§ LORD ST. DAVIDS rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they would advise His Majesty to call a full meeting of the Privy Council to discuss the present position of affairs. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I may say at once that in the Question which I am putting to-day I am not trying to raise any Constitutional issue. As far as I am concerned, my interest in the British Constitution is deferred until after the end of the war, whenever that may be. It is merely a suggestion for finding a place which we might agree was a suitable one for criticising 114 any action of the Government. It is from that point of view alone that I have put down this Question. It seems to me that we have got to a point in the war when criticism is very necessary. We have had virtually two Governments. The Government as it originally was made mistakes, as everybody always will make mistakes, but it seemed to me that they were carrying on the war with very great vigour, in many respects at all events. Then we had the Coalition, and since then, as far as an outsider can judge, there has, to put it at its best, been no extra vigour noticeable in the action of the Government. But there is one injury—I think a great injury—which the formation of a Coalition Government has done to the country. It has, for the time, being, killed His Majesty's Opposition. I believe it would be an unmixed advantage if half of the twenty-two members of the Cabinet—I do not care in the least which half—were sitting in opposition, criticising fairly the action of the others. Since the Coalition was formed that is the loss, to my mind a very great loss, that the country has sustained.
§ It is stated in the Press that criticism is a mistake. I saw a statement by a clever writer the other day that we must not criticise because we might lessen the reputation of the Government, and that the reputation of the Government was a great national asset. I have always been taught that a reputation which cannot take care of itself is not worth watching. At any rate I should say this, that what is wanted in the Government is not reputation, but two things—vigour and soundness of judgment; and as to those two things I think a good deal of criticism is needed. We are also told that criticism ought not to be indulged in because it makes our Allies unsettled as to our purpose. Again, I do not for a moment believe it. Our Allies in Russia have recently made changes in their Government, and our Allies in France have made a new Government. Does that make us nervous? Not in the least. We in this country know perfectly well that in France and Russia what they are trying to do is to change the Government, and to keep on changing the Government perhaps, until they find what they think is the most perfect instrument for carrying on the war. And that is what I think we shall have to do in this country. After 115 all, the men who may be the best for carrying on the war may be very different from the men best fitted to administer the country in time of peace. I was recalling to my mind this morning a remark made by the late Mr. Parnell in an emergency of his. He was talking of a gentleman since dead, and he said "He is a very nice gentleman; there is nobody with whom I would rather go to an afternoon tea party. But he is not the man I should choose to go tiger-hunting with." We are rather in that position. We in this country possess Front Benches composed of statesmen admirable for peace purposes, whom we all admire; but I venture to say there are some of them whom, if we were going tiger-hunting, we would not choose as our companions.
§ To be frank, I think criticism is wanted all round, in civil as well as in military affairs. It is said you must not criticise military operations because you may do harm. Is it not the fact that if you look, not at our position, but at the position of every nation that is engaged in this war, there is not a single one of them of whom it would not be true to say that that nation is in the supreme crisis of its fate, and that since its history had begun it was never in a more parlous position than it is to-day? I am now talking of every nation on both sides in this great conflict, but I am not sure that I might not add as well the names of two or three countries which have not joined in. We are all of us, all these nations, in a serious position.
§ I compare our position to-day for its seriousness with the position of France after the Revolution. France was then fighting nearly all Europe. Her officers had deserted her and gone abroad, she had no Army, no munitions, no arms, no money. Did the people of France refrain from criticism? What they did was to establish the Terror. Every General who went to fight knew that the French would have success, not that they wanted success but that they must have success, because their national existence depended upon it. It was very hard on the Generals. If a man went to fight and did not win a victory soon, his head came off. If a statesman did not administer successfully, his head came off—and the process went on. I am not proposing that anybody's head should come off; I am pointing out what was the result of something stronger than criticism. 116 Under that system of knocking over the men who did not succeed they killed many, I have no doubt, most worthy and deserving persons, estimable fathers of families, but they got in the long run the greatest War Minister that any country has ever produced—they got Carnot. Next they got the most wonderful set of Generals that ever lived together at one time in any one country. And they got Napoleon. I am not suggesting that you should follow so drastic a process as that. What I suggest is this, that if we are to win this war we shall have to "scrap" people. Any man who is not successful, whether in civil or in military life, ought to be promptly recalled. That is what the Government of this country have to do if we are to win this war.
§ I have put this Question on the Paper because I want to find a place in which I shall be allowed to say the things that I believe ought to be said. In former debates I have been happy enough to be congratulated by the noble Marquess who leads the House for my discretion in not touching on dangerous topics. But other noble Lords have been less reticent. I am not at all criticising their action. Noble Lords like Viscount Milner and Lord Cromer, who have held great Pro-Consular offices under the King, are, of course, entitled to exercise their discretion in a way which I should feel very shy of doing myself. But I feel that the time has come when we must talk. A week or so ago the noble Viscount on the Front Bench opposite (Lord Midleton) made a suggestion which, in my opinion, would have met the case. He suggested that there should be a secret sitting of this House without reporters, when we could all speak freely. For myself I should have thought there was a good deal in that suggestion, but the Government received it with very scanty welcome. They pooh-poohed the idea. Therefore we cannot have that. I have suggested that there should be a full meeting of the Privy Council simply to find a place where one could make a speech without being told that one was doing harm by making one's views public. That is my only reason for putting this Question on the Paper. I see that some one has suggested that as there are something like 300 Privy Councillors that would not be an effective body for consultation. I was not thinking of it at all as a body for 117 consultation. I was thinking of it as a place where one might speak freely knowing that every Privy Councillor on his admission had taken the official oath of secrecy.
§ I admit that in my opinion the House of Lords is a far better place than the Privy Council in which to express our views. But this, my Lords, is my last offer as regards secrecy. I want to speak. There are things I mean to say, and if the Privy Council is not called together and I am not allowed to say them to the Government there, then I shall say them to the Government in this House. What I have to say will not sound very revolutionary. I should lay down two or three maxims for debate. First, I should say that no man ought to hold any office in this country merely because of his previous services; however great they may have been, unless his present usefulness in that office was apparent. Secondly, I should say that no man should hold any post because of his rank. As a third maxim, I should lay down that no man should hold any post because of his wealth. Those are maxims with which, I think, everybody would agree in times like these. They sound copybook maxims, like "A stitch in time saves nine"; but if any responsible body in this country begins to compare those three maxims with the state of things that actually exists, with the facts as they are to-day, there will, I believe, be great changes in high places. I should like the Government to think of them. I should like the Government to take action, and to do so now. If the Government do not take action now, I think they will find in a week or two that they may have to take action whether they like it or not.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE had the following Notice on the Paper—
§ To call attention to the responsibility of His Majesty's Ministers with regard to the direction of the war.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to offer a few remarks upon what Lord St. Davids has just said. What I propose saying on the Notice standing in my name on the Paper is so germane to what his Lordship has just said that perhaps the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will allow me to say what I have to say at this stage.118
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
I am sure that a great many people inside Parliament, and outside too, will be glad to hear that the noble Lord who has just sat down is going to bring to light certain things which he thinks it is necessary should be known for the conduct of the war. I venture to hope that your Lordships will not agree to the idea of making the Privy Council the place where these grave matters are brought forward. A secret session of any body is an undesirable thing in itself. It only stimulates public curiosity in a manner which might become dangerous. At the same time—and I say this with the deepest respect and in the Constitutional sense—I am not at all sure that the Privy Council as a, body stands so high in the estimation of the nation as it did in former years. I submit that the House of Lords is as good a place as any in which to bring forward grievances. We have no constituents to get in the way—noble Lords smile, but it would not make any difference to smile of us if we had—and I think the nation is beginning to realise that for free debate, untrammelled by what the consequences may be, the House of Lords is the place where they are going to get what they want. After all, when the history of this war and of the events that led up to it comes to be written it was this House which rejected the Declaration of London, which was conceived with the idea that this country, supposing there was a European war, would always be a neutral, and which was calculated to undermine the greatest asset that the British Empire possesses—the complete and absolute control and command of the seas, which we trust will never be bartered away, no matter what the circumstances may be.
It is an old Constitutional idea that Ministers are responsible to His Majesty the King, and that they are also responsible to Parliament. Therefore this House is the place to which we ought to come for redress. In calling attention to the responsibility of Ministers I do not propose this afternoon to do what I believe partridge-shooters call "fire into the brown" of His Majesty's Ministers. I will take one Minister and one Minister only, because he is the man who from first to last is responsible and must be held responsible by the nation and Parlia- 119 ment for every single thing that has happened; and that is the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith. "I will fight with neither great nor small, save only with the King of Israel." We are not going back this afternoon, though we could if we wanted to—and we shall have to at some time—upon past controversies which took place before the war, controversies which now have only a parochial importance. It is enough to say that no Prime Minister of this country ever had a greater opportunity or ever raised higher hopes, or had a finer majority behind him in Parliament than Mr. Asquith when he succeeded to the command of a great Party. This confidence of the vast mass of the nation continued to be given to this Minister until the very outbreak of the war, and the nation did not withhold that confidence in spite of the serious misgivings of a great many. Confidence was given to him freely and frankly without any reserve, though some of us were afraid at the time that the spirit of procrastination which had marked his dealings with other questions in time of peace would be continued in dealing with matters with regard to the war; in fact, that the policy of "Wait and See" would continue in war in exactly the same manner as it had in time of peace.
