§ It being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10,
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn.'
I fully recognise that it is a delicate and a difficult task to deal with a question where one is personally involved, but I desire to make it perfectly clear that in taking the stand which I am this evening, I am guided not by any personal interest, because whatever my personal views were I am quite satisfied that this House ought to deal with the issue as one of principle and not one of persons. There are two important principles involved in the incident to which I am about to refer. The first is freedom of speech, and the second is the protection of the law of this country against any threats of violence or riot. With regard to the first we are being told, and I myself have supported the idea, that unless the Allied cause is triumphant in this great world conflict, liberty will seriously be in jeopardy. But I submit that, so far as this country is concerned, we have won the liberty we enjoy today by very many years both of agitation and sacrifice, and this House ought to be the very last to do anything or encourage any proceeding that would destroy absolute liberty of speech in this country. With regard to the second 712 point, speaking as a trade union leader, I can conceive of nothing more dangerous, nothing more disastrous to the best interests of this country, than for this House of Commons, by voice or vote, to give any encouragement whatsoever to mob law or rioting in this country, because we must not look at the issue involved in the mere incident of a difference of opinion, and we must not examine the question merely because of a difference in connection with this War, but we have got to keep it clearly in mind that there have in the past been occasions when hundreds of thousands of men have been engaged in industrial disputes, and in which we have seen thousands of men-fighting for what they believed to be their rights, and where we have seen men struggling against oppressive conditions and knew that their wives and children were starving. If we are going to allow mob law to rule, if we are going to encourage direct incitement to riot, then there is absolutely no safeguard either for law and order or even property in this country. It is because I believe that Saturday's proceedings will encourage that and because I believe it will make it more difficult for responsible trade union leaders who may be engaged in industrial disputes to conduct those disputes in a peaceful way that I submit to the House that they should give no countenance or tolerate for a moment the incident that occurred last Saturday at Cardiff.
There was a conference called under the auspices of the National County Council for Civil Liberty, and in spite of what may be said to the contrary, I am going to submit that, whether we agree with the objects or not of this body, it is a body composed of some of the best citizens in this country. It is a body composed of men who disagree with the War, and composed of men who not only agree with the War, but who have rendered yeoman service to the country in her hour of trial. No one would challenge the patriotism of Dr. Clifford, Dr. Horton, and the Bishop of Hereford. No one would suggest that any of those three men were entitled to be called traitors, and no one would suggest that those three men would say anything that would give countenance or support to our enemies at this moment. But whilst they are men who disagree as to the objects of the War for and against, they are all united in saying that, whilst they are prepared to 713 crush German militarism, they are not prepared in that process to substitute English militarism in its place. The conference was called, as I say, by this particular body by a summons to each branch meeting. Let it be observed that there was a circular issued to the whole of the trade unions. They were invited to elect delegates at their stated branch meetings, and those delegates were elected on the specific instructions of the members. There was at that conference 220 delegates representing trade union branches, thirty-seven delegates representing trades councils and labour parties, 100 representing Socialists and peace societies, and thirteen representing religious organisations, sixteen representing co-operative societies, and twenty-nine representing women's societies or a total of 415 delegates, representative of 196,843 members.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Yes, I will; and if my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham will not be quite so impulsive, he will have the opportunity of replying to anything I say without interrupting.
