§ MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the attack by emergency men and police upon men, women, and young persons attending tithe distraint sales at Llanefydd, Denbighshire, on May 17th, and the action taken consequent thereon by Denbighshire magistrates in issuing a proclamation, and calling in the military to carry out tithe distraint sales in various districts of the county; but the pleasure of the House not having been signified,
§ MR. SPEAKER
called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen:—
§ MR. T. E. ELLIS
said, he regretted to have to intervene between the House and the detailed discussion of the Local Government Bill. It was a misfortune that so little was known in Par- 1416 liament or in England of the occurrences which had taken place, or the sufferings of the peasants on the Welsh hills, and there was no Minister for Wales with time and opportunities to watch the proceedings and to hold the balance even between the parties in the tithe struggle. The events to which he wished to refer took place on the 17th of May, the day before the Whitsuntide Recess. As soon as the House re-assembled he gave Notice to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary of a Question, which he intended to put on the following Monday. The Question was put on the Monday; but the reply made by the right hon. Gentleman was so evasive and so unsatisfactory, and so at issue with the facts, that he had been compelled to put a further Question that day. The statements made by the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to the Question, were not only inaccurate and misleading, but some of them absolutely false. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Clergy Defence Association had been constantly distraining for tithe, and selling the distrained stock without intermission since Christmas. They had now reached Llanefydd, a hill district, a short distance from the town of Denbigh. On the occasion of the struggle, to which he wished particularly to refer, a crowd assembled that was estimated by the Chief Constable, according to the Home Secretary, at 300 or 400. They had just visited a homestead called Bryngwyn, and the mass of the crowd numbering 300 or 400 entered a field on one side of the homestead, while Mr. Stevens and the emergency men and police entered into the road on the other side, and the only people present besides Mr. Stevens and the emergency men were some 50 or 60 men, women, and children. He entered into this matter because there was a crucial difference between the statement of the Home Secretary and those of the people of the locality.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
asked what was the date referred to by the hon. Member?
§ MR. T. E. ELLIS
The 17th of May. There were not more than from 50 to 60 in the crowd which was attacked by the emergency men and the police. It was a misfortune that the events were 1417 not reported in full by the papers that were accessible to hon. Members; but the local papers, some of them in English, and some of them in the vernacular, had published full reports. The first paper he would quote from was The Wrexham Advertiser. He believed the account given in this newspaper had been substantiated by various bystanders. The report said—The unfortunate row commenced when the majority of the crowd were at the homestead (Bryngwyn). Mr. Stevens and his emergency men were standing outside in the open place, and a young man was hissing, as is not unusual at such events, and being close to Mr. Stevens, who appeared not to like the noise, he caught hold of the man's throat and pushed him away. At that moment an emergency man struck him from behind with his staff, and the young man returned the blow by cutting his face with a stick.He (Mr. T. E. Ellis) did not mean to justify this use of a stick when a man was not attacked; but when attacked by an emergency man from behind, and surprised by a blow from a staff, this young man, William Jones, certainly did return the blow with a stick.Two more emergency men then attacked him; he was thrown down into the hedge with an emergency man upon him, and received four severe wounds upon the head. At this moment the police and emergency men made a raid upon the small number of unresisting men in the road, and used their staffs unmercifully upon women, boys, and old men alike.He would quote also an account of the attack from another newspaper, The County Herald, not published in the same town, and the report in which was supplied by another correspondent. The County Herald said—After going round the building once or twice, Mr. Stevens, his men, and most of the police went into the road, most of the crowd remaining in one of the fields.Therefore, the statement that the emergency men were outside is corroborated by two independent witnesses. The writer of The Herald report goes on to describe the attack made by the emergency men and the police on the crowd—How the row began it is difficult to say, but it is stated that a young man kept booing right in Stevens's ear, and the latter jumped at his throat. The man then attempted to push him, when an emergency man came up and knocked him down with his staff. The police immediately pulled their staves out, whether by command or not we are unable to say, and began bâtoning indiscriminately. Men were knocked down without the slightest provocation. Blood was to be seen streaming on all 1418 sides. Men were lying down on the road insensible, or carried away by four or five of their friends. All were suffering from ghastly scalp wounds, and many suffered keenly from the loss of blood The sight of some of the wounded was awful. The blood flowed in such a proportion from the top of their heads till it congealed on their necks, face, and shoulders, presenting a sickening appearance. Such was the force with which the police struck their