§ MR. BRUNNER, Member for the Northwich Division of Cheshire, 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 disturbances in the colliery districts in Leeds, Pontefract, and Dewsbury; 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. BRUNNER
hoped that no Party advantage would be taken of his Motion. It needed no argument to prove to the House that this matter of the disturbances in the colliery districts was urgent and important. His most definite object in making the Motion was to urge upon the Government to press forward—and if need be for that purpose to suspend the Standing Orders—the three Bills providing for arbitration which were now before the House. It had been said that the Government Bill was not an effective Bill, because it did not provide for compulsion. The Bill might have its faults, and the other two Bills might have their faults; but he submitted that they could be amended and made good Bills, if put into the hands of a Select Committee of the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Member was not now discussing the question of the position of affairs in the colliery districts, but the nature of some Bills before the House. That would be quite irregular.
§ MR. BRUNNER
said, that for the last three days news had appeared in the papers, which to his mind was deplorable in the extreme, of disturbances in various parts of the country. Three days ago these disturbances began in South Wales; yesterday they were repeated in other parts of the country, and to-day they had news that disastrous riots, accompanied by arson and bloodshed, had occurred in the three districts he had named in the North of England. It was 672 no doubt right the Local Authorities in these districts should claim the protection of extra police and the presence of Her Majesty's troops, but he did not think it would be right for the House to go on with its ordinary business, content with putting down these riots by force without giving an expression of opinion in favour of settling disputes by reason instead of by force. His opinion was that if the House discussed these disturbances in a spirit of sympathy with those who suffered, especially those who suffered innocently on account of them, the result would be a calming of the public mind, and especially—this was what he particularly desired—a calming of the spirit of anger which now possessed the people in those districts. It was no use, he admitted, preaching patience to hungry men, but he was satisfied that if the House, who was no party to the quarrel, should express sympathy with the sufferers, they would be inclined to accept a reasonable settlement at the hands of whoever might offer it. The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) said yesterday, with a touch of austerity, that the working men had refused arbitration. They were perhaps to-day in consequence of those disturbances the less inclined to submit to arbitration.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he was sorry again to interfere; but the hon. Gentleman had obtained the leave of the House to move its Adjournment not for the purpose of discussing the general policy of arbitration, or any policy of that kind contained in Bills before the House, but for the purpose of discussing existing circumstances in the colliery districts.
§ MR. BRUNNER
regretted that he should have trespassed on the good order of the House, but he had no doubt the Speaker would recognise that his intentions, at any rate, were respectful to the Chair and to the House. He trusted that the Government, represented as it was by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would at any rate advise the House what it ought to do under the sad circumstances he had brought under its notice, and that the result of the discussion would tend to the peace and good order of the country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Brunner.)673
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
If there is a reasonable prospect of proceeding with the Arbitration Bills before the House, there are no Bills that the Government would be more glad to proceed with than these. I have already stated the reason why it was found impossible to deal with those Bills. With reference to the unhappy events in question, there is no doubt that great sympathy is felt by the House for those who have suffered by them, and deep regret that such circumstances should occur. The House will feel, however, that it would not be expedient or wise at this moment to discuss the position of affairs with the imperfect information they have, and, therefore, I hope the matter will not be further proceeded with, and that my hon. Friend, having stated his feelings on the subject, will kindly withdraw his Motion.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
wished to take the opportunity of addressing a question to the Home Secretary with regard to those most discreditable scenes which had been enacted during the last few days in different parts of the country. He could speak with more or less personal knowledge as to what was going on in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was in that part of the country within the last two days, and in the very parish where he was resident a large mob, numbered literally by thousands, paraded the district to the terror of Her Majesty's peaceful subjects, brandishing formidable weapons, and conducting themselves in a manner which was absolutely inconsistent with a condition of civilised society. He had not been personally a witness of what occurred, but he was informed to that effect by persons upon whose word he could place the utmost reliance, and who had been witnesses of the scenes to which he referred. He certainly had no intention of making any attack upon the Home Secretary, who deserved the thanks of the community at large