§ *MR. SMEATON (Stirlingshire)
in moving—"That this House is of opinion that accommodation should be provided in the House of Commons for representatives of the foreign and colonial Press, and that such extension of the Reporters' Gallery or such increase of room elsewhere should be made as will suffice for this purpose," said that his Motion was a novel one, and he understood that the question of the admission of the foreign and colonial Press to the House of Commons had never been made the subject of a formal Motion before. He had been informed that there were some difficulties in the way because the authority of Mr. Speaker was limited and so was the authority of the First Commissioner of Works, and the Government had never vested in any Committee the plenary powers contemplated in this Motion. Therefore, he was compelled to appeal to the only remaining authority, and that was the House of Commons itself. Some of his hon. friends had twitted him with having wasted the opportunity afforded him in the ballot by submitting a Motion upon a subject which they considered was of 1301 comparatively trivial importance, and they had advised him to withdraw the Motion and submit another dealing with a more pressing matter. From that view he entirely dissented, because he thought the question he was raising was one of very great importance indeed. If his Motion were carried it would be at least a step towards the great goal at which they were all aiming, namely, international peace and amity. The representatives of the Foreign Press Association in London—an influential body of gentlemen presided over by the veteran correspondent of the Novoe Vremya, and a loyal well-wisher of this country—had pressed upon him this consideration that undoubtedly the free entry of the representatives of the foreign Press into the House of Commons would tend to allay international friction and misunderstanding and secure international goodwill. They had all anxiously watched the deliberations of the Hague Conference in the hope that they would result in a substantial advance towards that end, but the results were not such as to satisfy the earnest advocates of peace, and it struck him that a concession of the kind contemplated in this Motion would, at least in a quiet way, supplement the efforts of our representative at the Conference by winning the foreign Press to a fair and kindly attitude towards us in regard to our foreign relations. It was surely a truism that the foreign and our own Press were very potent instruments for good or for ill, for peace or for war, and there were on record many notable instances of the influence of both the British and foreign Press in inflaming national jealousies where none need have existed, and which were only the outcome of misunderstandings. Surely it went without saying that, isolated as we were in many ways, with vital interests in every quarter of the globe—interests which might—indeed, sometimes must—be in conflict with those of other countries—surely it was to-day the least good policy—to put it on no higher ground—to win the Foreign Press to a fair-minded, just attitude towards our country. He wished to point out to those hon. Members who thought this subject was not of great importance, that it might have a direct result in the direction of a 1302 limitation of armaments, and surely that was an ideal which they all were desirous of attaining. He would quote to the House a resolution passed by the great International Congress of the Press upon this subject—(1) The Congress considers that the representatives of foreign newspapers in any country should, in order to effectually carry out their professional duties, enjoy the same privileges and facilities as are accorded to the Press representatives of that particular country abroad.In the published report of the Congress proceedings, the following passage occurred—In the debate on these resolutions it was stated that while in almost every Parliamentary country the foreign correspondents have free access to the reporters' gallery in the Chamber as well as in the Senate, such facilities are denied to foreign correspondents in London, who are not admitted to the reporters' gallery of either House. The resolutions were warmly supported by the English and American delegates and carried unanimously.What were the facts? In every Parliament in Europe British representatives had not only free access to the lobby and gallery, but had, as a rule, the best seats. Surely we should reciprocate this kindly consideration as a simple act of international courtesy. In the Russian Duma—the youngest Parliament in the world and for whose vigorous growth they all fervently hoped—at the instigation of the British Press representatives, a large proportion of seats were granted to them, as well as other facilities of a very liberal kind. He need hardly say how both in domestic and foreign affairs courtesy was a great instrument for peace. They knew this from experience in their own country in the House of Commons and in their domestic affairs, and when there was a conflict of interests and disagreeable things had to be said and done, courtesy often smoothed the way and somehow got over the difficulty. Consideration given to the Press was regarded as given to the people. Why should this country refuse to reciprocate the kindly consideration so freely bestowed upon them by their foreign neighbours? Why should this country act the dog-in-the-manger, and, because our I Parliament existed before there was any Press, why should they not in this matter adapt themselves to the times? Other Parliaments had made 1303 structural alterations to meet the needs of Press representatives, and he did not see why some accommodation should not be provided for those who had treated British representatives so kindly abroad. Moreover, it was most important for the peace of the world and our relations with foreign countries that the representatives of the foreign Press should have direct, first hand knowledge of the expression of the opinions of the British people as voiced in Parliament. The representatives of the foreign Press at present were obliged to depend upon the statements and reports in the British Press, which were not infrequently of an exceedingly partisan colour and conveyed to foreign countries misleading opinions as to what Was actually the real voice of Parliament. This was a danger which in the past had brought about some unfortunate results. He would give two recent instances. The House would remember that a leading journal recently made some extraordinary and unguarded statements with regard to our relations with a certain great Power—statements which, after a short day of reflection, the country universally repudiated. He had no doubt that the authors of those statements were actuated by the highest patriotic motives, but the statements turned out to be utterly and entirely false. They were for a short time believed, however, and the state of tension created was during that time exceedingly grave and might have become positively dangerous. In another case a review for which he had the highest respect had for months past—he was not sure that it had not been for years past—been belabouring a friendly Power, insinuating that it had the most sinister designs against us and stirring up strife and bad blood. That review was apt to be taken as embodying the opinion of a large section of people in this country. Hon. Members knew that that was not so, but that opinion had permeated the body politic in the country to which he referred. The corrective of that state of things was to permit the representatives of the foreign Press to hear the debates, the Questions