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War In Europe

Volume 65: debated on Saturday 8 August 1914

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Police Reservists (Wives And Relatives)

Perhaps the Home Secretary will answer an important question. It is whether he is aware that there are a large number of the wives and relatives of the police reservists who have been informed that, after the first payment, the men have been struck off pay, and whether he will take immediate steps to make public the arrangements for granting out of the police funds the allowances and gratuities in respect of police reservists who have been called upon for permanent service, as many of these women have been requested to pay their rent and settle other liabilities. I have seen several of the women this morning, and if the right hon. Gentleman can give some assurance and some public intimation, it will relieve anxiety.

I can give the Noble Lord that assurance. I certainly will do my best to see that the police authorities avail themselves of the special powers given to them by Statute two days ago.

Publication Of False News

May I ask the Home Secretary a question, of which I have given him private notice: Whether his attention has been called to the statements which appeared in a special edition of the "Daily Mail," published this morning, in regard to a naval battle which was said to have taken place off Holland and which appears to be absolutely untrue in every detail; and whether the Government will be able to take some steps to restrain a paper of this importance from publishing infamous and false war news in order that people may be deluded into buying their paper, thus causing very great hardship and heart-burning to the people who read this news? I am quite sure that the Government will do something to stop such infamous conduct.

On inquiry at the Admiralty, I learn that there is no foundation whatever for the statement that has appeared in the Press that there has been a great naval battle. This House, I am sure, will join in an expression of condemnation in the strongest terms of the fabrication of false news, which I cannot say, and do not say, in this case was wilfully done, but which might be wilfully done for the purpose of assisting the circulation of a newspaper.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not the case that there has now been formed at the Admiralty a Press Bureau at which the representatives of all the London papers and the Press Agencies will have accommodation day and night, and whether now steps have not been taken to stop the dissemination of false news and to ensure a constant stream of accurate news for the public?

Yes, a Press Bureau, under the direction of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith), has been formed, and the public have a reasonable right to expect that no news will be published in the Press except such news as is furnished through this Bureau.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that it did not come into operation until to-day? I do not think that it is yet in operation, but it will be in operation from to-day?

May I ask whether the Government do not think it necessary to take some definite steps to prevent the dissemination of false news beyond a mere expression of opinion by this House?

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the publication of false news is a misdemeanour under the existing law?

Yes, Sir, it is. The law is already strong enough to provide against the continuance of the publication of false news, but the difficulty of proof in each case is extremely great.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the suggestion of depriving any paper which publishes these things in future of the accurate news which is supplied to the Press?

Yes, Sir, I think that is a question which the Press Bureau will have to consider.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can take steps to prevent these men and boys calling out news which is not news, say at 12.30, 1, or 2 o'clock in the morning, not only in the West End of London but also in the outlying districts, thereby frightening people?

Yes, Sir; we are already taking steps to prevent the undue disturbance of the public by the calling out of news of any kind at late hours of the night; but we cannot expect the newsboys to discriminate between false and accurate news.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this newspaper applied either to the Press Bureau or to the Government for confirmation of the news before they published it.

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to introduce new legislation, can he at least address a grave communication to all newspapers requesting them not to publish any naval news not supplied by the Bureau?

I am sure that this unanimous expression of opinion by the House will have the greatest weight with the whole of the Press.

Agricultural Horses And Food Distribution

I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War a question of which I have given him private notice namely, whether he is aware that the Remount officers are still commandeering all the farmers' horses in places where the harvest has only just begun, and whether in the interests of the food supply of the country he can see his way to prevent this in the future and to restore horses already taken until the harvest is gathered in?

I have received no notice of this question, but it is one exercising the War Office very considerably. I made a few observations on it either yesterday or the day before. It is very distressing to me to learn the information which the hon. Gentleman has brought before the notice of the House. I should have thought that probably it might have been a mistake, because our orders have been so explicit, and it is a great disappointment to hear what the hon. Member says. I, of course, will make inquiries, but the orders have been that horses engaged in the distribution of food and in harvesting operations shall not be taken to a greater extent than 50 per cent., and, if possible, to a smaller extent than that. I am sure that the House realises that for the mobilisation of the Army we must have horses. We do not want to interfere with the distribution of food or the gathering in of the harvest if possible, and every consideration will be given to farmers and those who are engaged in reaping the crops.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an interview to my informant, who, if he is not now, will, I expect, be in the House in a few minutes, in order that he may get the facts?

