§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I have to ask the Secretary of State for Home Affairs a Question of which I have given him private Notice — namely, Whether he will give the House any explanation of the entire absence of any preparation for the maintenance of order in the streets of the Metropolis on Monday week last, on the occasion of a demonstration in Trafalgar Square; why a small mob was allowed to commit riot and robbery for nearly two hours without any attempt whatever being made during that time on the part of the authorities to put an end to the disturbance or to arrest the offenders; whether stops have been taken to prevent the possibility of the repetition of such disgraceful proceedings; what orders were given to the police by the Home Office on the occasion referred to, and how the sufferers by the disturbances are to be compensated?
§ LORD ALGERNON PERCY
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers I would ask him whether he will state to the House the precautions, if any, taken previous to the meeting in Trafalgar Square on February 8 to prevent a breach of the peace at that meeting; what orders the police had received as to their behaviour at the meeting; and from whom those orders had proceeded; what communications and orders had passed between the police and the Home Office during the day of February 8, and at what time such communications took place; and, whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to provide full compensation for those who have suffered loss of property, and in some cases ruin, in consequence of the riot of February 8?
§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER
I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will, before he answers the Question, give to those who think that the conduct of the police in this matter has been grossly maligned an opportunity of discussing that most important question?
THE SECRETARY OF STATE (Mr. CHILDERS)
I have received on this most important question, as my hon. Friend has just said, no less than 11 Notices of Questions; and I am most anxious to give the House the very fullest answer in my power to those Questions. It appears to me, considering how much those Questions dovetail into each other, and refer to different times and different days in connection with the events of last Monday week, that perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if, instead of giving a dry answer to each Question as it comes up, I give to the House a narrative, as short as I can make it, of the events to which these Questions refer; and then, if I have missed any point in these Questions, I will conclude by answering that particular point separately. If that is the wish of the House, I will give now the best narrative I can of this most lamentable event. I returned on Saturday, late in the evening, from receiving from Her Majesty the Seals of the Home Office; and on Monday the 8th, at 11 o'clock in the morning, I took over the business of the Office. It was my first duty to see the principal officers of the Department itself, and also to see the principal officers of the Departments under the Home Office. Of the latter, of course, the Chief Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner of Police were among the first; and I specially requested them to see me as early as they could in the day, in order that I might ask them what had been done in respect to the meeting in Trafalgar Square, which was gathering at the very time I saw them. I saw them, I think, between 12 and 1 o'clock that day, and I asked them to tell me what arrangements they had made in view of that meeting. They assured me they had taken ample precautions for the preservation of the peace; and they told me they had given the same assurance to my right hon. Friend and Predecessor (Sir E. Assheton Cross), who held the Seals of the Department up to the evening of the previous Friday, and whom they saw on Friday morning. They told me more than they had been able to state at that time to my Predecessor, because they were able to give me the exact number of persons whom they proposed to employ. They had decided to employ on 595 the occasion 560 men in reserve round Trafalgar Square, besides the double patrols in the Square and the men who were necessary to guard the Monument and the works in the Square itself. The House is doubtless aware that on these occasions it has never been the custom— indeed, it has always been considered unwise—to show what is called the entire force you have at your disposal, from the natural fear of irritating the populace by showing a large number of policemen; but the whole of that force was, as I have said, in the immediate vicinity of the Square—part of it in the Square itself, and 560 men at the police office close by, and in what is known as the St. George's Barracks, on the North side of the Square. I asked the Chief Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner whether they were aware of the special character of the meeting—that this meeting was not, as many of those with which they had to deal—called and frequented by persons with one single object, but was a meeting in which two antagonistic bodies were expected to take part. They told me they were fully aware of, and had made full allowance for, that fact; that they had determined to bring together a very much larger force of police than would have been brought together under ordinary circumstances; and they explained to me the communications which had taken place on the subject, and what was the opinion of what was known as the Working