HC Deb 13 November 1918 vol 110 cc2686-7
General CROFT

I would ask the House to permit me to make a very short personal statement, arising out of the Debate on the prisoners of war, which owing to the force of circumstances and the conclusion of peace I have been unable to make during the last few days. The right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Macpherson) quoted last week in this House the following remarks which were made by me: Not only have they, the Government, kept, the truth from the people, but I believe I am right in saying that the War Office, or some other authority, has compelled escapers and exchanged prisoners to promise that they will not tell the truth about this question on the platform or in the newspapers. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, and I have been told that by at least a score. Sir E. Carson: Is it true or is it not? Mr Macpherson: I am informed that it is not true."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Tuesday, 29th October, 1918, col. 1360.] The last thing which I should have desired to do would be to appear discourteous to the right hon. Gentleman, who has always been extremely courteous in his dealings with myself and with everyone else. After five days I did write to the newspapers stating that I was going to ask the question on Thursday in order to get a definite reply, and I was not of the opinion that that was in any way discourteous to the right hon. Gentleman, as it seemed to me that he had the same right of reply in the newspapers; but in this matter the charge was very definite—that the statement which I had made was not correct either in substance or in fact. Now the right hon. Gentleman in the Debate said—and I am not going to make any debating point, but merely to quote his remarks—that Lord Kitchener had issued such an order which had the effect of preventing escaped officers and prisoners from stating these facts. That policy may have been wise or unwise, but that was the effect of Lord Kitchener's order, unless they had the permission of the War Office. But I want to point out that I was not referring to this order of Lord Kitchener's. I was referring to a very much later order, from a copy of which the right hon. Gentleman quoted in this House. He quoted the first two paragraphs, but he did not quote the third paragraph, which I think the House is entitled to have. It reads: The communication by interviews, correspondence, or otherwise, of information to the Press on any military subject is contrary to the provisions of paragraph 453 of the King's Regulations. The procedure laid down in that paragraph must be strictly followed in reference to accounts of treatment experienced while in the hands of the enemy. That was the paragraph which I had in mind when I made this suggestion, and I think that the House will agree that it does convey to any officer or soldier who is an escaped or exchanged prisoner that he must not state these facts unless he first gets the permission of the Army Council as required in the previous paragraph. I hope that under those circumstances the House will exonerate me from having in any way deliberately tried to misinform it, because I merely quoted those facts, which I think it is now perfectly evident had that effect. The right hon. Gentleman also stated in his personal statement that there were no restrictions on the Press, but so long as that order remains I submit that I was not incorrect in saying that there were.


I said that the Press was unrestricted in practice.

General CROFT

Yes; but the Press cannot be unrestricted in practice so long as no single witness is permitted to give information to the Press. I have in my pocket a large amount of evidence, which I can use in debate, which shows that whenever the Press have appealed to prisoners the prisoners have felt that they were bound by this order, which I hold in my hand, not to give any information to it. I thank the House for the courtesy with which it has heard me.