unoffending victims, that in one case, at least, a policeman's staff was split in two, and the half of it, with the number of the policeman on it, is now in the possession of one of the witnesses of the affray. Another one dropped his staff altogether. Of course, all those bludgeoned did not take their dose quietly, and a policeman and an emergency man were also wounded, but only slightly. One big, burly policeman, evidently with much more strength than brains, was seen to rush at a man who was trying to get away from the scene, and, using all the force he was capable of, to knock him down with his staff. Men who had been struck down once were again struck when on the floor.The right hon. Gentleman the Home secretary said that there was only one man who received a scalp wound; but, knowing too well the nature of the information sent by police authorities in Wales and Ireland to the Government, he (Mr. T. E. Ellis) took the precaution to consult the medical officer, who thus reports—In answer to your inquiry concerning the condition of the wounded men whom I had to treat at Llanefydd, on the occasion of the disturbance in connection with the collection of tithe, I beg to say that on my arrival I found 16 or 17 men and boys of varying ages—one old man of 73, another of 60, and youths of 17 and 18. They were suffering from scalp wounds of different degrees of severity. In some cases there were three or four wounds on the same head.He found in the newspaper the names of more than 20 people who were seriously injured, their ages varying from 17 to 74. The doctor added that—Hugh Roberts, of Plas Cwtta, was seriously ill for several days suffering from concussion of the brain.This man had only just come upon the scene, like several others. They had done nothing whatever, and some of them were not anti-tithers at all, but were in sympathy, if anything, with the authorities, and were only there in order to see what happened. He thought he had been able to show, from the few figures that he had given, that the attack was wanton, brutal, and in some respects that it was incredibly cruel; that old men of 60 and 74 were knocked down by the emergency men and police, and after they were knocked down were 1419 bâtoned on the head while upon the ground. It was not, therefore, too much to say that such an attack was incredibly cruel. Assuming that the young man, William Jones, was acting illegally, or had done anything violent in booing and groaning, there were 30 or 40 policemen who were quite capable of taking him into custody. But what happened? This man hooted and groaned at the tithe collector, who rushed at his throat, and immediately after an emergency man hit him with a riding whip. As soon as the attack was made on this youth, the emergency men turned round on the crowd and attacked them indiscriminately, hitting with their bâtons old men, women, and children alike. Now it seemed to him that, in cases of this kind, the police should be very careful not to provoke the crowd and engage them in a conflict. What he complained of, above all, was that these emergency men, who were nothing more than brigands and bandits in semi-military uniform, armed with the regulation police bâton, should have been let loose upon a crowd in this scandalous and indefensible manner. They were told, a short time ago, at the Winter Assizes at Anglesea, by Mr. Justice Wills, that "those who had to enforce the law should do so with the minimum of annoyance and inconvenience." Was it not a grim commentary on that advice that these emergency men should have been sent in semi-military uniform, furnished with police bâtons to use on the heads of the unresisting crowd? It might be said that the people had their own remedy, and that they could summon the emergency men and police before the magistrate. But was that the fact? What the magistrates did in face of this wanton attack was to publish in hot haste a proclamation calling attention to the illegality of men meeting together and using violence. Not content with warning the people of the provisions of an Act of Parliament, they went on to refer to the proceedings at Llanefydd as riotous, disorderly, and illegal. That was nothing more nor less than condemning them at once. Was it to be expected that people would ask for reparation from magistrates who had already prejudged the case, and threatened them with fine and imprisonment? Not only did the magistrates act in that manner, but they directed a troop of Lancers to come in and do the duty of 1420 the tithe collector. A private meeting of the magistrates was held at Denbigh, in which it was decided that the military should be called in, in order that they might accompany the tithe collector or emergency men who were engaged in the duty of collecting ordinary debts. Now, he maintained fearlessly that there was no occasion whatever, and no shred of justification, for calling in the military to do the work of tithe collecting, and to summon a detachment of Lancers at the cost of the county of Denbigh. If the Chief Constable of Denbighshire had used proper discretion, and had followed the example of the Chief Constables in Montgomeryshire and Anglesea, there would have been no occasion for calling in the military at a very heavy expense. The use of military for ordinary tithe collecting was utterly subversive of freedom and Constitutional rights. In another district, some miles distant, the military had been ordered to encamp for weeks in the field of the Vicar. His (Mr. Ellis's) opinion in regard to the use of the military for the collection of tithes was not a personal opinion of his own, but was already contained in what had become a State Paper. At the time of the crofters' disturbances in Scotland, this question was brought before the Government of the day. The authorities, as soon as they found themselves in any difficulty, asked for a