Men's Committee—I believe the proper title is the London United Workmen's Committee—who wrote to them for the first time on the 1st instant, the Monday preceding the Monday to which I am referring. That is the answer to one of the Questions. They said that not only had they provided a very much larger force of men than would have been the case under other circumstances, but that the Chief Commissioner himself would be on the ground during the day; and that was, I believe, the case. Perhaps, in passing, I may inform the House that it is not the custom of the Police Department to submit detailed arrangements as to the handling, or as to the numbers, of police on these occasions to the Home Office. All that is done—and this was done in the present case—was to furnish the Home Office with the printed order, detailing the number of men, and how they were to be employed; and that, 596 which is sent as usual to the Home Office for record, was received by the Home Office in the early part of that day. Well, Sir, with these assurances and these details given me by the Chief Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner, I felt no anxiety as to the power of the police to deal wisely with what might arise in the course of the day. During the day I remained at the Home Office, except for a little more than half-an-hour, till half-past 7 that afternoon, attending to the regular work of the Office. At about half-past 6 o'clock I received from my own house in Piccadilly a note relating to other matters, but which mentioned that there had been a riot in Piccadilly— [Laughter]— and that certain damage had been done. [Renewed laughter.] It is not, Sir, a laughing matter, and I am stating to the House precisely and frankly what occurred. I at once telephoned from the Home Office to Scotland Yard, asking for information on the subject of the message which had so reached me; and a little before 7 o'clock Sir Edmund Henderson and Colonel Pearson, the Chief and Assistant Commissioners of Police, came to the Home Office, and told me, in general terms, what had happened during the day, especially what had happened since the meeting had broken up—that a disorderly body of men went Westward, doing great damage on the way, through Pall Mall, up St. James' Street, in Piccadilly, and then, after passing through the Park, in South Audley Street and North Audley Street. Sir Edmund Henderson reported to me that at that time there was no further disturbance, and I told him to be careful to report anything which might arise, and if there was any renewal of the disturbance. However, Sir, nothing of the kind occurred. Perhaps, at this moment, I might say, what is evidently not the impression of some hon. Gentlemen, that it is not, and never was, usual, during the progress of meetings of this character, to make periodical reports to the Secretary of State. I have made careful examination of the question, and I am stating what has strictly occurred. It is obvious that, in the case of an ordinary meeting, any interference by the Secretary of State would only hamper the operations of the police. But it is usual, and also proper, to report any incident of great 597 consequence external to the meeting; and in this case I am only telling the House, without any remarks or observations of my own, what Sir Edmund Henderson told me—that ho was waiting, before informing me of what had happened, for full reports from the several Inspectors of the divisions. I make no remark upon that statement. I proceed to what happened on Tuesday. I came to the Office very early in the day, and I considered what were the duties that were incumbent upon me. It appeared to me that three duties lay before me—first, to take most active steps to prevent any recurrence of anything approaching the disorders of the day before, and also to take the most efficient steps to calm the public mind. The second was the duty of punishing those who instigated the riot of the day before; and the third was to inquire whether the proceedings of that day were due, in any degree, to official neglect. The first was our primary duty, and I will tell the House what I did in that matter. In the first place, I instructed the Chief Commissioner of Police at once to strengthen his force by calling up all the recruits who had been already accepted. This gave him immediately an additional force of 600 men, and those I arranged with him should be sent at once to the less exposed divisions of the town, so that the best men could be brought in from those divisions to help to keep order in the more exposed and central divisions. In the second place, I asked the War Department to instruct the General Commanding the Home District to hold at our immediate disposal men belonging to each battalion of the Foot Guards and each regiment of the Household Cavalry, and thus in that way to add several thousand men to the force we might require to meet any emergency. Lord Wolseley, the Adjutant General, came to the Home Office, and these arrangements were concerted with him; and I made also the necessary arrangements for magistrates to accompany the military force who might be called out to assist the police. Thirdly, I instructed the Chief Commissioner to take all possible measures to calm the public mind. I will here say at once there is no truth whatever in the statements which have appeared to the effect that orders were issued, either by the Home Office or the Police Authorities, to barri- 598 cade streets or houses, or to warn tradesmen to shut up their shops. I have looked very carefully into this, and I find these rumours