HC Deb 10 January 1894 vol 20 cc1287-312
MR. J. AUSTIN (York, W.R., Osgoldeross)

rose to call attention to the Featherstone Commission Report, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that just and reasonable compensation should be awarded to the families of James Gibbs and James Arthur Duggan, who were killed at Featherstone on the 7th day of September by the firing of the Military Forces, also to six other men who were maimed and injured. The hon. Gentleman said, he wished to direct the attention of the House to the recent lamentable occurrences amongst industrial workmen in the Division he had the honour to represent. Happily the sacrifice of the lives of workmen in collision with the Military Forces of this country were few and far between, and it was now 70 years since the life of a British workman had been so sacrificed, and on that occasion it arose in days of great political commotion. The dispute in which these unfortunate men lost their lives arose out of trade differences. The colliery district of Featherstone was one of those mining districts which bad rapidly developed in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and contained a mining popu- lation of no less than 6,500. In connection with this district of Featherstone there were other large collieries that employed some thousands of people, and where these trade disputes had not occurred the various relations between master and workman had gone on smoothly and well. He would not take up much of the time of the House, and would at once proceed to the Report of the Commissioners. He would give two extracts from the Report. The colliery manager himself stated that the authors of these riots were not one of their Featherstone men, but would appear to be a band of marauders, who passed from one colliery to another for the express purpose of mischief, and were entire strangers to the colliery manager himself. Until these men appeared upon the scene, the manager states that the relations between himself and his men, although strained, were nevertheless of a peaceable nature. The Report itself said this: — At about 6 o'clock Mr. Holiday was informed that a crowd had come into the premises and were asking to see him. He found, at the entrance to the colliery in Green Lane, a considerable number of men and lads strangers to the Ackton Colliery works, and recognised among them some of the men who had visited the colliery twice before on that day. The crowd were carrying sticks. A deputation of four or five came forward and asked for a pledge that he would fill no more smudge. He told them of the promise he had given, and on the request of the deputation repeated it to the crowd. Just alter he had done so he heard a noise of another and a separate crowd in his rear of a much more menacing character. There were, he estimated, 500 or 600. They carried sticks, mostly heavy bludgeons, and were entire strangers to Mr. Holiday. In another part of the Report the Commissioners said— In the absence of compulsory powers it would have been idle of us to attempt to pursue an inquiry into the organisation of the rioters who attacked Ackton Hall Colliery at night. Direct evidence on the subject of such organisation is wanting, but the admitted facts lead unmistakably to the inference that the attack upon Ackton Hall Colliery was preconcerted and carried out by mobs from a distance who arrived upon the spot with the intention of doing mischief. The Ackton Hall miners themselves appear to have taken no part in the transaction beyond that of looking on. He maintained that these quotations conclusively proved that his constituents at Featherstone—steady-going, hard- working, industrious men—took no part whatever in these riotous proceedings. They were simply looking on at an exciting scene, when two of them were shot down and six maimed for life. Under these circumstances he contended it was due to the families of these men on common principles or justice that compensation should be given. These men had lost their lives in doing what Members of this House might do under similar circumstances—namely, merely looking on at an exciting scene, and their relatives were surely entitled to some reparation. As to the action of the military that brought about this lamentable occurrence, it was not within his province now to discuss how far it was desirable to employ military forces in quelling disturbances of this kind. He might remark that it is un-English—foreign to our national instincts and traditions. He had had this district of Featherstone under his supervision as a Magistrate, and had had to do in the civil affairs of the West Riding, and he said boldly that he did not think the employment of military was at all necessary, and that the civil forces were amply sufficient to quell all disturbances that might arise in the district. What had been the result of this military action? Most unsatisfactory in every respect. Two innocent men had been shot dead, and six innocent men wounded and maimed, but not one single person of those who were the authors of the riot, and who were carrying on their depredations at the time, had been punished—not a hair of their heads had been hurt. There had been bungling somewhere in the employment of these military forces. The men who committed these depredations and destroyed the property went entirely scot-free. He did not blame the action of the soldiers. It was a mere executive act on their part. He did not blame the commanding officer who gave the instructions for the firing to be carried out; but it was a question how far the Magistrate exercised his judgment in ordering the firing under the circumstances. It must be patent to the Magistrate himself that firing into a mob in a reckless fashion on a dark night could not have the desired effect. Firing under such circumstances, and producing such lamentable results showed, in his opinion, great want of judgment on the part of the Magistrate. He appealed to the Government and to the House to take into their serious consideration the wrong and the injustice which had been done to these men. He repeated, that the working men of Featherstone had taken no part in these riotous proceedings. There is evidence in this Report that these two unfortunate men shot down were respectable men. Clergymen had been called to say that the disposition, and character, and habits of these men made it impossible that they had taken any part in these disorderly proceedings. In the West Riding of the County of York they had some 80,000 miners, and they felt very keenly the wrong done to their fellow-workmen. In Great Britain they had 550,000 miners, and all those miners had made, and were making, the cause of their fellow-workmen at Featherstone their own. They felt that by a public administrative act, carried out by Local Authorities, wrong and injustice had been done to their fellow-men, and they looked to that House to give them reasonable compensation. They were engaged in an occupation that was vital to the welfare of the country, and vast interests depended upon their exertions. In their daily toil they carried their lives in their hands; they felt a rankling sense that wrong had been done to their fellow-men, and they appealed to that House for justice and reparation.

