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Channel Island Monthly Review

Volume 122: debated on Wednesday 20 May 1942

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had given Notice that he would call attention to the hardship caused to members of His Majesty's Forces by the cessation of the publication of the Stockport Channel Island Monthly Review; and also move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I regret to detain your Lordships at the end of this long sitting, but the matter I have to bring forward is one of major importance to a great many men serving in His Majesty's Forces, their families and their friends, and I have had an overwhelming post on the subject. It is also a very important matter from the point of view of the liberty of the Press—perhaps it is even more important from that point of view. I put down a Starred Question last week, but unfortunately the Minister who should have answered was occupied elsewhere and the question was kindly answered by a deputy, and so I was prevented from asking further questions.

The point that I am trying to raise is this. A monthly review, printed at Stockport, the Channel Island Review was first issued after the Government's abandonment of the islands. Its very birth and existence was the natural consequence of that act of desertion. But for the abandonment of the islands there would have been no Channel Island Review; there would have been no need! The review came into being to supply desperate claims and as a consequence of the desertion. Apparently now the Government find that the date of the first issue of this review—made nearly two years ago—comes within an order made by the Government that no newspaper or review which is not of greater age than two years can be allowed to continue. The same reasoning, with a very small change of dates, would prevent the publication of any newspaper or periodical whatever. It is a kind of lettre de cachet. This review brought comfort to thousands, for it collected all the messages that had any reference to individual families or to the islands themselves—messages which

are long delayed. I have not myself heard through the Red Cross since January 9. There have been thousands of messages since then, and it is of great advantage and happiness to me and thousands of islanders fighting on this side to know what has happened to A, B, C, D, whom they have known in the islands.

It is no answer, it seems to me, to say that other publications have been stopped. There are no others—glory be!—dealing with our own people and with their abandonment. There is no other public means by which these poor prisoners of the Government can hear of their own. The review is the only real link between thousands of islanders who are serving His Majesty, their homes, their wives and their children. I have had a large number of letters from every part of the United Kingdom asking me to bring this matter before your Lordships. In the last Great War it was said that one of the prime reasons why the German soldiers declined to go on fighting—and I think there was a great deal of truth in it—was the fact of the terrible uncertainty of home news and home conditions. We read the same thing in a book which everyone has read, Gone with the Wind—how the Southern soldier—and there was no braver man in the world—received letters from his people saying, "We are starving—come home." They did not desert, but they went home for a time to raise crops. They were not so far away as the islands are, and they were able to go. But the same feeling of uncertainty obtains among men who are fighting on this side. Are we blind? Can we never learn? Does history teach us nothing, or is it that we ourselves do not care for our own islands, our own people? I do not believe it, not for one instant.

The Government state that the review is not to be allowed to continue because it has not been in being within certain dates, that is to say, within two years; and yet a brand new magazine has had its first issue with Government sanction this very month—the first issue of a "new special monthly journal" to be sent free of charge to all those who are eligible for it. It is called The Prisoner of War. It was inaugurated in a fine speech by a Scot. He says:

"Loss of freedom is hard to bear to those who have lived as free men in a free country."

Who so free as the Norman islander, a free man, a freeholder; no serf blood in

his veins, not a drop! A free man with a thousand years of history, his soil untainted by the foot of a conqueror till now, when the Government have handed him over to the Germans, not for any fault of his own, not because he did not want to fight. As he says:

"It is hard for those who wait at home, aye, and fight, to go cheerfully to their daily tasks, knowing that someone dear to them is a prisoner."

Now the people of these islands are, from my point of view, truly prisoners, not because they gave themselves up—oh, no!—not because they were unwilling to fight—the thousands now fighting prove that—not because they wished to give in, not because they were hands-uppers—we know how the Boers despised their hands-uppers—but because a Government of their own blood handed them over to the Germans. Surely they have a claim to decent treatment. Abandoned, deserted and betrayed, to cover up that shame some red herring is introduced, and they are spat upon.