which have been so prevalent were absolutely without foundation. ["No, no!"] It is possible, of course, that out of 13,000 constables, some individual constable, without authority, may have used language which was not of a prudent or pacifying character; I have to say distinctly that no such orders were either directly or indirectly given by the Home Office, or by the heads of the police, and that these remarkable telegrams I have received during Tuesday and Wednesday, each of which was the subject of investigation, were thoroughly unfounded. The result of these measures was that by Thursday these apprehensions had calmed down, and the public felt that the arrangements made by the police under our superintendence were sufficient. The second duty which it appeared to me was incumbent upon me was to bring the instigators to justice, and I tell the House what we did in this respect. These instigators were not persons connected with either the Fail-Trade movement or the leaders of the unemployed, who had convened the meeting; but they were the Socialist agitators, who came in such numbers to the Square. No delay was allowed to occur in dealing with these men. Early on Tuesday I called a meeting at the Home Office of the three Under Secretaries there, of one of the Commissioners of Police, and of the Treasury Solicitor; and, after taking preliminary steps, those gentlemen met again a short time afterwards in the afternoon, and the Attorney General was present on the occasion. We decided at once that the head of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police—that is, Mr. Monroe—should at once collect evidence, and, with the aid of the Treasury Solicitor, should get up as rapidly as possible a proper case for summary proceedings against these people; and on Wednesday, the following day, the evidence so collected was reported to me at the Home Office. On Thursday a fresh meeting of those who had met before took place at the Home Office, at which the whole of the evidence collected was carefully considered; and I then found that the prevalent opinion was that proceedings ought to be taken, not in the 599 nature of summary proceedings, but that the people ought to be committed, if the magistrate would commit them, for trial in the usual way by indictment. This view was supported by the most eminent legal opinion; and I have to tender my thanks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), who was the Attorney General in the last Liberal Government, and who, in the necessary and enforced absence of the present Attorney General that evening, rendered us most valuable assistance. I gave, accordingly, final instructions on Friday to the Treasury Solicitors for the necessary steps to be taken for the prosecution of these persons. The summonses were, I believe, issued on the following day. They were returnable on Wednesday last. The four defendants were brought before the magistrate, and from that moment the matter left my hands, and will be dealt with according to the usual process of law. So much for the steps which we took to punish the instigators of these riots. Meanwhile we were considering the third branch of my duty in this respect —that is, the best way of inquiring into the disturbances, and especially into the conduct of the police in connection with the matter. My personal difficulty, in which I am sure I shall have some sympathy from the House, was that I had only gone to the Home Office on the very day that the Department itself was new to me. I had never served as Under Secretary at the Home Office. I had no knowledge of the police arrangements, except that which any Member of the Government might have; and I thought I should be undertaking a very serious business with considerable inexperience if I decided to act alone in an inquiry under these circumstances. I therefore asked four Gentlemen to associate themselves with me in conducting this inquiry—four Gentlemen whose names I thought would be a sufficient guarantee that the inquiry would be conducted in a most thorough, most impartial, and most intelligent manner. The results of the inquiry will not relieve me of a single shred of responsibility. I wish to state this to the House in the most emphatic terms. Although associated with me in making the inquiry, they will have nothing to do with the action which it will be my duty to take in consequence of what is disclosed by this in- 600 quiry, which I shall take strictly on my own responsibility. The aim of the inquiry was to ascertain who was to blame, and why and wherefore this system has broken down. Those who are associated with me in the inquiry have met four times during the present week, after the preliminary meeting of Saturday last; and I may state to the House that at this moment the inquiry approaches completion, so far as the conduct of the police on Monday last was concerned. I hope it will be completed before next Monday. I shall lay the Report on the Table without any delay, and with it a Memorandum of the decision at which I have felt it my duty to arrive; and I feel confident, when the result of this inquiry and the evidence and the whole proceedings of those who have acted with me and my own decision in the matter are laid before the House, both hon. Members and the public outside will be satisfied that the inquiry has been a most searching one—that no stone has been left unturned to get to the root of the matter, and to do so without bias or prejudice. I greatly regret that the inquiry is not completed at this moment; but when the evidence and the proceedings of the Committee are