§ Mr. THORNE
You made the statement that a circular was sent to trade unions, and I want to know what trade unions.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Then I will answer. The circular was sent to every trade union in Wales, including your branches, if you had any, and out of the composition of those there were sixty-two branches of the railwaymen's union, and eighty-seven of the miners', and numerous ones of the transport workers', and there were various labourers' unions, and there was the seamen and firemen, and Captain Tupper. Therefore, I repeat again that the constitution of the conference was as representative, was as democratic, and was selected in precisely the same way as conferences that have elected my hon. Friend and others to positions that they hold in the movement from time to time.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Exactly, and, therefore, because it includes myself and you, I thought there would be mutual agreement. At all events, having explained the constitution of the conference, and the body that called the conference, I am now going to submit the resolution that I 714 myself was to move, because I am going to deal for the moment with my connection with the conference, and any other resolution is here and can be quoted. The resolution that I was down to move, and, incidentally, in spite of what has been said to the contrary, did move, reads as follows:—That this conference holds that military compulsion has already involved industrial compulsion, and endangered industrial conditions, and demands that this invasion of the rights of labour at once cease, and that guarantees be given for its non-recurrence.There is no Member of this House who would challenge my right to move that resolution, and especially at Cardiff, because, curiously enough, last Tuesday, a day in which, as I shall be able to show, there was organised opposition, and mob law being preached, I had to settle a threatened strike in Cardiff which dealt with this: Five men were released for military service, one of them being a married man with five children, while twenty-seven single men were kept. No one would object to the release of a married man if he were a junior man in the service, but there was a suspicion as to the reason for releasing him and the four others. On investigation it was shown that the reason he was released was because his name was given as that of the leader of a strike that took place three weeks before, and the men who knew this, and suspected it, said that, "If this is what we are fighting for, and if this is how men are to be driven into the Army, we will make a fight right away against it," and I prevented at Cardiff the dispute taking place, and got the man's card released. Therefore, I repeat, if anyone was entitled to move the resolution I have named, it was I. When, in addition, I remind the House that, in spite of all the guarantees that we were given during the Debate on the Conscription Act that no industrial compulsion was intended, 152 cases in the railway systems alone have been sent to be dealt with by the tribunal, again I am entitled to say that there is no apology needed for making a stand to stop this kind of thing.
At all events, that being the resolution that I was called upon to move, the bonâ fides of the conference never being challenged, I submit to the House that we were at least entitled to have had an opportunity of presenting our case. What happened? Immediately it became known that this conference was to be held, the "Daily Express"—and I mention the "Daily Express" because I shall have 715 something else to say about it in a moment —devoted a column to show why this meeting should not be allowed to take place. A gentleman by the name of Captain Atherley Jones led the opposition. He announced that he came up to London, and whilst in London made efforts to persuade the authorities that the meeting should be abandoned. Apparently he failed, and, therefore, he organised a counter-demonstration on the night before the meeting. He announced in support, in addition to the lord lieutenant of the county, my hon. Friend the Member for South Monmouth, Lord Rhondda, and various other members with whom I will deal in a moment, but so anxious were they to ensure its success that the aid of a private secretary to a Cabinet Minister was invoked, and on Thursday night there was touting round this House to get speakers for Friday's demonstration, all, of course, with a view of ensuring a great reception at Cardiff. The "South Wales Daily Press" was very anxious that no one who could attend that meeting should be denied the privilege, and arrangements were made for an overflow meeting. I do not know whether it was the names, or whether it was bad organisation, but there was no need of the overflow meeting, and, indeed, I am assured, half the hall where the meeting was held was empty. The meeting, however, was held, and at that meeting, I am going to submit, there was a direct incitement to violence. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith) did what everyone who knows him would expect him to do. He is a very able lawyer and knows the Defence of the Realm Act, and I should say that he gave the benefit of his legal advice without fee to the other speakers by clearly indicating to them what they ought to do. At all events, he took what I think was the fair and constitutional course of saying that if there was disagreement, at least these people were entitled to be heard without interruption. But he was followed by the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Stanton), who declared that he would do all in his power to prevent the conference being held, and invited the audience to join him. He was supported by a gentleman of the name of Captain Tupper.