Lord Kitchener had his own views—they were aired the other day by a noble Lord opposite—as to prisoners of war. Lord Wolseley had very much the same views. They were both soldiers, and they both knew something more about fighting than very many members of your Lordships' House. We do not want excuses for prisoners of war. I had one friend in the last war, brother of a former member of this House, Lord Craigavon, who was badly wounded and had to be left on the field. He spent two years in prison, and when he came home he said: "I find there is quite a feeling against prisoners of war. It may be that in a few cases there were men who willingly and gladly allowed themselves to be taken prisoner, but they were a minority, not the majority; and I say it myself, because I was wounded and did not want to be a prisoner of war, and there was not one moment of my life as a prisoner when I would not have gladly gone back to the fighting ranks."

Is it that the Government hate the islands or the islanders—again I cannot believe it—as a man hates his own shame? What can be the object of the treatment meted out? If it is not hate, is it love? Love chasteneth. Certainly we are being chastened. Is it love to save bloodshed? Is this Gladstonian blood-guiltiness? It led us into some trouble; it may have led us into this very war. Is it to spare these beloved islanders, to allow instead starvation and a lingering death, and to keep knowledge of that lingering death from the people of this country? There must be some reason, something better than an excuse, some reason not given to us. Can we not be told the truth occasionally? The Government are playing with fire. They are playing with loyalty which is almost beyond human calculation, the loyalty which is, as we say in our islands, the reflection of religion upon earth. There was once a light described as "a little candle." Your Lordships know what it became and what it did. I stand almost alone. I am but a voice, but I stand for more than that. I stand for all the island fighting men in this country and abroad. I stand for all free men. I stand for many families, and I stand for their wives and their children. I stand for the glory and loyalty of an island people. I stand for their history, which is our history. I stand for the hardships and the sufferings which have been endured, and I demand fair play from the Government. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, as this is probably the last time I shall be able to speak officially for the Channel Islands, I should like to support the plea which has just been made by the noble Lord, that the publication of this little newspaper might be made possible. I say quite frankly that I cannot agree with all the arguments which have been used by the noble Lord. He is completely mistaken if he says there is no sympathy with the Channel Islanders on the part of the people of this country. I am quite sure there is a deep, profound, and widespread sympathy with the people not only in the islands but with those who are evacuees, and it will give an entirely mistaken impression of the cruel state of affairs if the statement which the noble Lord has made is allowed to go forth uncorrected—namely, that he alone is standing for the islanders. He asked whether they are hated or despised. That really is not so. The great majority of the people of this country are most deeply concerned about the islanders. They deeply regret that their islands are under enemy occupation, and have the profoundest sympathy with those who have been evacuated to this country. It is just because we have such sympathy with them that we are most anxious that this little newspaper should still continue its useful work.

There are a number of small groups of Channel Islanders all over the country. They are partly held together by the existence of this paper and, as the noble Lord has said, they are able to receive a certain amount of news which otherwise it would not be possible for them to obtain. The argument which apparently has been put forth by some representative of the Ministry concerned that all papers which were not published before the last two years must be brought to an end is absurd if it is applied to this Channel Islands paper. Channel Islanders, as the noble Lord pointed out, two years ago had no need to publish such a paper. It would have been impossible for them to publish it then because their islands were still free. In the very special circumstances in which the Channel Islanders are living, I venture to urge upon the Government the importance of reconsidering this question, and of allowing this little newspaper to go on, which is really a source of great help to a number of those with whom we have the utmost sympathy.

My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of what has fallen from one whom I can fortunately still, if for the last time, call my Bishop, and who is also the Bishop of the noble Lord who will reply. That will, I hope, make him sympathetic to the plea which has been made. I re-echo what has been said by the right reverend Prelate. It is untrue to say that this suppression has anything to do with the idea that we are not in whole-hearted sympathy with the Channel Islanders. There must be some technical reason which has impelled the Government to suppress this paper. If it be purely technical, I hope the noble Lord (Lord Portal) will go into it and see whether the difficulty cannot be overcome. There may be some other reason, of which I know nothing, which makes it undesirable to make an exception in this case, but if there be no such reason, I hope the noble Lord will bear in mind the point made by the right reverend Prelate, and which is really unanswerable that these people are in a special position.

