rose to the real issue which we should have been discussing, but all outside that has been simply what one might call glowing adoration on the one side and spiteful innuendo on the other. I was surprised to see that while so many were anxious to cheer in close formation of the green benches any attack on the Press at Question Time few were willing to challenge their political existence by individually standing up and attacking them in the isolation of personal speech to the Chair. I think, if I may say it, that the question that really should have been discussed this afternoon has never been touched at all. In the last three years we have heard a very great deal of democracy. We are told that we Members are. the freely and 138 honour ably elected representatives of the people, and that as such we control the destiny of this country. That is almost as great a farce as the League of Nations itself. In a copy of the "Daily Mail" written subsequent to the recent attacks on its proprietor a gentleman signing himself "Letters of an Englishman" said that the daily Press had the power of life or death over any particular politician whom it chooses to single out for attack, and to some extent it is true. To some extent, if the Press persists in attack son a politician they may eventually, if he lacks moral courage, drive him out of public life. But then, if he lacks moral courage he never should have been in public life, and it is perhaps just as well. The point that does remain is this: Who elects the Press? Any rogue with a million of money — and most of the men who have millions are rogues — can get control of the Press, or a portion of it, at any minute; and so where is our democracy? Surely it is the duty of this House to stand between the capitalist Press and the people, and if we — I do not say we, I would not presume to say we — if the politicians and statesmen in this House are the slaves, from fear of political extinction, of a crowd of millionaires who have their money from whence they know best, and have u; vested it, instead of in ships, in newspapers, I say the very idea of democracy is a hollow dream. It, simply means that the people are being governed by a servile House which is being dictated to by a capitalist Press, and the idea of democracy is a delusion.
How does all this arise? How did it come to this? In the old days it was an honour able thing to be the editor of a newspaper, an editor who was mostly — if my history is right — the owner of the newspaper. He felt and assumed the responsibility which ownership of a newspaper should give. Now the newspapers have turned from what they were, national institutions, into purely commercial undertakings. If a man has so much money to invest he may discuss the possible investment with someone who is acquainted with the possibilities of the market. He might put it in canned fruit; he might put it in fish; he might put it in ships. No, he happens to meet a very smart business man, who says, "There is an opening for a newspaper. I personally have just been advertising manager of one of the biggest combines in the City, and if you put up the money we can easily hire 139 an editor to write the stuff. I will put in the advertising, and there is a fortune for us." That is what to a very large extent governs the birth of a newspaper, and can the House imagine anything born of such corrupt parentage bringing forth anything but what we have seen? I remember a certain Member of this House who was closely associated with one of the Napoleons of the Press whom we have been discussing to-day discussing with me the birth of the "Daily Mail." I asked him why the. "Daily Mail" was a success. He said the "Daily Mail" was a success because it appealed to people who did not think. I asked, "What about when the 'Daily Mirror' came out?" Oh," he said, "then we captured a class who could not even read." I do not want to attack the Press qua Press; I simply want to attack the principle of our Press as an institution which provides, as I say, for any man who cares to make a commercial investment, and puts him in the position to dish up either something which is for the good of the country or the good of the individual, or the opposite, on the breakfast table of some million people every morning.
People do gather their impressions from what they read. The average man, if you hear him discussing a matter in a railway train, and you attempt to trace it down to where he got the idea from, will tell you he read it in the paper, or that someone who read it in the paper told him all about it. From what other source can we gather our impressions? We have no private information. The average man in the street has no private means of obtaining information. His only means of obtaining information is through the medium of the Press, and I would, therefore, like to point out to members of the Government on the Treasury Bench, or to members of the Government who read the OFFICIAL REPORT, that their obvious duty is so to legislate that it shall be outside the power' of people in this country, of capitalists in this country, to control public opinion on a commercial basis. If they want to control public opinion, let them do so as an organ of public opinion, and not as an advertising sheet carrying with it in many instances the poison with which some of these papers are fed. It is a very simple matter, but, as I am sure hon. Members will admit, there comes a moment when the commercial interest and possibly the national interest clash, and 140 from my experience in newspapers the national interest has a very thin time. There are one or two other points to which I want to refer. I want to put on the official records of this House the famous saying of Mr. Delane, to whom the late Prime Minister referred. Writing in connection with the "Times" newspaper many years ago, he said:'This journal never was, and we trust never will be, the journal of any Minister. We place-our own independence far above the highest marks of confidence that could be given us by any servant of the Crown. The part we have the honour to play in public affairs is guided and supported by as high a public sense of the honour of the profession and the interests of the country as will be met with among those who-pursue in public life the distinctions of personal power or the emoluments of