and Answers, and to see the people who voiced the views of the people of this country. He would read an extract from a letter 1304 written by the President of the Foreign Press Association in London, which would show the House what was the feeling among the representatives of the foreign Press. He said—No country has now a greater interest to have the debates of her Parliament truly reported in foreign papers than Great Britain. Nowhere is the political life of the country so well mirrored in her Parliament as here, and nowhere are its debates so thorough, earnest, and dignified. Their truthful and adequate reports in foreign journals would be at once the best propaganda in favour of this country, and would have an educational influence greatly profitable to civilisation and international harmony. Some special reasons are furnished by the international situation of to-day. Great Britain has definitively left her former 'splendid isolation' and concluded with several other nations treaties and conventions for the maintenance of peace. Both those who are already thus linked to her, as well as those who are not, certainly look for the explanation of her policy to the British Parliament, and seek their cue in its debates. A wrong or inaccurate report of them tells at once on public opinion of the country concerned, and on its attitude towards Great Britain. There could be quoted many instances of late international misunderstandings chiefly, if not exclusively, arising from the way in which Parliamentary debates had been reported. But the excuse of these papers which sinned most has always been that they had reports only of second hand, their own representatives not being admitted.The Foreign Press Association in London on one occasion did great service to this country, and he would quote some words which were worthy of the consideration of the House. In the winter of 1899 at the outset of the South African War, the polemics between the English and the Continental Press had assumed an acuteness considered at that time most dangerous to the peace of Europe. Violent and indiscriminate accusations were levelled at one another from both sides, and in this conflict nobody, not even the most illustrious and august personages, were spared. A conference of British and foreign journalists was held in December, 1899, and a resolution was carried unanimously, declaring as offences against the honour and dignity of the Press—(1) All libellous attacks against persons who are outside politics, and who, from their position, are precluded from replying. (2) All libellous attacks against nations and against the Press of different countries.The action of the conference proved of incalculable value in restraining the violent spirit of the Press which desired 1305 to show hostility to this country, and helped to relieve a tension which was becoming intolerable. What was wanted was recognition in that House of the fair claim of the foreign and Colonial Press to admission. He and his friends had no desire to force the hand of the responsible Minister, but he suggested that steps should be taken to give effect to this Resolution when time and opportunity offered. He begged to move.
§ MR. MADDISON (Burnley)
, in seconding the Motion, said the mover had given good reasons why it should be accepted. He was quite sure that the fact that the foreign and Colonial Press were not admitted was not due to any antipathy towards them. He thought that should be made plain at once. They were not trying to convert the House to a more friendly feeling to the Press of foreign nations. As the mover of the Resolution had said, there were solid historical reasons why they had been slow to move in the desired direction. The British Parliament existed before there was any Press at all, and they knew well that the reporting of speeches was looked upon with a jealous eye, and for a long time was prohibited altogether. Their treatment of the foreign Press might be taken as evidence of the great antiquity of the House. Had not the time now come when they should discontinue that policy? This was the day of internationalism in art and science, in labour and capital, and in almost every form of human activity. There was a tendency nowadays to get the opinion of others as well as our own, and he thought that was a very healthy movement. The time had gone by when the average man entertained the savage opinion that in order to love his own country he must hit all other countries. He and his friends claimed that the admission of the representatives of the foreign Press would be a modest contribution to international fraternity. It might be said that the reports which appeared could be copied or translated. He thought hon. Members would agree with him when he said that no man could really understand the composition and methods of that House unless he was present to hear the speeches and witness how 1306 the speeches were received. The skilled journalist—and it would be only the skilled journalist who would come—could interpret the feeling of the House in a way that no mere report of a speech could convey. He hoped hon. Members would not belittle this contribution to international fraternity. We had need in these days of every factor which made for good will, and we could not afford to be isolated from the great currents of humanity along which progress ultimately was to be found. He could conceive of no objection, except on the ground of lack of space, to providing accommodation for the foreign and Colonial Press. It might be said that if they could not find room for all the representatives of the provincial Press, why should they try to make room for the foreign and Colonial Press? He thought that that was a very insular idea. As had been said by the mover of the Resolution, British journalists obtained not only ample but some of the best accommodation in all the great Parliaments of Europe. The representatives of the British Press had the run of the lobbies, and were able to speak to Ministers and Members, and by so doing they received explanations which they would not otherwise obtain to save this country and others from disaster. Therefore, he maintained that it was not valid to argue that because they could not accommodate all our own Press they should not find room for the foreign and Colonial Press. Fortunately, the Minister on the front bench who was charged with the duty of supervising the arrangements of the House was one who had got nearest to the performance of the miraculous, and, therefore, hon. Members looked to him with a good deal of confidence in this matter. He would not venture to make even a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, but he had thought that the requisite space for the accommodation of the foreign journalists, and with which he understood they would be satisfied, who would be selected by the Syndicate of the International Press, might be found with comparative case in the galleries on each side of the House which were very seldom occupied by hon. Members. In conclusion, he could not think that the British Parliament wished to remain the one great Assembly 1307 in Europe which kept out of its Chamber the representatives of the foreign Press, and he was quite sure that they might rely upon the First Commissioner of Works to find a solution of the accommodation difficulty.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House is of opinion that accommodation should be provided in the House of Commons for representatives of the foreign and Colonial Press, and that such extension of the Reporters' Gallery or such increase of room elsewhere should be made as will suffice for this purpose."—Mr. Smeaton.)