Certainly. In response to the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford, I interviewed a gentleman yesterday who came in a state of anxiety because he had had half of his horses commandeered. I at once placed myself in communication with the Remount Department, and asked them to reduce the number of horses taken from that firm. Their prompt reply was, "Of course we will do so, if you say it is necessary, but at the same time we may have to come back and say the number of horses for the Army is not sufficient, and in that case we shall have to have more." I think the House will agree that would be worse than in the other case. Therefore, I make an appeal to all those interested in this question to ask those with whom they are in correspondence to cooperate as far as possible with the Remount Department.

May I supplement what my right hon. Friend has said with regard to the distribution of foodstuffs? We have been in communication with the authorities at the Board of Trade, and we have had the very willing co-operation of other firms in other businesses whose requirements in regard to horses and motor lorries are not so pressing. I need not mention them here, but they have shown very public-spirited attention to the distribution of food, which I hope will be copied by all those who at the present time can spare their motor vehicles or horses for this purpose.

The millers and other food distributors who had communicated with the right hon. Gentleman are anxious that as far as possible they should be released from the demand for their horses and motor lorries.

The hon. Member is now making a statement, and he is only entitled to ask questions.

May I ask if the Government are taking any steps for the more equal distribution of Government contracts with a view to lessening the inevitable amount of unemployment which will otherwise arise in manufacturing districts?

This matter has been brought to my notice. I have given instructions to the Government Contract Department, where it is possible, to make as wide a distribution as possible of the orders. They inform me it is essential that the Government requirements should be met, and the Contracts Department will naturally deal with firms that can meet the demands of the War Office. But, subject to that, there will be, of course, no objection to increasing the number of firms employed by the War Office.

Suppose a firm has an enormous contract and is working night and day. Could there not be some arrangement by which it could sub-let the work to one of the firms closing down?

I should certainly agree it is undesirable that overtime should be worked when a lot of people are out of work.

I should like to ask a question which is suggested by an answer given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade who talked about motor cars, and the aid that owners of motor cars could give to the Government. As an individual owner of a motor car I have received no suggestion of any need on the part of the Government. I need not say I should at once comply with it. Other owners must be in the same position, and if the Government will let owners of private motor cars know exactly what is wanted I am confident they will do their best to give what help they can.

I am very glad to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. Our communications so far have been with the largo distributing firms whose trade for the moment must of necessity be interfered with. I thought this was a very suitable occasion for private owners to assist the bakers for instance in the distribution of bread in the morning. By so doing they would be adding enormously to the convenience of the householders who, in many parts of the country, cannot themselves collect the bread they require. They might also in their own particular districts get into communication with the millers to ascertain if they can aid in securing better distribution. We are sending out public notices which we hope will come into the hands of all motor car owners in the United Kingdom.

Will the Under-Secretary of State for War consider, if he has not already done so, what assistance can be rendered in this matter by the manufacturers of motor cars? I gather from the correspondence I have-received that some of them have as yet had no communication from the War Office. I think they may be able to help.

I have not the actual facts by me. It is quite true that we have had a very large number of offers from individuals, from societies, and from so big a corporation as the Automobile Club, for the loan of motor cars. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will send him the exact particulars. I am afraid I cannot give them without notice.

Formation Of Automobile Corps

Will the Under-Secretary for War say whether he has not already had an offer for the formation of a corps of 10,000 motor-cars? I am bound to say that the offer was from myself on behalf of the Automobile Association, and that we are prepared to form such a corps at our own expense, first of all, for service abroad, secondly, for service with the Home Army, and, thirdly, for service for peace purposes. Is he aware that the whole of the scheme is in more than embryo, that it has been submitted to the War Office, and that we should be only too glad to place ourselves entirely at their disposal? We have already had 10,000 offers which are now being tabulated.

Yes, Sir; among the many patriotic offers that have been made, that from the hon. Gentleman opposite has been received by the War Office. All these offers are under consideration by Lord Kitchener and the Army Council, and it would be premature to say anything except to express our cordial thanks.

Censorship Of Cables

I desire to ask the Home Secretary a question with reference to cable communications between this country and the United States. As he knows, a censorship has been established, to which of course nobody will object, but as these cables are being sent in very large quantities to the United States, who naturally take a very keen interest in this struggle, will he see that steps are taken to send to the cable companies an adequate censorship staff so that these cables will not be unduly delayed?

I will represent to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General the request made by my hon. Friend.