MR. NUSSEY (Pontefract),

in seconding the Motion, said, that in his judgment the Report first issued by the gentlemen who were appointed by the Home Secretary to investigate this regrettable incident was one about the impartiality and fairness of which there could be no question. The inhabitants of the West Riding owed a debt of gratitude not only to the Home Secretary for so readily granting an inquiry, but also to those gentlemen who had so thoroughly and satisfactorily performed the task which they undertook. Upon reading the Report, and still more upon reading the evidence, he had been led to the conclusion that on the day immediately preceding the riot signs were not wanting throughout the West Riding and in the immediate vicinity of Featherstone to warn the Local Authorities that they were not justified in withdrawing 239 police from their appointed districts for the purpose of sending them to Doncaster to preserve order at the races. He regretted exceedingly it was deemed beyond the scope of this Inquiry to consider the general question whether it was a desirable practice to draft police from another district to protect race meetings and similar gatherings, or whether it was more prudent to obtain the necessary police protection from other and more distant places. It was manifest in this particular instance that it was the absence of the police at Doncaster which rendered it necessary to summon the military. He would not recur to the events which took place after the arrival of the military, but he would like to comment upon what he considered to be a grave mistake on the part of the Local Authorities. When they sent for the troops they provided no Magistrate to accompany them. There was great difficulty experienced in getting a Magistrate, and so much valuable time was lost the importance of which it was now impossible to estimate. He believed of late there had been a regrettable tendency in cases of civil disturbance to send for troops, rather than for police, on account of the incidence of cost. He most fully agreed with the recommendations in the Report in this particular—namely, that there ought to be in each Petty Sessional district some Magisterial rota, so that one or more experienced Justices should always hold themselves ready to act in their Magisterial capacity, and to accompany, if necessary, any troops called upon in aid of the civil power. At Hull during the time of the strike the Magistrates always held themselves ready to accompany the troops, and since the lesson learnt at Featherstone he believed the West Hiding Authorities had adopted a somewhat similar practice. In this particular instance it did at least seem most unfortunate that no Magistrate could have met the troops at Featherstone Station. He would submit the advisability of consolidating the law in regard to civil disturbances. At present the law was surrounded by some obscurity. There was a popular belief that an hour had to elapse after the read- ing of the Riot Act before the troops were justified in firing. He was perfectly aware that that consolidation would not remove ignorance or popular misapprehension, but, at any rate, it would have a great tendency to operate in that direction. He would further like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the rifles used on this occasion, were sighted for 2,900 yards, the bullets carrying over three miles. Ten shots only were fired, and 14 people appeared to have been hit. One man, Oakley, was a quarter of a mile away from the scene of the disturbance, but he was hit, and the same bullet struck another man in the neck. Could not some less deadly weapon or ammunition be used? Could not cartridges be made to fit the existing Service rifles with a charge which would only carry some 200 or 300 yards. He was informed that such cartridges were made. In conclusion, he might say that two men's lives were sacrificed. One, James Gibbs, was described as a respectable young man residing in the neighbourhood, and he was said to have played the part of an innocent spectator, while the other man, Duggan, was taking no part whatever in the riot. Under these circumstances, he would urge upon the Government whether it was not possible to award some compensation to their surviving relatives.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that just and reasonable compensation should be awarded to the families of James Gibbs and James Arthur Duggan, who were killed at Featherstone on the 7th day of September by the firing of the Military Forces, also to six other men who were maimed and injured."—(Mr. J. Austin.)