§ *THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. HARCOURT,) Lancashire, Rossendale
The Resolution which has been so ably and so reasonably presented to the House by my two hon. friends is not one which necessarily or directly involves the Government in any action, though it is quite true that if carried it might impose upon me the necessity of considering some structural alterations hereafter. But though the Government is not involved, I think it is only courteous to the House that I should intervene as soon as possible, not to venture to advise hon. Members, but to lay before them such facts as are within my own knowledge, because I have been compelled to study the question both from its architectural and structural points of view. The allocation of the seats in the Press Gallery rests entirely with the authorities of the House, not with me or the Government. If this Resolution were carried to-night they might order it to be carried into effect, and I would obey that order subject, of course, to the control of the Treasury, which, I am sure to our ultimate advantage, has a finger in every pie. I could have wished that this Resolution should have been moved in Committee of the House, because Mr. Speaker might there have followed precedents set by his predecessors, and have addressed the House himself from that side gallery which this Motion would apparently and necessarily entrench upon. Such a precedent was set by Speaker Addington when he spoke from the side gall by on a question of assessed taxes. But this illumination of the debate is out of the 1308 question and I do not assume to represent the opinion of Mr. Speaker or of the authorities of the House in this matter. I merely state what is within my own knowledge, that unfortunately the accommodation for the British Press is wholly insufficient as it is at present. I believe I shall be very much understating the case when I say that there are more than fifty newspapers anxious and waiting for accommodation in the Press Gallery which they are now quite unable to obtain. During the last year I have been able to improve the accommodation for the Press, not in the Gallery itself, but behind the Gallery, and have, at all events, provided a place of retreat in which descriptions of Parliamentary proceedings may be written free from the bustle and disturbance of actual debate, and with some degree of comfort. But I do think that on this question charity in seats must begin with the home Press. No one would more warmly welcome than I should the presence of the representatives of the foreign Press in our Gallery. I think it would be an enormous advantage that they should acquire intimate knowledge of our Parliamentary habits, and that they should be able to transmit to their readers abroad some vivid pictures of our attitude of mind towards foreign nations, and that they should be permitted to mirror, as our own Press does, the natural desire we have of strengthening the bonds of friendly relations, and our constant desire to destroy those causes which most unnecessarily, as they generally seem to me, lead to those irritations which occasionally occur between ourselves and other nations. I should have been glad if we could have reciprocated some of that consideration shown to, and that accommodation placed at the disposal of, our Press in other countries. But I do not see that it is possible under present conditions, because in order to do so I should have to deprive hon. Members of part, probably a considerable part, of their accommodation in the side galleries.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
I have observed the Amendment of my hon. friend on 1309 the Paper; but even if I were to take part of these side galleries there are structural difficulties in the removal of the door. Hon. Members may not know that the whole of the wall there is a mass of flues for the ventilation of the House and the removal of the smoke. These are, however, only some of the difficulties. If the representatives of the foreign Press were put in the side galleries they would probably be there only when the House was occupied with subjects of high importance and great public interest, and these are the occasions when the galleries are most required by Members of the House themselves. It must not be forgotten that these galleries are an integral part of the House, and that from thence hon. Members can ask questions and make speeches.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
If Mr. Speaker's eye is fixed on things above, no doubt hon. Members would be able to catch it. From inquiries I have made, I have come to the conclusion that, generous as are their sentiments towards the Press of all nations, even to the Press of their own hon. Members are not prepared at present to part with the limited seating accommodation they have in this Chamber. I have had before now to resist proposals Which I venture to call proposals of the "hardy septennial species," to provide a new Chamber. The demand is made at the beginning of every new Parliament that we should set to work to construct a new Chamber; but in the second session it becomes less urgent; and, as a rule, it wholly disappears in the third. I know all the plans which have been made for the enlargement and for the alteration of the shape of this Chamber, and the advantages of the horse-shoe form which would enable Members to drift from one side of the House to the other more easily. I know how the Chamber may be made to accommodate double the number of Members who represent constituencies. I do not deny that it can be done at great expense, and at