On a point of Order. Before the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) opens this Debate, may I ask, as it was originally intended that this subject would commence about an hour and a half before now, and in view of the general interest which is taken by a number of hon. Members who desire to speak on this subject, whether you would accept a Motion to extend the Sitting?
Naturally, it is the Government's desire to meet the wishes of the House. As we have actually two and a half hours if we sit until the usual time—I have heard very good Debates and a great many speeches in two and a half hours—may I suggest that we should see how matters go? I will not close my mind to the possibility of an extension, but the difficulty is that we should have to fix a definite time.
I am most grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the hope that the Debate may be extended, because the subject which we wish to raise from this bench is a large one, and involves an important point in which the country and the world are interested. There have been increasing encroachments by the Government on the liberty of the Press. I do not wish to refer to the announcement which the Minister of Information made to-day, because the other subject, the announcement which the Home Secretary made last week, is perhaps sufficient for the limited time at our disposal to-day. But there has been a number of encroachments, and I hope that to-day's Debate will deal with the wider issues and that we shall not merely argue the merits or demerits of the case of the particular paper which the Home Secretary has warned, because larger questions are involved.
The Home Secretary's statement was a warning to the Press as a whole, as well as to one particular paper. Most of the London dailies, and the provincial papers, commented on that statement in leading articles, and with one or two exceptions the Press has reacted with disapproval of the Home Secretary's action, or if not with disapproval, with alarm. As I see it, a free Press is a vital part of a free Parliament. The Press moreover is a vital part of this House, and a threat to the freedom of the Press is a threat also to the freedom of Members of Parliament. Neither the Press nor this House has ever liked Regulation 2D, the one which the Government threaten to use again on this occasion. Regulation 2D was an unfortunate afterthought of the previous Home Secretary. It was justified to this House as an extreme weapon, to be used only at moments of crisis, such as invasion. Even so, as the last weapon in the armoury of the Government, it was only approved in this House in July, 1940, at that critical and dangerous time, by a very small majority of 38.
Under Regulation 2D there was in fact no need for the Home Secretary to give any warning. If it were necessary for him to give a warning, it would defeat its own object. The object of 2D is to give him the power to act very swiftly in moments of crisis, and it really appears to me that the Home Secretary was not proceeding under any particular Regulation. Under 2C and other Regulations he must give a warning, but he seems to prefer to use part of one Regulation and part of another one. If that is so, it raises some doubts in my mind. I would like to press the Government not to continue to make use of 2D. There has already been one instance where it was used, against the "Daily Worker." I would like to press the Home Secretary to give us an assurance that, in deference to the opinion of this House, he will in future use the other Regulations by which, if necessary, he can accomplish exactly the same thing. If the House will forgive me for a moment, although I am not a lawyer, may I point out that under other Regulations he can imprison, he can fine, and he can suppress a paper if he considers that it is necessary to do so, but the process is different. Instead of being judge and executioner in his own case, he has to submit it to the courts, and has to prosecute the offending paper in the courts.
I am afraid that the Press and the public are somewhat concerned about this. I do not know whether, in mentioning the case of that sad criminal the "Daily Worker" languishing in gaol, I am not perhaps assisting the Home Secretary. Perhaps I am helping him to jangle the chains of the first victim, and assisting him to remind Fleet Street that these powers exist. In a way I feel that 2D is a sort of modern version of that old instrument of British justice, the stocks, in which the victim was exposed for all to see, and that last week we were assisting at a ceremony at which the Home Secretary erected his modern stocks, with the "Daily Mirror" invited to the front seat and the rest of the Press very welcome to take note. That is the way in which the use of 2D has been understood.
There is no opposition in this House, or in the Press or in the country that I can see, to vigorous and energetic action by the Government when it is necessary. The crime that the "Daily Mirror" is accused of is that it criticised the Government irresponsibly, sensationally—to quote words that have been used—and "with a reckless indifference to the national interest." The crime of the "Daily Mirror" is to criticise the Government, and all I ask on this point is that, if the crime is against the Government, the Government should not judge that crime, but that the normal processes of law should be invoked. Having said that, it will be clear that I do not think a Member of Parliament in this House is the right person to advance the case of the "Daily Mirror," but yet, as we are living under the threat of the possible immediate suppression of a very large newspaper, possibly even during the Easter Recess when the House is not sitting, it seems to me absolutely necessary to say something about the" Daily Mirror."
