§ MR. JAMES STUART,
in rising to call attention to the disturbances of the peace in the Metropolis; and to move— 1395That, in the opinion of this House, no reform of the administration and organization of the Metropolitan Police Force will be satisfactory unless provision is made for such reform of the government of the Metropolis as will insure to representatives of the ratepayers of the Metropolis a direct control over their own police,said, he had to apologize for the necessity of bringing forward a Motion of that character in the House of Commons. The Metropolis, however, had no Representative Body, and they were therefore obliged to put many Questions to Ministers and Notices on the Orders of the Day which ought not to occupy the time of this House, and which the House was not at all well-qualified to deal with. In bringing forward that subject, he would say at the outset there was very little in the evidence taken by the late Committee of Inquiry that was not summed up in the Report. He had no intention to give any Party complexion to the question he was raising; but he must say it seemed clear to him that there was one thing that was perhaps made more clear by the evidence than it was by the Report, and that was that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Childers) was not at all to blame for what had occurred in London on the 8th instant. The right hon. Gentleman practically entered upon the duties of his Office on the Monday, and by midday he had done all that any other Home Secretary had done—namely, inquired if the arrangements providing for possible contingencies were complete and sufficient. He had made what certainly seemed to be a rather perfunctory inquiry; but no further or more particular inquiry had generally been made by any Home Secretary in the experience of the late Chief Commissioner of the Force, Colonel Henderson. It was stated that it was in the power of the Home Office to alter any arrangements that were submitted by the Chief Commissioner; but, as a matter of fact, the Home Office never did so. That might be an unfortunate condition of circumstances; it might be an error, or it might not; but if it was it was one of system, and was not to be charged on the Home Secretary, who had been only two hours at the Office. The evidence showed conclusively that there was a great want of efficiency in the direction and organization of the Police Force in London; and 1396 it was to be trusted that not only would the administration and organization of the Metropolitan Police he investigated, but that it would also be thoroughly reformed. He had nothing to say against the conduct or behaviour of the ordinary police-constables; but he considered that among the superior officials of the Metropolitan Force there had long been, and still was, a grievous want of organization and of attention to duty, as well as of ability to know how to fulfil the duties imposed upon them. He trusted the inquiry to be made would be a complete and thorough one; that no branch of the Force would be omitted, and that no scandal would be hushed up. He refrained from commenting on the condition of the police, because he felt confident that an inquiry directed by the present Home Secretary would be complete and exhaustive, for his light hon. Friend was new to the Office, and could not yet have fallen into the toils of the officials. As to the composition of the crowds in the gatherings that had occurred, wild statement shad been made. They heard very little about red flags being waved when the Conservative Party were in power, and they saw very little of them when the Liberal Party were in power, and, as representing one of the most absolutely working-men constituencies in London, they might allow him to say that he believed that the working men of the Metropolis, whether employed or unemployed, were as orderly and law-abiding, nay, were as willing and able to share in the government of this great Metropolis with justice and success as any other portion of the community. His Resolution was so worded as not to reflect upon any person, and not even upon the police. There were two other points to which he wished to call the attention of the House, and which were patent to every-one, from the Report. The first was, that there was no proper control over the Police Force of London, for the Home Office exercised a most inefficient and superficial control over it, and the only way in which the Home Office could exercise a control, which was anything but the control of permanent officials, was through, and by, the inquiry and authority of the House of Commons. The other point was, that the House of Commons was loaded with the responsibility of what he might call being the 1397 Vestry for London. They had that day been occupied, and had frequently been occupied before, as they might be in the future, with business that ought to fall upon the Vestry, or Municipality, or mere Watch Committee of London, and that, to a very great extent, to the detriment of Imperial interests. He thought it was a shame that that House, which had for its primary duty the consideration of those interests, should be required to fulfil the duties of a Watch Committee for London, as it was called upon to do in the present case. The London Police were paid for by the ratepayers of the Metropolis in as large, or even larger, a degree than in any large town in England, and yet there was not a shadow of control exercised over them except by the authority of the House of Commons, which he, for one, could not look upon as being in any way efficient for the purpose. He could not for a moment conceive how it could be expected that Members of that House, who came from all parts of the country, should understand the affairs of the Metropolis, of which many Members who lived in it themselves were absolutely ignorant, or how they could be thought to be efficient controllers of the police of London. On the contrary, it frequently happened that the consequence of the absence of municipal control over the police was, that whenever a riot or disturbance occurred it was always made use of as a stick to wallop the Party in power, and thus a political aspect was given to the occurrence which it had no right to assume. This question of the control of the police was really a part of the great question of the government of the Metropolis, and it was high time for that, if for no other reason, that the House had brought before it by the Government in power some proper and feasible scheme for the government and regulation of the affairs of the Metropolis. But for the intimation given by the Government a few nights ago, he should have given a wider scope to his Motion. He protested against the control exercised by the Home Offie over the police; and he hoped an effort would at length be made to place the citizens of London in possession of the control of their police, which was the greatest guarantee for good order and security. In a vast centre of population those who held the 1398 command of the police were the masters of the situation; and it was time that those on his side of the House showed that they had sufficient confidence in the people of London to allow thorn to have the control of their police. In conclusion, he begged to move the Resolution that stood in his name.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no reform of the administration and organization of the Metropolitan Police Force will be satisfactory unless provision is made for such reform of the government of the Metropolis as will insure to representatives of the ratepayers of the Metropolis a direct control over their own police,"—(Mr. James Stuart,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ LORD ALGERNON PERCY
said, he trusted the House would not adopt the Resolution of the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. James Stuart). The hon. Member occupied a considerable time in telling the House that he was not going to do so, and then proceeded to make a speech on the government of London; but he did not advance one single argument in support of the great change he advocated, nor did he offer any proof that, if the control of the police were in the hands of the Local Authorities, or in the hands of a single Municipality of the Metropolis, instead of the Home Office, the riots would not have taken place. He believed himself that if that had been the case, the riots would have been worse. At the same time, he blamed the Home Office for what occurred, though he did not make an attack upon the present Home Secretary, who had held Office too short a time to be responsible for the riots. It could not be said that the police was anything but efficient; indeed, in his opinion, it was a most able and efficient force. It was true that, on the occasion of these riots, there was a miscarriage; but he contended that it was due rather to particular and accidental circumstances than to the fault of the police. The hon. Member for Shoreditch had stated that the House should only be occupied with questions of national importance; but 1399 it must be borne in mind that the peace of the Metropolis was a question of national importance; and, even if there were a Municipality of London and a riot occurred, it would most certainly form a subject of debate in the House of Commons. There was no doubt that the present condition of affairs was unsatisfactory as regarded the connection of the police with the Home Office, and he did not think the case had been much improved by the Report of the Committee of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, or by the promise of the right hon. Gentleman that a Departmental Inquiry should be held into the organization of the police. The Report excluded the subject of the composition of the mob, which he thought it most important to investigate; but there was no promise that such an investigation should take place, and a Departmental Inquiry on the part of the right hon. Gentleman into his own responsibility with regard to the preservation of order would, he thought, be hardly satisfactory to the country at large. To assist him the right hon. Gentleman had called in certain of the permanent officials of the Home Office, and he (Lord Algernon Percy) was bound to state that he agreed with the hon. Member for Shoreditch, that when permanent officials of the Home Office inquired into the responsibility of that Office, no satisfactory result could be arrived at. The Report, moreover, appeared to be somewhat unfair. It was excessively condemnatory of the police; but some of the reasons upon which the Report was founded were circumstances beyond the control of the police, and it was therefore very hard that they should be blamed for them. He did not think that the police were entirely and alone in fault on the 8th of February. For instance, on page 9 of the Report it was mentioned that there were no telegraphic communications between the police in certain places and Scotland Yard; but there was no evidence to show that the Commissioners of Police had the power to establish a telegraphic system between Scotland Yard and dependent districts. The question was, who was responsible for the existence of such a state of things as made the occurrence of the events of the 8th instant possible? It seemed to him that the Home Office was 1400 clearly responsible for that unsatisfactory state of things; for within recent times there had been two inquiries into the organization of the police, but no resulting action had been taken by the Home Office. Why were the recommendations of those Committees not carried out by the Home Office? The fact was that on the recent occasion the Police Force appeared to have been lulled into a false sense of security, owing to previous demonstrations having passed off peaceably. They failed to recognize that the circumstances were not usual; but if they were to blame in this the Home Office was equally so, for the Home Office, too, laboured under a similar misapprehension, and the right hon. Gentleman did not even take the precautions adopted by his Predecessors, in similar circumstances, and arrange to be supplied with information by the police from time to time during the day. His Predecessors had generally made arrangements of that kind on extraordinary occasions. He might instance the case of the Reform Meeting in Hyde Park, in 1884, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Home Secretary, and his right hon. Friend who was Home Secretary in 1875, made arrangements for receiving telegrams every half-hour, as well as messages at intervals during the day. The House, he thought, ought to be given more information with respect to the treatment which that very valuable public servant, Sir Edmund Henderson, had received at the hands of the Home Office Authorities. The right hon. Gentleman yesterday expressed some amount of regret that the services of Sir Edmund Henderson could not be obtained upon the Committee; but did it not strike the right hon. Gentleman that if he had asked that officer to reconsider the question of his resignation, until after the inquiry had taken place, instead of so readily accepting it, he would have had the advantage of his assistance upon the Committee? The precipitancy with which Sir Edmund's resignation was accepted seemed to give some idea of the intention of making him a scapegoat; and he submitted to the House that a man who had so well served his country, was entitled to better treatment at the hands of the Home Secretary. The House might well turn its attention to the question, whether public demonstrations 1401 ought not to be controlled to a greater extent than heretofore. He did not say that they ought to be stopped altogether, although there was far less reason for holding such meetings than existed a few years ago, when working men had fewer means of making their wishes known. But it was a question for consideration whether processions that monopolized the streets should be permitted any longer—whether such demonstrations as that of February 8th should be allowed—for he had received many communications from many tradesmen complaining that when these demonstrations took place their trade was materially injured—the fact was that London submitted to mob law on these occasions. If the mob behaved quietly, well and good; if it did not, the House had seen what was the result. If the House chose to acknowledge and bow down to mob law, it must expect to see very strange things from time to time. The kind of language used at the meeting in Trafalgar Square had been repeated; and the law ought to be amended, so as to bring summary punishment upon people who used such language, and in that way render possible the dealing with men like Messrs. Burns and Hyndman. A good deal had been said, of late, as to the panic that prevailed among the public; but if there really was a panic, it was not because of the mobs, but because an uncertainty existed as to the intention of the Government to support law and order at all hazards. While the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department was trying to prosecute Messrs. Champion, Burns, and Hyndman for the part they had taken in this demonstration, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Chamberlain) was parleying with them, and the Prime Minister, through his Private Secretary, was expressing himself ready to receive any communications, in writing, on their behalf. That seemed to show that the present Government was destined to be no more unanimous than its Liberal Predecessor. Unfortunately, the past actions of Her Majesty's Government and the speeches which had been delivered by some Members of the Government contained much to cause such uncertainty. One Member of the Government had actually been subpœnaed by 1402 the Socialists as an "expert in agitation." The speeches of the Socialist Leaders and of some of the Members of Her Majesty's Government were so similar that it was difficult for the non-legal mind to understand how it was that the right hon. Gentlemen was enjoying the sweets of Office, while the Socialists were being tried in a Criminal Court. ["Oh, oh!"] One of the Socialists had made a great point, in his speech in Trafalgar Square, of the fact that after the dynamite scare Parliament had taken immediate action, the deduction being that if they produced a scare_by riot, action would again be taken by Parliament. The speech of the Prime Minister, at Dalkeith, in 1879, when he declared that the blowing up of Clerkenwell Prison had brought certain matters within the range of practical polities, the deduction again clearly being that if the Irish committed acts of violence, the attention of Parliament would be called to their demands. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to urge them again to acts of violence, but the result was disorder, and disorder that went for 22 months unchecked, because, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board said, at Liverpool, to have stopped the agitation would have been to have checked reform. The speech of Mr. Burns in the the Park and some utterances of the President of the Local Government Board about the murder of a French Minister at the time of the French Revolution, read line for line. It would be excessively interesting if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would inform the House and the tradesmen of the Metropolis generally as to the amount of "ransom" required by the persons who made such "short work of private ownership" of property in South Audley Street, and so thoroughly enjoyed themselves in the process, because the inhabitants would then know what to expect under the circumstances. The people of this country had a right to demand that the Government would perform that which was the first duty of a Government—namely, the maintenance of law and order; and that they should not be subject to a repetition of the terrible scenes which had been witnessed in Ireland, where crime had been allowed to run unchecked, and where, 1403 at the present moment, the Government refused to enforce the law of the land.
