I desire to raise a question of which I gave notice the other day at Question Time, and that is the reason for granting an exit permit to Mr. H. G. Wells to leave this country in order to carry on a lecture tour in America. There has been a certain amount of reference to this matter in the Press and outside this House, and there seems to be some difference of opinion concerning the reasons which have led me to raise this matter, in debate, and also concerning the answer which the Under-Secretary gave the other day. I therefore want to make clear at the outset that I am not concerned with the wrongness or rightness of Mr. Wells' views. I do not seek to have him muzzled here. In fact, it would be out of order to raise a Debate in this House on the views, whether written or spoken, of any member of the public, unless one could relate it to some alleged breach of the law, which I do not for one moment allege in the present case. He can say and write what he likes in this country so far as concerns the law, which even in war-time is more lenient than any of Mr. Wells' views and, incidentally, far more than Fascism permits.
He has in fact for years past suggested or said openly that the Throne is a medieval and useless institution, the Christian religion a senseless, Judaic superstition, and the whole structure of society rotten. I have by me—I do not know whether it is necessary for me to quote in order to show that I am not biased in what may be described as my right views—very wounding, injurious and utterly untrue statements that he has made about my right hon. Friends and hon. Friends who sit here. I believe him to be wrong in all these three particulars, in his views upon the Throne, upon the Christian religion and upon people. But they do not injure the great reinforced concrete of our national life and outlook in the slightest degree. They probably do not even injure Mr. Wells' position as a novelist. People read his novels, some of which will have a permanent place for hundreds of years to come in our literature—though they read them, so I am informed by those in the book trade, in decreasing numbers—without being in the least enamoured of the author's personality and policy in other fields than novel writing. It is obvious that Mr. Wells himself realises this fact, for more and more he has transferred his attacks on our religion and constitution to foreign newspapers. In fact, for years past Mr. Wells has been saying to the British public in effect, "You will always be fools and I shall never be a gentleman," and the public laughingly and good-humouredly acquiesces.
I am not complaining of any of those matters which Mr. Wells says are for home consumption in this country. What I am solely concerned about is the wisdom of granting such a man an exit permit in the certain knowledge that he will use all the publicity and power which he possesses to denigrate his country abroad and, of all places, in the United States, where in the hour of our greatest peril we enjoy more real sympathy with our unity and moral strength than ever before in our history. Let me proceed quite shortly, because I do not wish to detain the House unduly, to give my reasons for that view. Mr. Wells, as I have already said, is a Republican and an agnostic. It is the fact that an English Republican is no more popular in the United States than an American Royalist would be in that country. Speaking as one who has paid many visits to America in an official capacity as a representative of His Majesty's Government and for private reasons, I must emphasise that people who wish to destroy Constitutions are the objects of particular suspicion and dislike in that country. You cannot do greater harm to a public man in the United States than to accuse him of possessing subversive ideas. To suggest at an election that a man wishes to destroy the Constitution of his country is to brand him as a person who would not be elected. And yet an exit permit is granted to that rara avis, an English Republican, who prides himself on being a Republican in this country.
Then we come to Mr. Wells' peculiar and particular attitude towards what is, after all, the accepted faith of millions of people throughout the world and not least in the United States. The Christian religion is still a very powerful factor in the United States, and avowed opponents of Christianity get short shrift at the hands of the electors if they put up for any public office. Perhaps a personal reminiscence may be pardoned. In support of my case in regard to religious feeling in America, I should like to men- tion that I was present last autumn at a luncheon given to the inter-Governmental Committee in the United States, who assembled for a conference at which I represented the British Government. There were present at that luncheon the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Eastern States, the Mayor of New York—himself an avowed Catholic—representatives and heads of the Episcopalian Church, the Methodist Church and the Jewish community. Throughout the very eloquent speeches which were made by several of those gentlemen, I was struck by the fact that there ran as strong, if not stronger than anything which one finds in this country, a feeling of the essential unity of all religions in regard to certain matters, such as their dislike of the Nazis. Yet we allow to go to the United States as representative of Britain and British literature a man who prides himself on being an opponent of all religion, who says there is no such thing, or that it is a medieval superstitution.