considerable inconvenience, but when completed you would have acquired 1310 a Chamber which would be quite intolerable for the transaction of ordinary business, such as we are to-night engaged upon. I would not venture to count the Members present, but at all events for the transaction of the ordinary House of Commons business, I believe that the present Chamber is well suited to its purpose. Even with a larger Chamber no one can say what the acoustic properties would be. By accident, and after many alterations, the acoustic properties of the present Chamber leave little to be desired, and could not have been got by design. I cannot discover a solvent by which its Gothic stones could be made of a more elastic material so as to provide the accommodation desired by private Members with imagination. After all, I am tied by the inexorable limits of Sir Francis Barry's original design. Unfortunately the House was built in the days when Parliamentary reporting was in its childhood, in the days when any private Member could espy reporters and have them excluded as strangers—as I have myself seen done. There was no room then in this building for the comity of nations being recognised by the presence of representatives of the foreign Press. There is an Amendment on the Paper in the name of my hon. and learned friend, the Member for Donegal. I do not propose to deal with it now; in fact if I did so, I would be out of order. I will only in passing say that it is dangerous to introduce foreign matter into the wheels of a delicate machine; it is likely to lead to friction, and possibly heat, and in the relations between this floor and that Gallery there is enough of that commodity to-day. At all events, I cannot regard the hon. Member's prescription in the nature either of a prophylactic or an antiseptic. While I deeply sympathise with the objects of the hon. Members who have moved and seconded this Resolution to-night, I feel bound honestly to tell the House that I do not see at present the methods by which they can be carried out, but if circumstances were to alter, and I can see some machinery by which we can create accommodation for our foreign friends I shall be the first, not only to carry it out, but to suggest it to the House myself. Under these 1311 circumstances I hope the hon. Gentleman will think it possible to withdraw his Motion, because if he presses it to a division I shall feel bound to vote against it and advise my friends to do so, but I am sure that by the discussion of his Motion he has enabled us to give a warn expression of our sympathy with those representatives of the foreign Press whom we should like to see here, and I am sure the rejection of the Motion would give an-impression abroad to those friends for whom we entertain warm feelings of friendship which is wholly foreign to the tone and temper of this House.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said he joined with his right hon. friend in asking his friend who moved this Resolution not to go to a division. He did not know what the result might be, but if they were to divide he agreed with his right hon. friend that it would be giving an entirely false impression. He was not surprised at the speech of the First Commissioner of Works; he never was surprised at the speech of an official. He started upon any political enterprise upon which he might be tempted to enter with strong conviction that anything a private Member proposed was sure at first to meet with every obstacle from the official hierarchy. That was sure to be the case, however democratic and genial the Minister might be, and they could not have one more democratic and genial than they had in this case. It was part of the obstinacy and unwillingness to accept any proposal which had been in the race of rulers since the days of the Old Testament. His right hon. friend had made exactly the same speech in substance that had been made with less grace by every man in his place to any proposal to increase the accommodation for the Press in the House. As a matter of fact, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the admission of the Press was an innovation in this House, but his universally informed friend, or his encyclopædic friend on his left told him that the Press Gallery dated from 1835. He knew, however, that his friend Mr. Justin McCarthy, when he reported for a Liverpool paper, was only able to report a speech of 1312 Mr. Gladstone from a spot behind the Strangers' Gallery. He and some other reporters got that privilege, and he believed the only reason they obtained it was that Mr. Cardwell happened to be a Cabinet Minister and sat for a Liverpool constituency. There was a time not long since when no representatives of the provincial Press were admitted, and the First Commissioner of Works got up from time to time and made the same explanation that it would require structural alterations to admit them, and that there were pipes and flues to be considered. If a Minister could not give any other explanation he fell back upon pipes and flues. But they all knew that if his right hon. friend made up his mind that it was possible to make this change it could be done, and in his opinion a decent journeyman carpenter could make all the changes necessary and take half-a-dozen seats from the side galleries. Pipes and flues were the embroidery by which bureaucracy was enabled—if he might mix the metaphor—to eke out the nakedness of its argument. It was quite true that the home Press was not sufficiently accommodated already, and his hon. friend reminded him that the Hansard arrangements were also inconvenient. He sometimes