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am sure my hon. Friend and member will be delighted to find himself in company with this excellent trade unionist before I am done. At all events, Captain Tupper, referring to the conference to be field at that day,, said:They want free speech well. I will give them free speech.and with this he created much amusement by taking off his coat and continuing his speech in his shirtsleeves. I do not know whether the object of taking off his coat was to convince the chairman that he had his shirt on. At all events, at least, he thought that it would be necessary to lay emphasis on the position. Then at that meeting the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Stanton) went on to say:If I have my way they will never hold the meeting in the Cory Hall. It the police are there to interfere, let them. If I have a following, I am prepared to prevent these people getting inside the doors by all means short of murder.[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I know there are differences of opinion as to why he should have drawn the line at murder. At all events one can only conclude that he is not so violent as some people. These statements were made on Friday night. This deliberate and clear attempt was made and indicated on Friday night, and I am entitled to ask whether the character of individuals must be taken into consideration by the police authorities. For instance, I can quite conceive that the-police may say if certain individuals make a statement that there will be no danger, that there will be no need to interfere and they may say something in the heat of the moment that cannot be entirely ignored. In order to show whether there is any substance in that point of view I want to examine for a moment exactly what happened previously. Captain Tupper some few years ago brought the whole of Cardiff out on strike. Wales was almost paralysed, and I was asked to go down from London to see if I could effect a settlement. When I arrived there I found Cardiff at a standstill, mob law ruling, and shipowners and coalowners, who were so prominent on Friday night, were calling upon the Home Secretary for protection. Against whom? Against Captain Tupper and Lord Rhondda, who was then Mr. D. A. Thomas, and incidentally who lent his support to Friday night's meeting by a very interesting letter, and who was made chairman of the owner's side. I was made chairman of the-men's side, and Lord Rhondda, notwith- 717 standing that Wales was paralysed, women and children starving, and all the works at a standstill, said:It can go on rather than I will allow Captain Tupper to be in my presence.Lord Rhondda's signature with mine is borne on the document that settled that strike, and I was howled at because I ordered the men back. Does that not indicate changed circumstances? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]
§ Mr. THOMAS
I have addressed one hundred recruiting meetings, and Sir William Robertson seven weeks ago last Saturday personally asked me to go to Wales. And why? Because he said:We are on the eve of an offensive. I am persuaded that Wales is going to strike to-morrow night and you are the man that can stop it. Will you go?And I went. I went without police protection, and I faced the hostility of thousands of my own men in Cardiff and prevented the strike. That is the best answer to the jeer of the hon. Member opposite. Let me develop it a moment. When this incident which I have mentioned was taking place, the "Daily-Express" was dealing with it, and they were dealing with Captain Tupper, and this is what they said:Captain [...]ward Tupper, the Socialist agitator, now stands before the country branded as a fraudulent imposter. The action for libel which he brought against the 'Express' last February claiming a £[...],000 damages in the vain hope that he might prevent the unmasking of his career of deceit and duplicity has now, after nine months, been dismissed by order of the High Court of Justice for want of prosecution.".Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is now the Attorney-General found it necessary to deal with him himself, and on going into Court he said:What I have to say as representing—
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: (Mr. Whitley)
I think I must point out that any Motion for the Adjournment of the House must be connected with some administrative act of the Government, something the Government has either done or left undone. Of course, anything relevant to show why they should have acted is in order.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am showing the character of the man whom they allowed to break up this meeting, and surely I can 718 only prove that by the records, and I am now attempting to do that by quoting what the Attorney-General, who is a Minister of the Crown, said in dealing with this man. He was not then a Minister of the Crown, but he is now and is therefore a member of the Cabinet.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I have repeated that five or six times. This was his description:—Our whole case is that this man is a vile, dangerous, and fraudulent imposter, and that whilst pretending to be an enemy of capital he is really a bankrupt company promoter.Mr. Justice Phillimore, in dismissing the application, said: "His speech was most dangerous, wicked, and inflammatory. He also emphasised how much it was to the public advantage that a man like him should be exposed." There you have the patriot who saved the country on Saturday last.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I will deal with that point. There you have the man whom the "Daily Express" lauds on Saturday morning as the hero who saved the Empire. Let us see whether there is any justification for the suggestion that he has changed since we are at war. Less than six weeks ago he himself wrote to the National Transport Workers and asked them to send their secretary to Cardiff to threaten a strike against the shipowners for the employment of Chinese labour.
§ Mr. THOMAS
"Perfectly justified," my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham says. What becomes, then, of this claim of his burning patriotism to save the country?