There is another reason why I think he should not have gone to the United States. Why allow this very unrepresentative human export to go to a country where there is no demand for his particular views? We talk of making credit for ourselves in the financial sense by an export of goods, and indeed that is essential if we are to win this war. What moral credit—and I say this to anyone who is prepared to get up and support Mr. Wells in this Debate, as I think the hon. Gentleman apparently is—
I put this question to him: what moral credit, I say, do we obtain for this country in a country like the United States, where the question of our moral credit is very important to us? What moral credit is being gained by sending Mr. Wells there as a representative of British literature and thought? I say that our real ambassadors of good will to the United States are the thousand children who went there, and every one of those children is more representative of Britain and is a better ambassador than Mr. H. G. Wells. Mr. Wells is reported, soon after his arrival in the United States, to have given an interview or a series of interviews. He made a number of wounding remarks about a number of politicians. I am not concerned with that. I am not concerned with his attacks either on my hon. or right hon. Friends on the bench beside me. He referred to them as sly, second-rate politicians who make ambiguous, non-committal speeches, so that if this war-aims idea should presently prove a winner they could claim to have said it all along. That is his reference to the Members of the Labour party in and out of the Government in his latest effusion in the "Weekly Dispatch." Nor am I concerned with his astonishing reference to Lord Halifax as the quintessence of everything that an Englishman should not be.
But Mr. Wells goes further than that. He is alleged, according to the Press, to have stated that an officer who still holds a very high appointment in this country, General Ironside—of whose qualities many Members of this House, including my right hon. Friend below the Gangway opposite and others outside it, are well aware—is a model of incompetence.
It is very notable that the only support for such a statement comes from the only Communist Member of this House. He thinks everybody that is doing work like General Ironside a model of incompetence. He then referred to Lord Gort as our "praying general." I am not concerned with his abuse of the Foreign Secretary or of other politicians. I am willing to make allowances for the peculiar and particular form of Mr. Wells' social inferiority complex. But I should like to examine for a moment, because it buttresses my case, what his reason was for this particular reference to Lord Gort as a "praying general." Why should he attack a man with a tremendous record of gallantry and leadership in the last war, no staff soldier, but a man who, I think, served in the trenches for the whole of that war and won the V.C. there, a man who extricated a small force under him from an impossible position caused by the defection of our Allies in this war in a manner which will earn the admiration of military historians for all time? Why does he attack him as a "praying general"? The reason is obvious. It is not because he has any particular feeling against Lord Gort as a soldier. It is not because Mr. Wells knows anything' about military matters. He has never, so far as I know, been within 100 miles of the real firing line in his life, and there is no reason why he should have been. It is obvious that the fact that Lord Gort is a V.C. and a great leader of many battles matters nothing to Mr. Wells.
Lord Gort's offence in Mr. Wells' eyes is that he dares to confess himself to be a Christian, to belong to that so-called outworn creed which Mr. Wells so detests and which he is exercising his puny efforts in his declining years to attack with the greatest vituperation. Lord Gort, V.C., is a very easy target for Mr. Wells. Such a gallant man is an easy target for this representative of British literature, because Mr. Wells knows perfectly well that Lord Gort, as a serving soldier, cannot answer this kind of attack and has to remain silent. He therefore travels about America referring to a man who has earned the admiration of our country as a "praying general." I am glad to see that in the United States, where there is a freedom of discussion similar to that which we have here, a great number of our best friends—including some men holding a high position in public life—have publicly protested against Mr. Wells' attacks upon his own fellow countrymen and against his efforts to attack people merely because they happen to hold opinions in which he does not believe. I say that these references to Lord Gort—indeed, to General Ironside also—are in the circumstances something unworthy of Mr. Wells' position. I happen to be an extensive reader, probably like others of my hon. Friends, of Addison, Steele, Gay, Pope, and other eighteenth century essayists, and I can imagine one of them saying of this statement by Mr. Wells about Lord Gort, "Sir, these are indecent words; nay, they are worse—they are blackguardly." Indeed, one wonders if any man of Mr. Wells' former reputation would indulge in such silly, offensive abuse if he were still in the full plentitude of his mental powers.
