§ Mr. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
After the most interesting speeches that we have heard I may be pardoned for introducing another subject. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman has departed from the other side because I might express the view we hold with regard to the present conduct of the Government. We think that if they did anything but that which they are doing they would scarcely be worthy of the position that they hold. To continue passing legislation in this House, and sending it up to another place to be either thrown out or mutilated would indeed be a humiliating position for any Government to hold. In their endeavour to make this House an effective legislative House I believe the Government have a right to say that the workers of the country will support them. As to the remarks of the last speaker, we have full sympathy with him in reference to London traffic; but, as practical men, we think that the streets could be easily relieved if there were a good number of fine boats on the river. So that Londoners have the matter in their own hands if they have the courage to do what is necessary.
But I rise particularly for the purpose of once more asking the Government to appoint a Special Committee or Commission to inquire into the charges made against the police in connection with the recent trouble in that portion of South Wales known as Mid-Rhondda, or better known in London as Tonypandy, and also an inquiry into the liability for the personal injuries and losses sustained in that calamity. I do not propose to enter now into the history of the actual casualties which took place during that unfortunate trouble, though some of my friends will do so, there being some notable facts which it is necessary to bring before the 215 attention of the House; but, personally, I shall leave that side of the matter for them to treat, because they can do it much more ably than I can with my Welsh tongue. What happened is well known; it can never be denied or blotted out; and we are really anxious to find out, if possible, who were the real culprits. We are honestly of the opinion that the guilty persons are not yet found out. I do not want to find fault unduly with the police. They probably pursued what they thought to be their duty, amid many difficulties, and perhaps under some provocation. But we who have taken the trouble to make inquiries in our own way, on our own behalf, and on behalf of the men we represent, are strongly convinced that the police did many things which they ought not to have done, and that they treated very severely some of the men even when they were only attempting that which as pickets they had a perfect right under the law to do. In my opinion, a plain statement of that kind, made conscientiously, after some trouble has been taken to find out the truth, is sufficient to justify the inquiry for which we are asking.
We believe that the granting of that inquiry would be in the interest of the police themselves. Not simply the miners of Mid Rhondda or the miners of Aberdare who are so nearly connected with the matter, but the miners of South Wales as a body, think that the Government stand in their own light in not granting this inquiry. The Home Secretary will believe that we are intensely interested in finding out the facts. We believe that the right hon. Gentleman is in full sympathy with us. If he wants to clear the character of the men of the Rhondda and of the police, as I believe he does, there is but one way to do it, and that is to grant this inquiry to see who really caused the disturbances. If the inquiry is not granted, there are over 100,000 miners who will continue in the belief that the police force have done great acts not only of indiscretion, but of cruelty, in their treatment of these men. If that can be proved to be untrue, it will be a pity to allow 100,000 men to continue in the belief that it is true. Therefore, I ask the Government in the interests of the truth to grant this inquiry, so that we may know who really is implicated. We believe it would be ten thousand times better that the matter should be cleared up. The Home Secretary may find amongst those we represent the guilty parties. If 216 so we shall not spare them any condemnation. But, believing that they are not the guilty parties, we cannot sit down under the imputation, nor can we allow the question to remain as it is without doing all we can to ask, to beg, to pray, yea! to demand from the Government that an inquiry will take place into this matter. I have been a representative of these men for thirty-five years. I have had the honour to represent them in this House for fully twenty-five years. You will understand then that their interests are dear to me. I have been recognised as the leader of these men. I have represented them in their conferences with the employers, doing what I could for them. During that time we have had strikes and lock-outs; but disturbances like this, never! And I cannot believe that the men I represent are the creators of this trouble. Hence the House will bear with me when I am pleading for this inquiry in order to know who the guilty parties are. Although I do not do justice to this matter with my Welsh tongue, I appeal earnestly that justice may be done in the interests of the men whom I represent, in the interests of peace and righteousness, in the interests of the police, and in the interest of the Government itself. I ask that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill) will now see his way clear in the matter. When he did not see his way clear before to grant this inquiry, in his favour it should be said that he did not slam the door against us; he did not even close it. He held it so far open that we have the hope that it may be opened wide. My appeal is that the door may be kept open, that this inquiry will, be granted, and that the desire of South Wales will be allowed.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I rise to associate myself with the pathetic appeal made by my right hon. Friend. If that does not bring a response, then I am afraid that anything I would like to add will not produce much effect upon the official mind of the Home Office. It would be as well for hon. Members to remember that this question has two aspects. First of all there is the question of the character of the Welsh collier. He has been stigmatised all over the country as a wild, riotous, and disorderly fellow, who requires extra police, backed by the military, to keep him in order during trade disputes. Yet, as my right hon. Friend has just been saying, until this present occasion there has been no disturbance in the Welsh coalfield during strikes or lock-outs. The 217 second aspect of this question is: What are the rights of the citizen as against the police? What has happened in the Welsh coalfield has a very direct bearing upon that question, as I hope to show very briefly in the course of my remarks. There was a further point which was touched upon by my right hon. Friend—the question as to whether anyone, or any authority, is responsible for injury sustained by inoffensive and peaceful citizens at the hands of the police even during a disturbance. Since the question was last before the House in the closing days of last Session two attempts have been made to have the matter raised and disposed of in a court of law. The case was taken before the local stipendiary. It failed. Since then an application has been made to the High Court, before the Lord Chief Justice, for permission to raise an action against the superintendent who was in charge of the police in order to have this matter sifted to the bottom, and the responsibility for this disturbance fixed. That application also failed. Therefore, in again asking the Home Office for an inquiry, it cannot be said that we have not taken every step in order to have the matter tested and probed to the bottom. May I remind the Home Secretary that on this occasion the issue is narrowed down to the two particular points I have named. If he will be good enough to refer to the Amendment to the Address which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Abraham) he will find it set out in these words:—
"And further, we humbly desire to express our regret that Your Majesty's advisers have not seen fit to recommend the appointment of a special committee or commission to inquire into the charges made against the police in connection with the recent trouble in a portion of the South Wales coalfield, and the question of liability for personal injuries sustained in connection therewith."
