HL Deb 05 April 1916 vol 21 cc603-4

My Lords, I ask the indulgence of your Lordships for a few minutes before the House proceeds to the business of the afternoon in order that I may refer briefly to the debate which took place last week on the initiation of my noble and gallant friend Lord Beresford in regard to the campaign in Mesopotamia. The noble and gallant Lord asked me—and Lord Midleton put the same question—whether Despatches could be published of the earlier portion of the operations in Mesopotamia. It may be in the recollection of your Lordships that my reply on that occasion was that before giving a precise answer I must consult with my colleagues and the Departments concerned. I did not—and I hope your Lordships will concur with this—even imply on that occasion anything in the nature of a refusal of publication as being injurious to the public interest, though I am afraid in certain quarters outside the House it has been inferred that my remarks tended in that direction. What I did characterise as being injurious to the public welfare was the disclosure, whilst the campaign was actually in progress, of anything in the nature of detailed information regarding the composition of the Force in Mesopotamia, the general policy of the campaign, or the alleged lack of preparation with Which the Government have been charged. In all those connections I adhere strictly to what I said on the occasion of the debate last week.

But I am now in a position to announce to your Lordships that a Despatch has been under consideration between the several Departments concerned for some time and will be published in to-night's Gazette. This is General Nixon's Despatch covering the operations to the end of September, 1915, and it will include the action of Kut-el-Amara at the end of that month and the pursuit of the Turks to Azizie. I may say also, for the information of your Lordships, that a further Despatch is under consideration which will take the history of the campaign up to the date when General Nixon relinquished his command in Mesopotamia. This second Despatch includes the action at Ctesiphon and the subsequent events, but as it relates to phases of the operations still proceeding in Mesopotamia its publication would not, I am sure the House will agree, be consistent with the public interest at the present moment. Perhaps I may be permitted to say, in conclusion, that the Despatch which will be available to the public to-morrow morning will reveal a splendid record of gallant achievement and endurance by our troops, both British and Indian, who have sustained with magnificent fortitude the dangers and hardships of the campaign under extraordinary climatic conditions.

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