office. Since it is our good fortune to be independent of party and fearless followers of honesty and truth, we are little moved by the railing or misrepresentations of contending statesmen. Nor have we any inducement to exchange the modest obscurity which enshrines our labours for the empty notoriety which pervades their efforts. The dignity and freedom of the Press ale trammelled from the moment it accepts any other position. To perform its duties with entire independence, and consequently with the utmost public advantage, the Press can enter into no close or binding alliance with the statesmen of the day, nor can it surrender its permanent interests to the convenience of the ephemeral power of any Government.That is a statement which might be read and pondered over at the present time. Where you get a strong Government you do not get this influence by the Press. Where you get a strong Government you get a strong House of Commons, but where you get a weak Government you get a weak House of Commons, and when the Government cannot rely on the House of Commons they fly into the arms of the Press to save themselves from extinction. That is what has happened in this case. The plea put up by the Prime Minister is that here, after three and a-half years of war, you are going to get propaganda work, after propaganda has been done and well done by our enemies. We are too late in this as in everything else we touch. The Government know perfectly well that any daily newspaper that concentrates itself upon a general attack, sticking to facts and not to personalities, but to matters of principle, could topple them out in a month. Therefore they rush into the arms of the biggest Press combine, looking upon them as a rock instead of what it is going to prove, a wreck. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham said that this House has gradually lost its power, and he intimated 141 that the Press had gradually lost its power. I submit that he was absolutely right. The Members of this House as Members of this House have lost their power for the same reason that the Press have lost power, and it is because they are being found out. This great War is a cleanser. Let us hope it is that at least. Let us hope that in exchange for all the sufferings that this War is going to bring us that it will cleanse us. It has exposed the hollow mockery of party politics and the hollow mockery of the capitalist Press, and the people are beginning to realise the situation. They are beginning to know what the average Member of Parliament does who sits on these benches and occasionally says "Hear, hear!" and in a moment of forgetfulness may even say "Hurrah!" Of the 670 Members in this House the public are beginning to understand that not 10 per cent. — I was going to say not 5 per cent. — of them represent in any way either their Constituencies or their Constituents or the general feeling of the country. They know quite well that, so far as the Press is concerned, that while in one column it preaches economy and begs you to buy War Bonds, and tells you you are not a patriot unless you give all your money to the country, on the next page they have a full display advertising the great white linen sale of some West End shop. I say that the proprietor of that paper is either robbing that West End shop in taking their money for the advertisement and then telling the people they are not patriots to patronise that shop, or else they are preaching rank hypocrisy in their editorial columns. The public are beginning to see through it all; they are beginning to find out that they have been fooled by a servile Press and a capitalist Press. I only hope the awakening will not be too sudden.
I had occasion the other day to refer to Bolshevism in this country, and to the fact that Frankfort Jews, through a Russian agency, are endeavouring to take advantage of the stupidity of our governing classes in order to set class against class in this country. I hope that the working men of this country will not be such fools as to try those methods, because they have in their hands the finest constitutional weapon that has ever been given. There is only one thing that can stop the working men of this country —and by working men I mean all of us who work 142 and who are not capitalists — from getting into their hands this capitalist Press. If the capitalist Press attacks the working candidates, either individually or collectively, they might cause a wave of public; opinion to operate against the truly genuine disinterested candidate and might eventually enthrone an inefficient Government, who would become the serfs of the capitalist Press once more. Although there are no Labour Members present, I would throw out to the Labour leaders of the country a little hint how that might possibly be avoided. I shall have the satisfaction of getting on the official record for their digestion tomorrow a hint how that can be done. If the trade unions of this country were to call a conference next week and decide among themselves the names of the newspapers of sufficient importance to. be taken into consideration as likely to endanger democracy in this country and the return to this House of democratic representatives, they would find that not much more than thirty or thirty-five papers would be involved. They might then elect a special council, consisting of thirty-five members, and attach each one of that special council to one particular newspaper, making that walking delegate a censor of that newspaper, and simply informing the proprietors that not only would no German or foreign advertisements be allowed to appear in that newspaper, but that any veiled innuendo or attacks upon the working classes, as working classes, would not be permitted in the newspaper, and that after the editor had passed the newspaper for the press the walking delegate would initial it, and until it was initialed the machines would not start. That is a very simple process. You could not get the paper composed without labour, and when you had got it composed you could not get it cast without labour. When you had got it cast you could not get it on to the Hoe's without labour. When you had printed it you could not get it to the station without another form of labour, and when you got it to the station you could not get it round the country without transport labour.