We are leaving out of account the bringing of the military. We are leaving out of account other extraneous matters. We are concentrating exclusively upon the action of the police in connection with the alleged disturbances. May I, before passing on, say that I associate myself very fully indeed with the statement of my right hon. Friend that we do not blame individual policemen for the incidents which took place, and which we deplore and complain about. I think the Home Office must bear a very large share of the responsibility. When men are brought a very long distance in the midst of winter; 218 when they are turned adrift amongst the Welsh hills without proper provision being made for housing, for feeding, even for clothing; when they are kept on duty for intolerably long hours, it is not to be wondered at that they get irritable and commit acts which, in their cooler moments, they probably regret. This whole question of the attendance of the police under special circumstances is one that requires attention. It was not only in the Welsh coalfields that this neglect to which I am referring occurred. It occurred also at the recent case at Stepney. I hold in my hand a letter which appeared in "The Times" of the 16th of last month, written by the Rev. Lionel S. Lewis, of St. Mark's Vicarage, White-chapel, in which he explains that at the Sydney Street affair also the police were kept without provisions for a period of time which must have exhausted the men on duty. I will read just a few sentences; he speaks of the men having been on duty from 4.30 a.m. some of them to 5.30 p.m., during which time they received no food or refreshment of any kind. He refers to others who were on duty twenty and twenty-two hours, exposed to a blizzard and in the most wearying excitement, and he goes on to add—and this is the gravamen of the charge:—At 1 p.m., realising the state of things, I telephoned to a generous friend and asked that she would supply a cart of provisions from Lyons, if I could get permission from the authorities. She gave me, carte blanche, to order anything necessary up to £10. I immediately went to the headquarters of the district. The superintendent or chief inspector were on the scene of action. The inspector in charge, refused the offer, without communicating with Scotland Yard, on the ground that it was not necessary; that the police often had such long hours and that some of the men had been relieved and that others were going to be relieved, but the facts are as I have stated above. Such red tape will lead to disaster and is cruel.My point in reading that extract is to show that if, in the City of London, constables can be kept on duty fourteen and twenty and twenty-two hours at a stretch without food, and if the offer to provide them with food from private sources was refused, one's mind fails to picture how the men must have been treated on the bleak hillsides of Wales, where they were sent in reference to this dispute. The matter ought to be investigated. We bring no general charge against the police, we want to see them well eared for, and looked after, and it is possible that if the facts could be known, it would be found that this treatment of the police was to some extent responsible for the incidents to which we refer. I do not want to enter at length into the cases 219 charged against the police, the particulars of which I read out to the House in the closing days of the last Session. On this occasion, I will only quote two or three cases. They refer to what happened at Aberaman on the 22nd November On that occasion, about 6 o'clock in the evening, the police, for some reason or other, thought fit to have the streets cleared. So far as we can ascertain, there was no riot, but it may be that the police apprehended riot or disturbance and cleared the streets. Some four hours later, this incident occurred—and if I only read three cases altogether it is not because there are not other cases, because I hold in my hand some twenty affidavits that were read in the High Court when application was made before it. I only take three as showing the kind of thing of which we complain and the justification we have when we ask for an inquiry into the facts of the case. This is one of them:—I, William Wile, of 6, Gamblyn Terrace, Aberaman, make oath and say as follows: I am twenty-two years of age. On Tuesday, 22nd November, I had been to Mountain Ash, and came back to Aberaman by the 10.40 train. I left Aberaman station to go home, and when I got in the Cardiff Street, near Mason Street, a Metropolitan policeman caught me by the arm and said, 'Where are you going,' I said 'home.' He gave me a shove. There were twelve Metropolitan policemen at the bottom of Mason Street, six mounted, towards whom he kept pushing me. One of them said, 'get out of this' and struck me on my left cheek bone with his fist and another kicked me on the left hip bone. I ran into a garden three doors down from Mason Street, and stayed there some time and then started home. At 11.20 or thereabouts, I had to go by Powell's, the drapers, at the bottom of Lewis Street, when I saw a group of about twenty-five Metropolitan and other policemen. Superintendent Gill was in charge of the police, so I went up to him and said, 'I have been assaulted after having been away all day.' He replied, 'Go home before you get another.'When this was read out in the court the comment of the Judge was," It was very good advice that he should go home." A peaceful citizen, coming home from the railway station makes a complaint to a superintendent of police of being assaulted by policemen and he gets no consolation given him than being told that if he did not go home he would probably get more.James Bowen of 14, Commerce Place, Aberaman make Oath and says as follows:—On Tuesday, the 22nd November, I had been to Aberdare, and with Mason. Probert and Harry Kierl, and on our return we met George Taylor on the Brakestone Square opposite the theatre in Aberaman shortly after 11 p.m. Before I got to Taylor I saw about twenty Glamorgan policemen in Lewis Street. The street opposite the theatre contained the usual number of people. On the square were about thirty or forty Glamorgan policemen. I went clown the street with the rest and about six yards from the square I saw twelve to fifteen Metropolitan policemen coming up the street. When we came up to them they said 'move on.' We said 'we are going home.' One of them hit Taylor in the back and, on Taylor saying something, hit him in the eye. Taylor 220 ran away followed by the policeman, who kept hitting him with his fist. I continued walking on and one stopped me and I fearing him to be hit I turned my back to the wall and objected and said I was going-home. While I was talking some five policemen came up and one of them hit me on the back of the head with his baton. I tried to protect myself but was knocked down. When on the ground they continued striking me with their batons and kicked me.This man had to have his wounds sewn up in several places. There are other cases of a like kind, but the only other I will trouble the House with, is where an attendant of the local theatre was standing on the steps of his theatre, as the people were emerging. He was attacked by the police and driven back inside his own building, although he told them who he was. Those are the type of cases on which we base our demand for an inquiry. I know it will be said by hon. Members opposite that these are small matters to make a noise about, and they will tell us that if they had occurred in Ireland they would have thought themselves lucky in getting off so easily. That is very likely true, but we do not want Irish constabulary methods introduced in this country, and we desire to nip this thing in the bud. The police constable is a public servant, and he must be taught to act as the servant and not the master of the public. A constable has no right to use more violence than is justified by the actual facts of the case. In the case I have mentioned there was no riot or disturbance, but simply a peaceful man going home, and he was assaulted. The Home Secretary should appoint a Committee of Inquiry to investigate all the facts of the case, not only as my right, hon. Friend has said, to put the responsibility upon the right shoulders, but in order to prevent a recurrence of this kind of thing. If the same kind of thing goes on unchallenged, as has happened in South Wales, the working section of the public will lose confidence in the authority and will regard the police as acting in the interests of the masters and helping to keep the men in subjection.