I am confident that the Home Secretary can produce a most formidable list of quotations from the "Daily Mirror," of pungent, biting and acid criticisms. May I suggest that on the first count, that of this cartoon, the case of the Government is really not very strong? The verdict of the public was not that the cartoon was a criticism of the oil companies, but that it was directed against the wasters of oil. That cartoon was one of a series devoted to supporting the Government policy of pursuing food racketeers, hoarders, wasters and so on, and it is a little amusing, I think, to know that at the offices of the "Daily Mirror" they have received a considerable number of requests by officers and by persons organising Warship Weeks to use this very cartoon to raise money for the conduct of the war.
Yes, that is what I understand. I do not wish to delay the House. I have been given a sample letter which I would quote, but the time is short, and I wish to reduce my quotations as far as I possibly can. I saw that cartoon. I did not understand it to be an attack on the oil companies. I understood it as a very remarkable cartoon from one of the ablest cartoonists who is working on the Press at the present time. I remember distinctly, over my breakfast, having a slight twinge of conscience as to whether I had been using petrol unjustifiably or not. The worst of this political procedure instead of a legal procedure with regard to this paper is that it gives the maximum effect to the sort of smoke screen of innuendo and rumour which I am afraid does exist in politics. Suspicions and rumours get around. I am sorry to tell the Minister of Information, who I see is here, that one of these rumours—he will tell me if I am wrong—is, I am informed, being given some currency by the Ministry of Information itself. When the Home Secretary made his statement, an hon. Member in this House referred to the name of Mr. Hearst and asked whether he had anything to do with the "Daily Mirror." I am told that in a telegram issued by the Ministry to Buenos Aires last night that rumour was given further currency, and it was referred to in terms such as this, that if the question asked by the hon. Member was correct, then that, of course, strengthened the reasons for the action taken by the Government. Either that is correct or it is not.
I do not understand this. What is the source of this information?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Is it true or not true?"]—It is quite impossible for me to say whether it is true or not. The hon. Member appears to know more about the goings on in my Department than I do. I think he must tell us where he got this information—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—The hon. Gentleman has said that the Ministry of Information sent out a telegram last night.
I do not lay stress on this matter. I ask the question whether that is true. I am not going to give the Minister my source of information. I am sure that the Minister will have time in the hour or two that this Debate will last to find the answer. The telegram was one to Buenos Aires. I think that will be sufficient guidance to him to check it. If I am wrong, I shall most humbly apologise.
I do not wish to pursue that further. I have asked my question. I am sure that I shall get an answer. The story has been widely spread in this House and elsewhere that Hearst has some influence on this paper. I believe that it has no basis in fact whatever, and I believe that that is a similar rumour to one that went round before. If the House will bear with me for one moment, I will remind them that so far as I can see, this paper, the "Daily Mirror," has followed quite a consistent policy for many years now. On its political side it has followed quite a consistent policy. I think that the Foreign Secretary will perhaps remember that at one time before the war it supported him. I would like to make one quotation from the issue of 27th September, 1938. I do not think there is much difference in this from what the "Daily Mirror" is saying at the present time:
Make Britain strong. Britain stands for peace. But she must be strong for war. It is your duty to give her strength. By joining the Defence units. By growing all the food you can. By avoiding waste. By making ammunition, aircraft, ships. By keeping calm, cheerful, determined. To make the nation so strong that none may dare challenge the peace of the world.
There was a time before the war when the Prime Minister himself was a contributor, a very notable contributor, to the "Daily Mirror." I believe that the writer of the editorial now under consideration prizes letters he has, both from the Prime Minister and Lord Beaverbrook, congratulating him on his work. But at that time, before the war, there was a similar rumour to the present one. Then it was stated that a prominent Jew influenced the "Daily Mirror," because the "Daily Mirror" was anti-Nazi perhaps a little before some of our papers and some other gentlemen. Then it was supposed that it was the Jews who were influencing the policy of this paper; now it is the hidden hand of the Isolationists of America.