MR. B. COLERIDGE (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

desired, in the first place, to thank the Government for granting this Inquiry. He thought it would be a good thing and preserve respect for the law if on all similar occasions where the military came into conflict with civilians with injury to life or limb such Inquiries resulted. He thought it would have done much some years ago to assuage the bitter feeling that was felt when a somewhat similar conflict took place in Trafalgar Square. This Report was a careful, wise, and impartial one, and anyone who knew anything of the Commis- sioners would have been able to predict that character of it. The Commissioners passed no general censure of any kind upon the Authorities, and he did not desire in any way to differ from them in that respect. No one who had read the evidence could doubt that the Authorities were placed in a very difficult position, and that stringent measures had to be used. He did not in any way desire to differ from the Commissioners, who said that the action of the Authorities was justified by the necessities of the ease. But if that view was not taken in the neighbourhood or by the general public, he was afraid it was greatly due to the general distrust that was felt on the part of the public towards the Magistrates. It so happened, unfortunately, that the Magistrates were chosen chiefly from one political Party, and where the Magistrates were called upon in a matter which involved political strife, and especially where, unfortunately, the Magistrates, rightly or wrongly, took a political or personal interest in an industrial conflict, and were called upon to perform an onerous and yet wholly impartial part, it could not be wondered that distrust followed on their action, and especially in such a case as this. He did not desire to dwell upon that, but he was heard to say that the urgency of the case arose from the insufficiency of the police. Now they knew the cause of that insufficiency, and it was the draining away of the police to the Doncaster Races. He could almost wish that the position had been reversed, for the military could not have done any harm at the races, while the police would have been of infinite service at the Ackton Colliery. He desired to draw the attention of the House to the extraordinary difficult position of the military as disclosed by the Report. The military were bound to obey the orders of the Civil Authority, and yet they were civilly and criminally liable for acting in obedience to those orders if those orders should turn out to be of an unlawful nature. Just consider the position of a private soldier. If he disobeyed his commanding officer he would be dealt with by Military Law. If he obeyed his commanding officer, and it should subsequently turn out that the order which he obeyed was not justified by the necessity of the case, he himself was liable to be dealt with by Civil and Criminal Law, and the test of the legality of the order was the immediate circumstances of the case. The officer and the private soldier were called upon to exercise in each case an independent judgment as to their action. Now, the general observation which he wished to pass upon this was that where responsibility was widely shared the responsibility was only too apt to be lightly felt, and where an Inquiry took place like this every officer and every private soldier was placed upon his defence equally with the Magistrates whose orders they had obeyed. He thought, under these circumstances, an officer or private soldier was only too apt to take a prejudiced and exaggerated view of the circumstances under which he acted in obedience to the order, and he did that in order to assist the Magistrate, who was primarily responsible in the defence of his conduct which he was called upon to make. This should not be. It seemed to him the Magistrate was the man who should be held responsible. The Magistrate who gave the order should be responsible for its execution, and ought not to be able to summon to his aid his own agents, who themselves, although they had only obeyed to the letter his orders, were civilly and possibly criminally responsible for that obedience if the order should turn out to be unlawful. Then he desired to draw attention to the terrible effect of the firing of rifles carrying a distance of three miles. He presumed that the object of firing was to arrest the unlawful action of those who immediately confronted the military. Humanity would always dictate to the soldiers to fire high. Firing high, however, with deadly weapons led inevitably to danger and to the killing of innocent persons at a distance. Such weapons ought never to be used in this country except in the case of actual civil war. Therefore, the Commissioners had very properly urged an investigation as to whether weapons that had far-reaching effects should be used. The House, he thought, would agree with the Commissioners in desiring that such an investigation should take place. The conclusions at which he arrived were, firstly, that these persons who had been killed were innocent men, and that the House should deal generously with their relatives; and, secondly, the House should deal generously with any other persons who had been maimed or injured, and who had shown themselves to have been innocent spectators only. Then there ought to be some further investigation into the question of the military. The military should have been freed from responsibility where they acted in precise obedience to orders given them. The House ought to agree further with the Commissioners, and say that the use of such deadly weapons was not justifiable except in the case of actual civil war. The security of the lives of innocent citizens should be the first and paramount care of the State.

MR. BYLES (York, W.R., Shipley)

expressed his desire to say a few words, because his constituency was situated in the neighbourhood of the scene of events the House was now considering. The House had been called upon to consider a most grave matter in administration—namely, the shooting down of innocent men by the armed forces of the country. He thanked the Government for having afforded an opportunity of discussion, although it could be only a short discussion. He believed that the public opinion of the West Riding would not have been satisfied if this Inquiry had not taken place, and the Report and evidence published, and then the matter not to have come under the cognizance of Parliament and been discussed on the floor of the House. Now, he joined with previous speakers in saying that he had no word of blame for the Government. The Home Secretary, he noticed, had not escaped blame couched in very violent language. He had made it his business publicly to protest against such language used by wild writers in obscure journals. He did not believe that the Home Office was aware there had been rioting at Featherstone until it was over. It took no part in sending the military there. What it had done, and he thanked the Home Office for it, was to promptly grant the Inquiry which was demanded. It was a healthy thing that public opinion should have asked for it, and he hoped the day might be far distant when such an event could occur amongst peaceful industrial workers without a demand for an Inquiry. Nor did he desire to offer any word of criticism upon the Report which had been made by the Commissioners. An impartial and competent tribunal had been selected composed of gentlemen who had devoted themselves to the work at a great sacrifice to their time. He, personally, was not an apologist for disorder. He admitted frankly that rioting and lawlessness must be suppressed and overcome at whatever cost. At the same time, he would observe that it was only the few and not the many who took part in the disorder. There was a very large crowd there, but no one could doubt that the larger number of the crowd were attracted to witness the conflagrations going on. The men engaged in the terrible coal dispute had behaved, on the whole, with remarkable restraint. All their leaders and all the responsible Trade Unionists had blamed as severely as any other citizens the violent action of the rioting few. But even for those few he would venture to plead in the House for a little leniency of judgment. What were the facts? The colliery owner was Lord Masham, a millionaire. To be a millionaire was not an offence in itself. Yet in this country to be a millionaire and then want to cut down the workpeople's wages was likely to embitter the relationship. Two or three years ago at Manning ham Lord Masham fought his workpeople for 19 weeks, and subdued them by the weapon of starvation.