In regard to responsibility, in a riot or disturbance of the peace, property, when damaged, requires to be compensated for from public funds, but if in connection with a dispute of this kind a perfectly innocent man killed, he has no claim against anybody. On the other hand, if a man gets his windows smashed by a riotous crowd or a policeman's truncheon, he can obtain compensation from the authorities, but if a man gets his head smashed he has no claim against anyone. Surely that is an anomalous state of things which should be inquired 221 into with a view to being remedied. Property is no doubt very valuable, but it is no more valuable than life and limb, and if the law pays compensation for damage to property, it ought to pay compensation to damaged persons, unless it can be shown that those persons have actively participated in the trouble. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rhondda said, when this question was last before the House the Home Secretary did not absolutely refuse an inquiry The Home Secretary said on 24th November last:—When the whole of this story is complete, as I hope it will be at no very distant date, and when peace and order are restored in the Welsh Coalfields, and the strike has been settled, it may very well be the time to go into these matters. I do not prejudge them at all.9.0 P.M.
In the Aberaman district the strike has long been settled, the police and the military have been withdrawn, and there is no longer any ferment of public opinion. There the conditions laid down by the Home Secretary have all been complied with, so far as the Aberdare valley is concerned, whatever he may say as to Tonypandy, where the dispute is not yet settled. For these reasons I hope the right hon. Gentleman will institute a searching inquiry into the occurrences at Aberaman. Practically every Liberal candidate in South Wales who was questioned upon this subject during the election said the Home Office had guaranteed an inquiry after the dispute was over. The dispute is now over, and let us have the inquiry. Do not let us have an honest law-abiding, self-respecting class of workmen any longer held up to the stigma of having been riotous when we who know the men and know the place are aware that had the matter been left in the hands of the local police, not one single disturbance of a serious kind would ever have occurred. We ask for an inquiry in the first place as to whether unnecessary violence was used by the police, and if so what action ought to be taken to safeguard the public in the future; and, secondly, what is the law as to compensation for innocent persons injured. There have been two inquiries into similar disturbances in the past. Various points of law have been cleared up, but these two points still remain unsettled. The High Court has decided that the superintendent in charge of the police is not responsible for the action of the men under him. On a dark night it is quite impossible to identify individual men, and, therefore, the public are helpless when an occurrence of this kind takes place. Surely that is a con- 222 dition of things which ought not to be allowed to continue, and which the Home Office should see is made the subject of an inquiry with a view to finding a remedy as soon as possible.
Mr. CLEMENT EDWARDS
I only wish to offer a few observations in regard to the appeal which has been made to the Home Secretary for this inquiry. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil said that practically every Liberal candidate in South Wales during the last General Election stated that the Home Secretary would grant an inquiry into the conduct of the police. I stood for a constituency where a large number of the men involved in the trouble were electors. It is perfectly true that I was pressed with probably 300 or 400 questions from partisans of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil to give such a pledge, but I absolutely declined to allow on any platform of mine, either by questioner or by speaker, the slightest political capital to be made out of the industrial trouble to which allusion has been made. We have had a different tone assumed by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil to-night. The suggestion now is a mild appeal, as the trouble is now nearly over, for an inquiry; but long before the trouble was over, in the very white heat of the dispute, the hon. Member was clamouring for this inquiry. Why? Because he has always made a point whenever an industrial trouble is taking place, while a Liberal Government is in power, of attacking the Government. I can recall in my experience, my personal and intimate experience, of industrial troubles during the last twenty-two years, troubles where the military have been called in during the existence of a Conservative-Government when no single suggestion emanated from the hon. Member that there should be an inquiry. What of the great dock trouble in Southampton at the time-when I was an official of the Dock Labourers' Union? At that time men were shot down to the right and left of me, but, though the hon. and junior Member for Merthyr at that time was acting in the cause of Labour, never a breath and never a suggestion that there should be an official inquiry. Here to-day many will be surprised, as I am surprised, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rhondda (Mr. W. Abraham)—than whom there is no-man more respected in the whole of South Wales, or in this House—has been induced to put in this plea. How? Why? When? In his absence a meeting of the Labour 223 party, at the instigation of the hon. Member for Merthyr, passed a resolution that as troubles had occurred in the Rhondda Valley the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rhondda should raise the matter, and, loyal as he always has been to his colleagues, he, of course, took upon himself the duty.