§ MR. HOWELL
said, that, in his opinion, it was desirable that an investigation should take place into the character of the meeting referred to, and of the men who called it together. He contended that a demonstration need not necessarily be the prelude to a riot. That demonstrations might be unaccompanied by any disorder was proved by the events of July 21, 1884, in which he, along with others, was personally concerned, when a procession of 120,000 men passed through the streets of London, which were lined by 750,000 people. Yet not a window was broken, not a person was injured, neither was there a flower trampled upon. One reason of this was that the men who were responsible for order on that occasion were men who had the confidence of the working men of London. They were not in the pay of the Tory Party, which now condemned the late riots. Many of the men responsible for the late riots were hired to disturb public meetings in the Metropolis. They were encouraged to create an assemblage of persons in Trafalgar Square, which it was known would probably lead to riots. There were several very curious circumstances about the matter. The riots took place on the very day that the Home Secretary came into Office; these meetings of the unemployed were being called together in various parts of London about 12 months ago, and were continued down to the very day on which the Liberal Government left Office; as soon as the Tory Government came in, last June, these demonstrations suddenly ceased, and although the distress went on accumulating nothing more was heard of them until the Tory Government left Office and the Liberals returned to power. It might be that there were reasons for this; and he believed it was because, during the time the Tory Government acted as caretakers, these men were hired by the Tory Party in various parts of the country to disturb the peace and order of their opponents' meetings; and these very men, as soon as the Liberal Government came into power, again disturbed the publicp eace by calling tumultuous meetings in Trafalgar Square. It was exceedingly convenient for hon. Members on the other side of the House to ignore altogether 1404 the character of the men who called the meetings together, and to fasten all the blame upon the Socialists. He (Mr. Howell) had no sympathy with the Socialists; but it was a singular fact that those men were hired by the Tory Party, and several of them appeared in various constituencies, by the help of Tory money, as bogus labour candidates. He would like to see a Royal Commission appointed; and he hoped that, for his own sake, the Home Secretary would see that a full and complete investigation was made, not only as to the rioting which took place, but as to the character of the men who called the meeting together. He would take that opportunity of stating his full and decided concurrence in the views upon the subject expressed by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. James Stuart). It was his firm conviction that the police of the Metropolis ought to be under the control of aduly elected Municipal Authority. The Report of the Committee did not give sufficient clue to the reason why Sir Edmund Henderson' resignation was tendered and so hastily accepted; but it was within his (Mr. Howell's) recollection that something like pressure was brought to bear upon Sir Edmund Henderson to resign his position on the occasion of the demonstration in Hyde Park, in 1874, not because of the tumult, but because of the peaceable character of the proceedings. Now he had resigned his position the Tory Party, had got up a mock sympathy with regard to him.
§ MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
said, he did not propose to follow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) into the extraordinary disclosures he had made with regard to the disposition of Tory money. The reason why he (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) ventured to address the House was because here presented a constituency which lay at the heart of the Metropolis, and was contiguous to those scenes of disorder which were the subject of the present debate. He might say, in answer to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green in this connection, that he was reminded that, in his small electoral experience, he had suffered great inconvenience at the hands of men who certainly acted as if they had been hired by the other side. He wished to ask the House whether they were satisfied with the way in which this inquiry had been conducted, and with the manner in 1405 which Sir Edmund Henderson had been treated? He ventured to think that the Home Secretary, in the whole of his elaborate statement, entirely missed the point most prominent in the public mind—namely, what part the right hon. Gentleman himself, the Minister of the Crown responsible for the safety of the Metropolis, played in this matter? The qustion was, how far had he accepted, either before or after the event, the responsibilities attaching to his high Office—responsibilities rendered the more grave by the fact that this was no ordinary demonstration. He (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) was aware that the Chief Commissioner had stated that it had not been the custom for the Home Secretary to give special instructions with regard to these demonstrations; but bethought that there might be some who would not accept this definition of the functions of the Home Office. He was not speaking of instructions in detail as to the management or disposition of the Force; but he thought that where there were special circumstances attending a public meeting, and arising from peculiar conditions which were known to the public, and which were altogether exceptional, it was necessary for the Home Office to take upon itself the responsibility of giving orders for more or less stringent measures to provide against an outbreak. There were several circumstances which should have led to an amount of attention greater than ordinary being paid to this demonstration. First, there was the condition of large masses of people in this city—a condition of irritation; secondly there was the internecine character of the demonstration. Again, public opinion had not supported the police in dealing with these demonstrations. Public opinion had been very delicate on the subject. The police had been educated up to believe that they had no right to interfere, or even to show themselves, and the slightest attempt on their part to do so had been construed into an attempt to coerce the rights of popular demonstration and free speech—as if, indeed, speech, be it free or secret, which led directly to outrage, had any rights at all in a civilized community. It had grown to be a custom in this country not to interfere with these demonstrations, and not to have a sufficient force at hand to keep order if disturbance should arise. It 1406 rested on the Home Secretary to cast aside that ordinance of public opinion, and give support and authority to the police in taking precautions against violence. It had been left to the event to justify them in doing so. If they had taken the matter in their own hands, and, without the justification of these outrages, had broken a few heads in Pall Mall, the country would have rung with protests. The Home Secretary, if anyone, should have foreseen this difficulty in which the police were placed by custom and public opinion, and not have been in such haste to abandon them, because they had not done what he himself had not the courage to tell them to do. If the right hon. Gentleman abnegated his authority, and became a perfect nonentity in such circumstances, he was depriving the 'citizens of that protection which, by virtue of his Office, he was bound to extend to them. It was the duty of the Homo Secretary to take such an initiative as would enable the police to cope with violence. It was absurd to talk about the police being demoralized and disorganized. On Sunday the police had been able to cope with a far more dangerous crowd than that which assembled on the occasion of the riots. The police could not be expected to exercise foresight, if the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department was himself entirely blind to the course of events. But, although the right hon. Gentleman had failed to initiate or to support, he had shown an extraordinary promptitude in finding someone to blame. He (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) complained both of the Committee and its Report. He knew not what right this Committee had to investigate the question. It was not a Committee appointed by that House. Was it a Committee the composition of which the House would approve? He could claim to speak with a free hand, untrammelled by official considerations which might keep the Front Bench silent. He found no special qualification in any Member of the Committee for passing judgment upon so difficult and delicate a question as police organization, at least so far as the three civilian Members of the Committee were con-corned, and he regretted that two Members of the Party to which he belonged had consented to serve upon it, especially when it was presided over by the Home 1407 Secretary himself. To the fourth Member—the most distinguished of English soldiers, and a man, moreover, of singular fertility and breadth of mind—he found this objection—that, being imbued with military instincts and trained to military habits, he was called upon to deside on a purely Civil Force. As to the fifth Member, the Home Secretary himself, the objections to his sitting on the Committee were dictated by the most ordinary considerations of fair play and justice. He would not deal in detail on the recommendations contained in the Report; but its character could be judged from the suggestion that the Chief Commissioner should sit in Trafalgar Square in a cocked hat for the crowd to jeer at. The Home Secretary, by the course which he had adopted, had passed an emphatic and wholesale condemnation on all his Predecessors—on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), and especially on the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt), during whose protracted tenure of the Home Office the disorganization of the police had gradually developed into the state in which his right hon. Colleague now described it to be. The police, the most temperate and efficient force in any capital in the world, were incensed at the humiliation which had been heaped upon them in the person of their Chief Commissioner. And he thought it was a dangerous thing to goad the police into irritation by such treatment as that. He had spoken from no Party motives. That might be seen by the fact that he did not conceal his regret that two Members of his Party had accepted seats on that Committee, which had been most unwisely appointed in a moment of panic. And if his remarks seemed to have any personal bearing, they were personal, mainly, to an officer, to whose long service the population owed such a debt of gratitude, whose character for conscientiousness, modesty, and loyalty was unsurpassed; and to whom, from the beginning to the end of this most painful business, there had been absolutely no chance given, save to do what he most certainly had done—fold his cloak around him and fall like a gentleman.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, that a certain amount of modesty and diffidence gene- 1408 rally characterized hon. Members when for the first time they spoke in the House of Commons. But one would have imagined, seeing that the hon. Member who had just spoken was not in any way afflicted with that hindrance, that he had been an habitual speaker in that Assembly for many years past. The hon. Gentleman had dealt pretty freely with the qualifications of the Gentlemen who formed the Committee of Inquiry, and had spoken in disparaging terms of the whole of them; but it was quite obvious from his speech that the hon. Member himself would have had no difficulty in placing his hand upon at least one Gentleman who possessed the qualities which he considered necessary for such an investigation. The hon. Member spoke of the qualifications of the Gentlemen who composed this Committee for inquiring into the delicate organization of the police. He (Mr. Ritchie) ventured to say to the hon. Gentleman that, so far as his experience went, what the Committee had to do was not to inquire into the delicate organization of the Police Force, or into the relations, not easy to be defined, which existed between that force and the Home Office, but they were called upon to inquire into the reasons why such a lamentable break-down occurred. He was bound to say that when he was asked to take part in the work of the Committee, it never occurred to him, for a single moment, that the question was one which involved either an acquittal of the Home Secretary from the responsibility which he undoubtedly lay under, or that it involved any question connected with politics of any kind whatever. He considered that he was only performing his duty as a Metropolitan Member in taking part in an investigation which it was undoubtedly the duty of the Home Secretary to take in hand. It was quite clear that the Home Secretary was responsible to the House of Commons for the preservation of public order in the Metropolis, and if the right hon. Gentleman had not given sufficient orders to the executive body at his command, it was for that House to form for itself an opinion upon the point, and for the right hon. Gentleman to justify his conduct to the House of Commons. He asked the House, whether if the right hon. Gentleman had undertaken such an inquiry by himself, as he might have 1409 done, it was likely that it would have commanded the confidence of the House of Commons, or of the people of London? Whatever might be the qualifications of the Gentlemen who composed the Committee, there was no one who would charge any one of them with a desire to suppress facts, or to screen the Home Secretary, or to disguise, in any shape or form, the responsibility which lay upon him. It was made perfectly clear and evident by almost the first paragraph in the Report that the Committee never undertook that duty. There was another point which they felt could not be adequately dealt with by the Committee, and that was the investigation into the origin of the disturbances. He felt very strongly, and he might say that he induced his Colleagues on the Committee to think with him, that such an inquiry was highly desirable and necessary; but, at the same time, he felt, from the constitution of the Committee and from the manner in which the investigation was carried on, it was not a body competent to carry on an investigation such as that. Such an inquiry, he held, ought to be of a public character, where the evidence would be published day by day, and where those who were accused would have an opportunity, in the public Press, of seeing the charge of which they stood accused, and, if necessary, of giving evidence to refute it. Therefore, they had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that it was not their duty to make such an inquiry into the relative responsibility of the Home Office in the matter. The hon Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell), in the course of a violent harangue altogether unsuited to the subject which was under discussion, and which, perhaps, might very properly bring upon him the attention of the force whose conduct he had been impugning, spoke about "hired Tory agitators;" and when he (Mr. Ritchie) regarded the extravagance of his language, and the effect which usually followed such extravagant language, he began to wonder whether the hon. Gentleman was himself a hired Tory agitator—["Order, order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is now employing language which is hardly in accordance with the proper order of Parliamentary debate.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he withdrew it. He gave it not as his own opinion, but 1410 as the opinion which might be formed by the language of the hon. Gentleman himself; but he withdrew it. He had some recollection of a recent case in which the hon. Gentleman had been engaged with some of those whom he (Mr. Ritchie) imagined were not unlikely to have formed a portion of that meeting; and he could very well understand, looking to the result of the case to which he had referred, that the hon. Gentleman might have been very anxious to take the present opportunity of retaliating upon those who were successful in a certain trial.