Well, he may be; I hope that that is the reason for his remarks. There is another and more sinister explanation of Mr. Wells' talk in his visit to America. Now France was not only betrayed by her Lavals and other traitors of the Right or by the Communists on the Left, although both of them had a great deal to do with her betrayal. There was another class of Sixth Columnists in France who for years have tried to shake the faith of Frenchmen in all the spiritual and material institutions of France. These men said, I have heard it stated, "Fancy making So-and-so a general—why, he is a Christian. How can a Christian be a good soldier?" And, "How silly for a thing like a Republic, with all the faults of democracy, to fight a war against people like the Germans." These men, like Mr. Wells, professed hatred of Nazism, but every one of them opposed and insulted their fellow countrymen as Mr. Wells did.
Mr. Wells would like us to think that he was the real enemy of Hitler and the man whom Hitler feared. I should imagine that if Hitler had an enemy in the world he need not worry about, it is Mr. H. G. Wells. Like Mr. Wells, those men believed in nothing and nobody, they owed allegiance neither to God nor to man. They were not necessarily bad men; they may have believed in some vague Utopia of the future. But the Third Republic meant as little to them as, by his own confession, the British Empire means to Mr. Wells. Hence they helped to defeat it. I say it is dangerous to allow men of that kind to go to America. We know that in this House we can express our views openly about these Sixth Columnists, about those who are professing hatred of Nazism but who are shaking faith in every statesman on both sides of the House, thereby helping Hitler. I am not referring to any hon. Member or right hon. Member in this House. I have heard no speech in this House which comes into this category. I am referring to people outside, including at least one well-known broadcaster. They need watching, and they will be watched.
In this House and outside, there are millions of Britons—of whom, I am proud to say, I am one—who, irrespective of class and creed, have, in the seven seas, in battles on land, and in air fights, fought for Britain. Mr. Wells has never been asked to risk his life for Britain. I do not suggest that he went to America deliberately to avoid bombing—because
the sea is more dangerous than the land. He went to represent British literature. But there are at least a dozen men who have given their sons for Britain's cause who are more representative than he of British writers. I can think of many more representative writers. There is Sir Hugh Walpole, there is the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert), there is Mr. J. B. Priestley—I do not often agree with Mr. Priestley's views, but he is more representative of a generation that has fought for Britain. The "News Chronicle" attacked the Under-Secretary in one of its leading articles. It was furious that any one should have attacked its little pet, H. G. Wells. I should have thought that even the "News Chronicle" would have realised that his news value was not so great as it was 30 years ago. I was then editor of a weekly journal, and I remember how we fought to get him to write. I have yet to learn that any journalist is particularly anxious to get Mr. Wells to write for him now. The "News Chronicle" attacked the Under-Secretary because he said that
the general policy is to permit elderly persons and others who can render no useful assistance to the war effort to proceed overseas
"[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th October, 1940; col. 682, Vol. 365.]
I accept that statement as it stands, but there is a corollary to it: that is, that an elderly person in the same category as Mr. Wells, while not capable of doing much harm in this country, may do vast harm when he is sent overseas to represent this country. Let him say what he likes here, but it is intolerable that this agnostic Republican, with his hatred of things upon which nine-tenths of his fellow countrymen place great store, should be permitted to lecture in the United States at the present time. I hope that these words will go out through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, from the House of Commons, to be repeated to our friends in America, who number nearly 130,000,000. I do not care what the British Press say about Mr. Wells, whether they support him or oppose him; but I am interested in what these 130,000,000 think in the United States. They need to have some true picture of this man, who, in the hour of our greatest need, when there is necessity for everybody to forget peace-time political feelings and stand solidly behind the Government of this country, dares to go overseas and attack some of
the institutions which have made this country great, and who falsely represents his fellow-countrymen.
While it is too late to withdraw his permit, I hope that the effect of this matter being raised in this House will be to reduce the number of people—and I do not think that that number is very great in any case—who pay the slightest attention to what Mr. Wells says in the United States. I think that the effect of this Debate will be to open the minds of the great American public to the true character of Mr. Wells, so that he will not be accepted as a true representative of this country. I do not think that anyone has any right to speak for the people of this country unless he has behind him the overwhelming support of this country, which is given to all men of good will who are prepared to stand up for our rights.