contingent of Marines and soldiers; but what did the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) say in answer to the application? His reply was—The duty of preserving the peace and exercising the law in a county rests upon the county authorities who are by statute authorized to maintain a police for that purpose. The number of the force must necessarily depend upon the state of the county and nature of the service; but recourse should not be had to military aid unless in case of sudden riot and extraordinary emergency, to deal with which police cannot be obtained and soldiers should not be employed upon police duty which is likely to be of a continuous character.In this case the military were sent not to quell a riot or to meet a case of emergency, but for the work of collecting tithes. In the district of Abergele and Llanfairtalhaiarn, a district several miles further off, the military had not been brought in in order to keep order. He 1421 might be told that all these disturbances in North Wales were due to the obstinacy of the farmers and peasants in not quietly paying their tithes. Now, the farmers and peasants throughout the whole of Wales had exercised the Constitutional right given to them in order to declare to the country generally what their views were in regard to the payment of tithes. He did not propose to enter into that question now. It was, however, a notorious fact than an overwhelming majority of the Members for Wales had been sent to the House of Commons in the last three General Elections to ask that the tithe should be used for some national purpose. Hitherto, the House of Commons had paid very little heed to the prayer of these peasants and farmers, or to that of the vast majority of the Welsh people. The Government refused last Session even to grant one night's discussion upon the question, although they knew it was a question which threatened social order in the Principality. Then what course had the farmers and peasants of Wales to take? They had to do the same as the other sufferers did in former times in England. They found themselves compelled to say that they would not pay the charge upon their land and labour, for a purpose repulsive and injurious to them, except under the compulsion of distraint. Although they were condemned by a Police Commissioner from London, the course they took was one which was justified by history, and certainly by Mr. Justice Wills, who presided at the last Winter Assize at Anglesea. What Mr. Justice Wills said on that occasion was—If the people said they were not willing to pay for things which they did not like, and that they submitted to distraints so as to show their protest against the law, they would be perfectly justified in doing so. As long as they did that, nothing would be said against them. That was a kind of protest by which some of the best improvements in the laws, which years and years ago were found to be very oppressive, were brought about. This was a course which had been systematically carried out by the Quakers.Perhaps the House would consider that to be very high authority for the course these peasants had taken, and he found in the Charge of Mr. Justice Wills that there was another little sentence which was worth repeating to the House, the Home Secretary, and all the authorities 1422 in Wales who were acting under him. The learned Judge said—The Welsh people were very awkward to drive, but they could be led anywhere by a little kindness and consideration.When the Chief Constables and the officers of the law treated them with kindness and consideration it was found that the Welsh people were very easy to lead. There was no people with whom a generous appeal found a more generous response; but when they tried to drive them there were no people who would struggle harder to resist those who were endeavouring to coerce and harass them. He confessed that he deplored exceedingly that there should have been any bad feeling in Wales in regard to this question. But he thought it was an insult to the Welsh people that the military should have been brought down there without cause. It was not only an insult, but a great financial loss to them; but, over and above all, it was intolerable that emergency men and the police should have been let loose to baton an unresisting and unoffending crowd. No doubt, it would be said that they ought to pay their tithes without requiring a process of distraint to be resorted to. If they wanted to face the Welsh question, and to bring it to a solution, they must do what the people of Wales asked them—namely, to devote the money to purposes that would be generally beneficial to the whole people. As long as they refused to do that, and brought forward coddling Tithe Bills, this struggle would go on. There were hundreds—nay thousands—of peasant freeholders in Wales who would pay no tithe except under distraint and compulsion. He gave the Government fair notice of that, and he did not do so without having investigated carefully what the condition of things and the facts were in Wales. Hon. Members on his side of the House had made up their minds once and for all that wrong-doing in Ireland must not go on unrestrained and unredressed, and he pressed them to make the same declaration in regard to wrong-doing in Wales. He appealed with confidence to Members on that side of the House to show to the Welsh people that they were not without sympathy in the struggle that was now going on. He also appealed to the House to listen 1423 calmly to an expression of opinion from the Welsh people themselves, and to remember, above all, that the Welsh people would not give up their rights and duties as a people. He asked the House not only to condemn what had taken place in Wales, but to stop the use of the military for the collection of ordinary debts.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Thomas Ellis.)