§ MR. HOWELL
On the point of Order, I beg to ask if the hon. Gentleman is not exceeding the proper latitude?
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he was referring to a report in the public Press, and he did not think he had used a word which was not entirely justified by the result in that case. It was not surprising that the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. James Stuart) had taken the opportunity of bringing forward the case of London government. But when he (Mr. Ritchie) looked around, and wondered what had become of the valiant leaders of the cause of reform of London government, and saw that their place in the House know them no more, he was very much afraid he could not congratulate the hon. Member upon the popularity of the cause which he had taken in hand; for if there was one thing which had been more clearly shown than another at the General Election, it was that the people of London had no faith in their would-be leaders. The hon. Gentleman said that he would have introduced some words into his Resolution to the effect that the reform of London government was urgently desirable, if it had not been that the Home Secretary had promised him that the matter would receive early attention. Let not the hon. Gentleman lean upon such a frail reed as that. He had seen questions of a similar character put to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was Home Secretary, Session after Session, and year after year, with answers regularly given that he, too, was very anxious indeed to introduce a Bill of the kind; but, with one abortive exception, the Sessions passed away without the Bill seeing the light of day. They knew what effect that procrastination had had in reference 1411 to one important matter—he referred to the question of the water supply—and they knew that at the present time the ratepayers were suffering to a very large extent annually in consequence of that question having been so postponed. But there was one exception which ought to be made—not with standing that the right hon. Gentleman had promised that London should have the control of its water supply and other matters—he had never promised that the London Government Bill would give the London population control over its police. The right hon. Gentleman's experience of the Office of Home Secretary had convinced him that such a transfer of the police from the Home Office to a central Municipality for London was not one calculated to add to the efficiency of the force, but one that might in dangerous and in excited times have the very opposite effect. So that what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shoreditch was asking the House to assent to was the postponement of a pressing question. For his own part, he (Mr. Ritchie) was not prepared to relegate it to the dim and distant future which the hon. Member desired; and he maintained that there was nothing more pressing in connection with the government of London than the placing of the police on a proper footing. With reference to what had been said by his noble Friend (Lord Algernon Percy), the Committee had passed no censure on the police at all. What they had pointed out was the great desirability of having the faults which existed remedied; and he thought his noble Friend would see that it was part of the duty of this Committee to point out in what it was the police system had failed, and also to show where those arrangements were faulty. He was inclined to think that there ought to be a public inquiry into what the relations were between the Home Office and the police. He did not think that a mere Departmental inquiry, such as was contemplated, would give satisfaction to the public. The public wanted the whole thing to be publicly investigated. He knew that a great deal had been said; but, after the matter was now all over, he had no reason to think that he did anything more than his clear duty in joining the investigation which took place. One word as to the character of the mob. As regarded 1412 that point, he entirely agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shoreditch. Like that hon. Member, he was the Member for one of the most working-class constituencies in London; and he said that it was unfair and unjust to charge the unemployed working men in the East End of London as being in any degree the authors of these riots. He was certain that there were none who would welcome more cordially than his constituents a public inquiry into these disturbances, because it would free them from the blame that had been unjustly cast upon them.
§ MR. WESTLAKE
said, he was of opinion that the chances of London Municipal Reform were not so distant as imagined by the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken (Mr. Ritchie). For himself, he deprecated any interference with the legitimate right of public meeting in London, and regretted that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Algernon Percy) should have suggested the prohibition of these assemblies altogether.
§ LORD ALGERNON PERCY rose to Order. The hon. and learned Member was decidedly mistaken in supposing that he (Lord Algernon Percy) had advocated their total suppression. What he had said was that they should be conducted under different rules.
§ MR. WESTLAKE
said, there was this to be considered—that as the shopkeepers of London enjoyed special advantages in living in the Metropolis, they also must expect to incur special disadvantages. The police were admirably organized for the preservation of the ordinary peace of the Metropolis, and no man deserved greater credit in that respect than Sir Edmund Henderson; but they were unprepared for what was really the strategical duty of dealing with large disorderly crowds. He trusted that the reforms which might be recommended would not obstruct upon some near occasion the accomplishment of the reform which he suggested—namely, the division of the Police Force into two bodies under separate controls, that, in his view, being the best solution of the question. In that way the ordinary police, comprising nearly the whole number of the force, should be given to the Metropolitan Corporation, for he quite agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ditch (Mr. James Stuart) that they were 1413 often engaged in discussing matters which would really more become the Watch Committee of a Municipal Corporation than that House. But the nation had the same right to the control of the police required for the protection of the Parliament, the Palaces, and the Public Offices, all which belonged to the nation, which the Metropolis had to the control of the ordinary police. And this special police might be conveniently bined with that required for emergencies such as that which had lately occurred, forming a body which should be permanently under the control of the Home Office.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD,
who had on the Paper an Amendment to the effect that compensation ought to be provided at the public expense, said, that as a Member for one of the constituencies that had been invaded and bombarded he claimed to say a few words. Generally speaking, in his opinion, there was no question but that after the stone throwing had begun 60 useful and determined men, such as were to be found in the police, could have stopped the riot at any moment. That had been clearly shown by the Report, since an Inspector—Inspector Cuthbert, with 15 men at his command—in Oxford Street, had been able to break up and thoroughly to demoralize the mob, diverting them into bye-streets, and thereby saving a great amount of damago to tradesmen. The tradesmen and others who suffered damage were paying a very high police rate, and that rate was regarded practically as an insurance against such possibilities occurring as that which had occurred on the 8th. In one parish, which had suffered heavily, the police rate last year had been nearly £35,000. The other day the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had told them—and they had all been delighted to hear it—that compensation would be given to those who had suffered damage. But he (Lord Charles Beresford) understood that that compensation was to be given out of money paid partly by the ratepayers, and partly out of a public fund. He thought that that was not quite fair to the people to whom compensation was to be given, since they would indirectly be compensating themselves out of their own pockets. He thought that the Government should find the money for this 1414 compensation, since they had the entire charge of the police, and were responsible for what they had done—and for what they had not done—on that day. Many tradesmen had suffered severely, not only from the sacking of shops and breaking of windows, but also from the feeling of uncertainty which had resulted. They might be told that it was a bad precedent to form; but, in his humble opinion, it would be a good one that the Government should pay the damage, as it would be good guarantee that such a disgraceful occurrence did not happen again. The amount was only about £12,000—a very small sum for the State to pay, but of great moment to the tradesmen who had suffered. There had undoubtedly been an extraordinary want of energy and resource shown on that occasion. He was not blaming the police; they were as fine a body of men as it was possible to conceive, and who had often very irksome duties to perform; but they had been in the position of disciplined men waiting for orders, knowing what ought to be done, and, with the exception of one Inspector, no one seemed to have grasped the situation properly at the moment. He had been glad to hear what had been so kindly said on both sides of the House with respect to Sir Edmund Henderson, who certainly had no other course than to resign; and he hoped the Home Secretary would say more than he had already said in recognition of that officer's services. They ought to bear in mind what the Chief Commissioner had done. For 17 years he had commanded a force of 12,000 men who had been doing the police work for 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 of people, insuring their safety, and providing for their comfort and enjoyment; and for all that he thought he did deserve a word or two more of commendation. With regard to the inquiry, while not wishing to appear to say anything disrespectful with regard to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, he did think that the position which the right hon. Gentleman held, by placing himself at its head, was rather a ludicrous one. His position was like that of an admiral who had got into difficulties, had then ordered a court martial upon his subordinates for the blunders for which he himself had been responsible, and then made himself presi- 1415 dent of the court. He could not help thinking it would have been better if someone else had presided at the inquiry. With regard to what had fallen from one hon. Member, he could not agree that meetings such as these should be stopped; but he thought that they ought to be regulated, and not to be allowed in inclosed places such as Trafalgar Square; there was, however, no reason why they should not be allowed to take place in the Parks. In going to the Park those who were to take part in the meetings could be kept under proper control. It was, in his opinion, an excellent safety valve to permit people to meet to thresh out questions which agitated the public mind. With regard to the proposed re-organization of the police, he hoped that there would be a public inquiry, and not a Departmental Committee. Indeed, a Committee composed of Members of the House would be more satisfactory.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. CHILDERS)
said, he thought that probably the time had now come, after so many speeches upon this question, when he should state on the part of the Government, and on his own part, what he proposed to do with respect to the Motion before them, and also the Motion of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Charles Beresford), should that noble Lord have an opportunity of moving it. The noble Lord had, indeed, practically been speaking to the Motion which stood in his name. The noble Lord had suggested, on the point of compensation for damages, that the Government should find the whole of the money required for that purpose; because if the ratepayers paid half of it, as was proposed, possibly those who had suffered damage would be paying a small fraction of the compensation to themselves out of their own pockets. But if the public, the taxpayers, paid the whole of this charge, the tradesmen who had suffered would still be contributing, only the amount would be divided among a much larger number of persons; and although the amount might be different the principle would be just the same. He confessed he could not see the force of the noble Lord's argument, and he had not, up to that point, been persuaded. With regard to points raised by other hon. Members on both sides of the House, the hon. Mem- 1416 ber who had moved the Amendment (Mr. James Stuart) by means of it wished the House to declare at once that the representatives of the ratepayers in the Metropolis should have direct control over the police. As he (Mr. Childers) understood him, the hon. Member did not wish to prevent the inquiry proposed into the organization and administration of the police; but he did propose that the House should now pass a Resolution which should conclude the question whether in the future, at some reasonably distant time, the police of the Metropolis should be placed under local control, instead of under the control of the Executive Government. He was afraid that he could not accept that Motion; his view was this—they had, at the present moment, urgent need of dealing with the question as to the police arising out of the recent inquiry. As to the Bill with regard to the Metropolis, which he hoped at no very long date to introduce, he declined at the present moment to declare its provisions; the Government must have entire liberty of action in this matter. When the London Government Bill was introduced, it would be quite sufficient time, when it was being discussed, to discuss the question of responsibility for the Metropolitan Police. In the meantime he did not commit himself or his Colleagues in the smallest degree to any course on that subject; but he asked his hon. Friend, on his side, to give the Government liberty of action, and not to fetter them, as the Resolution would fetter them, in carrying out a particular measure with respect to the responsibility for the Metropolitan Police until they came to deal with the question of the government of London. If the hon. Member would trust him in that respect he hoped he would not press his Amendment. As to the general question of what happened on the 8th of this month, and the inquiry that had since taken place, and his own conduct in the matter, he might, perhaps, be excused if he did not reply in detail to the suggestions of the noble Lord the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square (Lord Algernon Percy) in attacking some of the speeches of his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government and of