Although hon. Members may occasionally differ from my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), we all respect him as an old and active Parliamentarian. But that is, in itself, a substantial reason why we should deplore the speech that he has just delivered. It is, in my judgment, a great pity that my hon. Friend should have used so much eloquence, and, I may add, so much vituperation, on so poor a case. I wondered, certainly in respect of some of his passages, whether we were in the Mother of Parliaments. It seemed to me that the speech was more fitted to the Reichstag. My right hon. Friend asked a question. It was, "What moral credit do we obtain for our country by Mr. Wells's speeches and presence in the United States?" I would ask, what moral credit do we obtain from the kind of speech that my right hon. Friend has just delivered? He made some reference to animadversions from Mr. Wells regarding the Labour party. Mr. Wells has frequently attacked the Labour party, but so has my right hon. Friend. Surely that is no reason why we should complain about Mr. Wells lecturing in America.
I am reluctant to interrupt, especially in view of the courteous references which my hon. Friend has made to myself, but I specifically made it clear that I was not objecting to Mr. Wells having been granted an exit permit because of anything that he had said about politicians in this country. What I objected to were his indecent references to men holding public positions in this country who were not in a position to reply.
Indeed, I find it very hard to agree with the suggestion that one may be permitted to make the kind of speech that Mr. Wells makes in this country, but not to do so abroad. It seems to me that if one is not to be permitted to make a speech elsewhere among friends, one ought not to be permitted to make it here, but my Noble Friend must solve that matter for himself. Let us come to the substance of the matter before the House. I am not concerned about Mr. H. G. Wells. I have attacked Mr. H. G. Wells frequently and in his presence and he has not liked me, but I am concerned about liberty and the preservation of such liberty as we possess.
My hon. Friend opposite is perhaps more concerned about licence than I am. I am certainly not concerned about licence, but there must be restraint in all things. I claim that we on these benches have exercised perhaps more restraint than was necessary having regard to the social conditions which our people have endured.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that we are not discussing social conditions in this country? The point raised by my Noble Friend is that of a dangerous and poisonous speech in a friendly country, the loyalty and friendship of which at this moment are of great consequence to us in winning the war.
If there is no relevance it is because the hon. Member will interrupt. Since he has interrupted and raised the point, let me say that it may well be that we are not discussing social conditions in this country at this time, but, on the other hand, it may well be that, if hon. Members on this side of the House raised social conditions in an acute form, we might come under the lash just as Mr. H. G. Wells has done. I want to ask a question also. What is it we are fighting for? Is it liberty and the freedom of democracy and the right to express oneself, or is it not? There is no halfway house. Halfway houses lead to Fascism. It is one thing or the other, either the right to express what comes into our minds—although many may think it all wrong—or to be compelled to retain in our minds that to which we should like to give expression if we were permitted. That is the issue. We are fighting for liberty, and neither my Noble Friend nor any other hon. Member in this House has the right to preclude the expression of opinions by. Mr. H. G. Wells or anybody else.
It may be argued—and this; after all, is the substance of the case of my Noble Friend, stripped of its eloquence and perhaps some little verbiage—that his presence and speeches in the United States of America are not a contribution to our cause. Let us see what is the case. It is that Mr. H. G. Wells preaches agnosticism? After all, there are many agnostics in this House, and I presume, in the United States of America. But I do not want to go into that too deeply. Mr. H. G. Wells preaches republicanism, and there is no crime against preaching republicanism in the United States of America. I cannot imagine that any of the millions of people who are our friends—and there are many of our friends in the United States of America—would lose faith in our cause by the knowledge that Mr. Wells, in a republican country, was preaching republicanism. My Noble Friend has raised what I think is a false issue; he has raised the question of religion.
I think that I am within the recollection of the House when I say that my Noble Friend raised the question of Mr. Wells' views on religion, but I will take my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) on his own ground. Let us assume that that is the gravamen of the case against Mr. H. G. Wells, and that he described Lord Gort as a praying general. Is he not a praying general, just as my hon. Friend is a praying politician? Would not my hon. Friend be the last to complain if he were so described? If it were said that my hon. Friend went down on his knees every morning and night and prayed, that he was a praying politician who held firm and fast to his beliefs, would he complain? It may be that Mr. H. G. Wells was indulging in a little sarcasm. There are even worse things said of Lord Gort in this country. After all, the worst thing that could be done about Lord Gort was to replace him in the command by someone else. But once we get on to that slippery slope Heaven knows where we are going to end.
