HC Deb 08 July 1919 vol 117 cc1580-3

asked the Secretary of State for War whether any censorship is now exercised over newspapers delivered to the troops in Cologne; and, if so, for what purpose?

66. Mr. LUNN

asked the Secretary of State for War whether the circulation of the "Daily Herald" among the private soldiers serving in the Army of the Rhine is being prevented; if so, by whose authority this censorship is being exercised; whether the circulation of the "Daily Herald" is being permitted among commissioned officers; and whether he will take steps to remove any ban upon the circulation of this newspaper among all ranks?

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Churchill)

During the War arrangements were made by the War Office to purchase newspapers out of the canteen funds and send them out for distribution to the troops. The "Daily Herald" was included among these papers in the ordinary course.

On the last occasion when the Army Estimates were debated in the House I found it necessary to point out that this paper was deliberately attempting to foment discontent in the Army and to encourage mutinies, strikes, and riots. I was, therefore, surprised to learn some days later that the War Office had itself been unconsciously responsible for purchasing with canteen funds and distributing by official agency upwards of 60,000 copies of a paper which I have regretted very much to be compelled to characterise in these terms.

Since then I have received formal representations from the General Officer Commanding the Army of the Rhine, from the General Officer Commanding the troops in France and Flanders, from Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Great Britain, and from the Adjutant-General at the War Office, who is directly responsible for the discipline of the Army, to the effect that harm has been done to the troops by the circulation of this paper, and that various instances of disorder and insubordination, which might at any time have taken a very serious turn, are directly attributable to its activities.

In these circumstances, it was obviously quite impossible for the War Office to continue to be responsible for the purchase and distribution to the troops of the "Daily Herald"; and I have issued directions that it is no longer to be included among the papers which are forwarded officially to our Armies abroad.

This does not mean that the circulation of the paper among the troops is prohibited, or that officers or soldiers would be proceeded against for having it in their possession. It does mean, however, that we cannot ourselves afford any assistance to the circulation of propaganda of an essentially disloyal and subversive character.

It follows from the above that bundles of this paper which had reached their destination in France and in Germany before the Order removing them from the list of publications forwarded to the troops was issued should be destroyed; and I accept full responsibility for any measures which may have been taken in this respect by the responsible officers on the spot.

I should add that all I have said is, of course, without prejudice to any further action which it may subsequently be necessary to take should it at any time be deemed desirable to institute a prosecution.


Is it not a fact that these canteen funds are contributed to by private soldiers, and that they are resenting this action very strongly, and is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that this method of secret repression is fanning the flame of discontent in the Army?


In the first place, I am confident that the Army, as a whole, greatly resent the circulation of this kind of publication, although there is always a small proportion of individuals who revel in it. So far as secret repression is concerned, nothing could be more open or candid than the full explanation that I have given to the House of Commons.


Will the right hon. Gentleman take action to prevent generals in the Army from attacking one another in the Press?


Will the right hon. Gentleman see that a copy of the reply, which he has read to the House, is handed to the Attorney-General in order that he may consider what steps he ought to take?


I might ask the right hon. Gentleman to do that; because in the opinion of most people it is the right hon. Gentleman himself who is responsible for the discontent which exists in the Army and in the country?

Colonel GREIG

Wall the right hon. Gentleman cause a copy of this reply to be circulated through the same medium to the Army on the Rhine?


I dare say that it will be reported in the newspapers which reach them.


When will the House have an opportunity of discussing the action which the right hon. Gentleman has taken?


Any question of business must be addressed to the Leader of the House, although I am at the disposal of the House if there is any desire to discuss it.


May I put the question to the Leader of the House?

Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)

We have already promised that a Supply day will be given for the Army. Of course, on what particular day depends upon the Opposition. We have always given whatever Vote they wish.

Forward to