HC Deb 03 August 1898 vol 15 cc1202-4
MR. WOODS (Lancashire, Ince)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether it is a fact that large bodies of police have been drafted into the following places in Lancashire—namely, Farnworth, Walkden, Leigh, Wigan, and Haydock; if they have been sent at the instigation of the Home Office, the Local Authorities, or the coal owners; whether there has been any disorderly or riotous conduct, or any semblance of such conduct, on the part of the miners in any of the places mentioned; and, if so, where, and in what manner; if he is aware that these proceedings are viewed with strong feelings of resentment by the miners of the county, who are behaving themselves in the most peaceful manner under their present difficulties; and by whom the police will be paid for discharging their present duties?


Before the question is answered, I wish to put a further question—namely, whether it is a fact that on Tuesday morning last some persons who were filling up waggons from a heap of coal at a colliery near Wigan were assailed by a baud of men, who threw stones at them; whether the assailants made off on the county police being summoned from Wigan; whether it was afterwards found that the sliding doors of two waggons had been opened, letting the coal out, and that the coal heap was fired; and whether an attempt has been made to set on fire some waggons of coal near Haydock? [Cries of "Notice, notice!"]


Has the hon. Gentleman given notice of that question?




Then a Minister could not be expected to answer such a question without notice.


I am informed by the Chief Constable of Lancashire that extra police have been drafted into all but one of the places named. The police were sent by the orders of the Chief Constable. The Home Office had nothing to do with the matter. As to the 3rd paragraph, the Chief Constable states that an instance of disorderly conduct occurred near Wigan in the early morning of the 1st instant, when some 30 or 40 colliers attacked those working at Worsley Mesnes Colliery, and at Windmill Pit, in the same police district, some machinery was injured on the night of July 31. He is not aware that sending extra police into the colliery district is viewed with strong feelings of resentment by the miners, who are generally behaving peacefully, and certainly have not shown resentment towards the police. The duty will be paid for by the police district rate. I think this a convenient opportunity for saying again that the responsibility for the maintenance of order lies on the shoulders of the Local Authorities. The Central Authority is always ready to assist them with advice; and in the rare cases where the means at the disposal of the Local Authorities are found inadequate for the purpose, and the circumstances justify it, it may become necessary for the Central Authority to supplement their resources and to lend exceptional help. But it cannot be too clearly understood that it is the duty of all authorities alike, in disputes of this kind, to observe an attitude of strict and undeviating impartiality, and not to interfere on the one side or the other, except for the purpose of preventing offences against the law and preserving the public peace. I need hardly add that any irritating or provocative display of force is greatly to be deprecated as being calculated to give rise to misunderstanding, and to increase the dangers which it should be the object of those responsible for the administration of the law to avert. The Chief Constable of Lancashire is fully alive to the importance of observing these rules, and informs me that he issued orders that all needless display of strange constables was to be avoided.


Arising out of that answer, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is competent to state that the riotous proceedings referred to in his answer were committed by colliers, or by loafers in the district, or whether he is aware that it is distinctly stated in the Lancashire papers that it was by loafers and not by colliers at all that these attacks were made?


I have given the statement that was sent to me by the Chief Constable of Lancashire.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not desirable, in the interests of peaceful colliers, that a sufficient force should be sent to the colliery districts to prevent outrages by roughs or other persons desirous of taking advantage of the prevailing excitement for the purposes of not and intimidation?


I have already said that the Local Authorities are responsible for the maintenance of order.