§ Mr. THOMAS
He is a member of the Seamen and Firemen's Union. How he became so the "Daily Express" cannot even tell. The seamen and firemen had a dispute with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway a few weeks ago. Their men went on strike, and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, instead of conceding terms or responding to my request that arbitration should be appointed, employed blacklegs, and gave them exemption cards from the military. Captain Tupper met me in the Lobby with his president, Mr. Havelock Wilson, 719 and asked, to use his own phrase, that "Hell should be raised on this issue." I am not going to make any great reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Stanton), except to say that I prefer the hon. Member for Rhondda, "Mabon" (Mr. Abraham), who could give us some illustrations of how, when Wales on scores of occasions has been threatened with industrial disruption, people who have contributed nothing towards a settlement in the board room have come outside and tried to hound out those who have effected a settlement with the employers. Someone says it is not quite true!
§ Mr. THOMAS
Very well, you will be able to deny it. The records of the South Wales Press and of the men on that bench now will substantiate and prove everything that I have said. Here you have two statements made by people who had no regard for law and order, but who were most concerned in what appeared for the moment a little cheap popularity and notoriety. Whatever opinions there may be with regard to the War, there can be no justification and no excuse for what took place at the meeting. When I arrived at the Cory Hall it was full, and I challenge contradiction when I say that there were not two people in that hall who dissented in any way from the meeting.
§ Mr. THOMAS
If my hon. Friend were an accredited delegate of any trade union now like he used to be, he might have been a delegate at that meeting, but now no one will have him.
I think it right to make an appeal at an early stage. This is a serious matter. It can be discussed withont any personal reference, and I hope it will be.
§ Mr. THOMAS
You will observe that I never made any personal reference until I was interrupted. When I got to the hall it was full, and it looked as if there would be no disturbance at all because the Press at that time indicated that so far as the counter procession was concerned the police had made arrangements for it to be diverted so as not to come into conflict with the meeting. The stewards went to 720 shut the door, but the police told them immediately that they would not allow the doors to be closed. That is reported in the Press and admitted. I submit, if there were a genuine desire to see the meeting carried on and conducted properly, that the police at least when they knew the hall was full ought to have allowed the stewards to shut the door. [An HON. MEMBER: "Was admission by ticket?"] Yes, admission was by ticket. With the exception of the delegates everyone was admitted by ticket. I submit therefore that there can be no justification for the police refusing to allow the doors to be shut. They not only refused to allow the doors to be shut. I myself, in spite of what has been said to the contrary as to bolting from the platform, was the last man, practically, who left the platform and the hall.
I went to the steps outside to address those who were there. The police even then, instead of preventing anyone getting to the hall, actually opened the way, and allowed the procession, headed by various individuals and plenty of flagons, to reach the door of the hall. I submit that the police ought to have taken action. I believe that they grossly failed in their duty, and I regret to say that I believe, also, that the crowd were directly encouraged, and that they wanted to see the meeting broken up. But I go beyond that, and I submit that if that is to be the action of the police in Cardiff they will be faced with a very serious situation in the future. I am not going down to Wales to help the police. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes; it is all very well for hon. Members to say "Hear, hear!" but only last week, you may not be aware —because we asked the Press to keep it out—there were two disputes in London in which 3,000 men were concerned, and, if law and order are to rule, how can you hope to control these men if such proceedings as these are allowed? How can you expect leaders of great trade unions to say to the men, "You must be peaceable and quiet"? The police in Cardiff directly encouraged and incited them on. It is because I believe that this thing must be stopped, because I hold that last Saturday's proceedings were a disgrace, that I submit to the Home Office that they themselves ought to have given instructions.