I must point out to the hon. Member that the conduct of Lord Masham is not the issue here.


said, he was endeavouring to extenuate the action of men who were exasperated, and to show that Lord Masham by the same weapon of starvation was endeavouring to overcome the strike of his colliers. Under these circumstances, it was not wonderful that the men were exasperated. They saw large heaps of what was known as smudge, for which ordinarily there was no sale, disappearing from under their eyes out of the pit yards during the strike; this was sold for household purposes, so that the employers were enriching themselves and getting high prices out of the labour of the men for what they said was of no value. Although, therefore, he asked for extenuation and leniency of judgment towards these men he did not justify their conduct. It might not have been surprising, but it was very reprehensible. He came now to the Report of the Commissioners. He had carefully read the Report, and tried to extract what he believed to be its conclusions. They were no doubt embodied in a great number of words, and wrapped up, as he might say, in official language. Nevertheless, he thought he was right in drawing the following deductions from the Report: The Commissioners found, in fact, that the two men who were killed ought at this moment to be alive. They said that the police authorities in the West Riding were to blame for having sent a quarter of their force to protect the gamblers on Doncaster Racecourse. They found also that the Magistrates were in fault, because they were not to be found when required to guide the action of the military. They found that the calling out of the troops was, or ought to have been, unnecessary; and further, that when they were called out they were not in sufficient numbers to perform the work they had to do. Lastly, that the soldiers, unless they were obliged to fire in self-defence, should not have used the deadly weapons referred to. He could support these conclusions by quotations from the Report. He would not do so, but he would just like to say that he entirely agreed with them. He attended the Inquiry at Wakefield on the two days it was held, He visited the spot where the shooting took place and examined a portion of it under the guidance of the manager, and he also had the opportunity of a conversation with the Colonel of the regiment at the barracks which supplied the military. If the conclusions of the Commissioners were right, surely the House would agree that great responsibility rested upon those who were by implication censured. As practical men, they could only in that House ask what could be done in the future, and what ought the Government to do. He held that the relatives of the men killed and the injured were entitled to compensation. They could not bring the dead to life, but they could profit by the sad experience of this event. The question they had to consider was, how could a recurrence of it be prevented when further riots broke out, which he was afraid was inevitable in the course of our industrial development? He trusted and believed that the Government would not neglect the recommendations which had been made by this Commission, but on this matter he should like an assurance from the Home Secretary that the Government would admonish the Magistrates of the West Riding, and perhaps even counsel Magistrates everywhere to have such a rota of attendance as was recommended in the Report, so that Magistrates might regard it as part of their duty that a sufficient number should be always at hand when such disturbances occurred. He hoped also that the War Office would reconsider the Regulations as to calling out the military. In conversing with the Colonel of the regiment to which he had referred, he was astonished to learn that no Warrant of the Home Office was required for the sending out of the military, and that no authority was necessary in these cases excepting the demand of any one Magistrate. Upon the demand of any one Magistrate the officer was bound to send such soldiers as were required. The Commissioners also said that it might be wise to impose some further formalities and notices as conditions precedent to the use of fire-arms by the military. This, he thought, was only reasonable. He trusted that when this point was being considered some authority would also be made responsible for seeing that a sufficient number of soldiers were sent for the work for which soldiers were required. It was perfectly clear that if there had been a sufficient number of soldiers on this occasion the shooting would not have been necessary at all. He himself saw a riot suppressed in Bradford three years ago. Curiously enough, the military were there, from the same barracks; and curiously enough it was in connection with a strike, and that a strike of workpeople of the same colliery owner—Lord Masham; and because there were a sufficient number of soldiers sent, and because those soldiers were well manipulated by their officers, a crowd ten times as great as that which assembled at Featherstone was dispersed—and this in the very middle of the town, where there was property a thousand times more valuable than was the property at Featherstone. He saw that crowd dispersed successfully simply by the manœuvring of the soldiers, without a shot being fired. Finally, he wished to add that he hoped the recommendation of the Commissioners, which had been dealt with by other speakers, would be kept in view—namely, that the War Office would consider whether rifles carrying three miles and killing at two miles, and loaded with the most deadly charges, were fit weapons with which to disperse a crowd of disorderly persons.


said that he would not have intruded in the Debate but that previous speakers had referred to the West Riding Bench, on which he had the honour to sit. It was only right that he should say it did not appear to be as clearly understood as it should be that the West Riding Magistrates had already taken the opportunity of arranging that in future there should be a rota of Magistrates who should hold themselves in readiness for any emergency of this kind. Considering that there were gentlemen of both political Parties sitting on the Bench of Magistrates, it was only fair that this should be known. No one regretted more than the Magistrates did the deplorable circumstances which attended upon these riots. He might add that he agreed with previous speakers on nearly all the points that they had mentioned.