I shall risk making a statement about the ownership of the "Daily Mirror" which the Home Secretary, with his superior sources of knowledge, ought to be able, with his powers, to get. If he has not the powers, he ought to get them. The "Daily Mirror" belonged originally to Lord Rothermere. About 10 years ago, Lord Rothermere sold his shares, gradually, on the Stock Exchange. They were bought up in small blocks. There is no big, or controlling, group of shares now, held by any one person. The shares held by nominees represent only between 5 and 10 per cent. of the whole shareholding of the paper. In other words, this paper, unlike many others, is run by a board of directors and a chairman. I am not sure that that is not a very much better way than for great organs of opinion to be at the mercy of the whim of one owner, who may change his policy overnight. I say that the policy of the "Daily Mirror has not changed in the last five or six years. Its staff has not changed, and its ownership has not changed, since the time when the Prime Minister wrote for it and when I remember the Leader of the Labour Opposition quoting it with such effect from that Box after the occupation of Austria.
The crime of the "Daily Mirror" is to have been too critical. But a newspaper reflects the opinion of the public who read it; and if the public at the present time are critical, newspapers generally may also tend to be critical. I have heard that the real suspicion about this paper would be expresed somewhat as follows, that this mood of criticism is only a blind, a sort of camouflage, or shield, to hide its real intention, which is to pull down the Cabinet and the present state of society, so that people, when perhaps they have been made sufficiently depressed, after a major disaster, will be ready to assent to a peace by agreement with the Germans. I do not know whether that is to be the basis of the Home Secretary's speech to-day. I begin to think that it might be. If it is, I do not believe there is any evidence that there is a sinister plot behind the actions of this newspaper. I think, quite frankly, that it is a most overdrawn case. I do not want to be facetious but let us remember some of the causes the "Daily Mirror" has stood for, or some of the men it has stood for.
Do you think, after the board of directors had invited the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary himself to write for it, when they were not in the Government, that when the first National Government was formed, and, later, the Prime Minister became the great Leader of this country in its moment of gravest danger, the board of directors said, "We have backed the wrong man again; we thought we were going to disrupt this country"? Of course not. Did they, when they supported the present Leader of the House, who is away in India now want to disrupt and overturn society; or did they believe, as the House and the country now believe, that the Government would be strengthened by his inclusion? Or does Cassandra—whoever he is—sit at his desk, with biting poison dripping from his pen, and say, "I have demanded that the old men should be cleared out of the Army: I have been foiled again; the new Minister of War has gone and done it"? Or when he demands that there must be less waste of petrol and of food, and Lord Woolton introduces his new Regulations, do you think he says, "Again a lost cause: the Government have adopted my policy; my case falls to the ground"? Or do you think that the journalists connected with this paper really, honestly—perhaps sometimes very much too bitterly; perhaps too cleverly, and too ably—do represent what people see with their own eyes of the mistakes that are being made?
I do net say that it is always the voice of the people, but I believe that it is a voice; and I believe that it is most important that all the voices, provided that they are determined to win this war, should be heard at the present time. I want to end with this. I was in the Army, and I read the "Daily Mirror," like so many other officers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Jane."] Yes, "Jane" is popular in, the Army. The strips are popular. It may be that the Home Secretary is going to make an overwhelming case that this paper's biting criticism has undermined confidence in the leadership of the Government. I do not believe that. But I believe that if a paper with such a circulation, which has been critical, is suppressed, it will cause a very widespread feeling of disquiet. I believe it would do far more damage to morale than any of the biting, sarcastic, pungent articles which appear in that paper. I do not know whether the Minister of Information is going to speak in this Debate, but he has expressed in an article which has just been published in the United States
—where they, too, value freedom of speech immensely—some remarks which I would like to quote. I believe that the heart of this country is absolutely sound. We are determined to win this war. There must be a censorship—we recognise that; a censorship of anything that would give useful information to the enemy, but not a censorship of views or opinions. That is not necessary, and not desirable. It is dangerous. Let me quote what the Minister of Information wrote in an article, copies of which have just come to this country:
There will never be a 'yes' Press in England. To us, freedom of the Press is as important as an independent judiciary or as Parliamentary Government.