§ MR. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)
said, the state of affairs in Wales and the question raised in this discussion were extremely grave and important; and he was very sorry to see that when his hon. Friend rose to address the House a number of Members, especially on the Ministerial side, took so little interest in a matter concerning the welfare of one of the component parts of the United Kingdom as to walk out of the House. Hon. Members on the opposite side of the House resisted any appeal made to them for Home Rule, on the ground that the Imperial Parliament was both able and willing to discuss and decide properly any question affecting the interest of any portion of the Kingdom, and this was the way in which they chose to show their willingness and their capacity. He trusted that the Conservative Party, who were now charged with the important function of government, would not pursue the policy of ignoring grievances in regard to Wales which had led to such deplorable results in the case of Ireland. He could not but believe that if the standpoint occupied by the Welsh people was properly understood for a moment by the people of England, they would not hesitate to apply their minds to the solution of this and similar questions; and if the grievances which were complained of were once properly understood they would be speedily removed, He did not propose to enter into the historical aspect of the question; but it was impossible to consider the tithe disturbances in Wales without regard to the nature and object of the grievances which brought the people together. They had in Wales the collection of debts due to particular persons and applied for a special purpose, that special purpose being one with which the vast majority of the Welsh 1424 people had no sympathy whatever—enforced by the continuous presence of the military, which was in itself calculated to wound the feelings of a people who had been, if possible, too patient under a long course of neglect on the part of their rulers in England. The principle of military aid was that when a sudden emergency arose, with which the Civil Authorities were unable to cope, they should have the assistance of the discipline of regular soldiers to enforce that obedience to the law which the Civil Authorities were incapable of enforcing. In this case neither of these conditions existed—the civil power was not overmatched—and matters had gone on for a considerable time, and they would continue to go on until an equitable and proper solution was arrived at in the way that was desired by the great mass of the Welsh people. The tithes against which the Welsh people protested were applied to the purpose, not of religion in general, but of a particular form of religion with which the people of Wales generally were entirely out of sympathy, and for which proceedings like those at Llanefydd were scarcely likely to awaken any affection or regard. It was difficult to see what course it was possible for the Welsh people to take? Lord Salisbury admitted the other day, when on a visit to Wales, that Wales was pre-eminently a nation, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian had said that when a nationality had a grievance it should express its sense of it in no uncertain terms, The Welsh people had done so. How could they express their sense of their grievance more forcibly than they had done? They had returned a large majority of Members to Parliament pledged to settle the Tithe Question and that of the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. They had exhibited their distaste and their grief at the methods adopted to enforce a particular form of religion by the presence of military and armed policemen; and if the account given by the Welsh newspaper authorities was only true in part, the authorities, in their attempt to enforce the collection of the tithe, took a course which was most calculated to provoke the people. Overborne, beaten, and harried by the police and the military, what refuge had they? If they came to that House the Ministerialists walked out, and 1425 evinced no interest in the subject, returning only to record their votes against the Representatives sent to the House by the Welsh people, Then, to what Constitutional source were they to apply for a remedy for this state of things? It was said that they had a remedy in the judicial tribunals in their own neighbourhoods —that they had the magistracy in their own country. [An hon. MEMBER: Hear, hear!] His hon. and gallant Friend said "Hear, hear!" It only showed how little he knew of the constitution of the Welsh magistracy. He was himself so honourable and gallant a man that he could not understand how the magisterial system worked in Wales. The magistrates themselves were mainly selected from one class of the people, from the upholders of one form of religion, and it was not in accordance with the ordinary forces of human nature that they should expect any amount of proper sympathy from them with the grievances of the people. But the magistrates seemed to have prejudged the case; if they had contented themselves with an exposition of the law, whether that exposition had been right or wrong, there would have been no occasion to trouble the House with it. But, instead of doing so, they prejudged the question by issuing a proclamation authoritatively. The proclamation said that the Justices of the Peace of the Division assembled in Petty Sessions—he did not know whether it was a hole-and-corner assembly or not—had been informed that serious disturbances had recently taken place. Who was it that informed them? Had they the same information as his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who had to rely for his information upon the Chief Constable, who was himself one of the accused party, or upon Mr. Stevens who was also accused? The magistrates said that they had been informed of the recent disturbances which had taken place in the Division in regard to the collection of tithes. They desired to point out that two or more persons assembling together and conducting themselves in a turbulent and violent manner, and showing an apparent tendency to enforce their demands by violence, and making a great noise—as many hon. Members opposite often did—or acting in any way calculated to inspire the people with terror, or to intimi- 1426 date any person from the performance of his duty, committed an offence which rendered them liable to imprisonment with hard labour. As he had said, if the magistrates had contented themselves with