thought it was more important that they should have the Press there than the Members of the House. He knew he never found the House of Commons half so interesting as when he was about fifty or a hundred miles away from it, because on taking up the reporting columns or the still more interesting descriptive reports of the papers he found thrills and excitement and representations of a tumultuous House of Commons, whereas when he was present it was often the case that one Gentleman was addressing his constituents with three or four other Gentlemen in the House, who were not listening to him, but waiting for him to sit down in order that they might speak. What did it matter if 12 or 13 feet were taken off the side gallery? He had never seen that gallery filled except when Mr. Gladstone introduced his Home Rule Bill, and so exceptional was that occasion that even the floor of the House was occupied by chairs for hon. Members who could not otherwise get a seat, and some of 1313 them were there as early as the midnight before the right hon. Gentleman proposed his Bill. Except on an occasion like that he had never seen more than two or three Members in that gallery, and therefore, so far as the accommodation of Members of the House was concerned, that gallery was absolutely useless. There was a good deal behind this Motion. As a matter of fact it would tend to good relations between this country and countries on the Continent of Europe if their proceedings were adequately and properly reported. He thought that ignorance was the beginning of misunderstanding, and misunderstanding was the beginning of anything. Half the great conflicts in the world, even the most devastating, had been the result of ignorance and misunderstanding, and when the conflict was over, as in the case of Russia and Japan, the calm historian had to find out the facts of the dispute. In his own time newspapers had made war, and he sometimes wondered whether newspapers did not make more wars than they made peace. He did not say that they made war except in this sense, that a match did not make a conflagration until it was applied to a magazine of powder, but sometimes the publication in newspapers of news that was true or false was as a match thrown into a magazine of passion between the nations and produced a conflagration and terrible effects. For instance, was it not the publication of the despatch describing the interview between the late Emperor William the First and Count Benedetti at Ems which made inevitable the great war between France and Germany? He dared say that when the Dogger Bank incident took place it was not the fault of the newspapers in this country that there was not war between us and Russia. What happened at the present moment? The proceedings of the House of Commons were practically unknown in all their vital reality to the countries on the Continent of Europe. There was undoubtedly an excellent agency—Reuter's—which sent what must necessarily be a brief account of their proceedings, but everybody knew that a mere dry record of speeches and answers gave no idea of the inner realities and history of that House. The manner in which the speeches were received, the tone in 1314 which the House listened to them, the temper in which the speaker spoke, were all part of the real life of that Assembly, which could only be described to the Continent of Europe by eye-witnesses. He thought that it would tend to bring about a better understanding between this and other countries if the proceedings of that Assembly, which was the great centre of light and heat, were to radiate throughout the countries of Europe. He should think his right hon. friend would blush with shame when he contrasted our action in this matter with the hospitality given to British journalists in Paris, Berlin and Vienna.
§ CAPTAIN CRAIG (Down, E.)
said the First Commissioner of Works had based his argument upon the difficulty of the structural alterations of the House, but he fancied that the right hon. Gentleman did not want to see foreign representatives of the Press present and only advanced structural alterations as a way of getting out of the difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman had appealed to the mover to withdraw his Motion entirely on the ground of the cost which would be entailed in the necessary alterations. He himself appealed to the hon. Member to withdraw the Motion on the ground that it was undesirable to have members of the foreign. Press present at the proceedings of the British Parliament. In the opinion of the last speaker a great deal of the misunderstanding between nations would be smoothed over if reports were sent by representatives of the foreign Press direct from the Gallery, reflecting the exact tone of the speeches and the reception of those speeches. But if that argument were carried to its logical conclusion, what a peaceful and happy country Ireland would have been for the last century, represented as she was so well in the Gallery by Irish Pressmen and having every possible remark and attitude of every Irish speaker in the House sent across with perfect accuracy to their constituents. The argument of the hon. Member was not a strong argument to advance when tested in that way, and the same would apply to the admission of the Press of foreign countries. We were at peace with all the foreign nations of the world at the present time. [An 1315 HON. MEMBER: Except your own]. It was most remarkable when the House considered the attention Irish Unionists gave to the speeches of hon. Members below the gangway that they should not have some reciprocity from them.