It is not too much to say that that fear has been justified. We saw at the beginning of the war, for instance, that German reservists were allowed to go back across the sea to rejoin the colours in their own country. We saw that long and valuable time was lost before the Government determined to make cotton and other things which were vital and necessary to Germany for the carrying on of hostilities contraband of war, and made a serious attempt to prevent their entering Germany. We woke up one morning and discovered that we were a very long way behind in the manufacture of munitions, and we have just had painful and tangible evidence that there has been no serious or well-defined policy with regard to the aerial defence of London. But in spite of this we waited and saw. We have seen 500,000 casualties, or nearly so; we have seen Turkey turn against us; we have seen Bulgaria turn against us; we have had the exquisite humiliation of seeing Greece decline to join us notwithstanding that an attempt was made to bribe her to do so by chopping off pieces of the 120 British Empire and offering them to her. We have seen all this happen in the Balkans for one reason only—because we were unable to prove to these people that we were in earnest and had the will and the power to deliver the goods on demand in the shape of troops. The nation was not impatient under all this.
But what stirred thinking people out of doors who up to now have not taken any deep interest, perhaps, in the war is the fact that we have seen the Serbians reduced to imploring the British Government to send them assistance, and to asking one another whether we were really going to keep our word with regard to our Allies. We know perfectly well that the ultimate hope of Serbia is to see Germany crushed; and some people may say that it does not matter very much on which front you crush Germany provided she is ultimately conquered, and thus you can hand Serbia back to the Serbians after you have accomplished this. That is all very well, but I do not think I should like to hear that method of dealing with the matter if I were a Serbian. What sort of a Serbia is it that we are going to hand back after the Germans have been all over the country in the same way as they have been over Belgium? We should hand back a Serbia of which it would be easy to speak in language of the deepest emotion; but I refrain from making phrases about it at the present moment.
Another thing that everybody is asking is, What of the Dardanelles Expedition? The Prime Minister, in his exceedingly dexterous speech in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, said that the fact of Turkey joining Germany had a lasting effect on the Balkans. He then went on to paint in glowing terms the dazzling success that would have accrued to the Allied arms supposing we had been able to adjust the Balkan situation in our own manner. The chances of success, he said, would have solved the whole situation in the Balkans. If for success in dealing with the Balkans an armed force was so desirable, so eminently necessary, and if it would have put the seal of success on that very important part of the field of hostilities, what we want to know and what we are going to keep on asking is, Why did not the Government determine to have an armed force ready and send it there before? In fact, why was not the Balkan situation dealt with in time? 121 It appears from the Prime Minister's speech yesterday that the Balkan situation was never even thought of in the Cabinet until as late as last February—that is before the Coalition Government was formed. We know that in spite—this is putting it mildly, and I see the noble and gallant Lord in his place—in spite of the doubts and hesitations of Lord Fisher a naval expedition was sent to the Dardanelles without any military help. We know the rest. It is of no avail to enlarge upon that. The terrible story of that force will have to be known by the British public some day or another. All we are concerned with now is to try and get such a spirit into our fellow-countrymen and into the Government that we shall take action in good time and not be met with a repetition of what has apparently taken place in the Dardanelles.
I should like to ask two more questions with regard to that part of the world. I dare say I shall get no answer. It is possible that it is not desirable in this House to give an answer. I want to know, Was there any Treaty between Bulgaria and Germany effected last March, and, if it was not effected last March and if there was a Treaty at all, does His Majesty's Government know anything about the existence of a Treaty of that kind? It would be interesting to some of us to know why Sir Bax Ironside has sent in his resignation. That is a point about which those of us who are interested in that part of the world would be very glad to have some information. The interesting subject in everybody's mouth to-day is, What do you think of the speech Mr. Asquith delivered in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon? I for one would say, if I may use a colloquial phrase, that Mr. Asquith's speech in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon "won't do." It is not nearly good enough. It did not tell us anything which an intelligent reader of the newspapers could not have discovered for himself long ago. But it did contain some very damaging admissions—some of them accidental and some introduced by design—against Mr. Asquith himself. He admitted, first of all, that he and his Government had embarked upon the greatest war in history with only six divisions, which, considering the number of men employed and which he must have known were going to be employed in a European war, was a ridiculously inadequate force. Mr. Asquith has since told us 122 that in 1912 he knew perfectly well that the object of Germany was to overbear and to dominate the whole of the European world. In spite of this we had only six small divisions, four of which only were available immediately on the outbreak of hostilities. The Prime Minister went on to say—in spite of this frightful expense of blood, and of money, and of tears—that the Germans have not on the balance, as far as he knows, gained one single foot on the Western frontier since April 1. I do not think that will he a very comforting admission for those who have put so much into the war as some of us have.
Then the Prime Minister admitted—and this I did welcome, for it is the first public admission of the fact—that the financial situation is serious, and he recommended that there should be general economy. He then went on to say that soldiers who used to cost only £100 a year now cost £300 a year. If soldiers are becoming an expensive luxury, I think that Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament are becoming a much more expensive luxury than they used to be; and I think I am voicing the opinions of a great many people outside when I say, with great respect, to the Prime Minister that if he would set the example and surrender some portion of his salary perhaps the rest of the nation would follow suit, and some of those economies of which he is so fond of talking would be effected throughout the length and breadth of the land. These are hard things to say, but I know your Lordships will agree with me that I say them without the slightest personal feeling of any kind or description. But if an English soldier costs more than a Continental soldier, an English Cabinet Minister costs a great deal more. There is no country in Europe which has so many Cabinet Ministers, or which pays them so much by half as we pay our Cabinet Ministers in this country. That is a reflection which I recommend to the Prime Minister when he advocates that we shall go in for national economy. Mr. Asquith went on to say, in talking about the men that he hopes to get—while, of course, pointing out the difficulties of starting what is called a compulsory system in this country—that the voluntary system is hazardous, capricious, and unjust. And the really effective part of his speech came at the finish, when he announced his intention of stopping where he is as long as ever he can.
123 I know it will be said that if you attack the Prime Minister you must be perfectly logical and be prepared to see the thing through; that you must be prepared for his resignation, and have somebody ready to put in his place. It will be said that the resignation of the British Prime Minister at this time of day would be a serious blow, which would resound through the Continent, disheartening the Allies and heartening Germany and Austria. Is that so certain? Lord St. Davids said just now that he was out to "scrap" people, and he instanced a period of French history in which one Minister after another was "scrapped" before they got the right one. I am not quite sure that if as a result of events Mr. Asquith were to retire it would be such a very damaging blow or would affect the course of the war, as some people think. If the Grand Duke Nicholas can be got rid of in the course of the war, then you can get rid of Mr. Asquith. Mr. Asquith, in his speech yesterday afternoon, said something about Mr. Pitt. There may be respects in which the present Prime Minister resembles his illustrious predecessor, but he does not resemble him in being one whose name, to use Lord Macaulay's words, was mentioned with awe in every Palace from Lisbon to Moscow. If I thought that could be said of Mr. Asquith, I should not be here this afternoon saying what I have said about him. To ask me, Whom are you going to put in his place?—to answer one question by another—is a favourite device of the dialectician. I frankly admit that to name any noble Lord or hon. gentleman as Prime Minister in the place of the present holder of that office would be exceedingly invidious. If, however, you are going to commit yourselves to the theory that our representative system with our House of Lords and our House of Commons is suddenly going to fail to produce, on demand, a patriotic Prime Minister from the 1,000 or 1,200 gentlemen who sit in both Houses, then I say that our representative system and Parliament generally are in a very poor state indeed, and we shall have to look outside for some man to guide the destinies of the nation.
If you ask me that question, I will ask another. You say, Whom are you going to put in Mr. Asquith's place? I say, Do you expect us—who, like everybody else, are deeply concerned for the safety of the country and feel it our duty in this House, 124 not a pleasant duty, to voice the views which thousands of people are thinking outside—do you expect us to sit down under all this procrastination, all this indecision, all this "wait and see," all this fumbling and mismanagement of our affairs, without standing up in our place in Parliament and calling public attention to it? If anybody does expect that, all I can say is that he makes the greatest mistake of his life. This unrest which is now felt is not dangerous, it does not represent disunion, it is not mischievous; it is the first really healthy sign of public opinion that we have had since the beginning of the war. It was wise and sound and right and just of the British people to wait at the beginning of the war and give the Government all facilities, all the freedom, and all the ease they possibly could afford them; but it would be wrong and unwise and dangerous on the part of those of us who feel about this matter as we do if, after having waited fifteen months and having become so anxious as we are to-day, we did not give voice to our general unrest and resolve upon a national regeneration which will get rid of the kind of direction which has been responsible for the difficulties we are in at the present moment.
There are those who say we ought not to say this sort of thing, as it will get into the German newspapers. I do not quite see my speeches being reported in the German newspapers; they are not always reported in the English newspapers. But even if that happened, even if all these statements that you call so mischievous were reported in the German newspapers, I say it is far better that these things should be said in Germany than that they should not be said here. I shall have no sympathy whatever with the nation if they do not insist upon arraigning their Ministers before the bar of public opinion when they think things are going wrong, and tell them that if affairs are not managed in a more vigorous manner they will set about to find a new Minister to advise His Majesty for the remainder of the war. I am well aware that in doing this we are really blaming ourselves. After all, the Prime Minister of England is our own creation. We, the general public, put him there. He is the flower and expression of a certain frame of mind which has become disastrous; and if we are going to change that frame of mind it is not unreasonable that we should go to the head 125 and undo that which we have placed in a position of so much power.
We are anxious about the future. There is an increasing number of men and women—and it is interesting to observe that during the last year the Prime Minister has suddenly discovered that there is such a thing as a considerable body of noble women in his own country—who are anxious about the future. We are anxious about the attitude of the Government towards German trade. For one thing, we want to know whether there is to be a crusade, a boycott, a war against Germany both in peace and in war; whether it is going to be said that no German shall hold any property in this country or be allowed to trade here, and that the restriction against Germans coming over here shall be final and for ever. That is the kind of thing we want to hear the Prime Minister of England get up and say in his place in the House of Commons. If he were only to address the nation in such language, even at the eleventh hour, he would get people to rise up and follow him. A great deal more anti-German spirit is wanted. We want to hear our Ministers give voice to it in terms more strenuous than in the past. We are anxious about the terms of peace. We do not want the same people who had the management of affairs just before the war, and managed them with such an uncertain hand, to have a finger in the pie when it comes to making peace. We want to hear a little more about this. We are deeply anxious lest the same directing hand that has given us so much anxiety, and justly given us so much anxiety, should have any place in any War Council or Committee or microcosm or delegation of the Cabinet that may be devised for the time being to allay the public anxiety.