his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Chamberlain). Whatever opinions his right hon. Friend 1417 might have on political questions, they had nothing whatever to do with the subject which the House was now considering, which was the conduct of those responsible for public order on the 8th of this mouth. The real question before the House was, whether he (Mr. Childers) acted properly in the course he took on the 8th; and whether he acted properly in appointing the Committee which assisted him in his investigations; and whether he acted properly in the announcement ho had made to the House of a proposed further inquiry into the administration of the police? Those were the real questions before the House. From different points of view, his conduct—he did not say his motives—in certain respects had been attacked, not in violent language, but in a very intelligent and clear manner; and it was his duty to place before the House his reasons for the course which he took, and he should submit himself to the judgment of the House in connection with them. The noble Lord who had attacked him (Lord Algernon Percy) admitted that ho only came into Office a few hours before these events took place; but he said that the course he (Mr. Childers) took was unwise in many respects, and that he was not blameless in the direction he gave to the police. He would lay before the House, with sincerity and candour, exactly what took place. When he came into Office, he took over the Home Department at 11 o'clock on the morning of the 8th of February. As soon as he came into Office, it was his duty to see the gentlemen responsible for different parts of the administration of the Home Office. One of his first acts was to request the Commissioners of Police to come to him, and to state what was the position of police questions at that amount. One question he put was whether they had made sufficient preparations for what was then going on in Trafalgar Square—for when he spoke the meeting had, to a great extent, already collected. The arrangements of the Commissioners had been completed two days before; the Chief Commissioner saw his (Mr. Childers's) Predecessor on the previous Friday, and on Saturday all details were arranged. He asked the Chief Commissioner if his arrangements were satisfactory, and if there was any way in which he could 1418 assist him? He replied that ample arrangements had been made. He again asked if there was anything left in which he could be of assistance, and was told no, everything was completed. Even then he was not satisfied, and asked the Chief Commissioner if he was aware of the peculiar character of this meeting—that it was not a meeting of one party, such as the Reform demonstration, or the Tichborne demonstration, but that two parties were engaged in it, the Fair Traders under Mr. Kenny, and the Socialists brought together by Mr. Hyndman and Mr. Burns. He asked him whether he was prepared for that? Both the Chief Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioners said that they were perfectly well aware of the nature of the meeting, and had made all necessary preparations. He asked how many men they had brought together, and they replied that altogether they had 600 or 700 men in readiness. They explained that a portion, 60 or 70, were actually in Trafalgar Square, and that 563 men were held in reserve. They assured him, therefore, that they had made all preparations. Knowing that the Chief Commissioner had been in communication with his Predecessor, knowing the great experience in matters of this kind that gentleman had, and in view of the fact that he (Mr. Childers) had himself only been in Office half-an-hour, he thought nothing would have been more foolish than for him, as Secretary of State, to interfere in anyway, even if interference were required. He had said before, and he repeated, that the relations of the Secretary of State with the Chief Commissioner were very much the relations which existed between the Secretary of State for War and the General Officer of the Army sent on an Expedition. It was the duty of the Secretary of State, in the first instance, to discuss with the General Officer the plan of the campaign. In the year 1882 it had been his duty to discuss with Lord Wolseley, with the greatest minuteness, the plan of the campaign which ended in the battle of Tel-el-Kebir on the very day Lord Wolseley, in his room, said it would take place. There was no point of detail of that campaign which he had not gone carefully through with Lord Wolseley, before the latter left England. That was the position of the Secretary of State 1419 for War in relation to the Army. Very similar was the Constitutional position of the Secretary of State with the head of the Police Force. He discussed, in the first instance, any point which the Chief Commissioner thought fit to bring before him; he asked him for further explanations; and then the responsibility lay upon those who had to carry out the orders. It was a great mistake to think that these separate functions ought to be mixed. The general idea of everything being concentrated in the hands of the Minister was considered the wise idea; on the contrary, he thought it was a very foolish idea. The responsibility of the Minister and of the executive officer ought to be quite clearly distinct. When the orders had been settled, it was for the officer to carry them out; and the Minister who interfered would be a foolish Minister, instead of a wise Minister, as some people appeared to think. Another point had been made by the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts). He said that, notwithstanding his recent accession to Office, there was a prevalent idea in the public mind that something dangerous might be anticipated on the day of the meeting, and he ought to have made further inquiries and taken steps to avert the danger which all the world expected. The hon. Member seemed to him (Mr. Childers) to be one of those who were wise after the event. What was the general impression on the public mind to which the hon. Member referred? He had looked at the newspapers—and they offered a tolerably clear indication of what the public mind looked forward to. On Monday morning in The Times there was not one single mention in any part of the paper of any apprehension, or even of the meeting itself. In one other paper, The Standard, there was an article on the distress, and incidentally it was mentioned that some of the distressed classes would meet in Trafalgar Square, without the smallest reference to any apprehension of what actually arose. In another newspaper there was no reference to the meeting; while in another, in an article under the head of "The Unemployed," it was said that the Chairman of the General Labourers' Union, at a meeting on the previous Saturday, stated that they had asked Sir Edmund Henderson not to send a large body of 1420 police to Trafalgar Square, because the men themselves would be able to keep order. This was the only reference in that or any other paper. He had taken the trouble to analyze what appeared in the papers published on the 8th of February, such as The Times, The Standard, and The Morning Post, and he said most distinctly there was not a scintilla of fear or apprehension expressed in any of them. He thought that, under those circumstances, he, at any rate, ought to be entirely exonerated from any blame in not taking more steps than he actually had taken when he saw the Chief Commissioner of Police and inquired from him what were the arrangements he had made, and got from him, in a conversation of some length, the details and facts as to those arrangements. The hon. Member for Westminster said that he (Mr. Childers) had abnegated his own authority and become a perfect nonentity. He had not done so. Had he fussed and fidgetted in matters of detail he would have abnegated his authority; but he did not do that; he held the sound doctrine as to the relative responsibility of the Secretary of State and the heads of the police in maintaining order in London; and he thought he had shown, from the facts he had stated, that no neglect of duty or personal abdication of authority could be charged against him. Then the hon. Gentleman, after stating that he should have had more foresight, went on to say that it was the custom not to give the police sufficient force, and implied that he ought to have given them sufficient force. Now, the force consisted of about 11,000 or 12,000 available men, and out of that number there were on the ground on that occasion between 600 and 700 men. Where was the necessity for more? Anyone who read the Report of the Committee would see that it was the disposal of the force, and not its amount, that really was in fault in that case. The hon. Member also remarked that the police were deeply incensed by what had happened on that day, and, subsequently, that they would do no good by irritating them, and he ended by saying that those unfortunate people had fallen under a baneful star. Now, he (Mr. Childers) did not know how they could have fallen under a baneful star; but he would say—and he had thought it his duty to ascertain carefully the feel- 1421 ing of the police—that there was no evidence whatever that they were deeply incensed, or that they felt goaded by irritation; but, on the contrary, the disposition of the police at the present time was admirable. He could not speak too highly of the character of that fine body of men—the Metropolitan Police. There had been times when they were popular, and also times when they were unpopular; but, as he had said, at present the disposition and efficiency of the officers and men was excellent, and could not be too highly spoken of, subject to the observation in the Report of the Committee, as to which he and his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Ritchie) entirely concurred. He hoped, therefore, that the House, in dealing with that question and in approving or otherwise the action he had taken, would dismiss altogether from its mind the suggestion of the hon. Member for Westminster, and would rest content with the condition, mental and physical, of the Police Force at the present time. He thought he had now shown that his action on February 8 was wise, and was the only action which, coming as he did into Office while the meeting was actually going on, he could have taken. But he had also to justify what he had done since the events of the 8th and what he proposed to do. Well, his first step—and that had not been attacked—was to take efficient measures to prevent any further similar events by strengthening the Police Force itself, and by providing that military assistance should be at hand, if any were wanted; and next, he did his utmost to calm the public mind. And he told the House this—that, in spite of the newspaper story that instead of calming the public mind they took steps to irritate it, there was no foundation whatever for that assertion. They had those 11,000 or 12,000 men scattered over a vast area, and some particular policemen might possibly have said something that was alarming to a shopkeeper here or there; but nothing whatever of the kind was done by the order or direction of any superior officer. They, on the contrary, did their utmost to quiet the public mind, and by Thursday all those stories vanished into thin air, and the public were calmed and satisfied. That was his first duty, and, as he had stated before on several occasions, he had done it. His second duty was 1422 to punish those who had committed these outrages—not merely the poor wretched people who had thrown stones, or been guilty of breaking the shops and stealing, but those who were the real instigators or encouragers of the riots. The noble Lord opposite had suggested that they had allowed these "agitators," as they had been called on the other side of the House, to go at large for 10 days before they were apprehended, or brought to a Police Court; and yet the moment afterwards ho admitted that they had proceeded against them as soon as they could, because the noble Lord recommended that they should alter the law in order to make its operation more speedy. But those two charges were wholly inconsistent with each other. The Home Office had acted immediately in the matter. On Tuesday, the day following the riots, the first step they took was to collect evidence, and the moment they were told by their Legal Advisers that they could take proceedings, the proceedings were immediately instituted. He himself had been in favour of summary proceedings in the matter; but he had found it impossible to take them. Of course, his mouth was closed as to what might be the upshot of those proceedings, and it was impossible for him to say more in regard to them. Then the third step he took was to make a searching inquiry into the conduct of the police on that occasion. It had been suggested that he himself either ought to have conducted the inquiry on his own responsibility, or that he ought to have appointed some other body outside of his responsibility to conduct it, and then have acted on their Report. The reason why that was suggested was that, in that matter, ho was himself personally responsible; but was it not as clear as anything could be, from what he had stated, that with the events of February 8 he had nothing to do; and, therefore, he should have been a coward if he had shirked a searching inquiry. But it was urged that ho should have made the inquiry himself. If he had done so, what, he asked, would the same people who were now attacking him for the line lie had taken have said if, having just that day come into Office, he had undertaken to make the inquiry himself? Had he been for some months in his Office, and had had time and information on which to base an inquiry made by himself, that 1423 might, perhaps, have been a right thing to do. But what were the facts? Overwhelmed by what had fallen on him in connection with those events, he felt it his duty to associate with himself able and competent men to conduct such an investigation. Had ho selected proper men? Their names would, he thought, satisfy the House on that point. They were selected with no political bias. He had asked two Gentlemen from the other side and a noble Friend on his own side to act with him, and also Lord Wolseley. The hon. Member who had said that a gentleman who was a soldier could not pass judgment on civilians, and, therefore, that Lord Wolseley ought not to have been associated with that inquiry, little knew the mind of Lord Wolseley. For himself, he (Mr. Childers) knew no man who was at once so thoroughly fair-minded towards civilians, and so capable to inquire into a question as to the discipline of the police, as that noble and gallant Lord. Well, he thought he had justified the course he had adopted as being that which he thought the best for arriving at the bottom of that question. He had not evaded in the smallest degree his responsibility. He concurred entirely in the results of that inquiry; but the steps which he had taken in consequence had been taken on his own responsibility, and not on that of the Committee. He had always thought that the responsibility upon the Minister at the head of a great Department ought to be plenary and complete; and