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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 65: debated on Friday 7 August 1914

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Railway Sleeping Carriages


asked the President of the Board of Trade why the Board does not allow the Return, Railway Sleeping Carriages? [Return showing the practice as to the provision of Sleeping Carriages on Railways in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, Belgium, the United States of America, India, Canada, and Australasia, and whether Sleeping Carriages are provided for all classes, and on what conditions and at what rates.]

As I have already explained to the hon. Member, I do not think the Return would be of sufficient use to justify the labour of preparing it.

War In Europe

Private notice had been given of the following questions:—

National Insurance (Service Men's Contributions)

I beg to ask the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East, as representative of the Insurance Commissioners, if he will inform the House what is the position as regards insurance contributions of a man who enlists or is called up for service? Will he also say who pays the employer's contributions?

The contributions during embodied service are at the reduced Army rate of 3d., 1½d. of which is payable by the War Office, and they will be paid on special Army (B) cards supplied by the military authorities. With regard to the ordinary contribution card for the current half-year, Reservists should fill in the name of the society and branch (if any) and deposit the cards at the military depot in the box provided for the purpose. Territorials should send their cards to their societies, writing across them the word "Territorial." Cards left in the custody of employers should be kept until further notice, unless claimed by the men. I may add that during embodied service any claim to maternity benefit should be made by the wife to the approved society, or, in the case of deposit contributors, to the Insurance Committee in the ordinary way.

Will the hon. Gentleman at the same time say something with regard to those who are now employed and who are recruited now, so that they may come in on full rates and not reduced rates?

Alien Enemies

I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the serious incidents reported yesterday, he will consider the advisability of following the system at present adopted by France of having all Germans placed on the West Coast, and detaining them there in guarded localities until they can be otherwise disposed of?

I have had no notice of the question.

I gave notice of the question to the Home Secretary yesterday, and he asked me to postpone it until today.

Austrian And German School (Isle Of Wight)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether it is a fact that the Austrian and German school girls at Upper Chine College, Isle of Wight, have been ordered to leave the country; whether there are means for them to reach their homes: whether he can give an assurance that any order involving hardships to young students will not be persisted in?

The hon. Member gave me notice only a few minutes ago of this question. I made inquiries, where possible, and I think I may tell him there is no ground, so far as I know, for the suggestion he made. The German students, of course, will have to register. I think I can assure him the students of this college will not be interfered with.

National Reserve (Civil Pay)

I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War whether as some doubt exists as to the position of those members of the National Reserve engaged in the Civil Service can the right hon. Gentleman say what are the conditions under which they would serve? Is it true that the men will lose the whole of their civil pay instead of being paid half in the case of the Army and Navy Services?

Notice of the hon. Gentleman's question only reached me when I came down to the House, and I have not been able to make all the inquiries I should like. The matter is still under the consideration of the authorities, and a full statement will be made by the Prime Minister in a few days dealing with this subject and all others germane to it.

German Traders

I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Hoard of Trade if his attention has been called to the large number of Germans trading in the corn and produce markets of this country—there are twenty in Mark Lane alone—and the provinces, and if he will take steps to control their action if injurious to the nation?

Notice of the hon. Member's question only reached me a few minutes ago, after I had taken my place on this bench, and in such circumstances it is impossible to answer.

His Majesty's Ship "Amphion" Sunk By A Mine

Mr Churchill And The Press

May I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty if he has any news that he can give to the House, and will he at the same time say what the course of business is to be?

The House will have read with sorrow of the loss of His Majesty's ship "Amphion" yesterday. The day before yesterday the flotilla of destroyers patrolling in the approaches of the Channel, found the German mine-laying ship "Koningen Luise" and sunk her. About fifty members of the crew—which I am informed was probably 120 or 130 in all—were humanely saved by the flotilla. The "Amphion" continued to scout with the flotilla, and on her return journey was blown up by a mine. The greater part of the officers and men were rescued by boats, but as I have already informed the Press, through a communication issued from the Admiralty, nearly 130 persons were killed outright by the explosion, and in addition to that twenty of the prisoners confined in the fore part of the ship. There are no other losses of any kind. There has been no other fighting so far as we are aware.

The indiscriminate use of mines, not in connection with military harbours or strategic positions—the indiscriminate scattering of contact mines about the seas, which may, of course, destroy not merely enemy vessels or warships, but peaceful merchantmen passing under neutral flags and possibly carrying supplies to neutral countries—this use of mines is new in warfare, and it deserves, at any rate, to be considered attentively, not only by us, who are, of course, engaged in the war, and who may naturally be prone to hasty judgment in such matters, but deserving also to be attentively considered by the nations of a civilised world. The Admiralty are not at all alarmed or disconcerted by such an incident. We have expected a certain number, and we continue to expect a certain number of such incidents, and our arrangements provide for reducing such occurrences to the minimum possible. But I should like to say there are a great many very disconcerting rumours spread about. These rumours arise from the fact that the censorship of the Press at present is of a very strict kind from the point of view of saying aye or no to any particular piece of military information, and I think one consequence of that is that newspapers, in default of facts, are rather inclined to fill up their columns with gossip which reaches them from irresponsible quarters along the coast, where no doubt a great deal of apprehension may in the minds of nervous individuals prevail.

We are establishing to-day a Press bureau, and I am very glad to say that the right hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) will preside over it. From that bureau a steady stream of trustworthy information supplied both by the War Office and the Admiralty can be given to the Press, which, without endangering military or naval interests, will serve to keep the country properly and truthfully informed from day to day of what can be told, and what is fair and reasonable; and thus, by providing as much truth as possible, exclude the growth of irresponsible rumours.

With the indulgence of the House, perhaps I may be allowed to say that we owe a very great debt to the Press of this country. During the precautionary period when we had no legal means of controlling them the proprietors and editors of the great newspapers, irrespective of class, or the party to which they belong, all combined together to take no notice of questions which the Admiralty and the War Office did not want referred to, and it was through that that our preparations were expeditiously and discreetly completed, without undue alarm being caused in this country at a time when no explanation could have been given. We wish to deal with the newspaper Press in such a way as to enable the people of this country to follow what is taking place reasonably and intelligibly. It is on information of that kind that panic and unnecessary alarm can best be avoided.

In regard to the business, the Government arrangements for the conclusion of the Session are not at this moment finally determined, and the House will meet on Monday at the usual time. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Illingworth) informs me that on Monday a Motion will be made to adjourn the House until Tuesday, 25th August.