HL Deb 07 March 1918 vol 29 cc357-66

THE EARL OF MEATH rose to ask His Majesty's Government what steps they are taking, or propose to take, in order to bring home to the people in a popular form the serious dangers which would threaten civilisation, democratic ideals, and the freedom, liberty, and happiness of the masses of the people, should the Central Powers, when peace is signed, be permitted to retain, contrary to the wishes of the populations, the territories overrun by their troops during the war, or annexed by those Powers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the subject which I am bringing before your Lordships' House to-day is one which I believe to be of most vital importance, and I congratulate His Majesty's Government and the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, upon his appointment, because I am persuaded that if there is any danger whatever as regards how this war is going to end it is that suggested in the Question. Your Lordships will perceive that the object of this Question is to ensure that His Majesty's Government shall through this new Department, at the head of which, I am sure, we are all pleased to know that a man of Lord Beaverbrook's reputation has been placed, shall really be able to operate so that under all circumstances we may be quite certain that the great masses of the people realise what are the objects of the war and what would be the effect upon themselves—that is the great point—should this war be lost. Only the day before yesterday Sir Eric Geddes, in another place, told us a very serious fact. He said that the men in the shipbuilding yards are not working as if the life of the country depended upon then exertions, nor even are they working as they did in the fourth quarter of last year. "I am drawn," he said, "to the conclusion that even at this late date the situation is not fully realised."

Now that is the contention that I have in bringing this matter before your Lordships. My contention is that this matter—that is to say, the very existence of this Empire—is not fully realised by the masses of the country. Sir Erie Geddes said there is no lack of materials in the yards to-day. There are, he said, more men and increasing numbers of men in the yards, but whereas the average monthly output of merchant shipbuilding in the fourth quarter of 1917 was roughly 140,000 tons, it reached only 58,000 tons in January last. We are all aware that all classes of the British nation have shown themselves patriotic. There is no doubt as to the patriotism of the people. The only danger is owing to misunderstanding and ignorance. After three and a half years of war it is not astonishing that large numbers of people should be asking, How long is this war going to last? What are we fighting for? What chance is there of the war coming to a satisfactory conclusion? And knowing as we do that the German Government has spent, and is spending, millions of money in order to persuade the masses, not in this country only but throughout the whole world, that they did not commence the war, that it is the Allies who did, and that they wish for pace and the Allies do not, and misrepresent altogether the facts of the quarrel between us; and knowing, as we do, that they try to make out that this is a war of the capitalist—they do not say that of their own country—and are trying to create suspicion between one man and another; and knowing also what Boloism means in France, and what has been the effect of the propaganda of the German Government in Italy and in America, we must realise that, if this war is to be brought to a speedy and happy conclusion, it will very largely depend upon the Department which I am perfectly certain Lord Beaver-brook is going to control in a most successful manner.

But to do this, large sums of money will have to be spent. The work will have to be done in a popular manner, by speakers who are sympathetic with the working-classes, and who are recognised by the masses as being, as it were, upon their side. One member of your Lordships' House has already shown the way. I allude to Lord Denbigh. The noble Lord has been most successful in the way he has addressed large audiences, and he has done it in a way which has been found to bring over to his side large numbers of people who in ordinary circumstances would not have understood the question, and would not have attended the meetings. I am anxious to see the Government take the matter up very much on the lines pursued by Lord Denbigh. Large maps should be used; the speakers should talk to the people in popular language; and it should be realised that there are great numbers of people who have neither the time nor the opportunity to understand these intricate questions, which are becoming more and more intricate as more Powers enter into the world war and the war takes different phases.

In to-night's debate the most rev. Primate quite unconsciously gave a practical illustration of what I mean. In his remarks upon another subject, the Archbishop of Canter- bury said that he could not understand how it was that two civilised Governments could riot come to an agreement on such a very easy subject as that of doing what was possible to advance humanity and to diminish suffering. My Lords, is it a case of two civilised Governments? Is it not a case of one civilised Government against an uncivilised Government? Another noble Lord has spoken about Germany as "his spiritual home." But there are two Germanies. The Germany of the olden days was my spiritual home as well as that of the noble Viscount who used the expression I have quoted, but that Germany has been swallowed up by Prussian militarism, which has completely obtained the upper hand.