Speaking of censorship and its difficulties, he says:
The savage censorship imposed on the French Press played no small part in the fall of France. It encouraged defeatism, and bred complacency. A blindfolded democracy is more likely to fall than to fight.
I am extremely glad that my hon. Friend has opened the Debate with that most excellent speech. In spite of the fact that he is not a lawyer, he put up an extremely good defence, if not for the "Daily Mirror," at any rate for the case he was making. I am especially glad that this Debate has taken place, because I think it raises the whole question of democratic liberty in this country. The liberty of the subject, the liberty of the Press, and the liberty of Parliament are all bound up together. They exist together, and any damage which is done to any one of them is, and must be, damage done to the other two. The chief responsibility for what has happened so far—and in my view that liberty has already been seriously curtailed, and more curtailed than was ever necessary on account of the war—rests with this House of Commons, though not all of it. The Home Secretary frequently endeavours to put all the responsibility upon this House of Commons for present conditions, which are in fact mainly the responsibility of the Government, but this House is not without its responsibility. The first backward step was when this House permitted the Defence Regulation to be put upon the Table which enabled a Member of this House to be arrested and put under detention or into prison by an executive Minister without the consent or assent of this House of Commons. When that action was taken the House went back upon the wise precautions which Members in this House had taken at earlier times. When a similar situation or emergency arose in the earlier history of this House it took the precaution of amending a Regulation passed at that time in such a way as to make sure that the assent of the House must be obtained for the detention of a Member of this House.
Subsequently the matter was further debated in the House. The Press is not without its share of responsibility. When Members of this House were debating the question of the liberty of the subject, it is true that there were newspapers in this country and writers in the Press who took a strong attitude, but, taking the Press generally, they failed fully to recognise, as they should have recognised, the manner in which the liberty of the individual, of the Press, and of Parliament must always be bound together. They should have adopted a much stronger attitude and given those of us who spoke out at that time a far greater amount of support than they in fact did. The liberty of the Press appears to be in danger.
The Press to-day is looking to this House to uphold the liberty of the Press, and I believe that the whole attitude of the House of Commons towards these matters has undergone a considerable change during the last three months. During the last few months through which we have passed, and owing to the manner in which a whole cloud of Regulations are laid upon the Table of this House, most of which are never read and cannot in the ordinary way be read by Parliament, it has only been gradually that Members of this House have been fully seized of what is happening and the manner in which the liberty of the subject and the constitutional liberties of this country are being undermined by the present War Cabinet.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister hardly ever intervenes in a Debate of this kind without showing and expressing his reverence for, and his desire in every way to uphold, democratic tra- ditions in the House of Commons and in the country, I believe in the main that he sincerely expresses these sentiments, but at the same time the House of Commons would be glad to see him take some action to assist towards that end. The present Home Secretary hardly ever makes a speech upon the subject without using—I believe that the last time he spoke he used it four or five times—the word "humility." I do not know whether he is a humble man or whether he has a great deal of humility, but he always has had the reputation for liking to be a dictator. Whether it was playfully said, I do not know, but it was constantly and frequently said that he was always known as the dictator at the County Hall.
In this House his actions have been such as to convey that he believes, at any rate, in a benevolent autocracy, and—I want to be fair to him—I would emphasis the word "benevolent." I believe that in the main his administration of these Regulations is not harsh. He is painstaking. If you correspond with him, he is always courteous; you will get a reply. He takes a lot of trouble, and he goes into the matter and makes a reasonable and a courteous reply. I have no complaint whatever to make on these grounds, but he seems to think that he alone is always right and that it is not necessary that there should be any appeal on action beyond his decision. That is the more curious, because recently in a Debate in this House with reference to Regulation 18B he himself admitted that either alone or in conjunction with the Advisory Committee he had released seven persons who ought not to have been released, and it is reasonable to suppose that, if he has released seven persons who ought never to have been released, there are probably at least seven persons detained at present who ought never to have been detained.
