HC Deb 19 September 1893 vol 17 cc1588-91
MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has considered the effect of the verdict given at Castleford by the Coroner's Jury in respect of the death of a miner, James Gibbs, who was shot by the soldiers sent down into that district during the strike; whether, in future, he will, in such cases where possible, send additional police instead of soldiers; if he can state what number of police were employed at Doncaster in consequence of the races, and what number on the racecourse itself; whether it is any cheaper for the districts to employ Her Majesty's Forces to keep order than to employ additional police, and how far, in each case, the locality bears the expense; whether any official inquiry into the recent unfortunate occurrences at Castle-ford will be held; whether, if he should be satisfied that the deceased, or any of those killed or injured, were innocent of rioting, he would take steps to procure as compensation to those dependent on them in the case of the killed, and as compensation to themselves in the case of the wounded, a money payment from the national resources; if he will consider the propriety of, in all cases where life is in this country destroyed by the military forces or by the police, holding as a matter of course by some official of his Department an official inquiry into the circumstances; and if he would consider the possibility of issuing general instructions for the use of the authorities as to riots or expected riots, and the duty of such authorities in the case thereof?


I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is in a position to inform the House as to the truth of the allegation that the men who lost their lives in the recent occurrences at Featherstone were themselves wholly innocent of any share in the disturbances; and whether he can now state what decision he has come to with regard to holding an inquiry into the whole matter?


In answer to the first part of the question, I have to say that the verdicts and the evidence at the inquests upon both men who met their deaths on the occasion in question are at present under my consideration. With regard to the second paragraph, the Secretary of State, when appealed to, always advises Local Authorities to employ extra police from neighbouring districts, if possible, in preference to soldiers, and in case of great necessity he lends detachments of Metropolitan Police. But there are occasions when, from the suddenness of the emergency, or the character of the disturbance, it is either necessary or preferable to employ troops. In reply to the third paragraph, I understand that on September 5, 207 West Riding constables were employed at Doncaster, and on the 6th, 267. The majority of these were apparently on the racecourse, or on the different approaches to it. Their employment was in pursuance of a long-standing practice, and the Chief Constable informs me that he had no reason to apprehend a disturbance, and least of all places at Feather-stone. (4) The whole cost of extra police is paid by the locality. When the military are employed, the statutory or regulated charges for travelling, billeting, and feeding are charged to Army funds, and any extra expense is paid by the locality. (6) If the circumstances were such as to justify the reading of the Proclamation under the Riot Act, all persons present were after the Proclamation under a legal duty to disperse. But I cannot go into this question until I have considered all the evidence. (5 and 7) The question whether there should be a further inquiry is engaging my serious attention. It does not seem to be generally known that, except under the provisions of an Act of Parliament, no Government Department has the power to compel the attendance of witnesses or to take evidence on oath. (8) I am considering this question. But it is to be observed that the difficulty in such cases is not in apprehending the law, but in applying it with promptitude and discretion to particular facts.

SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that, except under an Act of Parliament, the Government has no power to secure the attendance of witnesses. Is it not the fact that Commissions of Inquiry are frequently held under the Home Office in the case of riot without Acts of Parliament?


There have been cases in which Departmental inquiries have been held. My statement is perfectly accurate.


I do not question the accuracy of the right hon. Gentleman. I really wish for information.


I have given the information. If a Departmental Inquiry is held without an Act of Parliament that would give the body special powers. No witness who declines to attend can be compelled to be present, and none of the evidence to be taken can be taken on oath.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any idea of the relative cost to the district of the police and soldiers, or how much cheaper it may be to have soldiers rather than police?


No, Sir. I have no information of that kind.