Nothing of the sort has happened before In our history. This is a war in which all sorts of things are happening for the first time, and this is the first time such an extraordinary thing as this has happened. We promised these people, I remember, (and the promise was made from the Front Bench), that every effort would be made by His Majesty's Government to do all they could to soften the hard lot of these brave Channel Islanders. Perhaps that is my excuse for having supported my Bishop on this occasion, and for asking the noble Lord to turn a sympathetic ear to the request which has been made to him.

My Lords, I would like to add a further argument which possibly may move the noble Lord. We are all receiving quite a number of papers which are published by various organizations belonging to our Allies. I do not want to specify them, but they will be in the minds of many noble Lords. Some of these Allies are in completely occupied territory like the Channel Islanders. Their publications come to a good many houses. These publications take up quite a lot of paper compared with the amount needed for the small publication for the Channel Islands.

My Lords, in addition to what the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, has said, I would like briefly to stress one or two further arguments. According to the newspapers, which may or may not be correct, a matter of some four tons only of paper is involved. Not only do we have the Allied papers, to which Lord Mersey has drawn attention, but one of them is a new publication and is printed on most expensive and quite unnecessarily elaborate paper. There seems to be no restriction whatever on the continuance of a great many papers, for example children's comic papers, small trade papers, and others devoted to sport and games, or to the propagation of the views of minute religious, social or political minorities. All these continue unchecked. There may be good reasons for that; but let us go a little further. There seems to be no check whatever upon the output of new books, at least upon a kind of new books. No doubt some of your Lord-ships will have noticed that in the past few days a Court of Law has been occupied with various authors and publishers being prosecuted and heavily fined for the writing, publishing and disseminating of very large numbers of small novels which have been very conspicuous on the most reputable of our railway bookstalls for some months past. These novels are an imitation of the lowest forms of American sensational and pornographic literature, and in fact some of them have been more brutally crude than anything I have ever seen emanating from America.

The money that must have been spent on these books must amount to a great deal more than the cost of four tons of paper and it is certainly high time that these publications were put an end to. But if that has been allowed to take place, if all that paper has been wasted, and if, as I know only too well from personal experience, Government Departments of all sorts are still permitted to issue unnecessary circulars printed in very small type upon very large and almost blank pieces of paper, of which I myself probably send for salvage a stone or two a month, surely this little paper, which has been suppressed and which is so very valuable to one portion of these Islands that is unfortunately under enemy domination, may also be allowed to continue.

There is one point that the right reverend Prelate made in which, with great respect, I am not quite sure he was fair to my noble friend Lord Portsea. I do not think Lord Portsea is complaining of a lack of sympathy with the Channel islands throughout the country, but rather of the lack of sympathy which many people all over the country feel is being shown by His Majesty's Government. We cannot but feel for the deplorable plight in which the Channel Islanders have been for a considerable time and at their being without even the lip service of sympathy to which they are entitled. It is not my intention here to go into the whole position nor to suggest various things which, in other circumstances. I may do, but I do ask that on this occasion some expression of practical sympathy will be given by His Majesty's Government. This time it lies in their power even if it did not on previous occasions.

My Lords, I do not wish at this late hour to go into the question of the allocation of paper for which I am responsible to the Minister of Production as I am for other allocations of raw material. I shall confine myself to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Portsea. The remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, on the question of publications for our Allies are worthy of note. As to the case for this publication, I would like to say that the Government have the greatest sympathy with these islanders who are separated from their homes and who would welcome a paper which would give them opportunities of maintaining contact with each other and of circulating information of common interest. The only point I would stress now is that they wish to be satisfied that the Stockport Channel Island Monthly Review is the best possible medium for this purpose. They are taking steps to consult immediately with the people who are most directly concerned, and I hope that by the end of this week the matter will be satisfactorily cleared up.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his defence of the islanders, for his swan song if I might call it a swan song, which we hear with great regret, for we in the islands have never had such a Prelate in my memory, which extends back for many years. When I said I stood alone I did not mean in the least that I stood alone in this House and as regards the sympathy of the House. I meant, what is a fact, that it seemed to me I stood alone so far as the Government were concerned. When all is said unless this House obliges them the Government are masters. They may be on a very delicate footing, but still they hold the balance. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mansfield for the words he used. He made a new point regarding the quantity of paper used. To my noble friend opposite I am also very grateful, and by leave of the House I will withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.