I trust in this matter the Home Secretary will not be induced to grant an inquiry into the conduct of the police until every semblance of the dispute is at an end, and then I shall join, and join earnestly, in asking that the fullest and the most absolute inquiry shall be held into the conduct of the police and also into the conduct of those irresponsible speakers who, without taking responsibility in the immediate locality have, by their speeches, had such an effect upon the minds of the unfortunate men engaged in those troubles. It is a difficult position for me to occupy, but I desire to say that the view of the thousand miners whom I represent in East Glamorganshire is that the Home Secretary—it is not always that I have agreed with him—in regard to this dispute has behaved with a magnificent discretion which they very much appreciate. Exactly in the same way, as we know, there are certain perfectly irresponsible hangers-on of every movement, so it is possible there were individual policemen who used undue force. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Merthyr is that there was no responsibility on the part of individual policemen. He has not the pluck to attack the individual policemen, and he suggests it is a mere matter of the system. As a matter of fact, those who were responsible—men like Captain Lindsay, the Chief Constable of Glamorganshire—behaved with perfect discretion throughout the whole of these serious troubles. It is perfectly true there were incidents which shows conclusively that certain individual policemen did use undue force. At the proper time and on the right occasion that will be seen. But in the meantime I desire to say, as one who has taken probably a great deal more part than the hon. Member for Merthyr in the conduct of industrial disputes, that in my view the police behaved with wonderful care, wonderful discretion, and wonderful forbearance. He suggests that if only the local police had been left to look after things there would have been no trouble. As a matter of fact, the grave Tonypandy riots took place before any outside police arrived, and the only alternative—and this is where I particularly 224 desire to emphasise the facts to the Home Secretary—to the importation of police to take charge of the districts where the riots occurred was that the military should be sent in. We know that police methods permit of every degree of force from the placing of the hand upon the shoulder to the using of the baton; but, once the word is given with regard to the military, then it is a matter of life and death. If it had not been for the importation of the police and for the magnificent discretion and magnificent forbearance they showed under exceedingly great provocation, not from the great body of strikers, we all know that, but from certain irresponsible wild elements on the fringe, we should have had the hon. Member for Merthyr attacking the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for War for having caused grave bloodshed on the South Wales coalfields. I shall join, and join earnestly, in the request that there be a full, frank, and exhaustive inquiry, but that it shall not take place until every semblance of the dispute has been removed.
§ Mr. EDGAR JONES
Very regretfully, and I hope very briefly, I join once more in this request for an inquiry. I join in it this time with all the more earnestness because the demand for it has been put by the hon. Member for the Rhondda temperately and in a manner that I am sure must attract the utmost possible attention. The hon. Member who has just sat down is the Member for a neighbouring constituency, and not the constituency where the disturbances happened, and where the police were called in and committed the alleged outrages upon the people. I can quite understand that the hon. Member truly represents his constituents, but he finished by saying that be would be quite prepared to support an inquiry once the disturbances are all finished. He therefore agrees with me that the time has arrived to support an inquiry as far as the Aberdare district is concerned. The first time this matter came before the House I ventured to put as clearly as I could the essential difference between these two districts. I am going to say nothing about the Rhondda. Unfortunately, though the disturbance has gone, the men are not yet back in work. It was in the Rhondda, represented by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the discussion, and in Tonypandy in particular, that the riots happened. The fact that 225 riots happened in Tonypandy was no excuse at all for creating a panic in Aberdare with two ranges of mountains (between. It might as well have been a panic or a riot in Yorkshire. What I want to press on the Home Secretary is this, that these are different districts, they are different disputes, and a different set of occurrences. The men are now at work in Aberdare, and everything is going on excellently. There was no serious riot there. There was but one little disturbance after the police had come on the scene, and we want an inquiry into the circumstances there Seeing that we have now got peace in the district, I say the time has come when an inquiry can be held without any difficulty whatsoever. The last hon. Member who spoke can, I think, support this request, Several persons are assuming—I hope the Home Secretary will not assume that we are here necessarily condemning the police. We do nothing of the kind, and our request for inquiry should simply be regarded as a request for information. It is in that sense, at any rate, that we make it. There are all sorts of rumours in currency.' The Home Secretary, on the last occasion, gave certain particulars which he had obtained from his source of information. I am not here to dispute those particulars, or to say that they are coloured or unfair What I want is an inquiry to establish whether or not the alleged charges which have been made against the police are Tight. I cannot see any objection to the granting of such an inquiry. The result may be to give the Home Secretary a complete answer to his critics. It may transpire as a result of the inquiry that the police were justified in all they did. If so, that will be a good thing for the police. It may happen that the Commissioner will attribute the blame to certain sections of the strikers, and that he may be able to put his finger upon groups which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rhondda Valley is anxious to detect. That also would be a very good thing At any rate, I am confident, as one born among the people and living amongst them, that the result will be to establish the character of the Welsh collier as that of a man willing to suffer and to fight his battles without resort to violence and the destruction to property. It is for the sake of re-establishing these people in the eyes of the country, and to put an end to the slanders which have been cast upon them by the exercise of the imagination of London pressmen, who went down there in a 226 hurry, that I press most sincerely and earnestly for the grant of this inquiry, at any rate so far as Aberdare is concerned.
§ Mr. BRACE
I would not have interposed in this debate had it not been for the speech of the hon. Member for East Glamorgan. I cannot think that he is well acquainted with the facts. If he had been, he would not have made himself responsible for the statements he has made in this discussion. My right hon. Friend, the Member for the Rhondda Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil have raised this question not upon their individual responsibility, but because they were instructed to do so by their Constituents and by the vote of the Federation of which I am a member and an official. The general sense of the whole of the Welsh miners is in favour of a close investigation, not because they have any grievance against the Home Secretary, but because they want him to have an opportunity of giving his reason for having such a large number of military and police drafted into the South Wales coalfield. Like the hon. Member who spoke last, I represent the colliers. I am kept by them. I am paid by them, and they are a body whom I am proud to represent. I do not for one moment think that they are guilty of the charges levelled against them, and, in common honesty, we are entitled to ask in their name for the fullest investigation. I regret to say I am not, personally, closely in touch with the facts of the case. When these unfortunate occurrences took place I happened to be out of the country, but I was back in time to fight my own Parliamentary election, and the first question which was put to me when I got into the Rhondda Valley was: Are you in favour of asking the Home Secretary to grant an inquiry into the conduct of the police on this matter? Seeing that it was a reasonable and proper question, I undertook to support such a demand, and I can only say that if the Home Secretary feels it is a right thing to wait until the dispute in the Rhondda is settled before beginning the inquiry, I will not object, provided that he will at once commence the investigations at Aberdare, where there is now no dispute. The people there are law-abiding, highly respectable citizens, and, in their name, I would make an earnest appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to grant this inquiry.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Churchill)