MR. C. DODD (Essex, Maldon)

said, that this matter did not, merely concern the West Riding, with which he had some connection, but it concerned the whole of England. An important precedent had been set by the Government in causing the inquiry to be held. He trusted that the precedent had not been set in vain, but that in future, whenever life was lost in a similar way, there would be a similar Commission of Inquiry. The whole subject was, no doubt, one of great difficulty. The position of the soldier, in particular, was most uncomfortable. Whenever there was civil disorder the soldier was not protected as the law stood if he obeyed the order of the Magistrates; and if, when an order was given, he exercised his own judgment and did not fire, he was liable to be tried by Court Martial. He might be tried for murder if he killed, obeying a Magistrate's order, or for misdemeanour if he refused to shoot, obeying his own judgment. The soldier was, therefore, always in an awkward position. One should be glad, therefore, when, by virtue of a Commission of this kind, he was not at the mercy of a hasty judgment. With regard to the Commissioners, he need say nothing beyond what had been said by other speakers. They expected a fair and able Report from these gentlemen, and he thought that they were all able to say that they had not been disappointed. The Report was conspicuously fair. It drew attention to the use of the military in civil matters, and pointed out that the military should never be brought in except in extreme cases and in urgent necessity. It was true that they did not show that there was urgent necessity in this particular case.

MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

They say there was.


said, that he did not think so; but if they had, then, for his part, he doubted whether the Commissioners had arrived at a right conclusion upon that point. The matter, however, was over, and it was not so important to consider whether there was urgent necessity or not as to consider how they could obviate these disasters in the future. On this point he imagined that one of the great difficulties which arose was as to the mode in which soldiers were brought upon the spot. If he understood the Report of the Commissioners, the way in which the military forces were brought in was this: Some single Magistrate or body of Magistrates had the power to requisition, as it was termed, the military forces of the Crown. Apparently, in the particular case with which they were dealing, the requisition of two Magistrates sitting at Barnsley was sufficient. One of the lessons to be drawn from the Report in this respect was that, instead of one or two Magistrates being allowed to requisition the troops, there should be a full body of Magistrates, or, if possible, some Local Authority more popular and possessing the confidence of the people to call in the military. He must say he did not think that the view of their duties which appeared to have been taken by the Home Office was absolutely accurate. The Home Office, he understood, appeared to hold that if any Magistrate or two Magistrates requisitioned the troops, it was their duty to send them down. He ventured to say—and he had no doubt that the House would say—that it was the duty of the Home Office to think for themselves, and never to send the soldiers unless they were satisfied that there was real ground for such action. He asked this, first, for the sake of the people who might be shot and who might be innocent persons; and secondly, for the sake of the soldiers, for he thought that the soldiers should not be exposed to this dilemma unless there was a real necessity. It demoralised soldiers to send them unnecessarily; the soldiers disliked being sent unless strong necessity existed. Another lesson that might be usefully learnt from what had occurred was that they had not enough local Magistrates in the various districts. In this particular case no Magistrate could be found at the right moment to go to the right spot. There was a further lesson, which had already been pointed to by previous speakers, and that, was that they wanted Magistrates not merely from one class, but from all classes, lie was not going to harp on the Party aspect of the case, but he must say that it would only be right to have County Benches composed of all classes. There was in some counties a kind of etiquette that a tradesman, for instance, should not be a County Magistrate. This was not a right state of things. If the Benches were more popularised they might act with more weight, and be less drawn into calling in the soldiers, and more disposed to he satisfied with calling in extra police. There was a further point, which, however, he did not say influenced the Magistrates in this case. It was a cheap thing to bring in the soldiers, and a very costly thing to bring in additional police. The police had to be lodged and fed, and their travelling expenses had to be paid by the county requiring them; whereas in the case of the soldiery the expenses were paid by the country. This offered a temptation to call in the soldiers in preference to the police, and was a state of things which should be changed. He did not see why the soldiers should not be paid for as the police were. With regard to the Commissioners, he was sure that he expressed the feeling of every Member of that House when he said they were grateful for the way in which they had completed their labours.

MR. WADDY (Lincolnshire, Brigg)

said, he was afraid that the effect of many of the speeches to which they had listened was to draw away the attention of the House from a point to which it should be specially directed. They all agreed that this was an admirable Report, which had been given to them by three men than whom it would be impossible to find three more able and competent for the work; but if they were to allow themselves now to enter on the question of how this man was to be admonished, and that man censured, they would not do much good to the families of the poor people who lost their lives. He wanted to bring the discussion back to that simple issue. That the soldiers were justified in filing was found absolutely by the Report, and ho should think that nobody who had read the evidence could doubt it. That the soldiers were in great difficulty and danger was as certain as possible. One man had his head laid open, another had his lip seriously cut, a, third was seriously bruised in the ankle, another had the trigger of his gun flattened. Great injury was undoubtedly done, Iron nuts, large screws, and great stones were flung at these soldiers. The man who was simply driving a fire-engine was assaulted with bludgeons. There was, in fact, a terrible riot. But the strength of the case with regard to the suggestions they were making to that House was that, terrible as the riot was, and unwise as it would be for any of them to deal with it as a rose-water matter, there were two people killed who had nothing to do with it—people who were there out of curiosity and were innocent. The Report found this. They could understand that without an expression of opinion from that House the Government might find it difficult to do anything to assist the relatives, and, therefore, he thought that they should assist the Government in that respect. It was now no use meteing out admonition and blame as regarded soldiers or police, or anybody else. All that had been done for them by the Commissioners. They had to consider the innocent victims, and he thought that on their behalf the Government would be warranted in making some exception to their general rule and doing something for the families.