Therefore I suggest to the labour of this country that they need not bother their heads about Bolshevism. All they have got to do is to take the Press of this country in hand, put a walking delegate into every newspaper if necessary, and say, "Either you fight for decency, for 143 purity of public life, for the right of every man to earn a living and of every man who has suffered in this War not to have suffered in vain, and that the men who make great sacrifice shall have the persons whom they leave behind guarded and cherished by the nation, or else you do not go to press." That seems a perfectly possible proposition. It is an extraordinary thing that the Labour movement has lost hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to run its own newspapers. If it only had vision to see that every newspaper in Great Britain is a labour newspaper.produced by labour, printed by labour, circulated by labour, how any working man can be fool enough to comp or print attacks on his own class, as he does, passes my comprehension. It is because I feel that unless labour gains control to a great extent of the government of this country by constitutional means, it will before very long endeavour to gain control by unconstitutional means, that I recommend that system, not of controlling but of creating public opinion on democratic lines. That means that they are going to elect delegates to sit in a newspaper office to prevent anything detrimental to Labour being printed. I seriously recommend that to the consideration of Labour leaders in this House. How far they represent Labour it is impossible to say. They are the elected leaders of Labour at the moment, and if they take my advice they will keep more in touch with Labour and less in touch with this House for the next six months.
Now one or two remarks in reply to the Prime Minister's statement or apology, or whatever the House is to regard it as, when he rose before the Debate had finished to reply to it. How has the Prime Minister the audacity to strain the credulity of this House almost to breaking point, to, if it is possible, insult the intelligence of the House by saying that because the Noble Lord said" if you appoint me Director of Propaganda I will sever my connections with the newspapers," that amounts to anything? How would any editor to-day have the audacity to criticise a Government of which his own proprietor was a member without having previously taken the views of the proprietor on the point? It is utterly impossible. Whatever may have been the case in the old days, when the editor clung to his post for a very long time, it is different to-day, when you see editors 144 changed and whole staffs changed by a capitalist press week after week or month after month. The idea is preposterous. When all is said and done, the journalist has his living and his obligations to consider, and it has become a recognised fact that he has got to say what the old man wants. If he does not say that he has got to go. I think that is very regrettable, but it is more regrettable that the Prime Minister should so insult the intelligence of this' House as to suggest that by that means, when the proprietor says, "I have ceased my connection with my newspapers," he has released those newspapers and made them free either to criticise or to support the Government as their reason dictates or as the editor in charge dictates. Not only that, but what has the Government done? It has nobbled Lord Northcliffe and caused this criticism and all the priceless gifts, which it was suggested in this House this afternoon were his, to be lost to the country, because no longer can he inspire the "Daily Mail" and the "Times," because he has severed his connection with them so as to associate himself with the Government.
I think that that is a very great loss. I think that Lord Northcliffe is a very great editor, provided that he had only one paper to look after, but not one hundred and one, and I think that he would be serving his country to greater advantage were he criticising the action of the Government, rather than by being one of them. He has never hidden his contempt for the Government. It was embodied in one of the most astounding letters that a Prime Minister has ever been obliged to receive publicly in the history of Parliament. With that exception, I consider that his criticism of the Government has, in nearly every ease, been right, but if the Government are gradually going to nobble all the critics, criticism will be found such an excellent means of personal advancement that we shall be left with nobody to criticise, and that would be a pity. The country as a country has lost all faith in the Government, and all faith in the good faith of the Press which criticises it. We have had an exhibition within the last few days of dog eating dog in Fleet Street. The papers have turned on each other and rent each other — those who are accepted and those who are not accepted in the fold. I remember reading in the "Star" the other night a reference to 145 Lord Beaverbrook as Lord Beaver crook. I should have thought that an action lay for criminal libel, but it was decided, evidently in the interests of all the circumstances, not to take any action, but that does not hearten the public. Because the country are agreed that the Government is weak, it does not hearten them to see one crowd supporting and one crowd attacking them.
They know that there is no reality in it. They know that, if journalists themselves were permitted to write the papers on the judgments they form from hearing these Debates, or from the confidences which they may have received from those who have knowledge, a very different story would be on our breakfast tables in the morning, but before the stuff goes to press, unless it is of the most trivial character, it has to be considered and adjudged, not on its literary merits or on considerations as to whether it is true or untrue, but from the point of view as to how it is likely to affect either the vested interests of the journal or the political ambitions of its chief, thus tending to stifle good criticism. I, for one, am not surprised that this De-Bate has fizzled out. I knew that it was going to fizzle out, because the Press boomed it for three days. The Press boomed it and made the public think "there is going to be a terrific Debate in the House of Commons. The newspapers will be torn to pieces. The late Prime Minister will get up and denounce them," and in expectation of that people will be on the look-out for the morning papers, only to hear that the whole thing has fizzled out again. If the Press had said nothing about it, the fizzling out would not have mattered, but the Press advertised its own execution, and no execution has taken place, and who will look fools in the eye of the whole Empire? It is the Members of this House, who have got courage enough to cheer in company any veiled attack on any Press man or any newspaper but who lack the guts to get up in this House and say what they believe to be true, and 146 take the consequences of political extinction, if such is the fate of those who dare to challenge the right of any paper to criticise, or dictate, or control the governors, the law givers and the law makers of this country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.