I know something will be said to the effect that there was at the meeting those who are opposed to the War. It is quite 721 true; but have we reached the stage when we are to deny liberty of conscience to the people of this country? I profoundly disagree with some of my friends who were there. I disagree with my Friend the Member for Leicester on the War, but is there any man who dare ever say that he is actuated by any other motive than the dictates of his conscience? Will anyone dare suggest that he makes any advantage or profit out of his attitude? Everyone knows perfectly well that it is easy for a man to swim with the stream, but it is difficult to go against it. Whether we agree with the Member for Leicester or not, he is at least entitled to respect for having the courage of his convictions, and, if our cause is a good one, as I believe it is a good one, we ought not to deny him or anyone else the right of free expression of opinion. It is because this has been done, because I believe it to be contrary to the public interest, because I believe, if it is allowed to continue, you are going to have trouble with your food-price meetings when they are held during the coming winter, and when you will be dealing with these problems, that I submit to the House that, much as one may regret what has occurred, there is no shame upon those of us who took part in Saturday's proceedings, but there is grave reflection not only upon those who are responsible for inciting to riot, but, unfortunately, upon those who so far forgot that they were Members of the House of Commons.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. STANTON
I do not propose to take up a very long time in what I have to say. I myself believe the House will quite appreciate the fact that the hon. Member for Derby is more used to this business, and has taken up a long time. Much has been said about my respected friend Mr. Tupper, and others, but how many times have these people who complain that they were not allowed to express their views in full freedom, or set forth their conscientious views upon the War, helped to howl and cry us down when we have held meetings in support of the War? In the town of Sheffield, where we held a meeting in order to assist in the prosecution of the War, the Member for Attercliffe was present, and those conscientious objectors and others all joined to cry us down.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
The statement has been made that I was a party to some interruption that took place at a meeting in Sheffield. I state in this House that I knew nothing at all about that meeting, and I would not be a party to anyone interrupting freedom of speech in this country. I absolutely repudiate the charge, which is without foundation.
§ Mr. STANTON
Whether it be false or true I will not take up the time of the House to discuss. At any rate I was acting upon information I received, and which was supposed to be the fact. However, not only in Sheffield but in my own Constituency, during the period that I was endeavouring to get men to join the Army under the voluntary system, we discovered that the agents of those people, of their trade unions and branches and lodges, were moving in and out the crowd, and doing everything possible to poison the minds of the men against joining. They did everything they could to discourage them, and everything they could to break down our meetings. Only a few weeks ago we held a meeting in the market place of the town I represent, which was interrupted. These people held a meeting in the Workmen's Hall, and there were present some hon. Members below me, No one interrupted them; their meeting was perfectly quiet, it was held in perfect order, and they got on with the business for which they met, whatever it was. That is what took place in the district to which I refer, and the majority of us knew very well that all the time mischief was going on, but still we did not interfere with them. However, we did nothing to interfere. They did not hesitate to come to our meeting. It was, of course, an open meeting in the market, where they tried to howl down my friends and myself. They did not quite succeed, because we were too strong for them. The same thing has been experienced in Merthyr Tydvil and other places, and all that has been in spite of what the hon Member for Derby has told this House time after time. He has said, "Have I not gone to a hundred recruiting meetings? Did I not go down and help you put an end to a certain strike? See what a good boy I am!" It is that all the time. I have pointed out before that in spite of what he said he was doing a Blondin business. He was saying something here, and going out during weekends saying something else. The hon. Member for Derby would make a strong 723 speech in places where the people were warlike, but where there was the slightest shade of I.L.P. colour he would kow-tow to them He has boasted what a peacemaker he has been. He has pointed out that Captain Tupper is an adventurer, and that I have been responsible for many things, and that I am a sort of stormy petrel in the coalfields. Before the War I was a fighting man, and I did something more than the hon. Member for Derby did. I had the full confidence of my men, and I could have it to-day.