MR. J. BURNS (Battersea)

said, that was the first time he had ventured to express an opinion in this matter, and he desired to testify to the moderation and the fairness with which, on the whole, the Commissioners had presented the facts of the case. He supported the Motion for compensation on the ground that the evidence plainly stated and proved that these men were not participators either in the riot or in the disturbances earlier in the day or evening. This was, perhaps, the first riot or disturbance we had had for 50 or 60 years in which men had been injured or killed as the result of administrative action by the military or the police or both combined. Although he agreed with the Report, he regretted sincerely that the Commissioners should not have suggested the payment of compensation to the families of the deceased. Guarded as was the language of the Commissioners, their Report, which was supported by the evidence, was a severe condemnation, and warranted the express condemnation of the laxity and inefficiency of the authorities—military, magisterial, and police. Indeed, censure upon these authorities was implied, and it ought to have been expressed in stronger language than it was. Down to Monday, the 4th of September, the beginning of Doncaster Race Week, the Commissioners said that, with the exception of certain occurences to which they alluded, the peace had apparently not been broken. For 11 weeks 250,000 miners had been engaged in one of the greatest industrial struggles that had ever occurred in the history of the country; and Benches of Magistrates in Lancashire and elsewhere had commended the strikers for their peaceful and law-abiding spirit. Except the breaking of a window at the Middle-ton Colliery, no disturbance took place until the 4th of September, when the Doncaster Races began. [Laughter.] This might be a laughing matter to gentlemen who encouraged racing and the vicious side of foot balling for political and other reasons ["Oh, oh"]; but from the point of view of the police and the Magistrates it was a very serious question, and it could not be dismissed with a bookmaker's smile. The Commissioners suggested that in future the occurrence of races should not be a sufficient reason for depleting districts of their own police, as Featherstone and other strike districts were on account of the police being drawn off to Doncaster Races. The Report also proved that it was most unfortunate that no Magistrate met the troops at the Featherstone Station, and that the military, who had no local knowledge, should have been left to do the best they could without a Magistrate. It seemed to him a most scandalous neglect of duty on the part of the Police Authorities, the Magistrates, and even the military officers, and the Chief Constable of the West Riding, who was taking his holidays in Scotland. In consequence of the Doncaster Races only one Inspector and two policemen were available to be sent to Featherstone. How many of the Chairmen of County Councils in that House would allow their Chief Constables to be away on a holiday while 86,000 miners were out on strike? The police and their officers—military officers—and even the Commander-in-Chief of the Army were all at Doncaster Races. It, was a scandalous neglect of duty that at such a time, when thousands of men had been 11 weeks on strike, and many were starving, the Chief Constable should have been away in Scotland. It was practically admitted in the Report that the police and the Magistrates had neglected their obvious duty in the extraordinary circumstances. This was also to be inferred from an exhaustive Report submitted to the West Riding Sessions on Tuesday by Colonel Stanhope, which recommended that a corps of mounted police should be stationed at Wakefield; secondly, that it was unfortunate that when the soldiers arrived at Featherstone there was no Magistrate to accompany them; and, thirdly, declared that what was wanted was such an organisation as would render a recurrence of such events impossible. There must be risk so long as districts could be denuded of their police and Magistrates were not available, and while it took five hours to summon the military from Wakefield to Featherstone. In this condition of things the hangers-on of strikes would take the law into their own hands, and commit outrages, for which miners would be blamed. The moral to be drawn from this affair was that as long as, in Yorkshire and Lancashire, coalowners and mineowners practically composed the Bench of Magistrates and the Watch Committees, so long would the miners and all men engaged in industrial disputes have no respect for Magistrates who were not doing their duty, and so long would the Magistrates invoke the aid of the military. But if there were more working men on the Watch Committees, and if every man on the Watch Committee were a Magistrate, with the responsibilities thrown upon him in town and country of reading the Riot Act, it would be found that in nine cases out of ten, where riots now took place, parleys and overtures would be instituted, and wisdom and counsel would obviate the necessity of shooting men down. He could not agree with the point which had been raised as to the alteration of the weapons and ammunition to be used in case of civil riot; that would only alter the injury caused. Some people might say, "What about shooting down innocent people?" They must take the risk of that. If innocent people attended affairs of this sort they did so at their own risk, but where they found innocent people had been killed their relatives were, he thought, entitled to compensation. Upon the relatives of the deceased ought not to be placed the physical and pecuniary suffering that a man would sustain if he himself took part in the riot. The effect of this Report upon the people of the country would be in the main useful and educational, and in the future it would bring the functions and duties of Magistrates more clearly home to the electors who took part in any local governing function. He was positive that the only way to deal with these riots and disturbances was to throw upon the electors—the potential rioters under certain circumstances—the responsibility, through their elected Magistrates and the Watch Committee, of invoking the aid of the military.