I know that a good many Members want to speak, and I shall be brief, and therefore I will end merely with this: These Defence Regulations were given to the Government by the House of Commons as war-time measures for use at times of acute emergency, and in an emer- gency time is the essence of the matter. The Government said, "We require powers and regulations which, without any delay at all, at any moment of emergency, we can immediately put into operation and function." And the House of Commons recognised the need for them and gave them these Regulations. But I do not believe that the House of Commons ever intended the Government—and I feel sure that the Government were never entitled—to use these Regulations which were given them for that specific purpose at any time when any other less drastic Regulation or legal process could be used. If they sought to achieve a certain purpose in conditions of war, and if the ordinary processes of law could achieve the purpose, then they ought to use the ordinary processes. If there be any less harsh Regulation or any Regulation of a less dictatorial kind, then that Regulation ought always to be used before any more drastic Regulation of the kind that the Home Secretary quoted when he dealt with the case of the "Daily Mirror."
The Home Secretary challenged this House to a Division on his administration of the Defence Regulations. I heard a rumour that some Members contemplated passing to a Division to-day. Personally, I do not wish to go into the Division Lobby purely on the question of whether the "Daily Mirror" merited or merits suspension. We have not yet heard the Home Secretary, and I do not think the Debate was staged to-day to decide whether the "Daily Mirror" has been properly conducted. I believe that the main reason and interest in this Debate is not to decide whether the "Daily Mirror" is being properly conducted, but whether the Government are properly conducting themselves in the handling of Defence Regulations under present circumstances? If that be the issue which is challenged to-day, I can assure the Home Secretary that I am willing to take up the challenge which he issued recently during the Debate on the Address. William Pitt, a great many years ago, said, "Where law ends, tyrannty begins," and that is perfectly true.
The Debate to-day is a testimony to the strong feeling there is on this matter, but I want to remind the House that there are two kinds of strong feeling. Some of us are very much astonished that there should be such an upheaval of opinion and such indignation concerning the warning to the "Daily Mirror" while there is such little concern about the limitation of the liberties of the great masses of our citizens. This question must be related to the lives of our people. Any man who knows anything about this country and its historic development should not treat interference with the liberty of the Press lightly, and anyone who has watched developments in various countries in Europe in recent years much less so. My hon. Friend who raised the Debate pointed out that there had been increasing interference with the liberty of the Press. If that was the only subject for discussion, we might talk about this question in a more temperate manner. Indignation has been evoked because of the warning to the "Daily Mirror." [An HON. MEMBER: "And the 'Daily Worker'."] There was no indignation about the "Daily Worker," but there was about the "Daily Mirror." Has this House forgotten that for the first time in history it has not merely interfered with the liberty of millions of our young men and women but has voted for the taking away of the lives of some of these people?
No, this House did it. It has interfered with the liberty of persons to an undreamt of degree. Constituents of mine come from various parts of this country where they are earning £6 a week in factories for comparatively easy work—work which, in comparison with mining, is not work at all. They have been compelled to go to pits. [Interruption.] Somebody else has the right to speak on this matter. The indignation about the "Daily Mirror" startled me so much that I began to wonder whether I was living in the same world as some other hon. Members. Miners are being brought back from factories, where they have been earning £6 a week, to go into pits for £3 10s. or £4 a week. They are being compelled to do so by this House. I have not heard the "Daily Mirror" get excited about that. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend is one of those who have asked for compulsion.
If my hon. Friend is suggesting that at any time in this House I asked that men should be transferred from munitions factories, where they have been earning £6 or £7 a week, to mines, where they could earn only half that amount, I shall be glad if he will furnish the evidence.
I do not want to mislead either the House or the country as to the attitude of my hon. Friend. He would not do any such thing, but, nevertheless, he asked for compulsion on the workers. What would happen if you had no compulsion? If you had not the power to order workers and limit their liberty, you could not carry on the war. Everybody knows that.