The only quarrel has been the War Some hon. Members are against what has been done at Cardiff. May I point out to the House that there was nothing else to do. We had already written to the Government, or our friends at Cardiff had done so. It was the feeling of everybody that this was not a meeting for the expression of just opinions upon the War, where one man would say that we ought to end this War, or that there should be an International Board of Arbitration, or ask why we should waste money upon this or that. We could understand that, because, on the other hand, you could express the opinion that we have got the enemy on the run and meant to keep them on the run, and intended to go on hammering them. I can understand that as one who has been penalised from time to time for saying too much, and who no doubt will be penalised again. I entered my protest and joined with the other citizens at Cardiff as I would with any other people who are not ashamed to declare their beliefs, and put an end to the people who are pretending to help, who say they are only too anxious to do everything they can and who are prepared to prevent strikes and all other things. Look at the resolutions that were to be moved at Cardiff; look at the people who were going to move them, and look at the record of these people right through the War. It is asked, "Do you suggest so-and-so about the hon. Member for Leicester?" I do not suppose that he wantonly says things, but we are perfectly right and justified in believing that Germany, realising that she is down and practically out, will spend millions of money apart from what she will spend in providing shells, and is already doing so in supplying the most unscrupulous agencies in this and in other countries in order to bring about an end to this War. I say that there are men here possessed of 724 means and capital whose interests are as much in Germany as they are in this country. They are men who are afraid to lose something they have got there. They are men who have not hesitated to do all they can, never minding their consciences, to-provide their pockets in the future with what they are usually after. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!" and "Who are they?"] You may have the names another time.
This was not a meeting of an ordinary kind where there was merely a pious expression of opinion which anybody might accept. It was a meeting of notorious pro-Germans and pacifists—people who have not helped, but hindered us in this War in every way they could. They will not fight themselves and will not, if they can. help it, allow anybody else to fight. They are men who unblushingly from time to time have disgraced their manhood, and the women among whom they have lived with their wicked and shameful utterances. It was sufficient to cause trouble anywhere. What the Cardiff people did is what the people of Merthyr Tydvil are going to do. Seeing that they have failed in Cardiff—and they did fail splendidly and magnificently—we in Merthyr Tydvil have been threatened with a meeting. They came to do things. It was a ticket meeting, and the gallery was open for 6d. a time to their own people. We know what happened afterwards. It does not matter where the hon. Member for Leicester went or where the hon. Member for Derby went or certain hon. Members here. At any rate they were conspicuous by their absence soon after. The point I wish to emphasise is that we were justified in what we did. Is it the business of the Government to stand by and back up a crowd of traitors—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—absolute traitors to our Flag and our country, as against the men who have fought for that Flag, who have their sons at the front, and who are doing all they can to try to win this War? I have always been as much opposed as any man to warfare, but I realise that in this case it is quite another story. We were not to blame for the War; we had nothing to gain by it; but now we are in for it we have got to make a strenuous fight. There is nothing to be gained from these people who are going around doing this kind of thing. I remember when Sir John Rees mentioned a ease to Sir John Simon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order!"] I mean that a 725 question was put to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) as to whether it was true, as had been stated, that pro-Germanism was rampant in Wales. He said he had no knowledge of it. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman had been from time to time with these people. This kind of thing has been going on, and will continue, as long as these people are pandered to and petted by hon. Members of this House and the Government. We have heard much about them and the trade union cause, but we know that the miner, the railwayman and every other class of worker, is as loyal as any man.
These people threaten that they are coming to Merthyr Tydvil. I would respectfully point out to the House that if that is done, then there will be trouble again. I claim no special privilege because—possibly it is my misfortune—I happen to be a Member of this House. In the old days I was a fighter, when the hon. Member for Derby never counted much as a fighter. In the days of war I am still a fighter. I can be a man of peace when there is a reasonable chance of being peaceful. I am prepared to do my best and stand by the country in its hour of danger, and I am not going to tolerate these people coming into our midst, poisoning the minds of our people and creating all the mischief they possibly can. There is a much greater danger and menace than some people would realise. Do not think it is a secret to most Members of the House. I think another matter has been treated too lightly. These people are pleading that the Government should take in hand the people responsible for doing such a dreadful deed as I and Tupper and other friends who were with me on Saturday. We accepted our own risk. We knew the people we were dealing with and they showed their pluck by the stand they made. I am delighted to discover, however, that there is after all a bit of fight left in some of them. The chairman, a respected member of the South Wales Miners' Federation, sent me a challenge through the Press that he will fight me the best of ten rounds. There is hope for them. He thinks he can scrap a bit, but the others did not show it when we were on the job. It is not the first time that either I or Tupper have been on the warpath, and it may have been on other occasions when the coal owners, the shipowners and others would say, "To Hades with these people," but to-day it is rather 726 a different platform. We are not out today looking for trouble one with another particularly. We are out to try to cement the position, to play the old British ticket as Britishers on the same platform. We want to win this War. We do not want to squeak and cry out. We do not want to look out for the faults of our friends or our opponents. We -want to try to do those things which will tend towards victory and make it more secure, by playing the game loyally and by not holding these sham conferences—call them peace conferences or what you like, they smell just the same. If I am to lose my liberty, if there should be a warrant out for me or Tupper, both of us have been somewhere before and are quite willing to go again. If we have to go, we shall only go where a larger number than I see below me here ought to be.