nothing would induce him to qualify or diminish that responsibility. He now said that he was competent, and it was his duty, as the head of the Department, himself to undertake further inquiries how they should apply to the organization and administration of the police what the Committee had discovered, and how he could, under his own responsibility, do his best to put that organization and administration into an efficient state. He had stated to the House the nature of the inquiry which he proposed to make. There was a suggestion, however, that the House could carry on that inquiry much better than he could. From that suggestion he entirely disagreed. After a Minister had himself made an inquiry and had decided on a particular course of action, if Parliament disapproved of what he had done, then was the time for Parliament to in- 1424 terfere. Not only that, but he would point out that the work which a Parliamentary inquiry might do had already been done by the Committee which had just reported. If, however, Parliament should consider further inquiry still necessary, he should submit himself to the result of it. He excluded altogether from the scope of the inquiry what might be called the political, rather than the administrative, element — namely, the origin of the riots, the persons who formed the mob, and who created the disturbance. That was a totally different question; and with respect to it he confessed that he agreed with the suggestion that it was a matter worthy of being considered. But, so far as he was personally concerned, he would not abdicate his responsibility in dealing with any Department for the administration of which he was responsible. Whatever faults he might possess, that of shirking responsibility had never been one of them; and he would always adhere to his principles in that respect, whatever his conduct might be as a Government official. There were smaller questions which had been raised, but which he thought the House would not wish him to discuss in detail. The noble Lord the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, spoke of the telegraphic arrangements, suggesting that the deficiency in this respect was due not to the police, but to the Home Office Authorities. Of course, in a matter of that kind, the Police Authorities could not take possession of the telegraph system and place telegraph instruments in their different rooms. He would admit that a great improvement might be made in that direction; but it was not really a matter of blame, either to the police or to himself, and he had already given instructions which would have the effect of carrying out the recommendations of the Committee more fully, perhaps, than was originally designed. Then, again, with reference to the admission of waggons into Hyde Park, it had been suggested that they should not have been allowed to go into the Park; but he found that permission for waggons to enter the Park had been in existence for the last two years. The Police Authorities, in allowing these waggons to enter the Park, exercised a very wise discretion. If they had been stopped on Sunday last the probability 1425 was that a large crowd would have collected at the entrance gates, and much disorder would have occurred, and that the police would have had very considerable difficulty in maintaining order. These were details, however, which he trusted he would be able, in the conduct of the inquiry which it was proposed to institute, to vigorously carry out as soon as the new Chief Commissioner had been appointed; and he thought the House might trust him, however guilty he might be of error of judgment with regard to details, that he would do his best to put the administration in this respect on a sound and effective basis. With reference to Sir Edmund Henderson, he had already said that for many years he had been a most efficient public servant; and no one regretted more than he (Mr. Childers) did the circumstances in which that gentleman had thought fit, after the Report of the Committee, to tender his resignation. In dealing with a public servant in these circumstances—and no one could have been more gentlethan he had been in doing so—he submitted himself to the House, and asked it not to adopt any Resolution which would imply that he had been remiss in the discharge of his duty.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he did not think it was possible to enlarge too much on the personal responsibility which attached to the Secretary of State for the Home Department in this matter, and most certainly nothing which he would venture to suggest would be at all calculated to depreciate that responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that the responsibility of the Secretary of State was complete and entire with regard to the maintenance of the peace of the Metropolis, and had pointed out that it was the duty of the executive officers under the Secretary of State to take directions, after that official had made himself acquainted with the various circumstances of the case, to conduct the required operations. He said it was also the duty of the Secretary of State to place entire confidence in that officer. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) thought the particular feature which struck one in connection with the events of February 8 was this—that there did not seem to have been a sense of responsibility in any quarter which attached to those who had the care of the peace, the order, and the security of the 1426 Metropolis. He was not going to bring any charge against the right hon. Gentleman; no charge rested against him; but he asked if it did not strike hon. Members that it was an extraordinary occurrence that the right hon. Gentleman should have been allowed by the administrative officers of the Department to sit at the Home Office up till 6 or half-past 6 o'clock that evening, and to have been unaware of the events which were known almost in every other part of London shortly after their occurrence? It appeared to him that, both at the Home Office and at Scotland Yard, a feeling seemed to have existed that the arrangements which had been made had been adequate for all contingencies, and that it was nobody's duty to follow up the arrangements, and see that the events which were not at first foreseen should be guarded against. Great stress had been laid on the fact that the newspapers contained no indication that riots were expected. He would admit that people going about to fulfil their ordinary avocations on this Monday had no expectations that a riot would occur, that windows would be broken, men robbed, and shops plundered. There remained, however, the fact that men were gathered together on that day, under conditions which gave an opportunity, to those who chose to avail themselves of it, to combine for purposes of riot and robbery. One would have thought that, under those circumstances, surely it was someone's duty to have watched over this gathering of people, and to have made it impossible for the bad characters to commit the riots and the robberies which took place. It had been remarked that those riots were not committed by working men. He had had great experience of the Metropolis, and he would express his own conviction that the unemployed working men had no part whatever in the disturbance. The people called Social Democrats were, he believed, remarkably few in number, and he should not like to charge them with a desire to commit robbery, or to aid in the destruction of property; but there was in the Metropolis a largo number of low characters, who were called loafers by some, and pickpockets and thieves by others, who availed themselves of an opportunity of this kind to reap a rich harvest. It was also well known that a large number of persons 1427 attached themselves to a gathering of this kind, for the purpose of robbing citizens, breaking windows, and looting shops. He thought the events that had occurred, however sad they might be—and there could be not the slightest doubt they were extremely so—would be very useful in this sense, if in no other—if they pointed to the necessity of a greater sense of responsibility on the part of persons in authority concerned with their prevention, and if they enabled, in the future, the Home Secretary and the police to anticipate any disturbances which might occur. A policeman might not be able to anticipate an act of robbery or of violence; but here was an organized body of men, whose possible acts it was surely the duty of the police and of the Executive Government to anticipate and to prevent. A great deal had been said about the right of public meeting. He respected that right as much as anyone did, and he thought that it would be a grave matter indeed for a Government to interfere with the right of public meeting; but, in his opinion, there was no greater danger to the right of public meeting than the conduct of those promoters of them who failed to make proper provision against riot and disturbance. In his opinion they were bound to use all the influence they possessed to sustain the Government in maintaining order. He wished to keep clear of personal controversy, for this was too grave a matter to be made a personal, a Party, or a political question. He was exceedingly glad the right hon. Gentleman had declared his intention not to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. James Stuart), who sought to connect this question with the future government of the Metropolis. This was a question which concerned a population larger than that of Ireland, with more diversity of interests. The area included the centre of government and the Houses of Parliament, and the suggestion was that the police of the area was to be controlled by the watch committee of a Municipality which had yet to be formed. In regard to the point, no responsible statesman had ever endorsed the suggestion that the police of the Metropolis should be controlled by a municipal government, and he should be surprised to hear it made by anyone holding a responsible position 1428 in the Government. He further believed that the majority of the ratepayers of the Metropolis had no desire to have the control of their own police. ["Oh, oh!"] There might be a minority who had that wish; but he spoke as having represented Westminster for 18 years, and, having mixed largely with all classes, he maintained there was no desire on the part of the majority of the ratepayers and the inhabitants to have the control of their own police. ["Oh, oh!"] Though by no means adverse to municipal government, he held that the majority had no desire to control the police of a large Province which included part of Essex, nearly the whole of Middlesex, and parts of Surrey. He recognized the fact that, in the absence of a Municipality, Metropolitan questions had to be discussed in that House; but still the Metropolis did not occupy a very large share of the time of the House. No doubt, the municipal government of London might be improved; but he believed the majority of the inhabitants were opposed to the constitution of one body for that purpose. He wished to confirm the remark that had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, as well as by other speakers in the course of the debate, that the disposition of the police was excellent. From his knowledge of and intercourse with them, he believed that the temper, feeling, capacity, and disposition of the rank and file of the Metropolitan Police were as good as those of any other body to be found in any part of the United Kingdom. They were perfectly capable and willing to do their duty; but they must have orders. No blame attached to them for the events of Monday fortnight, because the necessary orders wore not given to them, and the necessary foresight was not shown. No doubt Sir Edmund Henderson had rendered admirable services to the public in the past; but it was impossible to shut one's eyes to the deplorable facts now brought to light. The mistake was grievous in its character; and while recognizing to the full the claims of Sir Edmund Henderson to a generous consideration, he felt that no other course could have been taken than the one that had. He would not go into the personal question, although he could have wished that the Home Secretary had not taken the Chair 1429 of the Committee. But he would not quarrel with the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman, whose acceptance of responsibility was worth much to that House. The selection of Members of the Committee must rest with him alone, as also the provision of machinery to secure the desired results. He did not wish to share that responsibility with the right hon. Gentleman in the least; and, therefore, he said to him—"Act as you like; take what steps you please." The House of Commons and the country would willingly provide a sufficient body of men to protect the interests of the Metropolis. He thought that an inquiry by a Committee ought to be made in fairness to the working men of London, in order to get a little more light as to that dangerous class of persons who were hanging upon the skirts of every movement, and who, whatever they might call themselves, whether Radicals or Social Demagogues, were ready to avail themselves of every opportunity to put their hands in other people's pockets. He considered that the police themselves ought to have a little more knowledge and a little more power than they had to enable them to deal with that class, who were a dangerous element in the centre of a great population. The class might be small in number, but they seized upon and availed themselves of any popular excitement. He hoped, therefore, inquiry would be undertaken by a tribunal of a public character, and that it would be complete and searching, and sufficient to satisfy all who were interested in the good name of the working classes of this country. He was glad to know that compensation was to be given to those who had suffered by the riot; it was only reasonable, although one-half would practically come out of the pockets of the taxpayers of the United Kingdom, and the other half would be paid by the ratepayers of the Metropolis, and he should not grudge his contribution to it. The point to be aimed at in the future was that the ratepayers, who paid largely for a force to maintain order and security, should be able to feel that they could rely upon it. Otherwise, consider what the result would be. The peaceable citizens, driven by a feeling of insecurity, would take measures to protect themselves, and no disaster could be greater than that the people of this 1430 Metropolis should come to the conclusion that any Government were unwilling to take on themselves the responsibility of the duty of keeping order and protecting property. If that were so, it would not be long before the old spirit of Englishmen would revive. If they could not induce the Government to protect them, they would take steps to protect themselves, and then would come a period of evil and mischief which would be a bad omen for the liberties and happiness of this country. What was essential was that there should be security for all who honestly pursued their avocations, and that, under proper regulations, men should still enjoy the right of public meeting.