before the country I think it will be seen that that was entirely inevitable. I feel it my duty to acquaint the House with this— that the evidence has disclosed a state of circumstances in respect to the administration of the police which will require my serious attention with the view to an immediate remedy. There seems to be some misconception with respect to the relations between the Home Office and the Police Authorities. These relations are practically the same as those of the Secretary of State for War with the General of an Army in the field, though in each case, whether with respect to the War or Home Department, administrative and financial questions are submitted to and dealt with by the Secretary of State, and he is responsible for the appointment of the principal officers. The details of movements of such as those on Monday week are purely under the responsibility of the Chief Commissioner, and a perusal of the evidence we have taken will show this clearly. But if, after the inquiry is complete, a change in any respect of this kind appears to me desirable, I shall lose no time in making any necessary 601 amendment, and at once communicating to Parliament my intentions. I have, in the course of this narrative, answered several of the Questions that have been put to me. As to those put by the late Home Secretary, I think he will find that I have substantially answered them, except, perhaps, as to the last, which refers to a matter which is the subject of the inquiry now proceeding, I shall prefer not giving an answer now. The Questions of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) also refer to matters which are subjects of the present inquiry. In reply to those Questions that I have not yet answered, I may say that efficient steps had been taken to prevent a repetition of such occurrences. The hon. Member for one of the divisions of Glasgow asks me two Questions. One is, whether it was true that the powers of the Metropolitan Commissioner of Police are so circumscribed as to render him powerless in the case of the recent riots? No; there is no truth in that. The powers of the Commissioner of Police were ample and full, as I have described. He then asks me whether there is any truth in the statement that the Chief Commissioner made an application to the Home Office for necessary powers, and that these were refused? No, Sir; there is no truth in that statement. The Commissioner of Police made no application for any power which was refused. In reply to the Question of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Algernon Percy), I have to say, positively, that no special orders were issued to the police as to their behaviour at the meeting in question. Their orders are contained in the Regulations of the force. The noble Lord also asks me whether Her Majesty's Government propose to give any compensation to the persons who suffered in the riot? I can only say, in answer, that compensation to persons who suffer by riots is supposed to be regulated by law; but I cannot say that in my opinion the law is clear; and it, therefore, is not in my power at this moment to give any opinion as to what compensation—as to how persons who have suffered can receive compensation for those losses. I hope I have now answered clearly all the Questions that have been put to me.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I wish to ask why some portion of the 500 men who were in reserve were not used to arrest 602 the riot during the two hours which it lasted? I am informed that 50 men at any time during those riots might have put a complete stop to the riots.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
I wish to ask, in the first place, whether the right hon. Gentleman has told us everything which took place between the Home Office and the Police Authorities during his period of Office? Whether any communications had been made further than he has told us by himself or the Under Secretary of the Home Office with the police in reference to these transactions; and I also wish to ask as to the statement he has made that the Home Office were not in the habit of having communications with the police in the course of the day when a meeting was to take place? I was astonished by what he stated of the matter, because, by the experience I have had at the Homo Office, it entirely differs from the usual course. I have had constant communications with the police. I also wish to ask how it happened, if there were these reserves, none of them were brought forward, when it was clear that a small amount of force would have stopped the riot? I wish to ask, also, whether any mounted police were on duty at the time, because they are extremely useful? The right hon. Gentleman has made a full and long statement; but I think he has not satisfied the House on the real point which it wanted to know, as to how this matter happened; and I think we ought to have some opportunity of discussing this at greater length than we can now, because he has had the opportunity of making this statement, which it is impossible to answer or to make any comments upon, as it would be out of Order. Therefore, I wish to ask what opportunity will be given of discussing this question?
§ MR. PICTON
I also wish to ask whether it is a fact that at the very time the mob was marching along St. James's Street and Piccadilly breaking windows a considerable force of police was idly guarding Buckingham Palace, where there was no riot; and whether any denial can be given to the allegation that warnings had been given to the shopkeepers in the City by the police?