It appears to me that the real substance of my Noble Friend's case amounts to the fact that he is prejudiced against Mr. H. G. Wells, and many of us are. What Mr. Wells has said has not always turned out in accordance with facts, and therefore, I would advise my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department not to take this matter too seriously. He has his chance. He can leave Mr. H. G. Wells where he is with Gracie Fields, Monty Banks and Noel Coward. I think that an hon. Member of this House found Hollywood more salubrious than Westminster, and they all received exit permits. It is true that none of them has made the same kind of speeches as Mr. Wells. They were too busy in Hollywood and in those intimate circles, about which the least said the soonest mended. My hon. Friend can either leave Mr. Wells there to make his speeches and to fulminate against praying generals and incompetent politicians—and that there are incompetent politicians even in the Government I am sure my Noble Friend would at least agree, but it is not an appropriate moment to discuss that issue, however tempting it may be—or bring Mr. Wells home. I was going to say that he might be placed in a concentration camp, which would please all those who were not agnostics or republicans.
On the subject of religion I speak as a novice, but it occurred to me, when the Noble Lord was asking about the fight for Christianity, that that sort of thing might not go clown so well in Turkey and Egypt. What are we fighting for? Not for Christianity, for which we have the highest regard whatever our views, but for liberty which we see slipping away from us day by day. I would say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, whose benign countenance so often faces us, that even he, with his surreptitious reactionary tendencies, should be mighty careful. Let Mr. H. G. Wells talk, let the Noel Cowards coquette and let the Gracie Fields show their graces. Let them play about as they care; we have a war on in this country and the less we are concerned about the fulminations, rhetoric and activities of other people, thousands of miles away, the better it will be. Let me say in all sincerity that we have to win this war and it is no light task. It does not depend upon speeches made in the United States. The winning of this war depends on resolution. I do not see the organisation I should like to see. I think the resolution is there but it will not last, unless organisation fortifies it. Let us not make fools of ourselves, even if Mr. H. G. Wells does.
We have listened to a very subtle, thoughtful and stimulating speech by the hon. Gentleman opposite, but I would like to say to him that we in this House ought to know whether there is some governing principle for sending overseas, to friendly countries, people who take such an attitude towards the war and the machinery we have in order to carry it through to victory? Do we indiscriminately appoint persons of the eccentricity of Mr. Wells, notwithstanding his vast knowledge, to places like the United States—the last place in the world where one ought to make speeches denouncing public persons in this country who have been so intimately associated with the process of the war. The hon. Gentleman who just sat down said that speeches made in the United States will not affect the result of this war, but it seems to me profoundly important that those who go to the United States and profess to represent public opinion in this country should speak decently of the public men associated with our war effort. Mr. Wells's denunciation of Lord Gort in such sarcastic and poisonous terms is something which I hope will not be repeated by others who may go overseas. Are we financing people of his kind who go overseas and talk about our leaders in this way? If people wish to go on their own account I do not think anybody could complain—
I will make the point clear. My complaint is a very simple one and it is that exit permits are being refused to a great number of people because—let us be frank—the Government do not think them suitable to go overseas and speak about this country. My complaint is that the exit permit given to Mr. Wells was used so that he could denigrate his own country and the leaders in it.
The Foreign Office ought to take into consideration every fact before a permit is given. What are the considerations which effect the issue of permits of this kind to go abroad? That is the real essence of the Debate this afternoon and I hope we may have a clear explanation from the Under-Secretary. I think it is deplorable that in these times we should have the hon. Gentleman opposite expressing opinions of that kind about the United States. Every means is being employed to cultivate a better understanding with the United States and that work, I am glad to say, is going ahead. I think it is deplorable that a full measure of licence, which the hon. Gentleman opposite would give to anyone to go to the United States, should be given to a person who speaks in such terms and gives a false estimate of public opinion in this country.