Happily our people do not understand what is meant by Prussian militarism. They have no illustrations before them. The masses of the people do not travel—how can they? The masses of the people have not time to read Treitschke and Bernhardi. But we who have been educated in Germany; we who have been there, as I was, for years as a young diplomatist in Berlin, know that this is nothing new. We know that the old Germany of Schiller and Goethe has been swallowed up by the Germany of Bernhardi and Treitschke. We know, further, that when we talk about the Prussian Parliament we are using wrong words. When our people hear about the Prussian Parliament they think of their own Parliament; they do not recognise that the Prussian Parliament is nothing more than a debating society. The Ministers of the Crown in Germany do not require to be elected; they sit on a higher stage than the rest of the members; they are the ones who govern, the others have to do what they are told. Those are some of the points which I want told to the working classes.

There are other points. The working men of this country will want to know what it matters to them whether the Germans win or not. They may ask, "If the Germans come over here and conquer this country, shall we not get our wages just the same?" They ought to be shown that this will not be the case. We see what is going on in Belgium, in Rumania, even in Bulgaria. What about Russia? Cannot we make use of what is happening there? We can, of course. But to do that we have to have men who are in sympathy with the working classes and who can speak to them in their own language; and, moreover, we shall have to utilise all that science can give us. It is not very long ago since I asked the Government to consider whether more use could not be made of the kinematograph. I suggested that the Government should, by some means or another, obtain control of the kinematograph either by way of exemption from taxation, if they did certain things, or by means of a direct subsidy; and I hope that the noble Lord when he replies will bear the kinematograph in mind. I believe that Sir William Jury is already doing splendid work under the direction of Lord Beaverbrook. The War Office are using the kinematograph for showing what is going on in the trenches on the different Fronts, but that is different work from what I want the kinematograph to do. What I want is to show what will be the effect upon the working classes of this country if the men in the trenches do not ultimately win. and I trust that the noble Lord will see his way to do something in the direction I have suggested.

I am certain that tin Government are aware of what I am going to say, but of course they cannot tell you as I can because it would be very undiplomatic of them to do so. As an irresponsible member of this House I say that we are dealing with an uncivilised Government; a Government winch, in the words of Lord Newton only a few moments ago, exercises a typically cold-blooded policy. Our Government knows that. Another noble Lord said that if we do not win the war there will be no opportunity left in the world for the consideration of humanity. I perfectly agree. Therefore every one who desires peace and who desires that humanitarianism should succeed, and every one who has any idea of maintaining civilisation, ought to use his utmost endeavours to see that all our working people—all classes of course, but especially the working people—should realise what we are up against. We are up against a power which is very much like that exercised by a Malay or a Pathan who has a maniacal desire to kill human creatures, and you cannot argue with him. Therefore we have to show our people what we are up against. I hope I have made clear to your Lordships that it is a very important matter, because in democratic countries we cannot possibly hope to win a proper peace which will be a lasting one unless we have behind us the determination of every man and woman in the country to bring about a lasting peace and not a German one.


My Lords, this Question deals with home propaganda, and the Ministry of Information has nothing to do with home propaganda. That is a question which is dealt with by the National War Aims Committee. If I may be permitted to address your Lordships on the National War Aims Committee, I would say that the members of that Committee are drawn from all the political Parties in the other House. They form a. very strong Committee, and the direction is in the hands of a. very capable person, Mr. Fiennes. The War Aims Committee deals with propaganda at home in three divisions. There is the personal propaganda, which is carried on by means of lectures, and many meetings have been held all over the country. The staff of lecturers is being considerably increased. The personal propaganda seems to be very effective. The National War Aims Committee also makes very considerable use of the newspapers. Articles on propaganda are circulated through the Press; and in preparing to answer the Question addressed by the noble Earl I have looked up the newspapers, and I can assure your Lordships that very considerable space is given to the material furnished by the National War Aims Committee. The Committee also issues a series of posters, leaflets, and circulars, and it is not possible for me to no into the methods adopted by the Committee in this respect in any detail, because, of course, the confidential character of the distribution must be maintained.

In addition to propaganda at home carried on by the War Aims Committee, there is a certain amount of work done by the Ministry of Information. This Department, under the direction of Mr. Masterman at Wellington House, and under the guidance of Colonel Buchan, has carried on a very considerable propaganda, in foreign and neutral countries, and in the course of carrying on that propaganda Mr. Master-man's Committee has produced several very valuable books. These books have been placed on sale at the railway stalls, and the sales have been very satisfactory. One of these books is known as "The German Terror in Belgium," another is known as "The German Terror in France," and both deal with the subject raised by the noble Earl in the Question which he has addressed to the Government. There is also a very telling collection of German posters prepared by Mr. Ian Malcolm. This collection has been printed in book form, and has received very wide circulation. The Belgian, Serbian, and Rumanian Legations have been in the habit of furnishing the Department with the particulars of atrocities committed in their territories. Accounts of these atrocities have been issued by the Ministry of Information to the newspaper Press, not only in England but in foreign and neutral countries, and there has been a very considerable response in their publication.

