§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can make any further statement in relation to the unrest connected with the trades disputes?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Churchill)
There have been no disturbances in London, but there have been in connection with the railway strike several attempts to commit outrage on railway property with a view to stop the working of the railways. It is very important that railway men should understand that such acts are crimes of a grave character which are punishable with penal servitude. At Liverpool the night passed quietly, and there has been no riots. But the sanitary services are suspended, and many of the bakers' shops are closed; and a scarcity of food is now imminent which will cause much suffering among the poorest classes. A landing party from the cruiser "Antrim" is assisting in the protection of the docks. Manchester is perfectly quiet, the strike leaders having appealed for order; but the railway service is greatly disorganised. Sheffield was quiet during the night, but this morning there was a small disturbance arising from a coal cart being upset by strikers. The convoys of perishable goods are being got through. At Derby there was a serious attack on the goods station last night. The rioters broke into the goods station and did much damage, but were driven out on the arrival of police reinforcements. The night passed quietly, but at eleven this morning crowds were again gathering. Cardiff is reported quiet. The attitude of the strikers is peaceful and goods vans can be got out from the station. There was disturbance early this morning at Llanelly, and the mail vans were stopped, but it is understood that the trouble subsided on the arrival of a company of Infantry, and the trains were allowed to proceed. It is too early as yet to measure 2248 the extent of the railway strike, but the Government are taking, and will take, all necessary steps to make sure that supplies of food, fuel, and other essentials are not interrupted on the railways or at the ports, and that all services which are vital to the life of the community are maintained. They will do this, not because they are on the side of the employers or of the workmen, but because they are bound at all costs to protect the public from the dangers and miseries which famine and a general arrest of industry would entail. The means by which the millions of people in this island get their daily livelihood are highly artificial, and any serious breakdown, no matter from what cause, would lead to the starvation of great numbers of the poorer people. It is not the well-to-do who would suffer, either from dear food or a stoppage of railways and trams, or from a failure of light, water, or electric power. It is the working classes, particularly in the great cities and those dependent upon them who would certainly be the victims, and who would be quite helpless if the machinery by which they are fed and obtain wages were thrown seriously out of gear. The Government believe that the arrangements which have been made to safeguard the working of the railways and to maintain order will prove effective. If not, other measures even of a larger scope will have to be taken promptly, so that the transport of everything really necessary will be assured. There is no escape from these facts, and as they affect the food of the people and the safety of the country they are far more important than anything else.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give an answer to my question as to who is responsible for the Gordon Highlanders having been sent to Sheffield, seeing that the Lord Mayor, who is the Chief city authority, denies having sent for them?
§ Mr. BARNES
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question I would also ask him if he can give any information as to the progress of the negotiations now going on to arrive at a settlement?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have not the information which the hon. Member for Sheffield asks of me, but it will be obtained in the course of the afternoon. So far as the very important question of the hon. Member for Blackfriars is concerned, I am told to-day that any statement on that 2249 subject at present would not be advantageous, and the House must be asked to wait for any statement. The negotiations which are being conducted would not be furthered by any discussion upon them at the present time.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he considers that the upsetting of a coal-car is a method of peaceful persuasion, and, if not, will he take the necessary steps to see that peaceful persuasion is not abused?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
A statement upon that point will be made later in the day. The Government are bearing in mind the effect which the situation in the country must necessarily have on the sittings of this House.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should like to ask whether the Government, in considering the ultimate steps to be taken to secure the food supply of the people will consider the advisability of some legislation to take over the transport organisation of the country, and run it as a national concern, so that it should not be dependent upon the whims of managers and others not to meet the men who have grievances?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I cannot speak about legislation, but I think it is clear that there are special obligations on the people who are charged with such necessary arrangements.
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|[Mr. Ellis Griffith.]|
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
Is it the intention of the Government to put down the Motion for the Adjournment as the first order, so that we may hear and discuss any further statement of the Government?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think it would be more convenient that the House should go through the Orders on the Paper. The Government are very anxious to consult the convenience of the House and to see that proper opportunities are given for the discussion of matters which are occupying all our minds.
§ Sir W. BYLES
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the general desire which exists among many Members that the House should not separate until this dispute is settled?
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has seen the reports as regards an arrangement between the shipowners and the dockers of Liverpool? Has he any further information on the matter, or is there any way in which the Government may facilitate these two warring elements coming together?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have no information on that point, but the President of the Board of Trade will be in the House in the course of the day and he may be able to give an answer as to how best to lessen the widening breaches which are growing up between them, and which, if continued, must gravely imperil the situation.