There is no pleasure whatever in saying all this. It gives no satisfaction to those of us who feel as keenly about this matter as we do to be obliged to attack our own fellow-countrymen. A great deal of stress was laid by Mr. Asquith in his speech yesterday with regard to the need for unity. Nobody endorses that more heartily than I do. At the same time there is such a thing as false unity. It is false unity to go on acquiescing in a state of things which you believe to be indecisive, lacking in courage, lacking in directing power, and always being postponed till the last minute. In fact, it is false unity 126 to acquiesce any longer in the policy of "wait and see." But if our enemies think that any dissensions we have at home have any effect upon the real unity of the nation, then they make a great mistake. When it comes to beating the Germans, when it comes to saying to them "We are going to boycott you and your trade and everything to do with you, for ever," and that we will not listen to any terms of peace except those of the most strenuous, decisive, and far-reaching kind, then you will find that there will be real unity in the nation, and all the elements of the nation which count for anything at all will combine to bring the war to a successful issue.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY had the following Notice on the Paper—
§ To ask whether His Majesty's Government will take steps to prevent official interference with the publication of intelligence unless it is calculated to prejudice military or naval operations.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, we have had a very interesting speech from the noble Lord who has just sat down. I think some parts of it, at all events, were near the root of the matter. Those parts will be dealt with, no doubt, by the noble Lords who represent the Government on the Front Bench opposite. For my own part I deeply regret that the noble Lord has accentuated his observations, many of them full of point, by so personal an attack upon the Prime Minister. When it was my bad fortune to leave the Government of which the Prime Minister is the head, I did not trouble your Lordships with any reason for that course. I have never thought the practice a good one. I thought, and still think, that at that moment when the country was on the eve of going into a serious conflict it would have been really, not in a fantastic sense, helping the enemy if we were to state all the reasons which made in their favour and made against our own action. Therefore I have preserved the rule of iron silence. When all these points—Balkans, Dardanelles, and so forth—are raised, it ought to be done in a very deliberate and formal way. The whole accumulation of difficult points ought to be stated in such a form that the House and the country may have a view and survey of the whole of the embarrassments by which we are for the time surrounded. Therefore 127 I do not propose to-night to follow the noble Lord over all the ground that he has travelled. But I may say this. I think that both the noble Lords who have spoken are rather out of their depth, if that expression may be pardoned. My noble friend Lord St. Davids does not desire anything revolutionary. Well, I cannot imagine anything much more revolutionary short of heads dropping off, as he rather euphemistically called it, than to transfer responsibility and control of executive power from the two Houses of Parliament to the Privy Council, which, full of able men as it is, is not at all a body to which I think either my noble friend or I should pay any special respect.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I am afraid I failed to make myself clear. I do not wish to transfer any responsibility to the Privy Council. I merely wanted for myself an opportunity of putting certain views of my own clearly before the Government. If they do not want me to do it here, I suggested that if they summoned a full meeting of the Privy Council I should be eligible to attend and I might make my observations in secrecy there. But I do not for a moment suggest that the Privy Council should do anything more than it is doing now.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
If the noble Lord desires to make observations in secrecy—few of us do that—he may find other ways of reaching centres of authority apart from calling together a large number of people who have no common interests and no common principles to start from. However, I do not think I need devote further time to that. My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke says that he believes he is expressing the voice of the country. I do not say that he is not. But I remember that the last time when I had the honour to withstand the noble Lord it was not he or this House who expressed the voice of the country. Therefore he may be under the same illusion now.
I will now go to my own Question on the Paper, which is to ask whether His Majesty's Government will take steps to prevent official interference with the publication of intelligence unless it is calculated to prejudice military or naval operations. The topic that I raise—the freedom of the Press—is as important a topic as even the great constitutional issue which my noble friend has raised. It is of enormous and 128 vital, I might almost say of organic, importance. The provocation—I will use no milder word—caused by the official interference against which I protest is nothing short of universal. I think every one will agree that the noble Earl opposite (Lord Selborne) hit the right nail on the head the other day when he said that what had struck him in the action of the Censor was the "stupidity" of it. I am sure his colleagues round him will barely dissent from that. It is not a trivial but an extremely important point that is involved. I am quite aware that the ground of my suggestion is delicate. I know that in any action taken by Ministers you have to consider the feelings of our Allies, but some of our Allies, at all events, have not risen to the height of those now great commonplaces of freedom—a free Press, free speech, and free opinion—which are the sublime glory of the finest literature of our own country. I submit this as the plain principle that ought to guide all operations of this repressive or quasi-repressive character—namely, that the censorship, of the kind now being practised, can only be in accord with either tradition or precedent if it is confined to the temporary suppression of military and naval news which might assist the enemy. I should have thought that no member of the Government, certainly nobody on that Bench, would for a moment refuse in a general way and in time of peace to accept that principle; but there is nothing, as it appears to me, in a time of war which makes that principle less imperative than it is in time of peace. Your Lordships will observe that we except naval and military operations. Common sense would dictate that. I should have thought it was impossible not to recognise that the principle of the present proceedings is thoroughly bad, and that the procedure is against all common sense in practice.
The noble Viscount, Lord Milner, said the other day, I thought most truly, that everything which makes the enemy think that we are afraid of the truth is of course undeniably an encouragement to the enemy. I should like here to quote from the noble Viscount a sentence which I envy him. He said—Truth all round is the most fortifying thing in the world.Napoleon said that the English people are so dull that they never know when they are beaten. That is our glory and our strength, 129 and we gave Napoleon plenty of time on St. Helena to think it over. But do you think you are encouraging your friends or discouraging your enemies, or acting in a sensible way, in instructing the Censor day after day, week after week, and month after month in the face of people who have before them high winds and water and cloudy skies to "keep the barometer nailed fast to Set Fair"? I cannot imagine a more absurd standing order. There are three or four Latin words which aptly describe the Englishman—Merses profundo: pulcrior evenit; which I would translate as "The deeper you plunge him the more splendid he comes out." I am not given to using language of an exaggerated kind, but at a moment like this it would be foolish not to remember that truth and to use it. Bad news which the Censor makes it his business to suppress does not depress and discourage a brave people half as much as the suspicion that they are being kept out of the knowledge of things which they have a perfect right to know—that they are being kept in the dark, or what the police authorities referring to the London streets at night describe as "a state of subdued illumination."
I should now like to tell your Lordships what has been the effect of all this. A speech was made three or four days ago at Ripon by Mr. Wood, the son of an hon. member of the House of Commons. He had come from the Front, and this was the language he used—I know that bad news has been held back for no reason except that it was supposed it might depress average English opinion. Those who think that have not begun to learn the A B C of English public opinion. Bad news only makes the men more determined to throw their lot, in spite of all difficulties, into the continuance of the contest.But here is an extract still more interesting. It is from Australia, and we all know the splendid force with which the Australians have thrown themselves into the battle. This is what comes from Sydney in a telegram to The Times three or four days ago—The secrecy of the British and Australian Censorship is having an entirely opposite effect to that intended and is creating public anxiety and the belief that the truth is being withheld. Many Australian public men desire emphatically to state that the Imperial Government is acting extremely unwisely if it is withholding unpalatable facts for fear of offending Australian sentiment and of retarding recruiting in Australia. The reverse is likely to be the case. This mistrust of the truth of our reports is depressing recruiting 130 in Australia. The present attitude of the Imperial Government is exercising an extremely unfortunate influence.I will give one more set of opinions of the Censorship abroad. A correspondent of a newspaper in a very important and serious telegram three or four days ago from the United States spoke of "the stupidity of causing the successes in France to be discounted by the stupid 'cooking' of German intelligence, such as the official Berlin reports, which, of course, reach the United States direct from Germany as well as through London." That does, indeed, seem to deserve to be called stupid. Then there is this remarkable statement—It is no exaggeration to say that the Berlin official report is now regarded in American newspaper offices with about as much confidence as the British report.Then the correspondent comes to a substantial warning—The ostrich-like activities and the childish insincerities of the Censor do not hurt only us if they are to be allowed at this juncture to shake American public confidence—they will hurt the United States as well. Why? Because it would mean for American business men a most embarrassing, and in the circumstances of America a most dangerous, position.Surely with facts of that kind in their minds the Government must see not only that they do not gain anything by these "ostrich-like activities and childish insincerities" on the part of their agents, but that they spread mischief all round and discredit us. The other day a gentleman from Holland said to a noble friend of mine that during all the time he could remember the British Press had been considered universally the most trustworthy Press in the world, but that now that is no longer so. It is a very serious thing that our reputation for being able to face disagreeable facts in a most tremendous crisis should be met by this careful coaxing and perhaps hoodwinking—I do not want to use an uncharitable word if I can help it, but so it is.
I would like to say a word about the Press. I have myself for a long time been connected with the newspaper Press, and am therefore in some sense an expert observer, and I have never seen in the long time during which I have surveyed affairs a Government or an Administration in less need of a censored Press than the present. I have never seen a Government more tenderly handled. In time of war you must have regard to the fact that the Government are doing their best to fight 131 difficulties, but I have never seen an Administration more loyally supported than the present Government. I do not deny that there may now and then be a slip of information, but an expert knows, when he sees a slip of this kind, how to distinguish between a leakage from an office and a private inspiration from a Minister, and he makes allowance for that. But apart from that there is no cause for complaint, so far as I can tell, by the Government against the Press. As I say, I have been connected with the Press. I have also been a Minister, and have constantly had occasion to communicate information which it was not desirable to fling abroad. My experience has been that the responsible agents in the newspaper offices can keep a secret confided to them until the time comes when it can be published, and then take good care to make nothing but a loyal use of it.