§ MR. CREMER
said, that he trusted his hon. Colleague in the representation of Shoreditch (Mr. James Stuart) was satisfied with the promise given by the Home Secretary, and would not press his Resolution to a division. A desire had been manifested on all hands that an investigation should take place into the causes which led to the disturbance, because, at present, the House was not in possession of any information which would lead it to a right conclusion as to the promoters of it. Everyone knew what had happened; but what they wanted to know, and what people out-of-doors wanted to know was how it happened. When the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) rose, it might have been expected that he would throw some light on the subject. The hon. Member had for some years enjoyed the friendship of the promoters of the meeting in Trafalgar Square, and on more than one occasion he had attended their meetings and been associated with them in their enterprizes. He hoped he did not do the hon. Member injustice when he said that he was strongly inclined to believe—and that belief was shared by many outside the House—that the hon. Member could, if he so desired, afford a considerable amount of information with regard to the doings of the gentlemen in question. He hoped, however, that an opportunity of giving that information at a future inquiry would be afforded to the hon. Gentleman. As, however, the hon. Member had not thrown any light on the question, perhaps the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) would assist him. 1431 He believed that the noble Lord, from his connection with a well-known agitator who was frequently within the precincts of that House, could, if he desired, throw a considerable amount of light on the disturbances which had taken place. He (Mr. Cremer) was not insinuating that the noble Lord had any connection with the original promoters of the meeting; but that he was connected with another agitator who, not many years ago, was parading the Metropolis with a fez on his head and a Turkish flag in his hand trying to get up an excitement among the people. Some asserted that the agitator to whom he alluded had inspired the noble Lord to found the new Tory Democracy, and that he had been the guide, counsellor, and friend of the noble Lord for some years past. But as neither the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets nor the noble Lord had afforded the House any information, perhaps the hon. Member for the City (Sir Robert Fowler) could throw a little light upon the subject. There were certain Gentlemen who, free lances themselves, had always a number of men at their beck and call, who could always be despatched to any part of the Metropolis, or any part of the United Kingdom, and who would engage to get up a meeting or to break up a meeting for a sufficient consideration. Many of the meetings promoted by the Municipal Reform League had been defeated in their operations by means of disturbances which had been traced to the sources to which he had referred. They were anxious that these people should be unmasked; that these parasites, who, for many years, had paraded themselves as the representatives of organized bodies of working men, should have their true character made known, as they were exceedingly desirous that, for the future, they should be rendered innocuous, and that could only be done by the light being let in upon them. There were agitators and agitators; he had himself been one, and so had many of his hon. Friends. But the result of the agitation of himself and his hon. Friends was that they were landed on the Benches of the House of Commons as Members of that House. But the men to whom he was referring belonged to no such agitation as that. They had no organization, but met in some public-house from time to time to concert their plans; prepared their own 1432 newspaper reports; in fact, they lived on paragraphs and subsidies. That was the character of the promoters of the Trafalgar Square meeting. All real working men organizations were public, well known, and registered under the Trades Union Act; but the men in question had no visible means of subsistence, yet they did live, and lived well, and for some time past they had been living in clover, and were ready to work for any cause. Sometimes they were advocates of Sugar Bounties, at other times they figured as riverside workmen, advocating bridges over the Thames or tunnels under it; then they were heard of as leaders of the Metropolitan Labourers' Union, advocating or opposing Cattle Diseases Bills. They had also been concerned in numbers of bye-elections; but their golden harvest was the General Election. He was glad that the Party opposite pressed for this inquiry, though some awkward results might follow. It might surprise lion. Members opposite to hear the kind of information which he and his Friends were prepared to give; and he hoped the hon. Member for Westminster would not regret challenging an inquiry, because on the Radical side of the House they had everything to gain, while he was afraid several Members on the Opposition side would find that they had a great deal to lose by it. These men went down to Birmingham to oppose the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary to the Home Office (Mr. Broadhurst), and as soon as the working men of Birmingham discovered that they resolved to return the hon. Gentleman to Parliament. These men, too, had by their opposition also secured the return of his hon. Friend the Member for West Ham. If he was not mistaken, the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, or some of his Friends, had some kind of connection with the Social Democrats who took part in this demonstration, and could make some interesting disclosures of the methods and practices of that class of men.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is travelling wide from the Question. I must remind him that the subject before the House is the administration and reorganization of the Metropolitan Police.
§ MR. CREMER
said he bowed to the authority of the Chair. He regretted the 1433 absence of the leader of the movement for municipal reform from that House, but that gentleman had been succeeded by others who would carry the movement to a successful issue, and would cordially support the proposal for placing the police under the control of the Municipal Authorities.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
said, he had listened with surprise to the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down, and had fully anticipated that the hon. Member would be called to Order. The hon. Member forgot altogether, if he had ever read, the terms of the Amendment under the consideration of the House. He had, apparently, come down to the House full of insinuations, which he had cast wholesale against all who sat on the Conservative Benches, and as to which he could not, or did not, produce a tittle of proof. He spoke, indeed, of conclusive evidence; but his notion of conclusive evidence appeared to be simply his own statement, which the House were called upon to accept as proof. He (Sir Henry Holland) was quite ready, and so were the Members on that side of the House, to have a full inquiry into the origin and character of the meeting. They were not afraid of the discovery of any Tory plots or conspiracies such as had been denounced by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell), nor of any Whig plot; for that hon. Member was not content with attacking the Conservatives, but brought a ridiculous charge against the late Home Secretary (Sir William Harcourt), that he had put pressure on Sir Edmund Henderson to resign, and had relied upon the fact of a meeting going off too quietly in support of that pressure. There could be no fear of dealing with such charges as these, so vague and unsupported. As regarded this Committee, it had been no pleasure to him (Sir Henry Holland) to act upon it, but very much the reverse. He was an old friend of Sir Edmund Henderson, and highly valued that friendship; and nothing but a sense of public duty would have induced him to undertake the painful task which he had been called upon to discharge. The hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) said that he (Sir Henry Holland) and his Colleague the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) had no special qualifications for the task, as 1434 he understood, because they were civilians. Then the hon. Member went on to find fault with Lord Wolseley's appointment because he was a military man. But if they were disqualified because they were civilians, and Lord Wolseley was disqualified because he was a military man, who on earth could be found with the necessary qualifications unless it was the hon. Member himself? The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had fully explained their reasons for acting on this Committee, and their position as regarded the Home Office and the public, and he would not re-state them. All misapprehension and all questions as to the desirability of himself and his hon. Friend serving on this Committee were removed, when it was distinctly understood that the action and conduct of the Secretary of State and the Home Office were not to be inquired into by the Committee, but only the conduct of the police. For himself, he never could understand how it could have been supposed possible that an inquiry into the conduct of a high officer of State and his Department could have been entrusted to a quasi-Departmental Committee by the Secretary of State; or how an inquiry into the conduct of the police could interfere with, or shield the Secretary of State from, a public inquiry, if thought necessary. Their position was, however, made quite clear by the opening paragraph of the Report. As to the Report itself, some faults had been found with it, partly, he thought, from the misapprehension of the scope of their inquiry; some because the critics had hardly studied the Report itself. He ventured to think that the noble Lord (Lord Algernon Percy) when he said that the Report was unfair, in that it condemned the police for things which were beyond their control, had not observed the plan of the Report. The Committee began by a bare narration of the facts; they then proceeded to point out special errors of judgment displayed on the 8th; and then they pointed out the defects of the system. They did not blame the police for those defects; and indeed, to a certain extent, the defective system formed an excuse to the Police Authorities for not being able to stop the rioting. In those defects they recognized that some justification could be found for the action of the police, while recommending im- 1435 mediate attention to the defects themselves. The hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster was pleased to ridicule the Committee for having suggested that Sir Edmund Henderson should have sat at the base of the Nelson Column in full uniform, with cocked hat and spurs. He (Sir Henry Holland) need hardly assure the House that there was no such recommendation, or anything like it in the Report. The paragraph was simply an outcome of the fertile imagination of the hon. Member. The Committee found fault with Mr. Superintendent Walker, who had sole control in Trafalgar Square, for not remaining in one place, where his constables could find him. The Superintendent was in plain clothes; he was hustled about in the crowd; he fell amongst thieves, and his pockets were picked. An officer who was in command on such an occasion ought to remain in a certain place where he could be found, and to have with him men to act as messengers if necessary. The Committee had not only no fault to find with private constables; but recognized that they were a very hard-working, capable, and excellent body of men. Among the superior officers there was not enough power of initiation; but that criticism did not apply to the constables. He heartily agreed with what had been said in "another place" by Lord Aberdare with reference to Sir Edmund Henderson, and to the excellent public work he had done. It would be a bad day for this country when such services as that officer had rendered were forgotten. He was nevertheless, to a certain degree, responsible for the defective system of organization. In that respect he had failed. He (Sir Henry Holland) was glad to know that the Amendment was not to be pressed; because he felt satisfied that to remove the police from the control of the Executive Government, who were responsible for peace and order, and to place them under the control of a representative Body, however excellent, would be a great mistake.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
said, he would not indulge in any insinuations, but would make a plain statement with regard to the part which the Tory Party had played in connection with certain agitations. He agreed with the opinion that had been expressed that a number of people assembled in Trafalgar 1436 Square with the knowledge that a not might occur; and he was prepared to produce evidence before a Committee of Inquiry to show who were the people who brought together those who were likely to take part in the riot. He would undertake to show, if an inquiry were granted, which now seemed certain, that during the six weeks preceding the day of the meeting in Trafalgar Square largo sums of money, far exceeding any legitimate allowance for expenses incurred in convening a meeting of that kind, were supplied to Mr. S. Peters by leading Conservatives, Members of both Houses of Parliament. ["Oh, oh!"] He undertook to show that part of the money was paid by cheque; that some of the cheques were payable to bearer, and others to order, and crossed; and also to prove that the cheques reached the hands of the bankers, and to produce some of the beershop keepers at whose establishments the proceeds were spent by the sober patriots who were called on to aid. He thought it fair to add that he had communicated his intention to Mr. Peters, who denied in writing that any cheque had reached him; but he must say that the signature to this reply to his communication was the same as that which he had seen on the back of some of the cheques to which he had referred. He did not think it would be in keeping with the decorum of the debates in that House to continue this personal matter, or to weaken the effect of the charge he had made by any other words; and he, therefore, left it there.
§ GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY
said, he was at the meeting in Trafalgar Square, and saw there several of his constituents who were out of employment, and they were very glad to see him amongst them. [Laughter.] Well, it was the duty of a Member to look after his constituents. The first speeches which he heard were in favour of Fair Trade, and he saw nothing in them to object to. A large number of the men present were out of employment, and many of them were starving. He was told by some of them that they had had nothing to eat that day, and he sympathized with them very much. Speeches were subsequently delivered, enforcing the argument that to behave quietly would not avail, and that it was necessary to proclaim by agitation that those present were in distress. He followed the 1437 crowd through Pall Mall and into Piccadilly, where he was struck by the careful manner in which the constables protected the shops where windows had been broken. When he arrived near the Achilles Statue he heard speeches delivered by men, who addressed the mob very much after the manner attributed to the President of the Local Government Board when the right hon. Gentleman spoke at public meetings. Soon afterwards eight or ten people seized him. Some of them thrust their hands into his pockets, and others tried to tear open his overcoat; but he prevented them from getting his watch. He was, however, thrown down, and would have been molested still further had not one of the leaders of the Democrats protected him. The men who seized him did not look like starving men. They appeared, on the contrary, to be very well fed; but they had a very bad and criminal aspect. He did not, in the least degree, blame the Home Secretary for what occurred that day as regarded any imperfect arrangements on the part of the police. There was a want of organization in the whole affair; that was his opinion, speaking as an eye-witness; but he did feel that it was to be regretted that the Home Secretary was the Chairman of the Committee of Inquiry. He also thought that Lord Wolseley, as Adjutant General of the Army, ought not to have sat on a Committee which was practically inquiring into the conduct of the head of the police, which was essentially a civil force. He strongly objected to any transfer of the control of the police, and hoped that, whatever reform there might be in it, or the government of London, the control of the Metropolitan Police would be kept in the hands of the Home Office whichever Party might be in power.
§ MR. HOWARD VINCENT
said, he felt bound to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just spoken on the narrow escape he had experienced. He (Mr. Howard Vincent) recognized that it would not be proper for him, who had been so long intimately connected with the Police Force, and under the control of the Home Department, minutely to criticize the evidence taken by the Committee, and the Report of the Committee upon it. But he could well understand that hon. Members, who 1438 represented those whose property had suffered, and whose lives had been imperilled, should speak in indignant terms in regard to the want of protection afforded by the police on this occasion. It must, however, be borne in mind that this was really the first time, within the memory of the present generation, that anything of the kind had occurred. The right of public meeting had never been contested in this country, and very wisely so; for, no doubt, public meetings acted as a safety valve in letting off the steam of popular discontent. But he ventured to say that not one in ten of those who took part in those demonstrations had the smallest sympathy with their object. The great majority merely looked for a little idle amusement. It had always been the practice of the police not to give exaggerated or undue importance to these meetings, and not to arouse susceptibilities by displaying a large and unnecessary force. It had also been the practice to hold a considerable number of men in reserve in case their services were needed; and this precaution had, it would appear, been amply taken on this occasion. The control of crowds by the English police, and especially by the Metropolitan Police, had long been the admiration of foreign authorities. It was not for him to criticize the handling of the police on this occasion by one whose brother officer he had long been; but he might point out that Sir Edmund Henderson had for 17 years discharged the arduous duties of Chief Commissioner of Police in such a manner as to endear him to every man under his command, and to raise the Metropolitan Police Force high in public estimation. It would be exceedingly to be regretted if the outcome of this debate were to deprive the Police Authorities of that freedom of action and that unfettered responsibility which was absolutely necessary to the efficient discharge of their duty. He was free to admit that there were many matters in connection with the organization of the Metropolitan Police susceptible of remedy. He would not enter into these matters in detail; but he would venture to point out that among matters requiring early attention was the provision of proper headquarters instead of the present miserable premises in Scotland Yard; and, secondly, the constitution of a proper system of in- 1439 struction in police duties for the rank and file of the force. Speaking of that splendid force, however, as a whole, he could only remind the House of the eloquent tribute paid it by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when Home Secretary—That it was not surprising the police sometimes went astray, were sometimes in the wrong; but it was marvellous how seldom. Their work was generally done with a fidelity, a diligence, and a discipline which were the admiration of all who took the trouble to make themselves acquainted with it.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT)
said, he wished, at the commencement of his remarks, to record his entire agreement in the testimony to the character of the Metropolitan Police which had been expressed by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken and by others, as to their excellence, both mental and physical. His experience of the force had been that, on the whole, they, to a marvellous degree, fulfilled the duties with which they were intrusted; and it would be a great misfortune if, in a moment of excitement, the House and the country were to believe that the present police organization was entirely in fault, and ought to be condemned. He believed that if, on account of the deplorable incident that had lately occurred, public confidence were shaken in the force, and injustice done to any part of that great system which maintained the security of this Metropolis, it would be of incalculable mischief, and greater harm than good would result. A great many unjust things had recently been said of the police. Well, there were Railway Companies, extremely well managed, on which hundreds of trains were going night and day at express speed for many years, carrying millions of passengers in perfect security. Then a terrible accident happened—an accident due to the carelessness of someone who had never been careless before, and that was very much what had occurred with regard to the recent riot. The persons responsible for the management of the Police Force had had to deal with similar meetings for a great number of years, and they had always done so successfully, no event of this character having occurred before. Meetings had taken place under every circumstance of difficulty and danger, and the organization 1440 of the police had been found adequate. Nothing that he had heard or which he had read in regard to what occurred the other day conveyed to his mind the belief that the organization was to blame. It was the result of individual carelessness which it was difficult to explain. The police had very responsible duties to perform, and if any inquiry was held, no doubt they would have many accusers. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. James Stuart) spoke in severe terms of the superior officers of the Metropolitan Police. No doubt, discharged servants would bring accusations against these officers; but he could bear testimony to their high character and efficiency. Sir Edmund Henderson was a public servant who, however unfortunate he might have been on this occasion—and it was no part of his (Sir William Harcourt's) duties to pronounce judgment upon that—for a great number of years by his calmness and firmness, by his tact and by his judgment, had done his duty in that great and responsible office which he filled for the protection of the people of London. It had been said, and repeated during the debate, that the Secretary of State was too liable to be overborne in his duties by permanent officials. It was easy for persons who knew nothing of the duties of the Home Office and of the Police Authorities to say that; but the notion of the permanent officials in the Home Office having anything to do with the administration of the police was perfectly ridiculous, and anyone who had ever gone up the stairs of the Home Office would know that. Whatever relations existed between the Home Office and the police were really personal between the Secretary of State and the police. The Secretary of State was responsible for the police in this sense— and it was the very highest sense—he was responsible for them just as the Secretary of State for War was responsible for the Army; that was to say, he was responsible for appointments in the police, he was responsible for their efficiency, he was responsible for their general policy, if he might so call it, and for giving them instructions whether they should allow a meeting to take place or not, and whether they should go in this direction or in that. He was also responsible for placing at the disposal of the police an adequate force for 1441 any circumstances that might arise; and he was responsible for the police of the Metropolis to the House of Commons. But when it was contended that the Secretary of State was responsible for the details of the executive action of the police, a more dangerous or more mischievous doctrine it was impossible to propound. In so interfering he would be doing nothing but harm, and he would be doing that for which he was totally unfit. What the Secretary of State had to do was to see that there were proper men in the police, to call their attention to the principal duties they had to perform, and to place a sufficient force at their disposal; but if there were any attempt on his part to conduct their policy so as to say that constables should be in this or that street, whether in individual cases or on occasions of this character, he would be doing exactly what the Secretary of State for War would do if he were to telegraph to a General in the middle of an action to alter the disposition of his forces. Another subject had been referred to by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Algernon Percy), and he hoped he did not mean by that reference that it was inexpedient to allow these public meetings. He was quite sure that no greater mistake could be made than to prevent these meetings. They were placed in London in the midst of a population of 4,000,000. In other towns in the country meetings could be held outside the town; but did they think it was possible to say to 4,000,000 of Englishmen—"You shall have no opportunity for holding public meetings?" What they must do was to regulate these public meetings; and, according to his experience, nothing was easier than to regulate public meetings in London. In these great crowds they might depend upon it that nine out of every ten persons were on the side of order, and would assist the police in maintaining it. The tenth person might be a rough or a plunderer; but if the police were present nine out of every ten persons in the crowd would aid them; and he was perfectly certain that on the very occasion of these riots a very small body of police could have stopped the whole mischief at any point. That was one of the reasons why he had never concurred in the doctrine which he knew was held by some that the police ought not to be "shown." He thought that 1442 was an entire mistake. If it should be necessary to have the military in readiness, they should not be "shown;" but the police were a civil force. They came from the people, they belonged to the people, and were a civil force enrolled for the purpose of aiding the people in keeping order; and he had always said—Let the police be seen, let the people know that the police are there. The presence of the police on the spot prevented the very commencement of disorder, and the more they wore shown on these occasions the better, in his opinion, was it for the preservation of peace. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand (Mr. W. H. Smith) had observed on the information not having been sent immediately to the Home Office. He (Sir William Harcourt) certainly thought that was a great mistake. But let it be understood why it was a mistake. The Secretary of State ought, no doubt, to be informed of everything that affected the peace of London at once. But it had been said that he ought to have directed the operations of the police. That was, he thought, a great mistake, as it was no part of his duty. If the police were overpowered, the Secretary of State would have power to appeal to military force; but, generally speaking, in his opinion, the duty of the Secretary of State was to take care that an adequate force was provided, that the head of the police was informed as to the policy he ought to pursue and the duty he ought to perform, and to advise as to the legal position and action; but after that to leave the executive action and the conduct of his policy on any particular occasion to the responsible officers of the police. Half-a-dozen mounted policemen would have been sufficient to quell the whole disturbance. A great deal had been said about telegraphic communication; but where they were dealing with matters of this kind a few men on horseback were more valuable even than telegraphic communication. Such occurrences as those on February 8 were simply accidents arising out of a piece of carelessness; but they did not affect the general reputation and organization of the police, and it would be very dangerous and mischievous to attack the general organization of the police on the ground of accidents of this character. These fears as to the existing organization of the 1443 police were produced by sensational accounts of the occurrences themselves, and by erroneous deductions, both with reference to the mob dealt with, and with reference to the Police Force which had to encounter them. He thought they ought to bring common sense to bear on this matter, and not to allow a spirit of panic to inspire them. The events of February 8 occurred like a railway accident, and just in the same way was much less likely to occur in the future. It was equally certain they had been the result not of a comedy of errors, but of a tragedy of errors, any one of which, if it could have been foreseen and prevented, would have entirely stopped the subsequent proceedings. It was a lesson of vigilance to everybody concerned, from the Home Office down to the lowest officer in the Police Force; but he was perfectly certain that to exaggerate the matter, or to approach it in any sensational spirit, was greatly to be deprecated. If the present system had not been a good one, how could the Metropolis have gone on for 20 years without the occurrence of an accident of this kind? Therefore he entreated the House of Commons not to be led away because of these events. He did not disparage their gravity or their magnitude; but, for Heaven's sake, let them look at the matter in a calm and quiet manner, and bring to bear in its discussion a spirit of cool common sense; and he hoped it would be recognized that far greater mischief would be done than any which had yet been apparent, if there was any attempt to revolutionize altogether what for so many years had worked with such advantage to the people of the Metropolis.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
said, that 18 years ago, as Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, he was directed to make an inquiry into the organization of the Metropolitan Police Force; and it was a remarkable fact that in that Report, drawn up by Sir Henry Thring and himself, they put their fingers on all the weak points which had been exposed on the occasion in question. The first of these was the excessive centralization, and the want of superior responsible officers. They pointed out that any day a disaster might occur, through the want of immediate orders, which could only, under the present regulations, be issued from 1444 Scotland Yard. They also said the force was far too large to be treated as if it were a single battalion, and recommended that London should be divided into four, five, or six districts, and that each district should have a Superintendent or Commissioner, with powers similar to those of the Chief Constable of a county. Lord Aberdare, in "another place," had stated that he carried out that suggestion, by appointing four or five District Superintendents to manage different parts of the Metropolis. He (Sir James Fergusson) believed, however, that the system was never properly carried out, and that Scotland Yard, retained too much of detail in its hands and never allowed these officers sufficient discretion. He regretted very much that of late years a distinctly retrograde step had been taken. Whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt) was responsible for it or not he did not know; but two or three of these District Superintendents had been discontinued. There had been two inquiries since.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
Very well; but it seemed to him very curious that the present Home Secretary said he was going to carry out the suggestions of the Committee, who had recommended that system at the very outset of their proposals. He (Sir James Fergusson) would put it whether it was right or wise that there should be no discretion outside Scotland Yard to deal with emergencies? The remedy for such fiascos was to take away the present excessive centralization in Scotland Yard; and he implored the Home Secretary not to give way on that point.