This, I think, covers the activities of the National War Aims Committee, which is, as I have said, responsible for propaganda at home under the chairmanship of Captain Guest, and with Members drawn from all the political Parties, save only I think the Irish Party. The Committee is responsible for propaganda at home, and the Ministry of Information only carries on propaganda at home in so far as it is complementary of the propaganda carried on in neutral and foreign countries. The Ministry of Information has over a long period of time made a most valuable collection of photographic plates. These photographic plates have been exposed on the Western Front, and other Fronts, and the prints of the plate have been on sale to illustrated and other newspapers. The photographs have received very wide circulation in England and in foreign and neutral countries, but the collection itself forms a very valuable asset, and in time to come—perhaps twenty or thirty or fifty years from now—the photographic plates of the Ministry of Information will prove to be of extraordinary value and of very great interest.

The noble Earl asked me to deal with kinematographs. This is an interesting subject. Kinematographic pictures have been taken so far by a voluntary Committee, consisting of Sir William Jury, Sir Reginald Brade, and myself. The Committee was formed some time ago, after there had been some dispute between Great Britain and the Dominions as to the kinematographic rights on the various fronts on which the British Army was fighting. The Committee which was then formed took over the kinematographic operations for Great Britain and for the Dominions, and since that time a very careful collection of negatives has been built up. The copies from the negatives were distributed not only in England but in the Dominions, and through the Ministry of Information to neutral and foreign countries. This Kinematographic Committee receives no Government grant, and no Government assistance. It carries on business on a commercial basis, and has actually made a very handsome profit. The kinematograph negatives are exposed, and after the negatives have been exposed the prints are made from the negatives. The prints are used in kinematograph theatres over and over again. A print may be shown a great many times, and in fact every print is shown until it becomes so damaged by wear and usage that it can no longer be run through the projecting machine. Thus the print receives an extraordinarily wide circulation. The Kinematograph Committee has issued in the United Kingdom 2,000,000 feet of prints, and in the Dominions 500,000 feet of prints. It has also supplied to the Department of Information, which is now the Ministry of Information, 2,000,000 feet of prints. These prints have gone to neutral and Allied countries. The prints have been shown in Great Britain alone in 3,500 theatres. Of course, these pictures represent actual scenes on the fighting fronts, pictures of the troops at rest and the troops moving to the battle front, and all war activities of one form or another in the Army Zones.

About six or eight months ago the Committee purchased a kinematograph news service which I am sure your Lordships know is in nightly use in theatres all over Great Britain. This service was being run on commercial lines. Is was simply a commercial undertaking. The Kinematograph Committee purchased it as a commercial undertaking and has run it as such since that time. When the news service was taken over the pictures, changed twice a week, were being shown in about 300 theatres. The pictures are now being used in about 600 theatres, and the number is increasing continually. The Kinematograph Committee has never dealt at any time in what are called story pictures. The Committee dealt in nothing but pictures of the war, actual happenings and events. The news service also deals with nothing but actual happenings and events. The story picture in the kinematograph must be made use of, and it is intended in the Ministry of Information to take over the business of the Kinematograph Committee; indeed, the direction of the kinematographic activities of the Ministry is in the hands of Sir William Jury, who is responsible for the success of the Kinematograph Committee. When the Ministry is organised and in proper shape the Ministry will deal with story pictures in the kinematograph theatre, and perhaps your Lordships will permit me to say that of all the forms of propaganda With which I have come in contact it seems to me that the kinematograph is as effective as any other.

The noble Earl spoke of Lord Denbigh and his activities. I agree with the noble Earl's estimate of the value of Lord Denbigh's activities in the country. Of course, it will not he with the Ministry of Information to deal with Lord Denbigh's form of propaganda. That belongs to the National War Aims Committee, but, if I may say so, I will inform the Chairman of 'the National War Aims Committee of the views expressed. In conclusion, I may be allowed to say that I have undertaken this task of the Ministry of Information with considerable hesitation. I sincerely hope that the duties may be within my competence. I shall try with all the power that is in me to make a success of the Ministry, and it is my view that propaganda is nothing but the knowledge of the few which it is the duty of the Ministry to make known to the many.


My Lords, I am sure we are very grateful to Lord Beaver- brook for the most interesting account that he has given of the past work of the Kinematograph Committee. I understand that he proposes to take over that Committee and extend it, and perhaps when he has had time to consider the matter he may do some of the things which I propose. I thank him very much for the sympathetic answer he has given, and I hope that he will do what he can to induce the Treasury to open wide its purse to him.

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