I have certainly no reason to complain 227 that this subject has been raised in the course of the Debate on the Address, for I have been the object of a good deal of severe criticism directed upon me with equal good will from opposite points of view, and I have not, until the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda Valley, had any formal opportunity of making any general statement upon the subject to the House of Commons. The action of the Government in this affair has been assailed with very different views. From this side of the House we have to-night listened to the very moderate and courteous speeches of the right hon. Member for Rhondda, the hon. Members for South and East Glamorgan, and from the senior Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rees Jones). We have also listened to a very moderate, restrained, and dignified statement from the junior Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Keir Hardie), and I only say this, that I very much regret that he has not afforded the House, this evening, an opportunity of judging the kind of oratory which I understand he has been pouring out through the country at the unreported meetings which he has so freely addressed on this subject.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
May I ask what foundation the right hon. Gentleman has for saying that I have addressed unreported meetings on this subject. It is my misfortune they were not reported, not my fault.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think it is the misfortune of us all that the hon. Member was not reported, because if all I have heard is correct a verbatim transcript of his remarks would have been of great interest to all parties in this assembly. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues and friends have criticised the action of the Home Office from his point of view, and that has been answered to some extent in the very courageous speech of the hon. Member for East Glamorgan. But I was yesterday the subject of attack from no less a person than the Leader of the Opposition, and he has attacked me, not for the excessive amount of force employed, but for not employing sufficient force—for not sending military instead of police—for not sending military soon enough, and the right hon. Gentleman devoted so much time in the important speech which he delivered at the beginning of this Session to this subject that I am really surprised that in the course of 228 this Debate, though I waited to give full opportunity for it, no Member of the Opposition has risen to support the charges which were made against the Government and the Secretary of State for Home Affairs. Let me just read to the House what the right hon. Gentleman says. He said:—Many of these deplorable occurrences might have been avoided had he not at a critical moment refused to carry out decisively and effectively the measures which he contemplated. Had he not held back the military and not shown some doubt and hesitation at a critical moment, much destruction of property, many unhappy incidents, and many circumstances which all whatever their opinions, must look upon as a great blot on the procedure of civilised society, might have been wholly avoided.That is, I am sure, a very serious charge, and I have waited expectantly to see whether it would be supported seriously and in form by the party who follow the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. As the charge has been made, I think it is right that I should be entitled to reply to it, and I should like to tell the House exactly what happened at the beginning of this most anxious and difficult affair. The Home Office received no information of what was proceeding in South Wales and in the Rhondda Valley until about ten on the morning of 8th November, when the following telegram reached us:—All the Cambrian collieries menaced last night. The Llwynypia Colliery savagely attacked by large crowd of strikers. Many casualties on both sides. Am expecting two companies of infantry and 200 cavalry to-day. Very little accommodation for police or soldiers. Position grave. Will wire again.This is from the Chief Constable of Glamorganshire. The cavalry and infantry, sent for by the Chief Constable on Monday night, were not asked for from the Secretary of State for War or from me. But they were sent, pending instructions by the General Officer commanding the Southern Command, and it was not until ten the next day that I was informed of what was taking place. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War came over to me at the Home Office, and, with the Adjutant-General who was called in, we had a long discussion upon the situation, with the result that we decided definitely, as a matter of public policy, that we would deal with this difficulty by police in the first instance and not by soldiers, and that if soldiers should be used at all they should only be used in support of the police, and every precaution should be taken not to bring the military into direct collision with the crowd of strikers. We sent also for the officer who should go down to take charge of any soldiers who 229 were sent into the district, and a distinguished officer of high rank at the War Office was placed at my disposal, General Macready. I venture to say that no more accomplished or tactful person could ever have been selected for this kind of duty, and I am sure all who know the district will bear witness to his natural and unaffected impartiality throughout towards capital and labour and to the good relations which, in spite of the difficulties of his task, he maintained with the men's leaders and with all parties in the district. We did not leave it to the chance of whatever officer happened to be summoned to supply the grave decisions which have to be reached when soldiers are brought into contact with the people. We picked a special officer, and we imparted to that officer a full knowledge of what his duty was, namely, to support the police if necessary, but to avoid, if it was in human power to avoid, any direct collision between the soldiers and the people. General Macready started at once for Pontypridd, and I sent the following telegram at half-past one on 8th November:Your request for military. Infantry should not be used till all other means have failed.I distinguish between infantry and cavalry because cavalry can use their horses, but infantry can only fire or charge with their weapons.Following arrangements have therefore been made. Seventy mounted constables and 200 foot constables of Metropolitan police will come to Pontypridd by special train, leaving Paddington 4.55 p.m., arriving about 8.0 p.m. They will carry out your directions under their own officer. The county will bear the cost. Expect these forces will be sufficient, but as further precautionary measure, 200 cavalry will be moved into the district to-night and remain there pending the cessation of the trouble. Infantry, meanwhile, will be at Swindon. General Macready will command the military, and will act in conjunction with civil authority as circumstances may require. Military will not, however, be available unless it is clear that police reinforcements are unable to cope with the situation. Telegraph Home office and say whether these arrangements are sufficient.Shortly after that message had been despatched I was fortunate enough to establish clear telephonic communication with the Chief Constable, and he informed me that if the Metropolitan Police I was sending were to reach him that night they would be sufficient, and that as there was very little accommodation for police and military, and especially for mounted men in the district, he would not need the cavalry squadron immediately. In these circumstances I told the cavalry, through the War Office, that they should check at Cardiff, where they were travelling continuously all the time. But orders were also 230 sent to General Macready, who was also travelling down to Cardiff, that if any further request of special emergency reached him from the Chief Constable on the spot he could use his own discretion about going forward with the cavalry that evening. What the cavalry could have done in the night was never very clear. At the time I understood that the cavalry were not needed that night. I hoped it might be possible for them to remain at Cardiff, but the Chief Constable also suggested to me that I should give him a message to read to the strikers with a view to impressing upon them that the Board of Trade were at work and would move, and that their grievances would be the subject of conciliatory intervention. My right hon. Friend (Mr. W. Abraham), who came to see me at that time at the Home Office, was good enough to approve of the message which I sent, and to give me his advice that it would have a good effect upon the best men in the mining community. I have every reason to believe that fair words spoken to men in these matters, who are, after all, only conducting trade disputes are a perfectly proper means to employ, especially when proper authority is not hesitating to support the law by adequate force. About eight o'clock telephonic communication was received that there was rioting in progress, and we immediately telegraphed to General Macready to move into the district with his squadrons, only one of which had up to that time arrived at Cardiff. He had already received authority to do so, and had, in fact, acted in anticipation of that message half an hour earlier.
