THE MARCONI REPORT.
WHEN a man whose conduct is being criticized chooses the wildest, the most ill-judged, the most sensational, the most irresponsible of the attacks upon him, and insists upon answering these and giving the go-by to any measured reproof or sober and reasonable allegation, we may feel quite certain of one thing. He has done something indiscreet and unbecoming, something which he is at heart ashamed of, something which he desires to cover up and conceal. A homely but not uncom- mon illustration of what we mean may be found in the home circle. Suppose a butler who has become careless, who has been setting a bad example to the footman by taking an occasional glass of port or sherry off the dinner- table on the plea that he is tasting the wine to see whether it has kept all right, who goes out at unauthorized hours, who leaves the cellar key about and forgets to fasten the back door at night, and, finally, who keeps these goings- on carefully concealed from his employer. These are not corrupt or criminal acts in themselves, but they are, as Lord Haldane would say, " bad things to happen "—things unbecoming a butler, things which the master of the house is bound to take notice of. When he does take notice of them and reproves the butler, it is ten to one that the guardian of the pantry and the plate chest will fly into a rage and declare that never in his life has he been so cruelly and unjustly treated. In heroic terms, terms which would seem exaggerated if he were defending himself against charges of bigamy, burglary, and arson, he refuses utterly to deal with the allegations made acraihst him. Instead he insists on declaring that he has been accused of drunkenness and theft, maintains that he is innocent of the faults of which he has not been accused, and demands to be confronted with the vile liars and slanderers who have maligned him, &c., &c.
When his emploNr at last gets heard above the storm, and points out that he is not accusing him of theft or drunkenness, but merely of carelessness, indiscretion, and conduct unbecoming one of the chief servants in the house, he only sets the butler off into another tirade against the wickedness of his accusers and the encourage- ment that his master has given them. Had not he heard the hall-boy that very morning whispering with the scullery-maid, and caught distinctly the words " pinch " and " tight " and other phrases too dreadful to repeat, and was not it all due to the fact that his employer had spoken so " cruel hard " to him when the plate-chest key was found in the gutter outside the back door ? So the argument rages. The butler will not answer the relevant and reasonable charges that are made against him, but insists instead upon dealing with the charges which nobody seriously entertains, and which at the most are due to the flighty gossip and head- shakings of what a country Malaprop called " wilfully disposed persons." " I'll never stoop to answer accusations of carelessness, indiscretion, and concealment till I've ' cleared up ' my character and shown I'm not a drunkard, a thief, and a liar. I'll not be silenced when such things are being said about me, and I don't care who knows it."
That is the situation, and that is the spirit which inspires the Majority Report of the Marconi Committee. Its drafters are not going to deal with such peddling matters as the allegations of want of delicacy, of discretion, of candour, or to trouble their heads about conduct which, though not corrupt, was merely unbecoming Ministers of the Crown. These allegations are all brushed aside and, as they would say, the " real " charges—the charges of corruption—are examined and disposed of. It is the old, old dodge of the man caught out in an unbecoming and indefensible action taking refuge in rhetoric and exaggeration—setting up a man of straw and showing how easy it is to knock the stuffing out of him. This is how the Majority Report formulates the charges made against the Ministers of the Crown. It was " stated or implied," they tell us,— "First, that a member or members of the Government, acting in the interests of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, Limited, hereinafter referred to as the English Company, and in disregard of the public interests, had exercised undue influence to procure for the Company a Government contract, or had, in some way, exercised improper or undue influence, direct or indirect, in the course of the negotiations for such a contract ; and, secondly, that a member or members of the Government, with a knowledge acquired in his or their official capacity of the nature of the negotiations and of the probability that an Agreement would be completed of great value to the English Company, during the progress of the negotiations had purchased shares in that Company with a view to selling them at a profit on the announcement of a favourable result of the negotiations."