§ CAPTAIN CRAIG
thought that if foreign countries were represented by their own Press in the Gallery the argument which had been used by the hon. Member opposite in favour of universal peace might be used with equal effect to stir up trouble between this and other countries. Therefore, in his opinion, that argument was not well founded. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion had suggested that not only should the foreign Press be allowed in the Gallery, but that they should also be allowed in the lobby with the same freedom as the Press of this country. That was a proposition which he should vote against because, in his opinion, it would not be to the advantage of this country to have the foreign Press representatives crowding the lobby of the House. Everybody who had travelled abroad must have been struck by the ability with which foreign newspapers reflected what was said in the British Parliament. He had often been struck with the remarkably true manner in which the utterances of Parliament were summarised and reflected in foreign newspapers by the present agencies, the Central News and Reuter's; no foreign Press representative in the Gallery could get a clearer view of the case than was presented by the two agencies he had named. He submitted that this question ought only to be dealt with after full accommodation had been made in the Press Gallery for the British and Colonial Press. He could not himself conceive why such an outcry should be made with regard to having the foreign Press in the Gallery after the outcry made by the German Press. At the present moment Count von Bulow himself had to postpone indefinitely an important statement he desired to make, owing to the action of the German Press. If the speeches made in this House were to be reported fully in 1316 foreign countries it was better that they should be reported by a Press which was absolutely free from the bias of the political parties of those countries. It had always been held that the news sent to foreign countries by the British Press had been a fair comment upon what occurred in the House and the summaries of the speeches made had been accurate summaries. The mover of the Resolution in the course of his speech had suggested that the Colonial Press should also be admitted, but unfortunately he had not incorporated "Colonial Press" in his Resolution and it would be out of order to amend his Resolution by moving to insert "Colonial Press"; therefore if the Resolution was carried it would not help the Colonial Press, but simply open the Gallery to foreign journalists. If the Motion went to a division he should vote against it.
§ *MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)
said the mover of the Resolution had expressed the opinion that if foreign reporters were admitted to the Press Gallery and reported directly what took place in the House, it would lead to the reduction of armaments and be in the interests of peace. He was, however, afraid that the throwing open of the Press Gallery would not altogether have the same effect which the hon. Gentleman anticipated, although he certainly believed that if the reporters of foreign newspapers were present in the Press Gallery it would impose a useful check upon the references made in this House to foreign powers which were too often arrogant and ill-informed. His hon. friend in his speech slipped in this respect, when he referred to the Russians as "suffering under an autocratic regime." If there were reporters from Russia in the gallery, he was not sure it would altogether tend to international amity to have speeches of that kind reported. If his hon. friend had lived in Russia as he had done, he would doubt whether it was in any way a correct description of what happened in Russia, or of the feelings of the people towards their governors. They had, at any rate in parts of Russia, he knew, profound regard for the Imperial family, and the villages enjoyed communal democratic government. Then the hon. Member 1317 for Leicester had expressed his opinion that such was the condition of Russia, that it did not become this country to enter into any diplomatic relations with her until she had altered her constitution and adopted that form which he happened to approve, and prescribed for the round world. He believed that the presence of reporters of foreign papers would be a useful check upon his hon. friend when next he adopted that attitude. When the question of the Congo was before the House the other night, hon. Member after hon. Member said that Belgium would behave well if she only knew what she was about, and understood the circumstances of the case. Belgium was, therefore, represented as being wanting in intelligence and knowledge of its own business, though not apparently in humanity. But when Macedonia came before the House, the Turk was at once credited with cruelty. That was an entirely false conception of the Turk, as he thought every hon. Member who had been in Turkey would agree. Nothing was said about the Greeks and Bulgarians there, who cut one another's throats and made most of the mischief, but the Turks, because they were Mahomedans, were said to be cruel. Cruelty was apparently a characteristic of Mahomedans in the eyes of hon. Members who knew nothing of Islam and its followers. Was it desirable that such speeches should be published more fully for the benefit of other nations? Then another hon. Member was so impressed by the kind treatment he had received in Russia that he was prepared on the spot to give Russia a port in the Persian Gulf. He did not think that was a desirable thing to be reported in Russia where they might imagine that the hon. Member's opinion carried weight. The hon. Member for Salford to-day wanted the Foreign Minister to interfere with the internal arrangements of Japan, because he imagined they were ill-treating the inhabitants of Formosa, apparently he did not know of Japan's unparalled success in civilising the worst of savages, but in any case, it was no business of ours. That was another thing which it was highly undesirable should be reported at greater length for the benefit of foreign nations than it was likely to be 1318 under the existing system. This was his objection to the Motion; otherwise, it had his general support. When the right hon. Gentleman said that he could not provide room for foreign reporters, he thought he did himself an injustice, for he had always regarded him as a kind of benevolent wizard who could do anything for hon. Members. He believed, if the First Commissioner wished to provide the accommodation, he could do it, though he