I am sure that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) in bringing forward this matter to-day was actuated by the highest motives and public interest in the really savage and aggressive attack he has made on Mr. H. G. Wells, but I cannot help wondering whether he has, in fact, rendered a public service in doing so. Certainly he has given Mr. H. G. Wells magnificent publicity in calling attention to certain remarks he made which otherwise many probably would never have read. I cannot help thinking that we have shown a certain lack of balance in this House today in the atmosphere of excitement in the Noble Member's speech on this particular episode. It all arises from the question of exit permits and I would like to ask the Under-Secretary what is the policy of the Government on that matter? As I understand it, the practice at the present time is to say to anyone before he or she goes abroad, "Will you give an undertaking not to say anything which will affect the war effort of this country?" That is a new practice and it seems to me dangerous. Does it mean that no one is allowed to go to the United States who will criticise the Government, or any Members of the Government? I should have thought it entirely wrong to put any prohibition on a British subject going to the United States and saying what he liked about the British Government.
If there are Fascists who are dangerous to the country, and they have been wrongly let out, they ought to be locked up. Suppose the Noble Lord had been himself in the United States early in May, or perhaps April, and some journalist had asked him for his views about the late British Government, for example, did he consider the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) the statesman best fitted to lead the country to victory, the Noble Lord would have been in a very embarrassing position. He could hardly have said "Yes." We all know how strongly he opposed the late Government and assisted, rightly, to throw them out of office.
The hon. Member could not have listened to my speech. Of course, any British subject is at liberty to criticise the Government of the country, but he should not be allowed at a time of national calamity to attack the Throne, the religion and the whole constitution of the country.
I understand that the Noble Lord does not really object to the implied criticism of the Foreign Secretary. I do not associate myself with what Mr. Wells said for a moment. I am not concerned with what he said and I must not be taken as agreeing at all with any remarks that he made then. At the same time, we must bear in mind that, whatever we may think of Mr. Wells, and whatever views he may hold, he is a very great Englishman. Whether you agree with him or not, his creative brain-power has made the name of the country famous throughout the world. I am not talking about his political views. I am talking about the books that he has written, which have been the admiration of people throughout the world for the last 40 or 50 years. It has nothing to do with politics or controversy. It is the intellectual genius of one man. He is a great Englishman.
I do not think that is the view of the great majority of mankind, though it may be the hon. Member's view. It is only fair to Mr. Wells to call attention to certain other things that he has said. In an article in the "News Chronicle," for which the Noble Lord has such a great dislike, though I think it is a good journal, Mr. Wells made this remark:
Essentially Britain is one in this war—solidly one. It faces the world confident in its high ideals, battling not only for itself but for the freedom, liberty and the happiness of all mankind.
May I quote another passage from "Reynolds" in May, 1939:
Mr. Winston Churchill is a man of great imagination, enterprise and resolution, and there can be no question of the invigorating effect his accession to the Premiership will have upon the whole nation.
I think the Noble Lord would agree wholeheartedly in that.
The lurking and demoralising dread of irresolution in high places is lifted.
Again the Noble Lord will agree.
We know now that the war will be fought hard, obstinately and intelligently, and that the British peoples need no longer glance apprehensively backward when they should be facing their enemies and the world with a single mind.
Again the Noble Lord would applaud if he felt inclined to. It would be embarrassing to do so, but I know that mentally he is applauding.
It not only displays the new captain's inspiring persuasiveness but also his courage that he has been able to assemble so diversified a crew to man the ship under his command.
It is only fair that we should remember that, in spite of these, as I think, unfortunate remarks which were made in the United States, Mr. Wells has also given expression to views such as these, which carry with them the wholehearted approbation of the people of the nation. It is only fair that we should keep some sense of proportion and balance. Remember what this man's life history has meant in many respects to the name of the country in the world, and the views which he has expressed with regard to the great struggle in which we are engaged, where he stands shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us.