Lord Willoughby de Broke pointed to the inquisition by the nation regarding some events that have distressed us within the last twelve months. That seems to me to be quite unavoidable; the time, of course, will depend upon circumstances. I did not gather from the tone of the Prime Minister's speech last night that he would be opposed to a courageous inquiry, for example, into the Dardanelles matter. I hardly like to mention the sinister and ill-omened illustration of the Walcheren Expedition of 1809 to the mouth of the Scheldt with the view of capturing Flushing and Antwerp. Lord Chatham took out about 14,000 men in July, 1809. He found that the operations—whether he was right or wrong we need not inquire—he found that the operation did not succeed, and he had to leave for three months or more a body of some 15,000 men among the swamps and marshes of Walcheren. With some difficulty he got his men away, and they completely abandoned the enterprise and evacuated Walcheren Sound. What happened then? A member of the House of Commons, Lord Porchester, moved that there should be set up a Committee to inquire into the whole of that transaction, and they had a Committee— a very extraordinary one—of the Whole House. Generals and Admirals and other important witnesses were examined at the Bar of the House and a Report was made. If the case of the Dardanelles, or any other, became as unfortunate I do not believe for a moment that this House or the 132 House of Commons would hesitate to ask for a Committee—not a Committee of the Whole House, which would be absurd at the present day—and for Papers, and if those Papers justified they would not hesitate to take further steps.
I do not at all advocate the idea of entrusting to Parliament the censorship of the measures of the Executive Government in the sense of exercising responsible and effective control over those proceedings. But the other extreme, which at present is in sight or even more than in sight, of denying all responsible control to the two Houses of Parliament promises mischief much more serious. I must give one illustration with which I have been furnished of the procedure of the Censorship which is certainly remarkable. The Censor passes some communication, but desires the deletion of words, sentences, or phrases. What does he do? He insists, so I am informed, that the marks by which we ordinarily signify a deletion—a blank or a couple of little asterisks—shall not be used so that the public are to read on as if there had been no deletion. Is not this cheating the public? I think it is. They believe that they are in possession not only of the truth, but the whole truth. What should we think of an editor who of his own accord "cooked" and "doctored" his telegrams from abroad? Is not this cutting out without any signal that any word or sentence has been omitted the same thing that we should severely blame in the editor of the paper himself? One editor, a very careful man, to whom the Censor complained that a certain passage had been printed which had not been passed, said "I am very sorry to have offended, but do you complain because it was false or because it was true? "and the Censor, I believe, did not answer. The points in the minds of the Censorship are not altogether whether it is false or whether it is true, but whether it tends to weaken the Executive Government—I do not mean the Party Government. It seems that however material a sentence, word, or phrase may be, if it weakens the Executive Government out it must go. Surely that is a thing of which we cannot be very proud.
What I am going to say now weighs with me more than any other point. What is the A B C of good government? I think in the minds of all of us it is that it demands in the foreground and in the background the support of public opinion. I have never 133 been addicted to undue glorification of public opinion, because I have very often found myself a minority—I have never been addicted to a glorification of the infallibility of public opinion. But public opinion is not half as fallible as the individual opinion of Monarchs, Pontiffs, or even Prime Ministers. It is the root of the matter that the Government must lean on public opinion, good or bad. Then I ask how in the world are you to get and lean upon a free, full, and correct public opinion unless the public has free, full, and correct information as to the facts on which that public opinion is founded?
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, I think the time has come when one of the representatives of the Government ought to take part in this debate. I observed with satisfaction, after my noble friend behind me (Lord St. Davids) had sat down, that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Willoughby de Broke) rose immediately, and also that my noble friend (Lord Morley) on the Front Bench opposite in turn followed him, because it was evident, I think, to everybody in the House that the three Notices on the Paper were all closely interlaced, and that it would be altogether impossible to have conducted the debate upon one without trenching on the province of the others. I am certain, therefore, that the course which has been taken has led to a concentration of the debate, and to a saving of the time of your Lordships.
I hope that my noble friend who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow him on the special points that he has raised with regard to the Censorship. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack is specially acquainted with this subject, as the House well knows, and he will be able to reply later on to some of the points specifically raised by the noble Viscount. But I may say, in passing, that there was a great deal that fell from my noble friend opposite with which I most heartily agree, although I would not pretend to say that I concur completely with every word that he said. Nor would it be right that I should trouble the House with any lengthy constitutional disquisition upon the Privy Council and its fitness to carry out the functions which my noble friend Lord St. Davids desires to impose upon it. But since he has made that specific 134 recommendation rather with the view of emphasising his desire for obtaining information, and even almost as, perhaps it is hardly too much to say, something of a reductio ad absurdum, it is right, particularly as I happen to hold the office of President of the Council, that should say a word on that subject.
As the House knows, the Privy Council is always called together by the Sovereign in person, and without labouring that particular point. I may call the attention of the House to the fact that, as the British Constitution now stands, that might cause a certain inconvenience in carrying out my noble friend's suggestion from the point of view of the Sovereign himself. The whole Privy Council is called together only on the rarest occasions— it is called together, as many noble Lords will remember by having attended it, some more than once, at the demise of the Crown; and it is also called together in order that the Sovereign, in case of necessity, may make the announcement to the Council of his or her impending marriage. Those are the only two cases in which the Privy Council as a whole ever meets, and as my noble friend opposite pointed out, there are circumstances connected with the size and composition of the Privy Council which would not appear specially to fit it for the purpose which is in my noble friend's mind.
It is rather an interesting historical fact that at a great time of national crisis long ago, some might say the greatest crisis from that time to this, greater than any that occurred in the Napoleonic Wars—I mean when the Spanish Armada was approaching these shores—the whole Privy Council only numbered eighteen, four smaller than the present Coalition Cabinet; and at that time, I have no doubt, the purpose of my noble friend could have been easily carried into effect. But I will not pursue this side of the subject further at this moment. Perhaps, either this afternoon or on some future occasion, in connection with other proposals that have been made, it would be interesting to recall the growth of Cabinet Committees, of which perhaps the most famous in history was the Cabal of Charles II's reign, which was the Foreign Committee of the Privy Council of that time.
My noble friend (Lord St. Davids) said—and his statement was commented on 135 by the noble Lord above the Gangway (Lord Willoughby de Broke)—that he desired some form of secret session, and he would make the Privy Council a makeshift for that purpose, since the idea of the possibility of holding a secret session of your Lordships' House was not smiled upon in any quarter. I think there is this to be said about the holding of a secret session either of this House or of the Privy Council. The noble Lord pointed out with absolute truth the oath of secrecy by which all Privy Councillors are bound, but at the same time supposing such sessions to be held I think we might look forward with the most absolute confidence to a complete if not an absolutely verbatim report of the proceedings appearing in the newspapers of the next day. That may be a minor objection to the course which my noble friend proposes.
Then my noble friend went on to say that his criticism has to be uttered, and that if he does not receive the opportunity of making it in the form in which he has proposed on the Paper, he will have to make it here. Well, my noble friend and those whom he consults, if he consults anybody else, must be the judges of the necessity and the propriety of any statement or complaint that he desires to make in your Lordships' House. So far as criticism is concerned, either of the Government as a whole or of any action of individual members of the Government, we have no desire to stop it; and it would clearly be altogether unfitting for us to make any appeal to the noble Lord to refrain from making any statement which, knowing all the circumstances of the time as he knows them, he feels it to be his duty to make and which he is prepared to take the personal and moral responsibility of making. More than that it is impossible for us to say. I have no doubt that my noble friend will agree, that there are some things which can be said in private which ought not to be said in public; and all we can do is to leave it to him to draw that distinction with the full sense of responsibility which he undoubtedly holds.
I think my noble friend somewhat overstated his case when he said that Parliamentary opposition was altogether killed by the existence of a Coalition Government. We have had some evidence to-day, and we have had some before since the formation of the Government, that that is not altogether the case. Before 136 the present Government was formed, those who are now members of it but who were members of the former Opposition refrained as responsible people and men of experience, I have no doubt, from stating publicly all the criticism that was in their minds. But I really think my noble friend can console himself. There will always be plenty of irresponsible people who do not think or possibly very much care whether what they say may be conceivably mischievous; and I think we may cheerfully look forward to the continuance of some criticism of that kind both in and out of Parliament. I will not follow my noble friend on his excursion into the French Revolution. Certainly the greatest authority in the House on that subject is sitting opposite, and although I could not trace the absolute accuracy of my noble friend's history in all respects, I will not attempt in any sense to correct him at this moment.
I pass to the speech of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Willoughby de Broke) and to the elaborate and prepared personal attack which he thought well to make on the Prime Minister. What his precise purpose was in singling out the Prime Minister for individual attack on matters for which he may, of course, be regarded, simply because he is Prime Minister as principally responsible, although not Departmentally responsible, I confess I do not know; but I could not help thinking that the noble Lord protested somewhat too much and somewhat too often regarding the painfulness to himself of the task which he was undertaking. I could only form my opinion from hearing and watching the noble Lord, and my conclusion was an entirely different one. It was that the pleasure which the noble Lord derived from the speech he was making was in direct proportion to the offence which he hoped and believed he was giving by what he said; that was the manner in which the noble Lord's personal observation struck me.
Let us see what the precise burden of the noble Lord's attack on the Government is. He has accused us of slowness in making up our minds, and of a general inactivity for which he appears to place special blame on the shoulders of the Prime Minister. These criticisms are not at all unfamiliar to us from that portion of the Press of which the noble Lord appears to be something of an echo. We know there are 137 two pictures drawn of us, both founded upon our presumed neglect of expert opinion. A picture is drawn of the Cabinet as a kind of Aulic Council, composed of comatose legislators, studiously ignoring all the clear and firm inspiration which experts are willing to give them. There is also another and a quite different picture which is often drawn by some of the same hands—that of a body of headlong strategists of the most amateurish kind who dash forward into the wildest adventures without thought and without knowledge. Whether both those descriptions of His Majesty's Government can be true I must leave the House to judge.