an exposition of the law, it would not have been necessary to raise that question in that House. They might have shown their knowledge, or their ignorance, and the House of Commons would have passed it over in contemptuous silence; but they went on to show their real purpose, and here it was that he ventured to differ from the Home Secretary as to the construction which the right hon. Gentleman placed on the proclamation the other day. The magistrates in the proclamation proceeded to say—The Justices further desire to point out that such tumultuous and riotous proceedings as had recently taken place in Llanefydd were unlawful, no matter what might be the cause or object of them.From whom did the magistrates obtain their information? Presumably, from the same sources which supplied the right hon. Gentleman with material for answering the Question put to him in that House. Whom did the Justices mean to describe as authors of the tumultuous and riotous proceedings? No hon. Member would believe that the police were included by them among those who were alleged to have been engaged in unlawful doings; but the fact was clear that the police were the cause of those riotous and tumultuous proceedings. That the magistrates intended, however, to point out the police and bring them under their censure he did not for a moment believe, and if not the proclamation is a condemnation by them of the people beforehand; no legal inquiry having been held or evidence on both sides produced and taken. The Justices in their proclamation declared that the law must be respected, and the peace preserved, and they gave notice that all persons who disturbed the peace of a district by taking part in any unlawful assemblies would be proceeded against according to law. That, however, would depend on what the assembly was. In this case, the police were the culprits, if there were a tithe of truth in the reports of the newspapers which had been quoted by his hon. Friend. Unfortunately police information was, as a rule, one-sided, and whether intention- 1427 ally or not was often untrue, and dangerous to be relied upon; and thus it had become necessary, in order to preserve peace and order in Wales, that attention should be called to the subject. His fellow-countrymen were essentially a peaceful and quiet people. If hon. Members knew how just the complaints of the Welsh people were; how constantly they had been neglected; if Englishmen, instead of declining to trouble themselves with the affairs of a small nationality like Wales, knew, as he knew, that there was no more patient law-abiding or religious people than the Welsh—he did not suppose that they were altogether without faults—they would pay more attention to their grievances. He did not claim that the Welsh were exempt from faults any more than other nationalities; but he did say that a better people, under a system which had ignored them for years, than the Welsh people it would be impossible to find. The Welsh people were not anxious to get rid of the mere payment of the money which was demanded of them for tithe; what they desired was that it should be paid and devoted to national and not to sectarian or Party purposes. He had as strong a desire as any man for the preservation of peace and order; but he thought the authorities ought to be most careful in enforcing the law not to display an array of arms, or call in unnecessary forces, which were only calculated to provoke a spirit of retaliation. It was to the attempt to enforce the claims of a particular form of religion by "Apostolic blows and knocks" that the disorders were to be chiefly to be referred. All who knew the Welsh people knew that they were only too ready to yield to any kind appeal that was properly made to them. The root of the evil consisted in this—that they had a disinclination to see their scanty supplies taken away from them for the support of a system which they did not believe in, and with regard to which they were altogether out of sympathy. Therefore, he deplored the refusal of the Government last Session to give the Welsh Representatives even one evening for the discussion of this great grievance; and he joined with his hon. Friend the Member for Merionethshire in pressing on the Government that, however unimportant 1428 and however patient they might deem his fellow-countrymen, it was absolutely necessary to bring their minds fully to bear on what the Welsh people alleged to be their grievances. If they would only once do that, the English people would soon be convinced that those grievances were no sham or fancy grievances, and that they prevented them from fulfilling what, if they had fair play, was their destiny in the future. He, therefore, took this opportunity of earnestly appealing to the Government and to the House to bestow some attention upon Wales. It was scarcely an exaggeration to say that Englishmen knew much more of the internal condition of Japan than they did of the internal condition of Wales. If they refused to enlarge their knowledge and apply themselves to the subject, there was no alternative but to give to the Welsh the management of their own affairs. There were some who ought to know more, both in reference to Wales and Welsh literature, and yet a highly respected Member of that House had recently declared that Welsh literature was nothing but a few fragments of ancient poetry. If that ignorance prevailed in regard to Welsh literature, what was likely to be the state of facts with regard to the condition of the country and the habits and feelings of the people?
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I am bound to remind the hon. Member that by the Rules of the House the discussion must be kept closely to the definite point which has been raised, and that is the attack by emergency men and police upon men, women, and young persons attending tithe distraint sales in Denbighshire on the 17th of May.
§ MR. BOWEN ROWLANDS
said, he would certainly comply with the injunction laid upon him by the Chair. He was just winding up the few observations he intended to make by expressing a hope that this opportunity would serve to impress on the minds of hon. Members of that House and the Government the necessity of making itself better acquainted with the wants and necessities of Wales. If they did so, he was satisfied there would be no further necessity for onslaughts to be made on the people by the police, nor for Motions for the Adjournment to be made in that 1429 House to secure the attention of the Government to the grievances of Wales.