I wish to express my approbation of the Noble Lord bringing this subject before the House. I resent very much indeed Mr. Wells, or anyone else, going from this country and saying the things he has said. I should say the same of anyone else who went to America, to those who are friends of ours in this time of war and in the same circumstances. I stand, as everyone else in the House stands, for liberty, but, though things may be lawful, they may not be expedient. Circumstances do alter cases. I agree with what has been said about Mr. Wells' wonderful ability and brain-power, but in my opinion that makes the offence greater. The greater the gifts the greater the offence. He ought to have had more sense than to go to a friendly country in a time of extremity, not only for ourselves but for the liberty that we are fighting for throughout the world, and to say such things. He ought not to have been under suspicion of saying anything which could be construed as derogatory to the fighting power of our country. I resent very much his talking as he did about Viscount Gort. I do not know Viscount Gort. He is, like myself, a North Countryman. We do not need anyone to help us. We breed men and not boys up North and we can take care of ourselves. But when Mr. Wells talked about Viscount Gort in terms of derision as a praying general, I resent very much that a leader in the Army of this Christian country should be scoffed at.
We all owe, as this gentleman owes, our life and being to the Lord of Hosts. But this is not the first time we have been indebted to a praying general. When I was a boy there was a man called Gordon, and he was a praying general, and there was a man in my grandfather's time called Havelock, and he was a praying general. In the last war, when our very lives were at hazard, we had a praying general in Foch. All this talk comes from an agnostic who is going past his best in his dotage. [Interruption.] Why should I not say that, when this man says certain things about Viscount Gort, knowing quite well he cannot reply as a serving officer? The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said America was a long way off. But this world is a whispering gallery. I know men who have heard with one ear a band playing in London, and with the other the music which has been broadcast to America and back. It may be thought that with the great reputation Mr. Wells has in the literary world he knew what he was talking about and was competent to judge politics. He may know something about literature, but he knows nothing about political opinion. I thought Mr. Wells, 30 years ago, was a star of the first rank, but we know now he is a man who backs long shots. He just takes chances, and he is not so much a political judge as a first cousin to Old Moore's Almanac. It might be thought by the American people that he knew what he was talking about. Our Home Office allows him to go to America, by giving him a permit, to disseminate his views and to say these dreadful things.
You cannot expect anything but a pagan opinion from a pagan, and that is what Mr. Wells is. He said on his seventieth birthday, "I am like a child who has to go to bed." And the nurse said, "It is time you came to bed." He said, "I like to play with my toys as a child does." That is the end of Mr. Wells, but to a Christian there is a morning. Death is not death. There is a resurrection and a continuation of life. That is the difference between a pagan and a Christian. Every day we have prayers in this House, and I always take great care to be here so that I may join in the communion of Saints, in praying to the God of the living and not of the dead—and as I am at prayer I call on all the Christian resources of the past, both living and dead. This man knows nothing about that. He is a pagan of the pagans. We Christians believe in a better life. We want, in the Mother of Parliaments, to make it quite clear that the common man-in-the-street for whom I speak resents very much these speeches of Mr. Wells, and regrets that a permit was given to him to enable him to say these dreadful things.
The House has no reason to object to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) for having raised this question this afternoon. In a Debate of this character it is unfortunately unavoidable that we should make some personal remarks, for indeed the Debate is concerned with the person of Mr. H. G. Wells. If there is one thing on which I should have thought we could all have agreed, it would have been as to the great eminence of Mr. H. G. Wells—at any rate, in the world of fiction. Mr. Wells' books have, of course, an enormous circulation in this country, and no doubt an even greater circulation in the United States. Mr. Wells' excursions into the realm of fact have sometimes been less happy than his excursions into fiction. I would not, of course, dare to poke any fun at such an eminent gentleman, but one of his contemporaries, no less eminent, who is now dead, whose opinion I sought upon Mr. H. G. Wells' great work, the "Outline of History," replied to me by saying, "Wells is a man who writes more history than he reads." We are considering the position of Mr. Wells in relation to the granting of an exit permit to the United States, and it is relevant to bear in mind that Mr. Wells is over 70 years of age, and the House will appreciate the relevance of that as my argument develops.
The responsibility for granting or refusing an exit permit rests upon the Home Secretary. In time of war it is necessary to control the movement of people desiring to leave these shores, not only in the interest of conserving our shipping resources, but also in the interest of national security. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), who is now no longer in his place, seemed to think it was an inherent right of a British subject to leave his country in time of war. That is very far from my view of the case. In time of peace I think it is a reasonable demand which an Englishman may put forward. At any rate, there would be no United States, and we should not be now having this Debate, had exit permits been required when the "Mayflower" left these shores in the year 1620. In time of war the Government must take control over the exodus of persons from these shores. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) asked whether it was the practice to obtain an undertaking that persons who were granted exit permits should refrain from criticism of the Government when they go overseas. There is no such practice, and indeed it would be folly to ask for such an undertaking, because there is no practical method of enforcing it.