The whole of this charge which is brought against us of the neglect of expert advice is founded, I venture to think, on an entirely false foundation. It is founded on the presumed foundation that experts are always found to agree. I think your Lordships in many walks of life have had experience of experts, and you all know, in whatever walk of life you may move, that one of the greatest difficulties in arriving at a conclusion and taking action upon it is very often the diametrically opposing opinions of really well-informed people. As for the noble Lord opposite, he is an expert in fox-hunting, perhaps almost as great an expert in fox-hunting as he is in the conduct of a war. But nobody knows better than he that, expert though he is, he would find other experts on a particular occasion who, when he was hunting a fox, would say that he was not going the right way to work to kill it; and he himself, as an expert, might say precisely the same to somebody else who was endeavouring on another occasion to perform the same feat. This is a fact which is really worth noting and considering, because in itself it accounts for a great many of the apparent hesitations and delays to which allusion has been made.
This fact is not only true of those who advise His Majesty's Government, whether by sea or by land, but is equally true of every country that is engaged in the war. It is equally true of our Allies, and it is equally true of our opponents. Do noble Lords suppose that every action, every form of attack, that has been made by the German Army has received the universal approval of all the German experts, leaving politicians and ignorant people altogether out of the question? Can 138 noble Lords be sure that this last adventure of a Balkan attack by an Austro-German force aiming at a junction with Bulgaria, receives the universal approval of German military opinion? I should be exceedingly surprised to and that it does. As we all know—and here almost for the first time I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord opposite—the one test of all these things is success. That is undoubtedly the case; and all the admirable reasons which may be adduced for taking a particular course, how ever historically satisfactory they may be, and however complete an answer they offer to the ultimate critic, are of no avail in the eyes of our fellow-countrymen unless they are crowned with a certain measure of success. That, of course, we frankly admit; although it does not follow, as I think my noble friend behind me was somewhat inclined to conclude, from that fact that every want of success on the part of a military or naval officer ought to be followed by his being immediately cashiered or, if not cashiered, ordered home to a position of obscurity. I think I can safely say that there has never been a case either under the late Government or the present Government in which there has been unanimity of opinion, absolute agreement, among the advisers of the Government that partticular naval or military action ought to be taken when it has not been taken at once.
Then the noble Lord above the Gangway (Lord Willoughby de Broke) asked one or two specific questions to which I ought to allude. He asked about the existence of a Treaty between Germany and Bulgaria. I answered a question not very long ago, I think within the last fortnight, on that subject in this House, and then stated—probably it may not have been observed by the noble Lord—that we are not in possession of the actual Treaty or its terms, but we have very strong reasons for believing it to exist. Then he asked a further question, also relating to Bulgaria, about the return of Sir Bax Ironside, our former Minister. It is due to him and also will be satisfactory to the noble Lord that I should state that his return to England had no connection with any action of His Majesty's Government in Bulgaria or in South-East Europe.
I will not attempt to touch on some of the other matters which were raised by the noble Lord in his indictment, particu- 139 larly those with regard to what he conceived to be the original inadequacy of our military preparations. That opens up a large subject of inquiry, and it is one which at a future time may properly be undertaken when we have to consider what form of Army, and for what purpose it is to be used, this country ought to have at the conclusion of the war. But I may say this, and it is desirable to do so because it helps, I think, to make the matter clear. The noble Lord spoke of the extreme inadequacy of the Expeditionary Force of six divisions, and implied that a far larger force ought to have been prepared so that it could promptly be thrown on the Continent after war was declared. I have no doubt that the noble Lord himself and a few of those who thought with him for some time believed that in view of the probability of a Continental war we ought to be starting something in the nature of a Continental army. I well remember reading in some periodicals and elsewhere articles arguing that point. But I think I am right in saying that the advocates of that policy were very few. They were altogether apart from those who followed the views of Lord Roberts on military training and the formation of a large force at home, because that force, as we all know —Lord Roberts so often said it in the House, and said it privately to many of us—was intended for home defence and for home defence alone, and for the resistance of the formidable invasion which Lord Roberts and some others conceived to be quite a possible event. It may, of course, be argued that if that force had existed the preparation of a Continental Army would have been far more rapid and easy. I am anxious not to plunge into that very deep pool of discussion; but it is, I think, important to point out that so far as the early stages of the war—presumably one may say the first six months of the war—were concerned, the existence of a force of that kind would not, so far as one is able to judge, have made any material difference to our power of resisting the German invasion of France, whatever may be said of the greater ease it would have given to the process of bringing up the Army to its present dimensions.
The only other point in the noble Lord's speech on which I wish to say one word is this. I do not touch on the question of the declaration of contraband, as to which I think he has fallen to some extent 140 into a mistake which was at one time common—namely, that of assuming that the declaration of an article as contraband of itself prevented its getting into Germany in a way which could not be done under our Order in Council of March last. Some people seem to assume that if you only declare an article contraband you can immediately proceed to blockade neutral countries in respect of it. It might be exceedingly convenient to do so, but you cannot blockade neutral countries in respect of anything whatever. You can limit, as we are doing, the import into those countries to a named figure representing what the countries themselves require of any article which it may be necessary so to restrict, but you cannot blockade a neutral country, although from the language which is often used in the newspapers and elsewhere on the subject it would appear that there are a great many people existing who believe, not only that you can, but that in not doing it the Government are committing a grave dereliction of duty and behaving with weakness and incapacity.
My noble friend opposite (Lord Morley) spoke about the possibility of a Parliamentary inquiry. He went further back than the Parliamentary inquiry which I imagine springs to the mind of most people when the subject is mentioned—I mean Mr. Roebuck's Committee at the time of the Crimean War. My noble friend went back to the Parliamentary inquiry which was held in connection with the Walcheren Expedition. I do not understand that my noble friend suggests or desires that an inquiry of that kind either into the Dardanelles Expedition or into any other specific operation of the war should be undertaken immediately. I can certainly say on behalf of His Majesty's Government that when the time comes when it is desired to make full inquiry either into that operation or into any other feature of the war, and when it can be safely done without interfering with the possible success of other military operations, we certainly shall not shrink from such an inquiry, although, of course, my noble friend would not wish now to bind me as to the precise form which it ought to take.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, there has come to my mind an eighteenth century essay, either by Johnson or Addison, which begins with the words "Criticism is a goddess easy of excess." I am afraid that 141 I shall fall rather short of the high standard laid down by the noble Lord opposite in the votive offerings which I shall be prepared to lay upon the shrine of criticism this evening. In the very few remarks I shall make I shall confine myself to the Motion put before the House by my noble friend Lord Willoughby. I think we shall agree that, he fertilised a large area of consideration, but personally I shall try to stick closely to the words of his Motion as far as they dealt with Ministerial responsibility. The noble Lord said that he was prepared to do battle only with the King of Israel, by which he meant the Prime Minister. I believe at that time the King of Israel was not in circumstances to take up his own quarrel. Like another David, I shall try and say a word for the King of Israel.
The noble Lord said just now that the interesting question which every one was asking was, "What do you think of the Prime Minister's speech last night?" and the noble Lord supplied the answer, He said it "would not do." Well, if it is a question of acceptance of responsibility I am bound to say that I think the noble Lard is rather hard to please. I was really surprised at the gusto for responsibility of every kind which—I was going to say my right hon. relative, for I have the honour to be remotely connected with the Prime Minister by marriage—which Mr. Asquith exhibited last night. Apparently for the past, present, and future the Prime Minister accepted the fullest responsibility for every possible delusion or disappoint tent which everybody and every country must be liable to in a great war. Mistakes here, delays there, surprises to the left, miscalculations to the right—they all appear to be, if not welcome, at any rate honoured guests. He adopts them all, on his own behalf, and for the twenty-two. I am bound to say that nothing seems to be fairer than this. Not only did the Prime Minister accept these responsibilities; he also claimed—and I think we should all grant his plea—that he himself and every one of the twenty-two suffered from no relaxation of effort, denied themselves easy days, and—here we get back to Israel again—like the keepers of Israel, hardly slumbered or slept. Their week-ends are almost as spasmodic as are, according to Sir Edward Carson, Cabinet meetings.
Now what occurs to one after fifteen months of all this? The real crux of the 142 matter is—Are the Government up to their responsibility? An engine driver in charge of a train in which I was travelling might be willing to take responsibility of every kind, but if he did not really know how to manage the train I might have a very uncomfortable and even disastrous journey. I was not able to get into the other House to hear, with any advantage to myself, the Prime Minister's speech, but I was in time and able to hear Sir Edward Carson's speech. Sir Edward Carson seemed to lay great stress on, and to claim as a credit, the fact that he had never been a member of a Cabinet before. Although I know nothing about Cabinets—at one time I knew something about Courts—certainly I know enough, after hearing Sir Edward Carson, to say that he could never have been in a Cabinet before or he would hardly have said the things he did. From what understood from Sir Edward Carson the present Cabinet was a sort of Dilettanti Society, but that it differed from the old Dilettanti Society and no doubt from that of the present day in that its members appear to write each other long memoranda.
After all, the real practical issue seems to me to be this—passing away from Ministerial responsibility—Is it not possible to expect too much from any Government in time of war? No Government, in history comes out well in war, and no Government survives war. It is a curious thing, but mismanaged as they may be the weakest countries seem somehow or other to survive their Ministers. Whatever might be said against the present Ministry as being lacking in energy and driving power. I ask as a practical man—What is there to be put in its place? Lots of suggestions are offered. In the Prime Minister's speech last night there was quite a new suggestion, namely, that a small body of from three to five—there is something rather nice about that little margin in between—was to get us out of all our difficulties, but I do not think that anybody attaches much importance to it. I really do not think the Prime Minister felt comfortable about it himself, because I think he pointed out that no mechanical contrivance of that sort would win the war. At all events, this much could be done. I think the Cabinet of twenty-two might be reduced and the match continued to be played, perhaps not very well but as well as may be, with the first eleven.