I am coming to that. Millions of men and women in this country have submitted to a discipline and a test of character to which soldiers have never been subjected. It is easier to fight and move than to sit and wait for the enemy coming. Hitler knows that quite well. Ribbentrop told him we had gone soft. Well, some sections of the community, owing to the stupidity of Governments, may have gone soft in the body, but they have not gone soft in the head, like Ribbentrop. Hitler has calculated that if he waits long enough, that test will be too great for our people. Any soldier knows that that is the greatest test that can come to a man. Yet what is this newspaper doing? Consider this one statement alone—and those among my friends who read the "Daily Mirror" are of no two opinions that this has been going on for a long time—consider this one statement:
… the accepted tip for Army leadership would, in plain truth be this: —All who aspire to mislead others in war should be brass-buttoned boneheads, socially prejudiced, arrogant and fussy. A tendency to heart disease, apoplexy, diabetes and high blood pressure is desirable in the highest posts …
Suppose that the men get tired of waiting. They are in remote places in the country, in small groups. They do not get any of the recreations that other people get. These men are submitted to a great test. Suppose they take that sort of statement, and more of it, literally, and suppose they act upon it; if the House supports this kind of thing, could they oppose these men and women acting upon it? In that case you would have mutiny. In rising to speak, I wanted not merely to express the indignation I feel at seeing great men
in council here getting indignant about this matter, but to warn the House that though they may treat this thing as a lawyer's problem, outside the people are treating it as a human problem, and expressing themselves accordingly.
I am extremely sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Law-son) should have introduced into the discussion of this matter what I consider to be irrelevancies which have distracted the Debate from its main current and tended to raise emotions not present before. When the hon. Gentleman spoke about restrictions being placed upon the miners, he was perfectly correct. He supported those restrictions, and having given way on one thing, he uses that surrender as a reason for surrendering everything else. What he has said is: Having imposed restrictions upon certain people and certain institutions, why should we not impose restrictions upon everybody? He has asked us to follow that logic.
What the hon. Lady suggests is that, having restricted the workers because of the requirements of the war, you should now prevent them from having any opportunity of expressing themselves.
The House will recollect the argument used by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street. He expressed his surprise, that the House, having restricted the liberty of the citizens of this country, should then be astonished by restrictions which it is proposed to impose upon the Press. Never have I seen so many hon. Members present in the House on a Debate for the Adjournment for a Recess. Of course, the Government's supporters are here I think it is due to the Home Secretary to say that the decision to issue a warning to the "Daily Mirror" was a decision of the Government as a whole, and not merely of the Home Secretary. He has behind him all the Members of the Government in this matter, including the Labour Members. In this matter we have a solid Government, a united Government.
I should be the last person to suggest that there ought not to be such restrictions upon personal liberty as are necessary to win the war. I am not one who argues that there ought never to be restrictions upon liberty in any circumstances. I am not in favour of allowing people to say exactly what they like and to do exactly what they want to do, in any circumstances. The amount of liberty afforded to the people must be governed by the necessities of the war. That is an overwhelming and over-riding consideration, and every restriction upon liberty must be judged by that criterion. Therefore, there is no argument here for liberty in the abstract. What we are discussing is whether the definite proposals to restrict liberty here and now, are necessary for the effective conduct of the war, and whether they promote the war morale of the country or undermine it. It would be a very foolish idea to discuss the matter in an abstract way. I do not like the "Daily Mirror," and I have never liked it. I do not see it very often. I do not like that form of journalism. I do not like the strip-tease artists If the "Daily Mirror" depended upon my purchasing it, it would never be sold. But the "Daily Mirror" has not been warned because people do not like that kind of journalism. It is not because the Home Secretary is, aesthetically, repelled by it that he warns it. I have heard a number of hon. Members say that it is a hateful paper, a tabloid paper, a hysterical paper, a sensational paper, and that they do not like it. I am sure the Home Secretary does not take that view. He likes the paper. He is taking its money.
Be as personal as you like. As far as I am concerned I do not mind how direct the right hon. Gentleman is, because in this matter, the harder the hitting the better I like it. But the right hon. Gentleman will not be able to hit back as hard as I can hit him. He does not dislike the "Daily Mirror" because of its bad journalism, because of its sensationalism, or because of its strip tease artists. He took the "Daily Mirror's" money, so he does not dislike it. I have here a copy of the "Daily Mirror" in which there is an article headed:
My report on what the people want. By Herbert Morrison.