What a shameless travesty of the facts ! We suppose that the majority of a Committee of the House of Commons are too great and good ever to answer anybody so humble as a journalist, or, at any rate, an Opposition journalist. Otherwise we should like to ask them where they find warrant for such insinuations as these in anything that has ever been said by the Spectator. Remember that they cannot ride off and tell us that the Spectator is below their notice. They specifically and pointedly mention the Spectator in the Report—a proof that they had the Spectator allegations in their minds. Yet we have never written anything in the Spectator on the Marconi scandal in which we have not stated in specific terms that we did not accuse the Ministers implicated of any corrupt action or motive. We have repeated, with an iteration which we fear must have annoyed our readers, that all the Ministers implicated have ever been accused of by us or by any reasonable or responsible person is want of delicacy and discretion, want of candour, and so necessarily con- duct unbecoming Ministers of the Crown. For example, on October 19th, 1912, iu commenting upon the debate in the House of Commons, we said : " The assertion by Ministers of their personal integrity was unnecessary so far as we are concerned. We never questioned it for a moment. That they have been as scrupulously careful as British Ministers ought to be to avoid every appearance of evil we cannot, however, admit." On November 23rd. 1912, we noted that "the plan of meeting one charge by answering another, and a totally different one," seemed likely to spread, and went on therefore to formulate our allegations more specifically :- " We will repeat once more that we have never charged, or intended to charge, any member of the Government or any of its servants directly or indirectly with corruption or any such offence in connexion with the Marconi contract. Indeed, we have been most scurrilously abused by the Eye-witness for our refusal to make such charges. It was there insinuated that we have been trying to shelter the Government. What we have done is to assert that the Government have not in this matter acted with the delicacy, the discretion, and the carefulness of public interests with which they ought to have acted. Through this carelessness two things have happened. The Government have made, as far as we can judge from the evidence, shad bargain with the Marconi Company—though we do not profess to speak from any expert knowledge, but rather from the admissions of the Government witnesses. Next, and this is by far the more important matter, the Government have, by their want of delicacy and discretion in handling tho whole matter, allowed an atmosphere of suspicion and of poisonous, and as we believe quite untrue, innuendoes to be created which is most injurious to the public interest. This is our contention—a contention which it was, in our belief, a public duty to set forth. From it we shall not be driven by threats or by accusations that we are making attacks which we are not making, or by artful attempts to confound our reasonable protests with the unreasonable and scurrilous accusations which we repudiate and deplore as much as can Mr. Samuel or Sir Rufus Isaacs."
To return for a moment to the insinuation in the report of the Majority Committee that the Spectator accused the implicated Ministers of corruption. Apropos of the charges of corruption the Report states :— " They were first published in The Outlook in a series of articles contributed by Mr. W. Ramage Lawson, which commenced with an article on July 20th, 1912. They were repeated in various forms in subsequent numbers of that journal, and in The Eye- witness, The New Witness, The National Review, and The New Age, and they were also referred to in the Spectator. In these journals the suggestion was repeatedly made and referred to that the con- tract in question was obtained by the English Company through the influence of the Attorney-General, who is the brother of Mr. Godfrey Isaacs, the Managing Director of the Company."
We say that this is one of the most untrue and unjust insinuations that has ever disgraced a public document. The persons responsible for the Report were perfectly well aware that the Spectator had not made these charges, but since they were unable to meet the charges which the Spectator had made, and which they knew to be unanswer- able, they deliberately attempted to create an atmosphere which would make the ordinary reader of the Report believe that the Spectator has said the same things as the Eye-witness and the National Review. Anyone not look- ing very closely at the Report would naturally assume that the words " also referred to in the Spectator" meant referred to with approval. Yet, as we have already shown, they, i.e., the charges of corruption, were always referred to by the Spectator with disapproval and disbelief. Instead of being endorsed directly or indirectly, they were repudiated in plain terms as things which Ministers were not required to answer. The allegations which they were required to answer, i.e., those of want of delicacy and discretion, were then set forth. Note, too, the calculated ambiguity of the second paragraph of our quotation. " In these journals the suggestion was repeatedly made and referred to," &c., &c. There again the ordinary reader would naturally, from the context, take " these journals " to include the Spectator. Finally, in the last paragraph of Part I. of the Report, and when the drafters of the document have got a good distance away from the main paragraph, we find these words : " The combined and persistent action of the journals named has given wide- spread currency to a slander of a particularly vile character on the Ministers against whom it was immediately directed and on the whole public life of the nation." The drafters of the Report, of course, left themselves a loophole to creep out of. If pressed on this point they would reply that they meant by " these journals," and also by the phrase " the journals named," the other newspapers mentioned and not the Spectator. But that was not the impression their words give or what they desired and intended them to give.
It would be difficult to find a more pitiful piece of timid and shame-faced prevarication. The drafters of the Report are willing enough to wound but abjectly afraid to strike. They dare not say openly that the Spectator has charged Ministers with corruption, because they know the false- hood could be immediately exposed. With meanness and cunning they have therefore attempted to create a false impression—an impression which they know they could not substantiate.
If the drafters of the Report had not thought that they were protected by Parliamentary privilege from the consequences of making a statement of this kind, they would have been afraid to write as they have written. They have implied a falsehood, and they were either conscious that they were doing so or else so careless as to be almost equally guilty. In truth, the whole of the Majority Report is tainted by a sycophantic favouritism to Ministers, and a want of independence and straightforwardness which can only be described as nauseating. It is an unworthy, nay, a degraded docu- ment. All who care for the honour of the House of Commons must deeply regret its publication.
It is a pleasure to turn from this miasma of insincerity and cant to "the draft Special Report" proposed by the chairman. We do not say that we can agree with this Report as a whole or with all its findings, but there is a wholly different and infinitely better spirit pervading it. Even if we may think the chairman failed to see the real significance of a great deal of the evidence, we cannot but acknowledge his honesty and courage.