143 And here I come to a point which I thought was well made by Lord St. Davids. I quite agree with him that the great difficulty in which we have all been placed by the formation of a Coalition Government is that we are denied the uses of an informed and experienced and official Opposition. Personally I should like to see the business of the country carried on in the old Constitutional way, with the implements with which we have been accustomed from generation to generation. I was no great admirer of the performances of the pre-Coalition Government. They got into a great scrape, and I suppose for reasons of their own the scrape was of a kind which made it very difficult for them to face it out. Personally I have been a Liberal all my life, and with the large Liberal majority which the late Government had behind them —if I am not infusing political colour into what I am saving; I do not intend to—I would very much rather have seen them face the music and stand to their guns. However, I suppose there were delicate points which made it difficult for them to do that. The result was that they adapted to their uses the old Latin saying, Similia similibus curantur. Those who were brought into the Coalition came in, I am sure, as patriots; they were experienced politicians and men whom we admired for the services they had previously rendered to the country. They were brought in; their claws were cut, and their teeth were drawn. We lost the Opposition led by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne. Above all, his immense experience in foreign affairs would have given us great assistance now, when we seem to be in difficulties, largely due to an unfortunate handling of our diplomatic business. However, I do not want to labour that point.
Another objection to the Coalition, as it seems to me, is that the Government, wanting the counsels of an informed Opposition, becomes peculiarly the prey of a free Press. We have a free Press—built up by painful years of all the old quarrels about a free Press—which I am sure we all want to see kept free. You have also a Censorship, and a Censorship with a free Press creates a very dangerous state of affairs for any Government, and especially a Coalition Government. I commiserate noble Lords on the Ministerial Bench on the position in which they find themselves. The Times has been attacked in many quarters during the last few months. I 144 hold no brief for The Times, but I am bound to say that the three or four things for which the Government may fairly claim credit—cotton contraband, munitions, and one or two other things—seem to me to have been much more suggested by The Times than by any initiative on the part of Ministers. I am rather old-fashioned; I read The Times with the almost ferocious energy of a middle-aged man when he sees things are not going well, but I am bound to say that I should be very sorry to see a powerful newspaper become a new instrument of government.
There is one other point bearing on Ministerial responsibility with regard to which I should like to ask a direct question of noble Lords on the Ministerial Bench. When the Prime Minister referred to the exertions which Lord Derby is making to carry on—as I hope he may be able to do—the voluntary system, I understood him to say, in terms, that he recognised that if Lord Derby was not able to find us the numbers of men necessary to enable us to carry on the war—and I assume to carry on the normal industrial life of the country as well—some other plan would have to be found. I think he said he quite recognised that that plan would have to be something in the nature of an arrangement which would organise the nation for war in a way which the nation would have to accept and stand by. I should like to hear from the Government Bench whether there is a substratum of Ministerial responsibility for the statement which the Prime Minister made on an evening which I think everybody here will admit was of historic and important interest to this country.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
My Lords, I had not intended intervening in the debate this evening, but I do so because of certain remarks which fell from Lord Morley. When speaking of the censoring of the Press the noble Viscount referred at some length to public opinion. In his Notice on the Paper Lord Willoughby de Broke calls attention to the responsibility of His Majesty's Ministers with regard to the direction of the war. I do not intend to say one word upon their conduct of the war or any of the expeditions which have sailed from these shores, as there are others far more qualified than myself to speak upon that. But I think I may be bold enough to state that it is rather at home and in regard to public opinion here at 145 home that Ministers in the past have made mistakes, and I should hope that in the future they may see their way to take up a stronger attitude in their direction of the war.
One thing which has brought one of the greatest disasters upon this country since the war broke out was the adoption of the unfortunate expression, "Business as usual." The Government have, I think, attempted throughout to make this war felt as little as possible, to make it as easy as possible for the people at home. There have been appeals to the patriotic which have been nobly answered by those hundreds of thousands of men who have come voluntarily to the Colours and who are now risking their lives in the trenches abroad. But if I may be bold enough to say so, I do not think that the Government from the very first have ever led the nation; they have always waited for public opinion to lead them. I know perfectly well and fully realise the enormous difficulties that confront the Government. At the beginning of the war they were unable to obtain unanimity. There were certain statesmen of high standing in the country—and no doubt they had a large following behind them—who did not believe in our joining in the war at all. All credit to them and their followers, for they have kept silent and I do not think they have hampered the Government in any way whatsoever.
In every step the Government have taken since the beginning of the war they have always appeared to be afraid of offending certain sections of the community. Public opinion is no doubt an all-powerful factor, especially in democracies. On the other hand public opinion can occasionally be led, and I should say that the Government and in many cases private individuals have better means of forming a just opinion than the enormous mass of people of this country. It is impossible to say that a Government should not know in its own mind what is the best course to take, that they should not have better information and be better able to form a judgment of what they could do than the great mass of public opinion in this country. With those advantages behind them it is for the Government to propose and for time people to follow. The whole difficulty is—Will the people follow? Looking back on certain mistakes that have been made, 146 I cannot help thinking that the Government have from time to time stopped from doing what they thought, and indeed knew in their hearts, to be right, because they were afraid that public opinion would not follow. I am not ashamed to say that as a candidate at many General Elections I took little notice of public opinion. I used to say what I thought, and if my constituents did not like it they could vote against me and turn me out. I am bound to say that my policy was highly successful, as I was never beaten. And if the Government would adopt what was the practice of a humble private individual when he had the honour of a seat in the other House of Parliament. I am certain we should act in better time and with more determination.
As I said before, it appears to me that the Government from the very beginning of the war have always tried to consider everybody's feelings. It is only a little thing, but take billeting. Everybody's feelings had to be considered. I had experience of it. Whether men who were patriotic enough to recruit had spotted-fever or some other disease from insufficient billets or overcrowding did not so much matter so long as nobody was inconvenienced. Money was paid out in shoals to people in order to conciliate them for having troops billeted on them. Every consideration was shown to civilians, although to the soldier, immediately he donned his uniform and came under military law, precious little consideration was given. The question has always been, What do the people think? If you want to do only that of which every one approves, it is no use going on with the war. I am certain that that opinion is shared by a large number of those brave and honoured men who are upholding England's glory in the front line. They think that they have not been supported by the Government at home, and that the Government, for fear of offending certain people here at home, have not taken that action which all experts considered necessary. Those brave and honoured men think it is no use going on fighting if they are not given all possible assistance.
I do not want to be a prophet of ill—and I can assure His Majesty's Ministers that in what I am saying to-night I am only throwing out a hint to them in this respect—but I believe it is impossible to carry on this war for many months longer 147 acting on the present principle. Perhaps one of the most striking passages in the course of Mr. Asquith's speech was the reference to the fact that the cost of every soldier had risen from £100, which was the figure before the war, to between £250 and £300. I am perfectly certain that it is impossible for this country to go on waging war very much longer at that rate. Whether public opinion likes it or not, it is a fact which His Majesty's Government have to face. If the war is to be brought to a successful issue I feel certain of one thing—namely, that the Government cannot in the future look to the feelings of every one, and that they will have to take steps in the direction of economy, in the direction of recruiting, and in the direction of obtaining munitions and the necessaries of war so as to conserve as long as possible the resources of the country. If the war goes on for much longer the day may come when there will have to be a change of policy, when we shall have to cut things down, when it will be impossible to provide enormous separation allowances and pay people large wages in munition factories, when it will be a question of not merely having to take one-third but very likely five-sixths of a man's income. All these things you have to face if this war is to continue very much longer, and you will find that the longer you go on trying to make it easier for every one the greater will be the revulsion of feeling. If you wish to win you must not make it easier for everybody, but you must give the lead and make it plain to the people of the country that they must make sacrifices and do their very best.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD BUCKMASTER)
My Lords, the noble Marquess to whom the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, addressed his Question has asked me to reply on his behalf, and with your Lordships' permission I will accede to his request. The Question of the noble Viscount was directed to a very important part, but only a small part, of a very large question—that of the Censorship as it now exists; but though his Question is strictly and carefully limited, his statement, I think, was intended to travel over a wider area.
With the general principles which the noble Viscount enunciated I do not think that any one in this House will disagree; 148 the question is in their application to things as they stand at the present time. I myself am firmly convinced that not only a censorship, but a strict and vigilant censorship is required for the proper safety and protection of our forces on land and sea. By censorship I do not mean the exclusion or excision of bad news and the doling out of palatable morsels of good news to the public. That is not censorship, and that is not censorship as it is exercised at the Press Bureau, as I can say from my own knowledge and experience. As I said before when this matter was being discussed, people who object to a strict censorship at the present time have to make their choice between the liberty of the Press and the lengthening of the casualty lists. My statement was objected to by the newspapers, who said it was mere rhetoric. It was not mere rhetoric; it was reality, as I knew well from my own experience.