This is on 1st February, 1940, when the country was at war. He says that:
They want the war to be fought with energy. They want to see every factory and every man at work. They want less muddled advice from on top.
As a matter of fact the heading at the start of this series of articles is:
Morrison's important page. Regularly you can read these articles in the 'Daily Mirror.' The Right Hon. Herbert Morrison, P.C., M.P., writes a hard-hitting page which is winning an extraordinary reputation among the people.
Of course the right hon. Gentleman was not in the Government then. [HON. MEMBERS: "The country was at war."] Yes, but what sort of war? The same sort of war as that which is happening now—no air raids and no attacks on the enemy. What was the right hon. Gentleman doing there—undermining the morale of the country and the confidence of the country in the leaders of the nation and the Army? He made an attack when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) resigned from the office of Secretary of State for War. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] He suggested that the right hon. Gentleman was removed by the "brass hats" because he was in favour of democratising the Army. Could there be anything more calculated to undermine the morale of the Army than to suggest that the generals shifted a Secretary of State for War, because he wanted to democratise the Army?
I have no notice of this. [Interruption.] It would have been helpful. I am only asking my hon. Friend, in order to help everybody, including myself, to quote what I wrote.
Certainly. I have not given the right hon. Gentleman notice, but he gave me no notice of his warning of the "Daily Mirror." I am pointing out that at the time when he wrote these articles, the British Army was in France facing the enemy—not in Britain and not in camps, but right opposite the enemy—and suggesting that he was writing articles in the "Daily Mirror" was as much calculated to undermine the confidence in the "higher-ups" as anything which the "Daily Mirror" has written since. I will quote something else from the "Daily Mirror."
I assure my right hon. Friend that he must not play with me the old Parliamentary game of asking me to read—[Interruption.] I do not want to read these articles because they are rather dull—[HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] This is another article headed "Sensational attack on Belisha." He writes:
The more the House of Commons can be told about the episode, the better it will be for the public interest. … All sorts of explanations of this business have been canvassed. The most prominent one is that the ex-War Secretary is a victim of the 'brass hats' of the Higher Command of the Army.
I am reading what you said.
And if that should stand revealed as the real issue in this episode, it would be the duty of the Labour party to fight it out with all the vigour at its command.
This is Britain, not Japan.
I only wanted my hon. Friend to quote that, because, having started with the statement that I said the brass hats removed my right hon. Friend, it is now perfectly clear that somebody else said it.
I leave it at that. But it makes it worse. The right hon. Gentleman was the purveyor to 1,800,000 people of a story he could not verify. I am anxious not to delay the House. I ask the House to consider this: Why does the House always look upon the soldiers in the Army as children? Why do you not treat them as adults? Which will do more harm to the Army—for the Army to be told, as it has been told, that this paper is being warned and may be in danger of suppression, or for the Army to be allowed to read what the paper says morning by morning? Which will do the more harm? This paper is, in a special sense, the paper of the Armed Forces.
Certainly they like it. I am asking the House this serious question, because if what the "Daily Mirror" says about the administration of the Army is not confirmed in the daily experience of the soldiers, they will not take any notice of it. The British Army consists of adult men as good as we are. So if these men, when they read these criticisms, know from their own experience that the criticisms are exaggerated, that they are not correct, then those generalisations to which the right hon. Gentleman referred will fall upon barren ground. But if, in their experience, the criticisms are confirmed by what they know, you will not stop the demoralisation by preventing them from being told, because they know it, and, unfortunately, most of the criticisms made by the "Daily Mirror" about the leadership of the British Army have been confirmed by many military events. The Prime Minister said that. What is the use of pretending that you can restore the morale of the British Army by preventing the Army reading what a paper like this says?
There is a further consideration to which the House ought to give some attention. I am concerned about this particularly. One never knows now what it is possible to write because of the effect it might have on the morale of the country. I have to edit a paper every week. I do not know what to do under this kind of censorship.