And when the military was invoked let the civil authority who invoked its aid accept the full responsibility and not throw upon soldiers or officers the responsibility for what, after all, was only an automatic and auxiliary support. At Featherstone, on this particular day, the police were very small in number, and the Deputy Chief Constable said that he had frequently asked for Infantry and Cavalry, and they had either been late in arriving or insufficient in number. That bit of evidence ought to be clearly brought home to all responsible authorities, whether Magisterial or military. The Report, and the evidence that it revealed, ought to teach the lesson that, in future, Chief Constables should not go for their holidays; that Magistrates should be ready with the police, and that military officers who supplemented the police should not be junketting when there were real disturbances going on within their district. But the real cause of this disturbance was ignored in the Report. The men had no right to burn down the colliery. The men had no right to attack the fire-engine in the way they did. But the House must remember and clearly recognise that the disturbance at Featherstone was only one of many disturbances of a similar character that might take place in the future if they saw, as they were rapidly seeing, a few men using all their power as masters and provoking workmen by months of starvation to acts of violence. Without such provocation workmen would not resort to such acts. The Featherstone Report proved that the police lost their heads, and that the only man who knew his business was Captain Barker, and that the Magistrates scandalously avoided their legal as well as their political and social duties. It also showed that there was growing up in this country—through the extension of monopoly—a body of men who, for their own selfish purposes, would cause strikes and lock-outs with the object of crushing their smaller competitors. They were prepared to starve these men into submission, and, through their friends and Magistrates of their own nomination, to take upon themselves the administration of the law. The House must do something to stop this as soon as possible. He did not hold the Home Office responsible in this case, but, unless the Home Secretary was prepared to alter the Magistracy of the country, unless he was prepared to give the Watch Committees the power the Magistrates exercised, and unless he was prepared to see to it that only a majority or quorum of Magistrates should be allowed to read the Riot Act, the people would have less faith and less respect for the law than they had now. The Featherstone Report was useful in this sense: that they had been enabled to have, for the first time in this House, a discussion in which the officials, the mineowners, and the Representatives of Labour had had their say. Although he did not himself represent a mining constituency, he thought himself in honour bound to express his views, and ho had done so with frankness, and, he hoped, with clearness. He had done so because he thought the relatives of the deceased ought to be compensated, and because the Report showed that until the Bench was completely democratised the people would have no faith in the administration of the law. It was the duty of the Home Secretary to bring this change about, and to give the people their own elected Magistrates. Other countries possessed them, and England ought not to be without them.