§ COLONEL CORNWALLIS WEST (Denbigh, W.)
said, when he came down to the House that afternoon he had no information that there was to be an attack made upon the magistrates and police of the county which he had the honour to represent. He had not, under the circumstances, prepared any defence, and would, therefore, only state, in reply, that which was within his own knowledge. The action of the magistrates had been strictly legal, and the proclamation was issued with the sole desire of preventing future trouble, and to warn the population of the risk and danger they incurred by acting as they had repeatedly done. It was not a fact that the military had been called in before the police were made aware that they were unable to cope with the difficulty. He knew, as a matter of fact, that the police attended in small numbers by order of the Chief Constable, who himself came with only two men to see whether it was possible to deal with the matter quietly, and show the people that he had some consideration for them; but his attempt was not successful. He was followed by a howling crowd of 500 or 600 people. The same thing occurred again, and a meeting of the Justices followed, at which it was decided that there should be superior force present in order that the law should be carried out. What otherwise could the magistrates have done under the circumstances? There was a law which they were compelled to carry out, and they had done no more than their duty compelled them to do. The feeling of the people had been excited to such an extent as to call together large crowds, and it was not reasonable to suggest that the police were to allow themselves to be beaten off the field. He contended it was perfectly justifiable for those who were responsible for the peace to see that the law was carried out, however disagreeable it might be to those to whom it applied. He believed there might be difference of opinion with regard to the payment of the tithe, but the objection here was not alone to the portion of the tithe for Church purposes; he regretted to say that in his district there was an objection to that which went to support the schools in the locality. The people had 1430 been led by the Radical Press to believe that the payment of the tithe, in any shape, was objectionable, and that they were right in refusing to pay it. It had been to him the cause of the greatest possible sorrow to see what had been going on; and, believing that the agitation had been got up by men who urged the crowds to attend, he felt that the sooner a stop was put to the system the sooner would the peace of the country be restored. So far as the magistrates of the county and the Chief Constable were concerned, he believed they were actuated by the most humane motives, and, moreover, that the calling in of the soldiery had been the cause of preventing much that would have otherwise occurred, inasmuch as the soldiers at the present moment were on the best terms with the people of the district.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
said, that for 17 years before his hon. and gallant Friend was returned for his Division he had represented the County of Denbigh; and, as one of the oldest Welsh Members of the House, he begged to tender his thanks to the hon. Member for Merionethshire (Mr. T. E. Ellis) for introducing this subject. In his opinion a gross outrage had been committed. The correspondent of The Wrexham Advertiser said that he passed several men upon the read who were being assisted home—They were large bandages about their heads, and their collars, coats, and vests were covered with blood. Most of the men had been struck from behind, but William Jones, Baren Farm, had been struck on the temple and had a black eye. His face was a mass of red, while his clothes were covered with blood. On going into the small farm-house a scene almost indescribable met one's view. Several young men and youths patiently sat awaiting the doctor's attention; while one poor fellow was sitting undergoing the operation of having a large wound on his head stitched by Dr. Pritchard. The floor was more like that of a slaughter-house; blood mingled with hair formed a carpet. Large patches of blood were plainly to be seen on the road and on the grass alongside the road, while marks of a scuffle were visible against the hedge. The strange part of it is that the affair occurred in a very open place shaped like a triangle.His hon. Friend had mentioned the case against Major Leadbetter, about whom he wished to say no more than that, like many military men, he was more remarkable for zeal than discretion. When he heard the opinion of the magis- 1431 trates quoted against him, he was inclined to adopt a passage in Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth, and say with Master Dumbledon he should want some better assurance for Falstaff than Bardolph. He liked not the security. The magistrates seemed to him to have entirely lost their heads, and to have done an absolutely unconstitutional act. They sent forward a troop of Lancers, with ammunition enough to blow up the whole town of Denbigh, for the purpose of collecting a civil debt. Happily, the consequences were not as bad as they might have been; but, although it appeared that the troops had behaved exceedingly well, and, as he understood, had fraternized with the people, and had been regaled by the young women with new buttermilk and old Welsh songs, still great harm might have been done by having 50 or 60 armed men in a place where strong feelings prevailed, and it was obvious that bloodshed might have resulted. Looking at the circumstances, he asked what it was that had turned these peaceable, loyal, and law-abiding people, that he had known as such for 50 years, into an unruly mob? His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Denbigh (Colonel Cornwallis West) answered that it was the agitation of the Radical newspapers. It was very difficult for him or anyone else to deal seriously with that sort of answer. The fact was, the articles in the Welsh newspapers were the outcome, and not the cause, of the disturbances. If there had not been a deep-rooted feeling that the people were unjustly treated it was not likely that those articles would appear in the papers, or, if they had appeared, they would not have been read. The Church in Wales was losing ground in the rural districts——