I should like to point out to the House upon this point that the forces which the Government sent at the request of the Chief Constable and the local authorities in the Rhondda Valley were in every respect more suitable to the work which they were likely to have to do than the force of infantry which had been asked for in the morning. Policemen accustomed to handle crowds are from every point of view more effective in these matters than soldiers, especially infantry, and we were sending as many foot constables and a considerable number of mounted constables as well in place of the two companies of infantry which had been asked for, and we were sending in addition, to be in support, two squadrons of cavalry. Therefore, no charge could be made against the Government that adequate forces were not sent 231 to the scene, or that suitable forces were not sent to the scene. On the contrary, the forces sent were larger and more suitable than those which were asked for. I think they were also amply sufficient for the work which they would have had to do, but unfortunately the special train carrying the Metropolitan Police was not up to time. A small accident delayed it upon the road, and instead of arriving at 8.0 or 8.30 as we expected, it did not arrive till about 10.0. In consequence of that, rioting at detachments of Metropolitan Police sent to the aid of the Chief Constable had arrived upon the scene. The Chief Constable, however, with the local police, completely drove the rioters from the colliery which they were attacking, and made his position good. It was only when the rioters were foiled in their attempt to take the colliery that in a perfectly unreasoning fury of resentment, on their way back they smashed the windows and looted some of the shops of their own friends, the little tradesmen who were giving them credit, in the main street of Tonypandy. That is a deplorable incident, I agree. It would not have been prevented if there had been soldiers at the colliery instead of only local police. It might have been prevented if the Metropolitan Police train had arrived at the hour it was expected. It was a deplorable event, but do not let us be led by exaggeration into pretending it was a scene of civil war or a horrible outbreak of barbarism, which in the words of the right hon. Gentleman was a blot upon the procedure of civilised society. Writing on 14th November, the Chief Constable said:—Had it not been for our bad luck on the night of Tuesday the 8th inst., I should have been able to give a more satisfactory report of the present state of affairs than I now can. If the train bringing the 200 Metropolitan Police to Tonypandy had been up to time the strikers would have been met and crushed in Tonypandy (after being defeated by us at the colliery gate), instead of being encouraged by their success in the streets. I cannot speak too highly of the splendid assistance given me by General Macready and all the military and police officers and men sent here. This strike is totally different to any one that I had previously experienced and I could not have done without their advice and assistance.That is my answer to the charge of not adequately supporting the local authorities in their request for aid and to the charge of having been guilty at a critical moment of hesitation and vacillation. Whatever we were guilty of, there was no vacillation. Obstinacy perhaps, but vacillation no. The decision was never 232 departed from to use the police as a cover and shield for the military. What I had in my mind as the principal subject of apprehension was the idea of the arrival in the night of a body of soldiers hurriedly sent by train from a long distance, disembarking under conditions of excitement at a station and moved out of the station into direct collision with an angry mob, who were not at all accustomed to see the soldiers and were perhaps not at all acquainted with the weapons they carried or with the limitations attendant upon military action. That I was resolved to guard against, if it were possible to do so, while maintaining law and order. Some days later, in daylight and in cold blood, when there was no rioting, we moved troops into the district. We considered that was quite a different matter. In fact the soldiers, once they were moved into the district, got to know the general position, and their officers got to know the general position, and they did not look upon the whole body of strikers as if they were wild beasts, as they were described in so many of the London newspapers to be. The soldiers, on getting into the district, soon established friendly relations with the strikers. In a week they were playing football matches with them, and though they remained, there was not throughout the whole business any danger of direct contact between the soldiers and the strikers. That is the policy which the Government has pursued. That is the policy which I am prepared to be held most directly responsible for. After the 8th November the troubles continued, and many hundreds of Metropolitan police were sent in and the force of soldiers were placed in reserve behind them. I do not gather that any charge is made from any quarter that the disorder was not effectually dealt with from that date. That is my reply to the House in regard to the attack made upon me by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I say I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda for giving me the opportunity of replying to it, which would not, I think, have been afforded by the temerity of any other hon. Gentleman opposite.