§ MR. LOCKWOOD
said, he looked upon the attacks which had been made upon the present Home Secretary as perfectly unjustifiable. If it was suggested in any way that that right hon. Gentleman was to blame for what had happened, they ought to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary to the Home Department what information he had at the Home Office during his tenure of Office, and what steps he took before he left that important post to inform the right hon. Gentleman who was to succeed him as to what was likely 1445 to occur. They had as yet received no information from him upon the point.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he wished to say, at the outset, how satisfied he was at the assertion made by the Home Secretary as to the general efficiency and excellent character both of the men and officers of the Metropolitan Force. He was glad to observe that the right hon. Gentleman had made use of the words "mental and physical," and he would like to add also the word "moral" in relation to the character of the force. He also desired to bear his testimony during six years of Office to that efficiency, and he was pleased to say that when he returned to Office last year he found both officers and men in as good a condition as he had left them. He was bound also to add his testimony as to the conduct of Sir Edmund Henderson, who had paid so much attention, not simply to the organization of the police, but to the individual comforts and moral training of every member of the force. He knew the past services Sir Edmund Henderson had rendered, and the excellent work he had done in the settlement of the boundary line of Canada, in carrying out the Ashburton Treaty, and in other directions. Afterwards, when brought to this country and appointed, on the death of Sir Joshua Jebb, to the head of the Police Department, he administered for many years the duties of his Office to the satisfaction of those who were over him. As head of the Metropolitan Police Force for a period of 18 years, he had done more to promote the efficiency of the force, and for the happiness and moral training of each individual member of it, than anyone occupying a similar position had done before. Therefore, he was very glad to hope, although this unfortunate circumstance had occurred, that the present Home Secretary fully recognized those services, and that Sir Edmund Henderson would, as he hoped, profit eventually by the way in which he would be treated by the Home Office. The disaster which they all deplored was not, in his opinion, due to any great want of organization in the force. He had read the Report over with the evidence, and if he had anything to say about the Report it would be this—that it was calculated to raise, and have the effect of raising, more distrust on the part of the public as to the working of the force 1446 than was warranted by what took place. He believed that the disasters of a fortnight since were not due to a want of organization on the part of the police, but to the fact that the Chief Commissioner evidently underrated the gravity of the situation. So many meetings had passed off quietly that Sir Edmund Henderson did not take into consideration clearly the very peculiar character of the meeting, or rather of the two meetings; and seeing that there was danger of a collision the police ought to have been warned of the intensity of the danger. When he (Sir E. Assheton Cross) was at the Home Office, he always sought to impress upon the police the uncertainty of the elements comprising a large crowd. His own experience was that what they had to fear was not from those who came to hear discussion, but from those who did not come to hear, who mixed in the crowd and who might start it into another channel altogether. He thought that Sir Edmund Henderson ought to have taken greater precautions. He had been asked by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Lockwood) what part he had taken in this matter. He left the Home Office on the Friday afternoon, and he saw Sir Edmund Henderson and asked him about this meeting. He told Sir Edmund Henderson that it was one which required his very careful consideration. He reminded him of the necessity of having a very large force, and he reminded him of his own words used on a previous occasion—"It is not the meeting, but what may come out of it." He said, further, to him, using this exact expression—"Now, mind, these things, to use your own words, grow up exactly like a mushroom; they grow up so quickly that you have not time to change your plans at the moment—that you should prepare for them at the start." That was the warning which he had given to Sir Edmund Henderson on the Friday. He certainly thought Sir Edmund Henderson ought to have had better information as to the class of people who were coming up, and he regretted that he did not take the opportunity of gaining further information about what was likely to take place. Of course, if further information had been gained, proper precautions might have been taken against this new danger. He hoped he had now satisfied the hon. 1447 Member. What was the responsibility of the Secretary of State? There was no doubt he was responsible for the peace of the Metropolis, for maintaining the force in a high state of organization, so that it might be capable of dealing at any moment with any sudden emergency that might arise; but he could no more take the actual direction of the police than the Secretary for War could take charge of the Army, or the Secretary to the Admiralty charge of the Navy; but his duty was to discuss with the Chief of the Police all the dangers which were likely to arise. Of course, the communications between the Secretary of State and the Chief Commissioner would depend upon the character of the matter that had to be dealt with; but during his tenure of Office he always felt a deep feeling of responsibility on the subject of maintaining the public peace. Now the possibility of the mob going West was just one of the things which might have arisen in a discussion with the Home Secretary; and although it appeared not to have presented itself to the mind of the Chief Commissioner, it seemed almost impossible to think it had not done so. It was also a great mistake in the first instance not to show the police. It was proper not to show the military until they were required; but the police, being a civil force, ought to be shown. Then a great number of police should have been kept in reserve. In all serious cases he had felt deeply the responsibility for the peace and safety of the town, and he never was easy until he knew that the meeting was over and that the crowd had dispersed. There were several occasions which he could recall. There was one in 1875, when he had reports every half-hour during the time disturbances were going on. There was the case which arose out of the Tichborne trial, when De Morgan came down to present a Petition to the House, and he had to stop him. During all that time, he had constant messages backwards and forwards by constables and by his private secretaries to the Home Office, and to the House of Commons. There was the case only the other day of threatened disturbances in the East End, and he had reports during the whole of that meeting. That practice, besides being a precautionary one, made the police feel that the eye of the Home Secretary was upon them. The 1448 Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—"What would you do if the riots were going on?" But there was a point on this day when a word from the Home Secretary to Scotland Yard might have secured reinforcements and stopped the whole thing. He hoped, however, that the House would not run away with the idea that the police wanted thorough re-organization. No doubt, they, like almost all other things, were capable of some improvement; but if, in trying to effect it, they upset the whole system they would run a great danger. They had had great meetings, dangerous meetings, during the 18 years, and the whole of them had passed away without the smallest censure; and, indeed, on more than one occasion, the police had received the thanks of that House on account of their behaviour with regard to them.
§ LORD EDWARD CAVENDISH
I should not have risen to say a single word on this occasion if it had not been for one or two observations which fell from the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, which observations I consider to be of an ungenerous character, and unfair and unjust towards the present Home Secretary.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
Allow me to explain. I think that the noble Lord is labouring under a mistake. I never intended to do anything of the kind; and I thought that I had carefully refrained from doing so.
§ LORD EDWARD CAVENDISH
It certainly appeared to me that in some of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman he suggested or insinuated that these disturbances were all due to some want of care on the part of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. CHILDERS)
Perhaps my noble Friend will allow me to interrupt him. I did not understand the right hon. Gentleman to have done that.
§ LORD EDWARD CAVENDISH
Then I beg to apologize to the right hon. Gentleman for having misunderstood in any way what he stated. It appeared to me that in the observations of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to making inquiry during the course of the disturbances the right hon. Gentleman had thrown out some insinuation to that effect against my right hon. Friend (Mr. 1449 Childers), and had implied, that if proper precautions had been taken the disturbances might have been avoided. I can only say that, holding the position which my right hon. Friend did of Home Secretary on that occasion, it was perfectly impossible for him to have taken steps to avoid these occurrences, and any interference on his part would have been perfectly unjustifiable, having already an assurance that everything that was necessary for the maintenance of order would be done; and he would have been to blame if, under such circumstances, he had given any counter-instructions. I may say, for myself, having sat on the Committee, and having signed the Report of the Committee, that I signed it with a feeling of regret and very great reluctance, for this reason—I cannot forget that this is the first occasion, during many years, that any charge has been made against Sir Edmund Henderson, and the first occasion since the police have boon under his control that the peace and public order of the Metropolis have been disturbed. The police, on other occasions, have discharged their duties in a manner which reflects the greatest credit on themselves; and during the time the police have been under the charge of Sir Edmund Henderson they have performed their arduous and difficult duties in a most satisfactory manner. It was, therefore, with very great regret that any Member of the Committee felt himself called upon to sign a Report which might be said to reflect upon the manner in which Sir Edmund Henderson has performed the important duties reposed in him. I will only say that if in anyway I have misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken I regret that I have done so; but I did feel that under the circumstances in which my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary came into Office it would have been unjust, unfair, and ungenerous, if any blame were attributed to him for what occurred. It certainly has been attributed to him—I will not say by the right hon. Gentleman, but by other hon. Members—that the disturbances were due in consequence of my right hon. Friend not having taken greater precautions, and from his not having had more frequent communication with the Chief Commissioner of Police. After having very carefully listened to all the evidence which 1450 was brought before the Committee, I feel that in no sort of way whatever does any blame attach to my right hon. Friend.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."