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is not in Order in referring to the position of the Church in Wales on the question of tithe. The Question before the House relates to the conduct of the police towards men, women, and children at a certain place in Denbighshire on a particular day.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, he respectfully pointed out that if there had been no tithes there would have been no distraints, and if there had been no distraints there would have been no disturbance. At the very place 1432 the tithe was paid by Nonconformists in the parish Nonconformity held the field. [Cries of "Order!"] He was as anxious as anyone in the House to reduce this discussion to proper limits, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Matthews) to look carefully into the matter, and see whether there was no way in which he could prevent these occurrences. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to have a second Ireland in Wales, the action of which he (Mr. Osborne Morgan) complained was the one most likely to bring about such a consummation.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
said, he certainly did not propose to follow the hon Gentleman (Mr. T. E. Ellis) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Osborne Morgan) in their remarks about the application of tithes in Wales, the Disestablishment of the Church, and the various reasons which produced the excitement that, unhappily, prevailed in the Principality. He had viewed the progress of that movement with the greatest distress and anxiety, and no one could have regretted it more deeply than he did. This was not the time for him to enter into a discussion of that general question; but hon. Gentlemen opposite should not forget what fell from their own Leader, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), and should not lose sight of the fact that, whether the tithe was devoted to one purpose or another, the people of Wales were not acting in the wisest way in encouraging persons to refuse payment of tithes, and in throwing away what might some day become a valuable national property. And now to come to the disturbances in this particular Welsh parish. Of course, he should not follow the hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Adjournment in all the details he gave. He had no notice of the hon. Member's intention to bring this subject forward, and had only been able to gather hastily such papers as came readily to hand. But he did ask the hon. Member whether he seriously represented these riots as having originated in a sort of attack made by emergency men and by agents of the Commissioners rushing about Wales and assaulting persons gratui- 1433 tously and without reason? [Mr. T. E. ELLIS: Yes.] He (Mr. Matthews) could only say that the information at his disposal was of an entirely opposite complexion. He was informed by the Chief Constable, whose integrity nobody doubted or denied, that this organized attack upon the police followed at least two abortive attempts to collect these very tithes. On the 16th of May the representative of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners went in order to attempt to levy these tithes with two policemen. He did not say they were attacked, but they were so molested by a large crowd that they gave up the attempt to gather the tithes. They renewed the attempt next day with a force of 10 policemen. Again the crowd was noisy and threatening, and interposed such obstacles that the men had to desist and go back without distraining. This driving back of the officers of the law was not by mere passive resistance, but by the action of a crowd evidently brought for the purpose. Undoubtedly they interposed physical obstacles of considerable weight to any carrying out of the distress. ["No, no!"] He was speaking from the information before him, and he preferred the reports of a Chief Constable even to that of an anonymous correspondent of a newspaper. The crowd were more violent than on the previous occasion, and he repeated that they began the attack on the emergency men, and then the police interfered. He thought the "carpet of blood and hair" must be the result of Welsh fancy, and could not be quite taken as an accurate representation. Doubtless, many of the crowd were handled in a way one regretted to hear. The next point was the proclamation by the Justices. A Justice—whose name he was unable to give, as he had not the paper before him—had written to say that his was the hand which penned the proclamation, and he said they believed the crowd were really not aware they were doing an illegal thing when they assembled in crowds and conducted themselves as these people had done, and that the object of the proclamation was to point that out clearly to persons who were, when their feelings were less excited, both peaceable and law-abiding. That proclamation was no condemnation of any individual, or pre-judgment of the 1434 case of any person who might afterwards be brought before the magistrate; but merely stated that conduct of that sort was riotous and disorderly, and brought persons within the Criminal Law, without saying that A., B., or C. had been guilty of that conduct. It was in consequence of that further disturbance on May 18 that the magistrates came to the conclusion that the civil force at their command was insufficient, and that they ought to call in the military. He (Mr. Matthews) disliked the employment of the military in such cases as much as anyone, and was deeply grieved when it was necessary; but the Local Authorities were the best judges of the necessity; they acted not only with knowledge of the locality, but with the best possible information from the heads of the police. They had deliberately come to the conclusion that the police force was no longer able to keep the peace. If the magistrates even wrongly came to the conclusion that the police force at their command was not sufficient, it was their duty, as it was their right, to demand the assistance of the military, and it would be impossible for the military authorities to refuse. Hon. Members seemed to think that it was the act of the Central Government, but the Central Government had nothing to do with it. It was no part of his duty to defend the magistrates, but it would not be seemly if he were to allow even the suggestion that the magistrates of the country were supporting those men in violent attacks upon a peaceable population. That was a travesty of the facts and the order in which they occurred. Those persons disliked the application of the law; they were bent upon resisting it, and had done so for two days, and on the third occasion it passed into violence, blows were struck upon both sides, and the magistrates upon that demanded the assistance of the military, which the military authorities had no right to refuse. If he could do anything to restore peace in Wales, he should be very happy to do it. He hoped those people would take the admirable advice of the hon. Member who had moved the adjournment—that they should make their resistance a passive resistance, one which respected public order and the law of the land so long as it existed, and he felt quite sure the sympathies of 1435 that House would be extended to them much more in the wider struggle in which they would shortly be engaged.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