I turn from that aspect of the case to the criticisms which have been made by hon. Members below the gangway and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rhondda. I address myself to the appeal which he has made to me for an inquiry into the charges against the Metropolitan 233 Police. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that I am only concerned with the conduct of the Metropolitan Police. I am not responsible for what was done by the Bristol police, or the Cardiff police, or the Glamorganshire police. I have every reason to believe that they did their duty, and did not do more than their duty, but whether they did or did not is a matter which concerns the local authorities who sent them and employed them, and the whole question of their conduct can be raised at any meeting of the County Council of Glamorgan or any meeting of the Standing Joint Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda knows perfectly well that the influence of the miners in that district is sufficiently strong to secure the fullest discussion of these matters at the meetings of either of these bodies. I am concerned only with the Metropolitan Police, for whom I have accepted much more direct responsibility than has usually been accepted by Home Secretaries on questions of public order. The Metropolitan Police were only employed on two occasions to deal with riots. They did not arrive, I can assure the House, on the night of the 8th until the disturbance was all over, but they were there from the 8th onwards. On 21st November they were employed in dealing with disturbances which began at Tonypandy and continued along the whole of the road or street until it reached Pontypridd. On 22nd November another body were in contact with rioters at Aberaman. I am satisfied, after making careful inquiry, that on both occasions the Metropolitan Police did not use their truncheons until it was absolutely necessary for them to do so. At Tonypandy, on the 21st, they were subjected for a long time to stoning before they took any steps in return. And then the first step they took was not to draw their batons, but to take off the heavy rolled cloaks they wear and to clear the streets by means of these. I am bound to say that they are not at all ineffective for the purpose. It was not until they were exposed for a long time to stone-throwing, and several men were hurt—and one seriously hurt—that they used their batons. I have seen the officers who were in charge at Aberaman myself personally, and they assure me that they had twelve men knocked out by stones, heavy pieces of metal, and pieces of bricks which were thrown at them before they drew their batons. The junior Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Keir Hardie) has read some 234 private papers to the House, and I will follow his example in this respect, and read some other statements by persons who were present at these proceedings. They give very credible evidence. I am not going to mention the names of those persons.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
The statements I read were not private statements. They were made in public affidavits.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have every reason to believe that the statements I am going to read were made by credible, substantial, and reputable persons. They were made voluntarily, and were not solicited by the authorities. One is signed by a Member of the Mid-Rhondda Free Church Council and Vigilance Committee. It was written to the head of the Metropolitan Police sent down to South Wales. He says:—I feel in duty bound to thank you for coming here to restore order. I am exceedingly sorry you were not here a day earlier. Personally I have nothing to complain of as to the conduct of your men. I have always found them courteous and gentlemanly whenever I came in contact with them. On two occasions I have appealed for protection on behalf of those who feared their homes would be ruined by the men who have taken the law into their own hands. I wish to thank you for the promptness displayed. I think we should be thankful we had special officers sent there to protect our lives and property.Here is another letter from a railway official at Tonypandy station. Referring to the rioting on the 21st, he gives a long account, in the course of which he says:—When I was standing in the signal box, I saw a surging mass of people proceeding up Bridge Street, and heard much hooting and shouting, and I could see several policemen in the centre of the crowd. On my return from the signal box, a crowd were first booing and shouting at the corner of Bridge Street, and then in Trealaw side, and appeared to be attacking the police, first one side and then the other, and stones were flying around the station to such an extent that a large number of passengers were prevented by me from passing over our bridge, as I feared some of them would be struck and some of them were afraid to leave until 11.30 p.m. Between 9 and 11 p.m. stones continually fell about our station. Throughout the time mentioned in the preceding statement, I have had many opportunities of witnessing the conduct of the police, and in my opinion they, if anything, have erred on the side of leniency. They have always behaved coolly and well under difficult circumstances, and I am certain that the police could have had nothing to do with the starting of the row on the 21st. The whole tone of the strikers throughout that day was one of aggression, and they appeared determined to do as they chose.I personally have always preferred to use the word rioters. It is not right to identify rioters with strikers. They are not the same body of men. The letter goes on:—I saw no signs of insobriety on the part of any individual in the police force, of whom I saw a great number.235 Here is a letter from a minister:—I hereby testify that in my opinion the police during the recent riots at Tonypandy acted with great patience under extraordinary provocation. This is also the opinion of all persons who have any responsibility whom I have consulted. The only fault on the part of the police in my opinion was that they refrained too long a time in using severe measures.A mechanical engineer in Tonypandy says:—Several stones were thrown and struck the police. No truncheons were drawn. As to the coolness and tact of the officers and men I cannot speak too highly. I have never seen anything to equal it. With regard to the drinking——That was the charge brought by the hon. Member—I have not seen anything of it. I can only congratulate you on the discipline and courtesy show'n to all by officers and men.Here is another letter from a man who explains that he is a butcher, and who writing about the 23rd says:—Although the police were being stoned they had not got their truncheons drawn, but were behaving splendidly.And he described how the police cleared the streets several times without their truncheons. He says:—It is a pure invention on the part of anybody to say that the police were under the influence of drink It seemed to me that they were well disciplined and under complete control of their officers. I freely give this statement because it is a true statement of what I witnessed.Here is another statement by a brake proprietor in Tonypandy:—I have never seen a single instance of improper conduct on the part of the police, and certainly no case of drink has come under my notice. If any of the police had been under the influence of drink I should have seen it as I have had so much to do with them. I can give no information as to any disturbance in the district, hut I do know from conversation I have had with many of the inhabitants that the Metropolitan Police have conducted themselves well in every respect, and the people here look upon them as gentlemen. I am sure you will go away with a very high opinion of the better class people in this district. It is very unfair that complaints should be made against them without foundation.Here is another which is written by a porter in Tonypandy station. He says:—I had ample opportunity of observing the condition of the members of the Metropolitan Police, and I can safely say without fear of contradiction, that I did not observe any one under the influence of drink or approaching such. I think the police acted with great forbearance and leniency towards such a disorderly mob, and only acted when it became absolutely necessary. This is a voluntary statement on my part, and I can swear to anything I have said as I was a witness of what occurred.Here is another one from one of the tradesmen of Penygraig:—I think it my duty to report to yon that the statements made concerning the police on the night of the 21st November are absolutely unfounded, I saw the rioting from start to finish, and are in a position to 236 state that the police acted admirably under the circumstances, and their behaviour was in every way most gentlemanly. With reference to their being under the influence of drink I am again in a position to refute that as I personally attended several of the Metropolitan Police for injuries received during the night.10.0 P.M.
I have a great many more cases with which I do not wish to weary the House, but when we hear many letters read accusing the Metropolitan Police of making unprovoked assaults and "battering the heads of innocent and harmless people sitting round their own firesides" (to quote from a statement read by the junior Member for Merthyr Tydfil when he last addressed the House on this subject), and making attacks upon peaceable people at great distance from the disturbance, women and even children, without any cause of justification, when we are asked to believe that these men throw aside all the habits which we usually associate with them the moment they enter the district of the Rhondda Valley, when we are asked to believe all this, I think that a number of perfectly authentic documents voluntarily given in answer to charges made against the police by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil in the last Parliament should be made public and should be placed on record.