Let me give an instance of what I mean. A letter was published in a big London paper without having been submitted to the Censor. It was from a man who signed himself as belonging to the Royal Fusiliers. He gave an ordinary detailed account of his work in and out of the trenches, and concluded by saving the place in France where they went into billets. That was a statement which appeared on the face of it to be innocent and harmless enough, and I have no doubt criticism would have been aroused had any one ventured to excise from that letter all the statements relating to the regiment, the place where he came in, where the trenches were that he left, and the number of days he was in and out. It would have left, of course, nothing in the letter. The letter was not submitted to the Censor, and this is what followed. I received from the officer in command the following letter—The Germans are fully aware of the names and positions of the British regiments when in the trenches, the name of the regiment in many cases being a sufficient address. The place mentioned is on the outskirts of a large town, and it may safely be assumed that no other of its nature exists within reasonable distance of the rear of the British lines. Soon after the publication of the letter the place in question was shelled by the enemy when troops were occupying the building. The time of reliefs for trenches is also published, which does not tend to improve the situation of those actually in the trenches. This letter, amongst others, has been the subject of much condemnation amongst all ranks.149 That is merely an instance which I could multiply, and of this I am well assured, that if the noble Viscount had lived as I have lived, day in and day out, in the presence of dangers like that against which it was my duty to protect our Forces, he would not have spoken in quite the detached way he did on the question of the Censorship.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
May I interrupt the noble and learned Lord for a moment? If he looks at the form of my Question he will see that I say "not calculated to prejudice naval and military operations." If I had happened to have seen that letter I[...] should have said it would certainly prejudice the military operations.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I wish the noble Viscount had had the opportunity. What I meant was this. The noble Viscount's statement about the importance of the liberty of the Press did not appear to me to have been safeguarded, as I suggest it should have been, by the other statement—to my mind far more important—and that is as to the safety of the people who are fighting on our behalf. I say openly and frankly that when I was called upon to exercise the duties of Censor I did invariably exercise those duties with the single eye to the safety of those Forces, and if there were a doubt I exercised it against the newspapers. After all, what is the alternative—an extra item of news in the paper, or the hazard of such a thing as is disclosed in his letter to which I have just referred.
No one better than the noble Viscount knows how old is this complaint against the publication of news by newspapers during the time of war. I found, indeed, in the "Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore" that Lord Wellington was complaining of this very thing at the time of his Peninsular campaign. He said—The English papers give too much information to the enemy, who have no other intelligence from Spain but what they get through this channel.And he goes on to explain how eagerly Napoleon had the whole of the papers read to him in order that he might know exactly what was going on. In the Crimea exactly the same thing occurred, and in one of the "Letters from the Army in the Crimea" I find this statement—Gortsehakoff had an officer employed in doing nothing else than collating the English newspapers, and he considered The Times equal to half-a-dozen good spies.150 It is obvious, with dangers like that before us, that not only was it necessary to establish a Censorship, but the Censorship required to be vigilant and strict. Indeed that was recognised, because directly this war broke out an Act was passed for which your Lordships took a full share of the responsibility, known as the Defence of the Realm Act, which rendered it a penal offence to publish matter which might be likely, directly or indirectly, to be of service to the enemy, and it is to that Statute that the whole question of the Censorship is attached. It would have been perfectly possible to have left the matter there, and then any newspaper that offended could promptly have been punished.
What the Government did was to establish an office in the interest and for the protection of the newspapers in order that they might be able to know what information was permitted and what was not, and when the Press Bureau is abused as being the enemy of the liberty of the Press I say that it is the greatest friend the Press in this country has ever had. Further I say that that fact is recognised not indeed by a few London papers who think that the existence of any censorship interferes with their dignity, but the great mass of the papers all over the country. I say that from my own personal knowledge. The large body of the country Press have most loyally and faithfully obeyed all the directions of the Censorship, although, as your Lordships will readily understand, the difficulties under which they carry on their business at a time like this are immeasurably greater than those in London. Any newspaper in London has access at once to the Press Bureau, but not so the papers in, say, Newcastle or Dundee. Those papers are so far removed from access that it is a difficult thing to communicate. Notwithstanding that, I have met bodies of provincial Press representatives again and again, and I have found no resentment whatever on their part respecting the Censorship.
Nor, indeed, is there any general sense of resentment among the better-informed and the less ill-natured newspapers in London. Let me give your Lordships an instance. I give it without fear, because the paper whose name I propose to mention has never at any time in its history been in agreement with myself on political questions. I refer to the Daily Telegraph. 151 That paper has from the first fallen in with every regulation of the Censorship, has submitted its articles, without demur, and has to my own knowledge "scrapped" information it has given thousands of pounds to obtain when it has been pointed out that the publication would be dangerous. And more, it has done it cheerfully and without a murmur, because it recognised it was required for the public good. I am satisfied that if anybody were to ask that office to-morrow whether they experienced any feeling of provocation by the exercise of the Censorship he would be told at once that they had nothing whatever to complain of in the exercise of the Censorship, and that they quite understood it was essential for the public good.
It is necessary that I should explain a little more fully, if I may trespass upon your Lordships' patience and time, what the nature of the Censorship is, because it has been much misunderstood, and I cannot help thinking that the noble Viscount himself, with all his great experience, has slightly misunderstood it. When the war broke out it became necessary to stop two forms of publication, the publication that was passing through this country in the form of a cable and the publication that was designed for the Press here. The result was that the military authorities, who took over at once the whole question of the Censorship, established their officers in every one of the buildings of the different cable companies. It was an emergency measure. There was nobody in this country who had the least experience of censoring. If you had been asked to find an expert Censor, there was no such thing to be found. The noble Viscount knows far better than I do, but I doubt whether a Censor of the Press ever existed before in this country. I doubt very much whether there ever was a Government Office censoring news before the present time. At any rate, there have never been any in the memory of living man. The consequence was that there was nobody you could select. You could not say "Here is an expert Censor; put him in." But the War Office did their best, and put in soldiers at different places. It was the obvious thing to do; but it was utterly impossible that such a scheme should work properly. There was no co-ordination between them, no means of communication, no central authority 152 whom they could readily consult. Each man had to do the best he could, being inspired by the idea that he must be very careful what he let out. I have no hesitation in saying that the result of the early history of the Censorship in the cable offices was deplorable. It was most unjust in many cases, and most unreasonable, but it was never intentionally unfair, although it has been alleged that it was.
I must say I have often felt bitter resentment when I have heard and seen insinuations made and written in the London newspapers against these men, whose fingers, it may well be, held the pen more clumsily than they used to hold the sword. They were, however, men who have served this country with distinction on every one of her battle-fields in recent years, and who were inspired by no idea except that of helping to protect the national interests and of safeguarding their own companions whose dangers they could no longer share. Still I want freely to admit that there were blunders, but they could not be avoided; and these blunders told most heavily against the United States of America. What happened was that cablegrams going out to the United States were cut to pieces. I would again say, in justification, Think what it is for the first time in a man's life to be put in charge of cable work in a cable office to be told that he must on no account let anything go through that might be of use to the enemy. Of course, that man's pencil strayed all over the cable; but the worst of it was that the unfortunate man who sent the cable had to pay for it as it went in and not as it went out. The consequence was, he was paying large sums for messages that were not delivered. That was a genuine grievance, both for the way the censoring was done and the clumsy methods employed in the Post Office—subsequently removed—of which the American people had the fullest right to complain.
But I want to emphasise this. The earlier struggles of the Press Bureau dealing with these matters were struggles I did not share. I inherited the fruits of their labour. When I came they were in the middle of the difficulties with the cable censors. It was obvious that the first thing to be done was to get the cable censors under my own roof if possible. It was difficult. But I called the representatives together of the cable companies and 153 expressed my great regret that there had been this trouble, and I promised to attend to any complaints, if they made them, and I appointed a day for them to come and make such complaints as they might have. After a fortnight those complaints vanished. As Lord Morley knows, at the present time some of the great American papers are dissatisfied with the Censorship, but in expressing such dissatisfaction they are saying something which is in direct contradiction to written documents sent to me, entirey unsolicited, by some representative American journals; and I have no reason to believe that the principle has in any way changed since I left the Office. Of course, it is a perfectly easy thing, if any one wants to attack the Censorship, to use the old mischief and rely on that as the ground of complaint. I do not know what particular incident the noble Viscount was referring to, but I have seen in a London newspaper which desired to be nasty the old troubles hashed up again as instances of irregularities and delays on the part of the Press Bureau when they had been forgotten and forgiven.
Perhaps Lord Morley wilt not mind if I refer him to a statement which will show what mischief may be done by irresponsible correspondent, who do not sign their names, making complaints of that description. I refer to the Morning Post of October 19—not a letter written by a man who had nothing else to do, but a communication from the correspondent of the paper at Berne—The recent renewed attack on the British Censorship by certain English papers has been received with much satisfaction by the German Press propagandists…. If the British public could realise the harm done abroad by the indiscriminate, ill-judged statements of certain British newspapers they would make sandbags for the trenches of the writers.That I believe to be absolutely true. I have myself traced statements from papers here into the German Press, and then found they were disseminated amongst the neutral papers giving them the impression that we were "doctoring" and "colouring" news and engaged in an organised conspiracy to prevent the world knowing the truth. I have known that happen again and again. The world at the present moment is more than ever a whispering gallery, and I have seen published in German newspapers on one day matters that have been published in the English newspapers of the day before, 154 which will I give your Lordships some indication of the accuracy and the extent of the German information and the way they can get things from our Press into theirs within twenty-four hours. There have been many cruel things said about the Censorship, but I have always comforted myself with the cruellest thing of all. It was said by Count Bernstorff. He said—The diabolical efficiency of the English Censorship is the most awful thing in the world.That is what the Censorship exists for, that the Germans might regard it as efficient, and that it might stop what was a constant practice of theirs of using our cables for the purpose of disseminating their untruths. The noble Viscount referred to an instance of a German official communication which he said had been altered. I think I know the one to which he refers; I think it was a recent one; but I do not know whether the noble Viscount who asked the Question, or Lord Milner, is prepared to say that the statement that was cut out of that telegram was true.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Possibly not. But let me say what happened. When I went to the Press Bureau this difficulty about German official publications was acute. I took this view, on which I acted throughout, that it was only right to let the German official statement go, as their own official statement of what had occurred, subject to this—that you could not let it go if it contained statements that we had no reason to believe were true or were insulting to any of our Allies. Suppose, for example, a German official statement contained a statement that there had been French atrocities on their wounded. I should have cut it out. I had no means of knowing whether it was true, but I should have declined to let the cable or the Press system of this country be made the means of disseminating something which in all probability was entirely false. Right or wrong, that was the view I took. But I always insisted that the German official statements of their own position should have the freest and the fullest play in relation to our own; and I do not think German official statements were interfered with at all during the time I was at the Press Bureau except in the few classes of cases to which I have referred. It is, of 155 course, impossible to speak universally, as accidents may happen. There has been a case when certain matter was excised from the German official statement. It was under these circumstances. There was a certain allegation in the statement, and I had no means of ascertaining the truth about it. It was sent to the War Office, and the War Office took it up because the Bureau could not obtain any confirmation. As far as the Censorship here was concerned they did the only possible thing they could do; they referred the matter to the competent military authority for them to say "Aye" or "No" whether it ought to be allowed to go. And up to this moment I have seen no definite confirmation of it.