said, he must remind the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Matthews) that the necessity for the Motion for Adjournment arose almost entirely from the gross inaccuracy of the information supplied to the right hon. Gentleman, and on which he necessarily based his replies to Welsh Members. He did not mean this as an attack upon the right hon. Gentleman himself, because he was obliged to frame his answers from the official information which he received from his subordinates in Wales; but, as a matter of fact, his information in relation to the public disturbances there was almost always inaccurate. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to carry back his mind to the former disturbances which occurred in Mochdre in the same county last year. The Questions which hon. Members then addressed to him were replied to upon the information, no doubt, supplied by the same individuals as in the present case, and it was to the effect that a large body of villagers, numbering 500, had made a wanton and unprovoked attack upon the police. Hon. Members knew at the time that that was inaccurate, and accordingly a Motion, similar to the present, was made for the adjournment of the House, and thereupon the right hon. Gentleman granted an investigation. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to compare the information he had then received from Wales with the facts proved at the inquiry. The Commissioner, in the inquiry referred to, stated in his Report that the disturbance was caused by a misunderstanding on the part of the police, who mistook the pressure of the crowd for an attack upon them. It was because the people trod on the heels of the police in coming down a narrow and steep lane that the latter turned round and attacked the people, and that had been represented as an attack upon the police by a crowd of 500 people. If the right hon. Gentleman would look into this matter, he would find that the information given to him was as remote from the truth now as it was in the last case. It would be scarcely denied that the 1436 young man who was first embroiled in the disturbance was alone on the particular spot. The order of the procession was as follows:—Stephens was going on first, and William Jones was going by his side, then followed about seven or eight emergency men, then about 20 or 30 policemen, and these were followed by about 40 or 50 people. The rest of the crowd were taking a short cut across a field, and between Mr. Jones and the people in the road there intervened a number of emergency men and about 30 policemen, so that Jones was entirely cut off from the people. And yet it was intended to be conveyed that this young man made a most wanton attack upon Mr. Stevens, knowing that he was guarded by a number of armed emergency men and about 30 policemen, while he (Jones) was entirely unsupported. The statement bore upon its face the stamp of improbability. The policemen were all armed with bâtons, and what was the statement of the reporters, who obtained the most accurate information in their power, which they would naturally do, because it was to the interest of the newspapers to gain the most reliable information upon the subject? They said that Jones was hissing and booing, and that thereupon Stephens laid hold of him and tried to push him into a fence. That was the beginning of the struggle. Jones did not strike, but simply resisted being rushed to the fence, when he was struck by an emergency man, who rushed forward, raised his whip handle, and struck the young man on the head; Jones then struck back, and thereupon three or four emergency men felled him to the ground with their batons. The police then faced round and made an indiscriminate attack upon the people who had taken no part in the affair, and did not know that any row had occurred; they made an attack on men, women, and children in the crowd, some of whom were casual wayfarers on the roadside, who, seeing a mass of people, wanted to know what was the matter. Amongst the men who were attacked and wounded was a farmer, who did not support the movement, having himself paid his title in full, a fact which he mentioned to show how indiscriminate was the attack made by the police. There was the greatest in- 1437 dignation in the country at the conduct of the police, owing solely to the fact that they had made a wanton attack on innocent and defenceless people. If an attack were made upon the police, and they simply injured their assailants in defending themselves, not a word of complaint against them would be heard from those Benches or in the country. The conscience of the country would not support any complaint in such a case. He defied anyone to say that this action on the part of the police was done for the purpose of defending themselves from assault. The fact was that—whether it was that the police lost their temper or not he could not say—they had invariably been the first to attack and strike the first blow. There were considerable suspicions in the neighbourhood that the attack was premeditated, because the number of police had been greatly increased, although there had been no previous violence on the part of the people. The right hon. Gentleman had said the force had been increased because there had previously been two abortive attempts to distrain; but neither the hon. and gallant Member for West Denbighshire (Colonel Cornwallis West), nor the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had alleged that such attempts were abortive owing to as much as a single act of violence, and there had been no violence on the previous occasions. He (Mr. Bryn Roberts) ventured to say that the right hon. Gentleman would not declare that it was illegal on such an occasion for the people to express their disapproval of the course taken by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and certainly no such expression of disapproval could justify an attack upon them by the police. It was practically admitted by the magistrates themselves that the previous attempts to levy were abortive, solely because Mr. Stevens did not like to be hissed and would not carry on his work under such circumstances. It would be well for the right hon. Gentleman in future to employ some independent person to report to him the real facts of the case, and he would then find that these disturbances would cease, because the emergency men and the police, knowing that then the real facts would be truly reported to head-quarters, would cease to make these wanton attacks upon the people.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 146; Noes 217: Majority 71.—(Div. List, No.129.)