I am not at all surprised that my hon. Friend behind me who represents the Osgoldcross Division and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract should have taken the opportunity of raising a discussion on this important Report. I am certain that the expressions which they have used, and which have been repeated by subsequent speakers, will be re-echoed in every quarter of the House, and that we shall all agree that the House and the country is under a great debt of obligation to the Commissioners for the conspicuous impartiality and ability with which they have performed the task imposed upon them. If any justification were needed for a direct inquiry into a matter of this kind, that justification is amply supplied by this Report that now lies on the Table. For my own part, as I said at the Table some months ago, it appeared to me that when the fact was established that two of Her Majesty's subjects had been killed and others maimed and injured through the action of the military in a civil disturbance, and when it appeared that the inquiry under the ordinary forms of law, in the shape of a coroner's inquest, had resulted in conflicting and unsatisfactory findings, it was the imperative duty of the Executive to have the facts sifted and to ascertain, not only for its own guidance, but also for the information and satisfaction of the public, what did actually occur, and who, if anybody, was responsible. I will only say one word as to the position in this matter of the Office over which I preside. I had no more to do with sending the military to Featherstone than the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Keir-Hardie), whom I do not see in his place. The request for the intervention of the military was made by the Local Authority on their own responsibility, and complied with by the Military Authorities in pursuance of the duty which the law casts upon them. I do not conceive, upon the facts, that any question can arise with reference to the action of the Home Office. If the action of that office in connection with this or any other incident arising out of industrial disputes is called in question, this is not the proper occasion for doing so. When that occasion arises, I need hardly say I shall be prepared to answer. In reference to the Report itself, the discussion has ranged over a number of topics as to some of which it is impossible, in the limited time at our disposal, that we should come to any satisfactory conclusion. I will only say that I agree that it is an unfortunate thing that after men had been out of work for a period of something like six weeks, and when there were already signs of nascent disturbance, the practice that had been followed in previous years of exporting from the West Riding to Doncaster a considerable number, amounting to more than a quarter of the police force, should have been followed on this occasion. Of course, it is easy to be wise after the event, and I do not think it would be fair to cast any severe verdict of censure on the Magistrates for adopting the plan pursued in previous years; but I cannot help expressing my opinion that those responsible for order in that great county showed a certain want of foresight which is very much to be regretted. In the next place, it appears to me that there was a certain want of co-operation between the Civil and the Military Authorities. Nothing, in my opinion, can be more important than that on the rare occasions which justify the employment of soldiers for preventing or putting down civil disturbances the soldiers should act throughout in the presence and under the direction of the Civil Magistrate, and in my opinion it is the duty of every authority that takes upon itself the responsibility of calling in the troops to see that those troops are provided, from first to last, with a, regular succession of Magistrates, to whose orders they shall conform. Now, I pass from that to the incident itself. There can be no doubt, from the finding of the Report, that in the emergency which had actually arisen the firing of the troops upon the crowd was justified. No one feels more strongly than I do the impolicy and inexpediency of calling in the troops in civil disturbances of this kind where you have any other resource at your disposal. But I cannot assent altogether to some of the criticisms that have been passed on the action of the Magistrates. It is all very well to say that you should supplement the inadequacy of the local force by borrowing from other places. That is very right, if you can do it; but the House must remember, as I have had occasion to point out before, that the various police forces of the country are necessarily kept, at only such a level as is adequate to the needs of the particular districts, and therefore you would be making a very large, and often an impossible, demand upon foreign authorities—if I may use that expression—if you were to ask them to denude their districts of a part of a force which they would be failing in their duty if they kept permanently on a scale above their local requirements. Besides there is a difficulty in removing police from one part of the country to another. Then with regard to the question of cost. I do not think that that is a matter which seriously entered into the mind of the Magistrates and the Local Authorities in this case, because, as I know from communications which have passed between us, though probably they are not legally liable, there is no indisposition on their part to make good the expense of the military sent down, and I do not think they have gained much in money by employing the military instead of the police. Then as to the weapons. I agree with what has fallen from the hon. Member for Hatter-sea. Although the wide range of modern weapons of precision has led in this case to lamentable and unforeseen results, I do not think, practically and substantially, that there is any great difference in the amount of mischief which is likely to be done, whether you have a soldier armed with a weapon which would carry 2,000 yards or 200. The two men who were killed, and in reference to whom this claim for compensation is made, were standing at a distance of less than 100 yards from the soldiers. Therefore, whatever weapons the soldiers were armed with, the result to them would have been precisely the same. On the other hand, I agree with the Military Authorities that it would be extremely inconvenient and difficult to supply the soldiers with two sets of weapons, one to be used for ordinary military duties and the other for the suppression of civil disturbances. Practically it would involve the keeping of a double set of weapons, and you would probably find that the troops would show themselves less expert in handling both kinds of weapons than in handling one only. Therefore, though the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) is giving full consideration to the recommendation of the Report on this point, I do not see much probability of carrying it into effect. Lastly, I come to the question of compensation to the relatives of the two men who were killed and to the men who were injured. I am happy to say it is so long since there has been a conflict of this kind between the soldiers and the populace in a case of civil disturbance in this country that there are no precedents to guide our action. There may be precedents on the other side of St. George's Channel, but there are none in Great Britain. In approaching the question I must ask the House to bear in mind that, while these two men were found by the Commissioners to have been innocent men, and not to have had any complicity in the riotous proceedings, according to the law of this country a man who deliber- ately and of knowledge takes his stand among the members of a riotous crowd, and remains in that position after the Riot Act has been read, at a time when full warning has been given that every person belonging to that assembly is engaged in an illegal act, an act which after an hour becomes not merely a misdemeanour, but a felony: such a man would be guilty of taking part in an unlawful assembly, and the troops, if they were justified in firing at all, would not be bound—nay, not even entitled—to discriminate between the different persons before them. Therefore, as a matter of law, if the troops were justified in firing, and the Commissioners find that they were, the men were lawfully killed, and there cannot be any such thing as a legal claim to compensation on behalf of their friends. At the same time I am bound to say that I cannot think that a matter of this kind is exhaustively dealt with when you state the bare legal position. It is quite true that if these men had known the law—and everybody is presumed to know the law, otherwise it would be impossible to carry on the affairs of a country like this—they must have known that they were guilty of a criminal act and were liable for the consequences. But, as I have said, it is happily a very long time since any event of the kind has happened in this country, and I am quite certain that there is a widespread popular superstition, which I trust may be effectually dispelled by the Report of this Commission, that persons who go as sightseers in a case of this kind stand in a different position from those engaged in the riots. There is, unfortunately, another superstition, which I hope will also be dispelled, that the soldiers in the case of riot have the right or the habit of firing blank cartridges. Nothing could be more prejudicial to the maintenance of peace, and nothing in the long run could be more contrary to humanity than that soldiers should be allowed in such cases to fire blank cartridges. Under those circumstances, though I am not going to pledge myself at the present moment to assent to the proposition of the hon. Member, I do think, in the absence of precedents to guide us, and in view of the considerations I have stated, though I cannot admit that there is any legal claim to compensation, it is a point which the Government may well take into their consideration as a matter of compassion. Without pledging myself to the decision at which we may arrive, yet, considering the gravity and the uniqueness of the case, I do promise on the part of the Government to give this matter the most earnest consideration, and I shall be glad if I find myself able to give to the relatives of these men and to some of the other men—not all—as to whom it must be shown that they were not guilty of riot—I say I shall be glad to recommend that some allowance should be given which, though it will not be on a large scale, will, I hope, be adequate to the occasion. Under these circumstances, I think the hon. Member might withdraw his Resolution.

SIR J.FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)

said, he wished to say just one word, and it was that soldiers ought not to be called out and exposed to be stoned unless they were to be actually used. It was most improper that their patience should be tried by the stone-throwing of a mob.


asked whether the injured soldiers also would receive compensation?


That is a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.