There is a further danger. The Germans have two systems of wireless telegrams. One purports to be the Headquarters report. The other is an imaginative extract of matters intentionally designed to be circulated through our Press and thence through the Press of neutral countries; that was always censored. The Germans having found out that their official Headquarters report was passed, acquired the habit of adding their other news on to the tail of the official Headquarters report in order to get it through. In these circumstances what I should do would be to cut the tail off. I cannot help thinking that when you are at war it is little short of madness to lend yourself to be the medium for disseminating against your own interests matters which the enemy desire to have promulgated for the purpose of disturbing Your foreign relations.
I want to say this in the strongest and most emphatic language I can command. It is not in accordance with my experience, and certainly not in accordance with my directions, that bad news has ever been kept back from the public because it was bad. I have always taken the view that the British public will bear bad news as a brave, strong people should; and I have no sympathy whatever with any body or person who designs to keep back had news simply because it is bad. There is no reason whatever for keeping back had news which is known to the Germans, but sometimes, of course, there may be bad news not known to the Germans. They may not know the full effect, of their own attacks, or of their shell fire upon our troops. They may not know that a regiment has really been hard hit in their 156 attack. You certainly ought not to let the Germans know the extent to which they have inflicted upon you mishaps if they do not know it themselves, because it is obvious that if they did you might have the attack pressed again and again with possibly disastrous results. I speak with some experience. I have known cases where if matters of that description had been known to the Germans some of our forces would have been put in the direst peril. If the publication of any news would jeopardise the safety of a single man I would strike it out. But it certainly is not the case that there is any other authority in this country except the Press Bureau which controls the Censorship. It certainly is not true that the Press Bureau has in any way attempted to minimise the gravity of the position or to make our successes more complete than they really were.
Let me call your Lordships' attention to a document which I issued when I was at the Press Bureau. This is the notice which I caused to be sent out to the Press and I cannot say that its reception was flattering to me—The magnitude of the British task in this great war runs serious risk of being overlooked by reason of exaggerated accounts of successes printed daily in the Press, and especially by exhibiting posters framed to catch the eye and magnify comparatively unimportant actions into great victories. Reported reverses to the enemy are proclaimed as crushing defeats; Germany is represented as within measurable distance of starvation, bankruptcy, and revolution; and only yesterday a poster was issued in London declaring that half the Hungarian Army had been annihilated. All sense of just proportion is thus lost, and, with these daily, and often hourly, statements of great Allied gains and immense enemy losses, the public can have no true appreciation of the facts or of the gigantic task and heavy sacrifices before them.That, is what I circulated to the Press on behalf of the Press Bureau.
The idea that the Press Bureau is responsible for presenting illusory pictures to the public is not true. We did our very best always to secure that matters should be fully and truthfully presented. I speak for myself when I say that I was impressed from the very first with the enormous gravity of the task that lies before us; and I do not think that even at the rosiest times in this war I have regarded the future, although with confidence, at the same time with any feeling but that of grave concern. I have occupied a great deal of your 157 Lordships' time in dealing with this matter, but I hope it has not been time wasted, as I am most anxious that the true facts with regard to the Censorship should be brought out. If there be mischief to-day, it is because matters are not sent over here from the Front. I reveal no Cabinet secret when I say that since I have been a member of the Cabinet I have not received information in regard to any of the past events of the war beyond the information that has been made public in the Press. So that the Government over here are not concealing anything. Officially I know nothing beyond what has appeared in the newspapers.
There are no doubt, as the noble Viscount said, great considerations involved in the question of how the Press is to be best controlled. There certainly is no reason that any criticism of Ministers or of policy should ever be stopped. Nor has it ever been. There have been statements in newspapers that it has been stopped. But when I have challenged people more than once to produce the evidence of it, it has not been produced. It is not always easy to say when criticism degenerates into abuse. What one person calls abuse another person calls criticism. I did on one occasion stop the publication of an abusive statement about a gallant officer in relation to his military capacity. It was nothing but personal abuse. Yet it was said I stopped criticism. I did nothing of the kind. It seemed to me obvious that at a time like the present nothing is more calculated to weaken the confidence of men in an officer than to have some statement complaining of him personally hawked through the Press. I only mention that; but subject to that I am not aware that any line of criticism has ever been suppressed. But if newspaper attacks are to be conducted on the principle of concentrating all their fire at one moment upon any particular Minister they do not like in order to get rid of him, and then upon another Minister, it may well be a matter for future consideration whether the liberty hitherto enjoyed may not be even further curtailed. I say that for myself. I certainly do not in any way differ from the noble Viscount in his love of freedom of the Press, of liberty of opinion, and its free expression. But, if I may, I should like to use to him the language used by a great Judge on another occasion: "Liberty like other good things may be loved 158 unwisely, may be pursued too keenly, may cost too much."
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, at this late hour I shall not detain the House for more than two or three minutes. From the part of the debate that I have been able to hear, it does not appear to me that, there is really any difference of principle between my noble friend Lord Morley and the Government. Surely there is nobody in this House who does not at once recognise the point upon which the Lord Chancellor has insisted, that any information which could possibly benefit the enemy ought to be kept from publication. We are all agreed upon that. The only question, as I understand, is whether information is not sometimes suppressed which would not be useful to the enemy but which would benefit our own people if they were let to know it. It is not upon the principles that there is a difference of opinion, but upon the application of those principles. There was not a single word that fell from the Lord Chancellor upon the principles which, as he thinks, ought to guide the Censorship, Which would not be accepted in all parts of the House. The Censorship is, as the Lord Chancellor observed, a very new thing. We have never had anything of the kind before in England, and being a new thing it is quite natural that people should at first make many mistakes, and should only by degrees learn how such a powerful engine has to be conducted. What, I think, is the cause of the present discontent is that after sixteen months of censorship those who are carrying on the work do not seem to have gained much by experience, and are still making the same kind of mistakes that they made at an earlier date. Of course, there ought to be great indulgence. I suppose there is not one of us who, if he had undertaken to carry out these difficult and delicate functions, would not have made mistakes and afterwards have owned to that fact, but if he was doing that work to-day he would not continue to make the same mistakes. The only profitable thing we can do is to consider whether or not it would be possible to place the work of the Censorship in somewhat more skilled hands. I make that observation not with regard to the heads. I happen to know two of them. I do not know what particular parts of the functions they discharge or the descriptions I ought to give to them. I know Mr. Cochrane and Sir Edward Cook.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Sir Frank Swettenham, Sir Edward Cook, and Mr. Mitchell are the three gentlemen in full charge of the Press Bureau.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
I have not the honour of knowing the other two, but every one acquainted with Sir Edward Cook knows that he is an experienced journalist and is as excellent a choice as could have been made for a post of that kind. I do not understand that any attacks are made upon the heads of the Censorship. Nor is there any difference on the main principles which the Lord Chancellor has laid down to-night. Everybody feels that we should publish nothing that could possibly benefit the enemy. But there are a good many ways in which news comes out which are not amenable to the methods of the Press Censor. If the walls of a city are broken down in many places it is not much use to place a guard at the gate. I venture to think that much harm has been done by speeches which it is impossible to prevent—some of them made in Parliament itself. To my mind such speeches are just as likely to be of use to our enemies as news that appears in the Press.
I do not understand that anybody will dispute the principles laid down by the Lord Chancellor, but I think there exists a certain amount of distrust and disappointment with regard to the way in which those principles have been carried out in particular cases. It would be impossible to follow in detail the cases which the Lord Chancellor has given. That would be interminable. But the House will, perhaps, remember that some three or four months ago I addressed a Question to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House asking whether His Majesty's Government would give us a Return including the names of those who were discharging the work of censorship and the instructions issued to them. The Government did not then see their way to grant that Return. The reason that guided them may have been complete and conclusive. But the moral in it was that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with many of the persons who do the work. It is felt that originally sufficient care was not taken to select people whose knowledge of the world could be trusted, 160 and so long as we have the whole thing wrapped in darkness those complaints will continue. I hope that the Government will give more attention than appears by the result to have been given in the past to the selection of people who will not make mistakes of the kind which have occasionally brought ridicule on the Censorship in the past.
There is not the least difference of opinion as to the necessity for a Censorship. What we desire is not merely that any reverses we suffer which are known to the enemy should not be concealed, but also that any heroic deeds done by the troops should receive fuller and more speedy notice. I am sure from what I have heard from many civilians, and not least from what I hear from beyond the Atlantic, that there are many things done by the British Army that are not properly or quickly enough told, things which would have heartened our people at home and abroad. That is only an impression, but it has come to me from so many quarters that I cannot help feeling that there is something behind it. For the rest, I hope the Government, will understaind that nobody will complain of any restriction which is necessarily imposed in the interests of public safety.
§ EARL LOREBURN
My Lords, there are others than myself who think that very serious matters have been raised in this discussion which have not been adequately discussed. Therefore I move the adjournment of the debate until Tuesday next.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Tuesday would be an inconvenient day to which to adjourn the debate owing to the fact that on that day many noble Lords may desire to attend the Lord Mayor's Banquet. I think if the House would sit on Monday for the purpose of the adjourned debate it would meet every one's convenience.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, the further debate adjourned to Monday next.