did not think it was fair to describe the right hon. Gentleman as having in despair "fallen back upon pipes and flues." Nor could he commiserate with the First Commissioner if he had to fall back on a pipe, though if he fell back on a flue he hoped the flue would not prove as overheated, as he (Mr. Rees) regarded the House to be. He was quite aware the House wanted to get on to something else, some new and original subject like tariff reform; and he would not keep it away from its choice; but he did say that hon. Members had very much underestimated the information which under existing circumstances was supplied to foreign nations. He could say that in St. Petersburg, where the Press censorship was the most rigorous in Europe, folks were well informed every morning of what went on in the British House of Commons if they cared to be so informed; and, if little attention was paid to speeches such as he had referred to, and if they were veiled in a decent obscurity, it was a very fortunate circumstance, and he hoped it would continue to prevail.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said it was very comforting to know that, if the oration to which they had just listened were published and printed in all parts of the world, it would be strictly innocuous. They had heard the pronouncement from a great leader of the party which represented all the wealth, intellect, and intelligence of Ireland that that wealth, intellect, and intelligence must be kept and confined to a limited circle—themselves, of course—and that foreigners must be excluded from the benefit of it. He must congratulate the hon. Member on his oration. For the first time he had made a speech without dragging in the Union Jack or 1319 the Union on which all their happiness was supposed to depend. He now came with all kindness to the speech of his right hon. friend, who had the one saving gift of humour. He was able to say with a conscience which would have done credit to an Anglican curate that there was no room and that he was compelled by considerations of space not to entertain, beyond the expression of a pious opinion—a kind of doxology—the question of providing accommodation for the reporters of the foreign Press. His right hon. friend had really a genius for architecture, and he would have done extremely well as a twentieth century Wren. Fe believed, however, that if the reporters of the foreign Press were given accommodation in the side galleries by the extension of the Reporters' Gallery three or four seats no one would be in the slightest degree embarrassed. Although the right hon. Gentleman had the advantage of being younger than he (Mr. MacNeill) he had had considerable Parliamentary experience, and could recall the days—he must have been under the gallery in short-coats—when any hon. Member could espy strangers and have the reporters excluded. There was, however, one quarter of the House in which twenty-five seats were kept separate and distinct for gentlemen who did not use them, except upon very rare occasions. He could not for the life of him see why the Peers' Gallery should rot be open to the reporters. They would make use of it, and the Peers did not seem to want it. He would take instances within the recollection of all. Yesterday, there was what, in the Tory mind, was a full dress debate. The late Colonial Secretary got up and with enormous power delivered an oration on the vexed question of South Africa, supra Peckham. Every seat in the House was full. Some came from interest; he came for amusement. The Peers' Gallery, however, was empty, except for one solitary Peer, whilst many people would have liked to have got in and many Press representatives would have been delighted to have occupied the seats there. To-day, one of the most delightful and eloquent tributes ever passed by one statesman on another, was delivered to the memory of the Duke of Devonshire, 1320 a Peer of Peers. The House was filled and the galleries were filled, but in the Peers' Gallery there were six in a place which would have accommodated twenty-five. He was not a tremendous admirer of Peers, and he would not keep a portion of the people's House unoccupied for them, especially when they did not use it. It was absurd, and he really asked right hon. Gentlemen to think of the absurdity of it. He would be very sorry indeed if even one British or Irish reporter was excluded by accommodation being provided for the foreign Press. He regarded the presence of reporters of foreign newspapers who could catch the tone of the House, realise the proportions, and see things in their true light, to be of essential benefit to the peace and amity of the world. There was no doubt whatever about that. He would give them one slight instance to show what he meant. He would take care not to mention any name. Some eighteen months ago a gentleman, who got, he did not know by what preliminary methods, an Urder-Secretaryship, made a fierce attack in regard to an important question, and, because there were not German, French, and other foreign reporters in the House who could have measured his intellectual and political stature, it was greatly magnified, He believed in Germany for months afterwards nurses used to hush children to sleep by saying: "The great Englishman is coming." They had been able to take the measure of that eminent statesman. The hon. Gentleman who had just come in and to whom he had referred as a budding statesman had, during the last six weeks, frequently interrogated the Government about the possibility of foreign invasion and had given en entirely false idea. If what occurred in that House was seen by foreign journalists and reporters, the whole thing would be quite different and the proper intellectual measure of the hon. Gentleman would be taken. But it was notorious to everyone who had been on the Continent, that foreign countries largely took their cue of the politics of this country and of what went on in that House from the mendacious columns of The Times. He believed that if there were foreign representatives present the malignant influence of 1321 that paper, which everyone in this country knew, or ought to know, was a public liar, would be curtailed. Reports of the debates in that House furnished in the columns of The Times, he was bound to say were, on the whole, fair reports and fair summaries. But with these reports which were fair there came malignant comments which were taken in many places, even by well-informed Continental journalists, as gospel truths. If three or four seats were given to representatives of foreign journals the greatest benefit would be secured.
§ MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)
said he would not have risen but that he desired to make a practical suggestion. He hoped in anything he might say that he would be able to avoid the party references and the somewhat quarrelsome tone which had been introduced in some of the later speeches. It would be impossible for him to oppose the Motion which his hon. friend had made. It would be unfriendly to the profession to which he had belonged all his life, and it would be unfriendly to foreign people, with whom he desired this country should always be on terms of the greatest cordiality. He agreed with the mover of the Resolution that its acceptance would tend towards peace and make for friendship between the nations of Europe. One had to look at the matter, however, not only from the point of view of the foreign newspapers, but from the point of view of the British and Irish newspapers. The right hon. Gentleman had told them there were physical difficulties in the way of finding room for representatives of the foreign Press. He was against any encroachment on the space that was found to be necessary for our own newspapers, but he was also against any encroachment upon the space which Members of that House enjoyed whether on the floor or in the gallery. Any further limitation of their room would only tend to revive those septennial demands for a new horseshoe-shaped House of Commons to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. He, for his part, had no desire whatever to see the House either enlarged or diminished. The suggestion he had to make was that if they could not take space from their own gallery or 1322 invent space in some other part of the House, they should at least find out how the space already allotted to the Press was allocated. The First Commissioner had told them that the matter was not in his Department, and that it was a matter for the authorities of the House. He had the greatest possible respect for the authorities of the House, but he did not know how to get at them. They were the one power regulating their affairs which appeared to him to be inaccessible to members. But perhaps the First Commissioner himself would be able to bring his great influence to bear to obtain from them some statement of the manner in which the fifty or so seats in the Press Gallery were at present allocated. He believed at one time a map was drawn of the Gallery with the names of the newspapers entitled to seats there, just as one sometimes saw a dinner plan on those occasions when one was invited to a great banquet. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would find out, and make the information available to the whore House, the newspapers which were represented in the Gallery and the number of places which they enjoyed, so that they might find out whether the right newspapers were admitted. He suspected that the allocation of seats there was of some considerable standing, and that it was not frequently revised. The suggestions he would make was that the allocation of seats should be revised from time to time, and that at pretty frequent periods, so that there might not be seats occupied by what he might call deadheads, without disrespect, he hoped, to his Press friends above—by those who were not really reporting the proceedings of the House, but were looking on for dillettante or artistic or some other purposes. He would yield to none in his admiration of the skill of the professional gentlemen who attended their debates or in his estimate of the importance to every Member of the House and to the constituencies which they represented of the services which those patient gentlemen rendered to them. He was sure one must pity them, for many a time Members felt impelled to escape from the chamber, but the professional gentleman upstairs had 1323 to sit it out. He hoped right hon. Gentlemen might even yet say something in the direction of meeting this point, as the very fact that the seats were so few and necessarily so restricted by physical limitations should make them extremely careful that they were allotted in the best and most effectual way possible.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
said he did not wish to prolong the discussion. He wished to call the First Commissioner's attention to one fact alone. He would find if he referred to the Report of the Committee on the Parliamentary Debates very valuable evidence to guide him in this matter, and amongst other things he would find it proved beyond all doubt that the official reporting staff in the Gallery were entirely inadequately accommodated. Whatever might be said of the newspapers generally, metropolitan and provincial, everybody must agree that those who were engaged in reporting the official records of Parliament ought to have the very best places and every facility given them. He quite agreed with his hon. friend opposite that if it were possible it would be very good to have representatives from every part of the world. There was nothing to be objected to in that, but before any step was taken the Report of that Select Committee ought to be acted upon, and proper arrangements made to give the Official Parliamentary reporting staff proper accommodation which they had not at present. However the newspapers might be accommodated it was a fact that those who were engaged in compiling the records of Parliament were not properly accommodated. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would bear that in mind and get the recommendation of the Committee acted upon.
§ *SIR J. JARDINE (Roxburghshire)
said he did not wish to give a silent vote on this question. He would like to associate himself with the mover and seconder of the Resolution, and to instance the case of India, which had not been alluded to. Probably the hon. Member who moved the Resolution meant to include that great dependency in the term "Colonies." 1324 It would, he thought, considerably improve our relations with the people of India if they had reports of the proceedings of that House coming to them at first hand from any representative that their newspapers chose to send to Westminster. Considering the great number of questions which were being constantly put to the Secretary for India, India evidently loomed largely in their discussions. He had been very much impressed with the great interest which some of the Colonies, e.g. Canada, took in the debates of the House. He thought the great newspapers of Canada should have facilities for being directly represented in the House, and if the could not be done for lack of accommodation in the Press Gallery, surely the representatives of those newspapers might be allowed to penetrate if not into the Chamber itself, at least into the inner Lobby. At present their position was as ignominious and unhappy as that of the wives of hon. Members, who had to wait at a distance, until the Members whom they sought had been hunted up all over the building. If the correspondents could not hear the speeches, then they might be able to catch some of the echoes, and that arrangement might prevent some of those misunderstandings with European nations which they all deplored.
§ *MR. SMEATON
said that the right hon. Gentleman had met him in a friendly tone and had given conditional promises of which he had taken note—to the effect that if circumstances were to alter, the difficulties might be overcome with time, money, and good intentions, He regarded those words as conveying a desire to make the concession when opportunity occurred—and that need not be far off. Under these circumstances he would not divide the House, and he asked leave to withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.