Two Questions are put to me almost in the same words by the right hon. Gentleman and by my 603 right hon. Friend; and those are how it was that these people were in the position to commit this riot? To that Question I can only say that it is what we are carefully inquiring into. The fact is that a large body of men went away westward from Trafalgar Square, and they committed these depredations; and the question we are examining at this moment is how they came to be allowed to do so, and that is the question which the Police Authorities are inquiring into, and as to which it would not be proper for me to say more. My hon. Friend (Mr. Picton) asks me a Question whether there was a force near Buckingham Palace? It is perfectly true. There was in the Mall a considerable force of police, and the circumstances under which they were sent there are also amongst those being investigated. The right hon. Gentleman also asks me if other communications passed between the Police Authorities and the Home Office? So far as I can ascertain there were none. I can only speak of those which passed between myself and others. I am told that none passed either between myself or other members of my Department and the Police Authorities. As to the alarming rumours in the City, it is perfectly true I received a telegram from a Gentleman who is a Member of this House, and I believe an Alderman of the City. He sent to me a very alarming telegram begging me to take steps to prevent what was going to happen. We have nothing to do with the City Police whatever. The City Police are under the control of the Corporation, and we referred to Colonel Fraser to ascertain whether there was any foundation for the rumour, and we were told that there was no foundation for the rumour. That shows how easy it is to circulate unfounded rumours. The right hon. Gentleman also asks me whether any mounted police were present? No mounted police were employed during the day. He further asks me a Question which I thought I had already answered. I can only speak for myself, but I have asked the officials at the Home Office and Scotland Yard, and they both tell me that during the progress of a meeting it is not customary that communications should pass between Scotland Yard and the Home Office. I am informed that it has only been done in one case, during the great Reform Bill of 1884, when two 604 communications were made to my right hon. Friend. With respect to the general practice as to these meetings, I think I said before that it is not customary for communications to pass between the head of the police and the Home Office until the meeting is over; but I carefully excepted from my statement any allusion, as a question of duty, of reports made of occurrences after such as those which took place on Monday week. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will wait for the result of the inquiry which is being got through with as fast as possible. The Committee sit four hours daily, and the evidence is being printed from day to day; and not an hour will be lost in laying it before the House, together with such decision as I have arrived at.
§ MR. RITCHIE
The right hon. Gentleman made use of one observation which might lead to misconception. I understood him to say that the inquiry was to ascertain who was to blame for the riot. I presume he used it in the sense as applying to the police?
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
I wish to ask whether any information reached the Home Office on Tuesday, the 9th, the day after the riot in the West End, of alarming rumours prevailing in the South of London to the effect that a great body of men were marching from Greenwich and Deptford, in consequence of which many thousands of persons assembled in Newington Butts and Causeway and at the Elephant and Castle, and created so much alarm as to cause the shopkeepers to close their shops; and, if the rumours reached the Home Office, what steps the right hon. Gentleman took to allay the alarm?
It is a rather difficult Question to answer off-hand. Undoubtedly on Tuesday and on Wednesday very alarming rumours did reach the Home Office. In every case we made inquiry, and found those rumours were, almost without exception, unfounded; and we did our best to allay public uneasiness by instructing the police to give in- 605 formation that there was no foundation for the rumours.
§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER
I have to ask the right hon. Gentleman what facilities he will give the House for discussing the matter?
I can promise to do nothing more than to lay on the Table as early as possible the evidence now being taken before the Committee; it then rests with the House.
§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government will answer the Question.
It is impossible for me to enter into that question. We must have an opportunity of seeing the evidence and the Report before we can fix any day; besides, after what I have stated about Supply, I cannot pledge myself by giving any precise undertaking.
§ LORD ALGERNON PERCY
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department whether there is any truth in the report that while the mob were breaking the windows in Pall Mall 50 police were marched across Waterloo Place to the Duke of York's Column, with distinct orders not to interfere; and whether 15 police were not afterwards sufficient to prevent the mob from proceeding from Oxford Street down Bond Street?
The noble Lord has given me Notice of some; I will ask him to give me Notice of all his Questions. No order was given by anybody for the police not to interfere. As to the movements of particular bodies of men, I could not answer the Question without Notice.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
I wish to indorse what has been said by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir Robert Fowler)—that the House should be allowed full opportunity of discussing a matter which is a disgrace to the Metropolis and a discredit to the Police Force. I am surprised that no one has got up—[Cries of "Order!"]
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
Yes, Sir; I will. I wish to ask whether an opportunity of discussing the matter will be given on Monday?
I am myself in favour of discussing the question; and, so far as I am concerned, there will be no delay in placing the Papers before the House.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
I wish to know whether this Court of Inquiry, when it is established, will be precluded from reporting that the Home Secretary himself is to blame?
§ [No reply.]