We turn next to the third Report, the " draft Special Report " proposed by Lord Robert Cecil and supported by Mr. Amery, Sir Frederick Banbury, Mr. J. G. Butcher, Mr. George Faber, and Mr. Macmaster. That Report has been condemned as a partial and partizan document and as dictated not by the desire to do equal justice to the persons whose conduct was under inquiry, but to gain a party advantage. We have read it with attention, and we see no proof of these allegations. On the contrary the Report is throughout moderate and judicial in its statements and in its interpretation of the huge mass of evidence laid before the Committee. It never goes outside fair and reasonable comment. There is no attempt to create prejudice. If the story it sets forth is a disagree- able one, that is the fault of the circumstances and not of the authors of the Report. Though it extenuates nothing it sets down nothing in malice, and no attempt is made to exaggerate facts or create prejudice by partial or artful presentation. It is a document of which Lord Robert Cecil has a right to feel proud. It is worthy of him and of his profession in every particular. Finally, and as is right in such a document, the conclusions do not in any way go beyond the evidence set forth, but keep well within it. An impartial person turning from the conclu- sions to see how far they are supported in the body of the Report will again and again be inclined to say that the conclusions might well have been stronger. We cannot find space to quote at length from the Report itself. All we can do is to give the conclusions verbatim :— " (1) So far as we have been able to ascertain, no Minister, official, or member of Parliament had been influenced in the discharge of his public duties by reason of any interest he may have had in any of the Marconi or other undertakings connected with wireless telegraphy, or has utilized information coming to him from official sources for the purpose of investment or specula.. tion in any such undertaking. (2) We are of opinion that the Attorney-General acted with grave impropriety in making an advantageous purchase of shares in the Marconi Company of America upon advice and information not then fully available to the public given to him by the managing director of the English Marconi Company, which was in course of obtaining from the Government a contract of very great import- ance—a contract which even when concluded with the Government had to be ratified by the House of Commons. By doing so he placed himself, however unwittingly, in a position in which his private interest, or sense of obligation, might easily have been in conflict with his public duty.
(3) We think that the Chancellor and the then Chief Ministerial Whip in taking over a portion of the Attorney-General's shares on the same advice and information are open to the same censure ; and we hold this to be also true of the purchase of shares for the Liberal Party funds by the Chief Whip, so far as such purchase was due to the same advice and information.
(4) We find that the purchase of shares by Ministers on April 17th was made at a time when the shares could not have been bought in the ordinary course on the Stock Exchange and at a price lower than that at which an ordinary member of the public could have then bought them. The Attorney-General obtained these advantages because he took the shares from Mr. Harry Isaacs, who had to his knowledge taken them on even more advantageous terms from Mr. Godfrey Isaacs. We think these circumstances increase the impropriety of the transaction. (5) We are of opinion that the Marconi Company of America was materially interested, although indirectly, in the conclusion of the Agreement between the English Marconi Company and the British Government, and it was therefore in any case, apart from any question of purchase on special information, or on special terms, highly inadvisable for Ministers to take shares in the American Marconi Company while the Agreement was still pending.
(6) We hold that the transactions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were in the main in the nature of speculation rather than investment, and that this applies in a less degree to the transactions of the Attorney-General.
(7) We think that the circular distributed by the Marconi Company on March 7th, 1912, gave a misleading account of the tender which had been accepted by the Government, in omitting one of its most important terms, and we regret that the Post- master-General did not take adequate steps to correct this omission.
(8) We think that the action of the Postmaster-General in trying to obtain the ratification of the Agreement by the House of Commons without inquiry, after he knew of the share trans- actions of the Attorney-General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was regrettable.
(9) We find that the rumours current in the City of London as to the connexion between Ministers and Marconi shares, however recklessly and inaccurately expressed, arose chiefly from distorted accounts of Ministerial dealings in the shares of the American Company, and that they were not the mere invention of journalists.
We find no justification for the suggestion that any member of Parliament or any persons connected with the Poulsen system were responsible for the origination or dissemination of the rumours.
(10) We are of opinion that the persistence of rumours and suspicions has been largely due to the reticence of Ministers, particularly in the debate in October, 1912. We regard that reticence as a grave error of judgment, and as wanting in frankness and in respect for the House of Commons. (11) Except as above stated there is no ground for thinking that any Minister or official (apart from Mr. Taylor, whose case has already been dealt with) or member of Parliament who appeared before us had any financial dealing direct or indirect in any Marconi or other undertaking connected with wireless telegraphy."
The fourth Report contained in the White Book, that proposed by Mr. Falconer, may be dismissed in a very few words. It is for the most part the same as the Report finally adopted by the majority. It may interest our readers to know that the piece of calculated confusion in regard to the newspaper charges which we have analysed above, and the sly formula " also referred to in the Spectator," followed by the phrase "in these journals,". were due to the ingenuity of Mr. Falconer.
We have one more word to add. Why did the majority of the committee not call the editor of the Spectator if they intended to include him among the purveyors of the charge of corruption, as we have shown they did include him? The editor stated in the Spectator his willingness to be called, and he fully expected to be called. The reason why after all he was not called we can conjecture. If he had been called he would have shown that he had not only never made, but had repudiated, the charge of corruption, and would have set forth the charge he did make. This would not have at all suited the majority. They desired to pretend that the only charge was one of corruption, which they knew they could answer. They did not want to hear about things they could not answer. Here, again, is a piece of calculated meanness and insincerity.