In considering the grant of an exit permit, we should refuse it to anybody if we had good reason to believe that he intended while abroad to inflict deliberate injury upon our country's war effort. The general principle upon which we have had to work is to reduce to a minimum the amount of overseas travel during war-time, The applicant for an exit permit must show that there is an element of public interest in his proposed journey, and the burden of proof lies upon the person applying for the permit.
In considering the question whether public interest does or does not arise, many hard and difficult cases fall to be decided. As this is a task which falls largely upon the Under-Secretary at the Home Office, I have had since the war began the assistance of an inter-Depart- mental Committee representing many different Government Departments in considering these hard cases. We issued a public statement not long ago for the guidance of persons desirous of travelling overseas. The first rule laid down is that, subject to certain exceptions, no British subject between 16 and 60 is allowed at the present time to leave the United Kingdom. The theory underlying that rule is that if persons are over 60 years of age, the assistance which they can render to the war effort may be taken to be of so negligible a character that they should not be prevented from leaving the country. If a person falls within that general rule, it is not possible for us to refuse him a permit or to exercise control over what he may say, when he reaches his destination overseas. Let me make it clear, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon), that the grant of a permit gives no sort of official standing to the person to whom it is granted.
Let us look at the circumstances surrounding Mr. Wells' application to proceed to the United States. His application was perfectly properly made, and he disclosed fully the purpose of his visit, which was to undertake a lecture tour. It is difficult, in considering what lecture tours are or are not in the public interest, to go by any hard and fast rules, but there is one element which is not without some importance, to which the attention of the House ought to be drawn. For our war effort there are certain things which can only be obtained from the United States. It is of great importance to this country that as many dollars as possible should be earned by British subjects. It is true that they may earn the dollars primarily for themselves, but the Treasury always provide in cases of this kind that those dollars shall be placed at their disposal in exchange for sterling in order to enable our Treasury to undertake purchases in the United States. It follows that, the more eminent the person is, the greater the number of dollars which he will earn and which will, therefore, eventually be at the disposal of the Treasury.
In view of the fact that we now learn for the first time why Mr. Wells was allowed to go to America, that it was because he was expected to amass a large sum in dollars as a curious exhibit, will the hon. Gentleman give serious consideration to letting Sir Oswald Mosley be sent to the United States to give a series of lectures?
I think we had better consider one case at a time. One important point in considering whether a particular lecture tour is or is not in the public interest is the question of the eminence of the lecturer and the amount of foreign currency which will inure to the benefit of this country. In that respect we may regard Mr. H. G. Wells as an invisible export. [An HON. MEMBER: "But not inaudible."] In considering the question of the grant of an exit permit in these very difficult border-line cases of lecture tours, we have also to consider the effect of its refusal. I think it would be absolutely fatal if the idea got about in the United States that we would permit to proceed to that country only those whose views were favourable to the Government at present in office in this country. If we were considering an exit permit for someone to go to a totalitarian State it might be rather different; but in the case of the United States it does seem to me to be vitally important that they should regard us as exercising no bias whatever in a matter of this kind on purely political grounds. I have already said that if there was any suspicion of a deliberate intention to injure Great Britain's war effort, the exit permit would be refused, whatever the man's importance, but although, like my right hon. Friend opposite, I disagree with a great many of Mr. H. G. Wells's views, I have very little doubt, in fact, I have no doubt, that Mr. H. G. Wells is a perfectly patriotic Englishman.
We have to make up our minds in advance in each case whether an exit permit shall be granted. It is impossible for us to control every word which may fall from that gentleman's mouth once he has got overseas, and I really think that on this question of Mr. H. G. Wells we must leave it to the good sense of the American public to assess for themselves the value of the views of Mr. H. G. Wells on the various political and other questions to which, I have no doubt, he is about to address himself.