for the manner in which he had discharged his duty under circumstances like those he was alluding to, and had always placed at the disposal of the Local Authorities who had made application in due form such additional police force as, in his judgment, was necessitated by the requirements of the 674 case, while the Secretary of State for War had in like manner facilitated the despatch of troops to districts where their presence was required. He, however, asked the right hon. Gentleman to satisfy himself, before he gave his official sanction to the payment of the money of the British taxpayer to the Local Authorities, that they had been duly diligent in the discharge of the duty incumbent on them—namely, that of taking adequate steps for the preservation of the public peace. He wanted to know what steps the Local Authorities took to insure the termination of the disturbances and the prevention of the extension of the evils to neighbouring districts under their control, as he was informed the Chief Constable of the West Riding of Yorkshire, who either was, or should have been, perfectly cognisant of what was going on throughout the district, took no steps, or at any rate no adequate steps, to guard against the continuation and extension of the evils. It was 48 hours or more after those large crowds had been paraded in the manner to which he had referred that excesses took place in the same neighbourhood, and in adjoining parishes and other districts of the West Riding. He thought they were entitled to ask what the authorities of the West Riding were about to allow such a condition of affairs so long to prevail, and why they had not followed the example of the authorities in Wales and taken precautionary measures, by means of which such scandalous occurrences would have been averted. He hoped the Home Secretary would insist on a full inquiry into the conduct of the Chief Constable and of the local Magistracy.
§ MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
said, the information given to the House by the right hon. Gentleman amounted to the fact that he saw, a few days ago, an enormous demonstration in one of the mining districts of the West Riding, and that the men were in a state of fierce excitement; but the right hon. Gentleman had not seen those men committing any turbulent or violent acts.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said, he had never said that he himself saw what he described, but he was credibly informed by persons on whose word he could rely that they saw the crowds who, he had further been informed, had 675 brutally assaulted men for no other crime than discharging an honest day's labour.
§ MR. CREMER
said, the right hon. Gentleman's information being of a secondhand character was still less reliable. He wished to ask the Home Secretary if the statement that a contingent of London police had been drafted into the mining districts was true, and if he was in a position to give the House any information which would lead it to conclude that the statements which had been made day by day by the public Press in regard to acts of violence and outrage committed by the miners were true, or whether he believed them to be exaggerated? He had seen it stated that the scenes of violence that were reported to have occurred had been grossly exaggerated.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
The House must have observed, after listening to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and my right hon. Friend, that it is altogether premature to discuss this question. The right hon. Gentleman opposite suggested that the Local Authorities had shown apathy in the matter, and my hon. Friend suggested that the statements published in the newspapers were untrue. It is, therefore, obvious that the House is not in a position at this moment to form any opinion. The course the Government have to take is a simple one. The Local Authorities are the persons who are by law responsible for the maintenance of order and peace, and if they fail in their duty they are liable to be indicted. If they feel that the resources at their command are inadequate for the preservation of order no Government could refuse them assistance. How far there may have been exaggeration in the statements published, and how far there may have been apathy on the part of the Local Authorities, are matters the House cannot discuss at present. I trust the House will be satisfied with my assurance that the Government have put at the disposal of the Local Authorities the force that is necessary for the maintenance of public order. I deprecate strongly the necessity for the use of force, and I earnestly trust that those who have influence with the miners will seize this opportunity of 676 using it. A few words spoken with authority might have far more tranquillising effect than the use of physical force.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
said, he had just come from Wales. ["Order!"] Yesterday he addressed several bodies of miners with regard to their grievances. [Renewed cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
called the hon. Member to Order, as the House was not discussing the position of affairs in Wales.
§ MR. BRUNNER
asked leave to withdraw his Motion, and thanked the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary for what they had said.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON
said, that surely he might be permitted to state what he had been an eye-witness of. ["Order!"] He begged to say that men who were on strike in Wales were misled by those people of authority to whom the Home Secretary had referred ["Cries of" Order!"]
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON
said, he bowed to the ruling of the Chair, but continued to refer to occurrences in Wales.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.