I would like to remind the House that the Metropolitan Police suffered a great many injuries and casualties in the course of these proceedings. Of course, there were very rough and violent proceedings on both sides. When people start throwing great pieces of iron and brickbats and arm themselves with pick handles with nails driven through the heads, and when the Metropolitan Police, who are a stalwart body of men, are finally forced to make charges to clear the street, people will get hurt. It is in the nature of things that they will get hurt, and spectators who mix themselves up in the course of things with rows, and who are on the spot, must take their chance of anything which may happen to them at the time or be said about them afterwards. I am not going to read out the detals of the injuries which the police received, but nine or ten men of our force, of whom not more than 200 were employed in these disorders, were seriously hurt, and remained a long time on the sick list, and thirty or forty men still carry the marks of the injuries they received. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil is greatly concerned with the fact that some persons were struck by the police, and that they cannot bring home those injuries to the individual police who struck the blows. I am somewhat 237 concerned that so many policemen were struck by persons unknown to whom we cannot bring home the seriousness of the injury inflicted. I have just to add that I have not only read these statements, and I have referred to the casualties received by the police, but I have very carefully considered all the evidence that has been tendered to me on this matter. I, personally, examined some of the officers who were in charge of the different police parties, and I have discussed the whole matter with General Macready, who certainly brought to bear on it a more impartial eye than anyone else in the whole of the district, and I see nothing whatever to justify any of the charges of misconduct against the Metropolitan Police, and unless there is something to justify a general charge of misconduct against these men there are no grounds whatever for a general inquiry into their conduct.
No prima facie case has been made out, and I submit to the House that the evidence is all the other way, or that the preponderance of evidence is the other way. The Metropolitan Police, in going to South Wales, have rendered a valuable service to the Government and to the public. They have rendered, I think, a special service to South Wales, for they stood between the strikers and the use of firearms. They stood between the miners of the Rhondda Valley and the insensate and lunatic fellows who would have committed the folly of filling up the pits with water to the brim, so that when peace was restored they would have had before them months of starvation, while their families would have had to wait until the means by which their daily bread could be earned could be again restored and put into order. We know the high character of the Metropolitan Police and the honoured place they hold in the esteem of all classes in London, and I am not prepared, while I am responsible, to place such a body of men who have just returned from a service of danger, discomfort, and difficulty, upon their trial, without just and proper cause. I respectfully submit to the House that no just, proper, or sufficient cause has been offered to us, or is in existence in fact. I have, however, a great respect for my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. W. Abraham)—a great respect for him, and a great respect for those whom he represents, and I am prepared to say this: First, that if any case of misconduct is reported against an individual officer, and I am satisfied that prima facie evi- 238 dence is forthcoming, I will have it investigated in the regular way. Secondly, if it can be shown prima facie that any person was batoned in a house by the Metropolitan Police, or attacked by them when separated by a reasonable distance from the scene of the riots, or that any child—for I understand that is one of the charges—has been injured wantonly and deliberately, if I see any credible evidence of that, and I shall wait to see that it is forthcoming, the case shall be thoroughly inquired into and justice shall be done to the injured parties. That I am prepared to say in response to the appeal which has been made to me, but I cannot consent to a general inquiry into the conduct of the Metropolitan Police. As far as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil is concerned I know that he, at any rate, will not be satisfied with anything I or anyone else on this Bench can say. As far as he is concerned, I am prepared to suggest to him a remedy which he told us, on the last occasion he addressed the House on this point, he intended to adopt. The hon. Member said, speaking on 24th November, on the Motion for the Adjournment:—I just want to add that whether the Home Secretary agrees or not he will not be able to cover this matter up. If the Home Office refuses to take action then it will be taken into the law courts, where all the facts will be dragged into the light of day."—[OFFICTAL-REPORT, 24th November, 1910, col. 415.]Well, the courts are open.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I cannot control the courts. I understand the hon. Gentleman failed to establish his case to the satisfaction of the court. But the courts are open, and the law is, that if a policeman acts illegally or in excess of his duty, he is just as much punishable, whether in the civil or criminal courts, as anyone else. The ordinary law in the ordinary courts will punish illegal action by the police, just as they do when it is done by an ordinary citizen. As I have said, every special case shall be investigated if there be sufficient evidence before us. Apart from these, the courts are open, and the Government will welcome any legal procedure which enables the facts to be ascertained on oath, and beyond doubt or dispute. That concludes the story I have to tell to the House on this subject. I may add that I am prepared, if desired—I daresay I will be—to lay papers containing the statements which I have made this evening. I do not propose to give the names of persons 239 who have written them. I object to do that, and I propose to ask the House to support me in not doing it. But I am quite willing to lay the statements which I read on the Table of the House and the papers generally upon the subject. I have only two more observations to make. First of all, I entirely agree with what was said by the right hon. Member for Rhondda that the rioters of Tonypandy did not represent the mining population of South Wales. The mining population of South Wales are, as the House knows, a well-educated, peaceable, intelligent and law-abiding class of men, and have often, I may express the personal opinion here, been very hardly tried in more ways than one during these troubles, for which, in my judgment, they are not the only people to blame. In my opinion the riots were largely caused by rowdy youth and roughs from outside, foreign to the district, and I think it only just to place that on record in fairness to the miners of South Wales, who have been attacked in a general way by people who know nothing at all about the matter. Local authorities and private employers are very ready sometimes, and from insufficient cause, to call for troops. Troops cost them nothing, police cost money to the local authorities; and there is a very general disposition in some quarters to suppose that the whole British Army is always to be available, irrespective of the circumstances, upon the demand of any local authority. The local authority sends for troops, and they think that troops should always be sent, very often not thinking of the effect of military weapons or the difficulty which surrounds military action. Law and order must be preserved, but I am confident that the House will agree with me that it is a great object of public policy to avoid a collision between soldiers and crowds of persons engaged in industrial disputes. All such collisions attended, as they must be, by loss of life and by the use of firearms, do great harm to the Army, which is a volunteer Army, and whose relation with the civil forces of the country must be carefully safeguarded, and they also cause feuds and resentments which last for a generation. For soldiers to fire on the people would be a catastrophe in our national life. Alone among the nations, or almost alone, we have avoided for a great many years that melancholy and unnatural experience. And it is well worth while, I venture to think, for the Minister who is responsible to run some 240 risk of broken heads or broken windows, to incur expense and an amount of inconvenience in the police arrangements, and to accept direct responsibility in order that the shedding of British blood by British soldiers may be averted, as, thank God, it has been successfully averted in South Wales.