I should like to point out another thing which is unjust and unfair, however much our friends might have disagreed with our methods, which of course were rather drastic as far as they were concerned. I deny absolutely that there was any waving of flagons or anything of the kind. It is absolutely untrue, and the hon. Member (Mr. Thomas), in my opinion, deliberately makes that statement for the purpose of winning some wretched bit of sympathy from heaven knows what quarter. It is untrue. I saw no flagons there. There ought to have been, perhaps. So much for that. There is a chance even yet. Let these people do what we say of the Germans. If the Germans go back to Germany, we shall not be shelling or bombing them around the trenches or around the neighbourhood of Flanders or elsewhere. If these people wish well to the country, let them stay at home in their own constituencies, where they dare not hold a meeting, instead of going to other places where, of course, they are strange, and where they are able to shine a little bit. I know some of them. They have never been so very ready to do anything on the nod, and although, perhaps, it is not for me to say, I can prove that they are having money from Germany—there is German money shifting around. I can judge by the hoardings, and by the money that is being spent, and it does not come out of the sixpences or shillings of the delegates who paid to get in there. We want to be loyal citizens and to play the game, whatever we may have been, but we ask the House to believe that we were only actuated by the most honest motive 727 as Britishers. We want to win the War, and we believe these people were treacherous in what they were doing, and we went there at any risk to put an end to it, and none of us are sorry.
§ General Sir IVOR HERBERT
I have listened with very great attention to the speeches which have just been delivered on the question, I believe, that this House do now adjourn, but I have failed hitherto to gather that there was any reason for the Adjournment unless perhaps it was in the suggestion that a few well-contested rounds between the hon. Member (Mr. Stanton) and some other Member of the Labour party was about to take place outside. I can quite understand that such a prospect as that would make us unanimous at once. I think your ruling, Sir, given at an earlier period of the proceedings, was that when a Member moves the Adjournment of the House on such an occasion as this, it should be with a view to bringing to notice some act of omission or commission on the part of a Member of the Government. With the exception of a suggestion in the last few sentences of the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Thomas) I can only find that the grievance he entertains was that some person—he did not mention the Government—had given encouragement to the police at Cardiff to break up a meeting at which he was to be a speaker. I do not think that any evidence was adduced in support of such a statement as that, and the impression upon my mind was that he suggested that the crime committed by the Home Secretary was that he had encouraged this breach of the peace. That accusation seems to me to be made on a very flimsy basis altogether, and it is certainly not one which would enable me to support a Motion for the Adjournment. If he had left this matter to me, I could have made a better case against my right hon. Friend. However, I am entirely with my right hon. Friend because I could not possibly support a Motion for the Adjournment on such a flimsy pretext as that which has been presented to us. The Home Secretary certainly seems to have been unfortunate. He has failed to please anybody. He failed to please the gentlemen who were going to hold the meeting because their meeting was broken up, and they accuse him now of having assisted in breaking it up. I believe there is no foundation for such an accusation. He has certainly not pleased any of the population 728 of Cardiff or the majority of the population of the valleys of Monmouthshire, who tendered evidence long before the meeting took place that it was such an offence to their feelings that it could not fail to lead to trouble, and who therefore thought that he ought to make use of the special power given to him under the Defence of the Realm Act and stop any meeting being held altogether. That he did not do. Strange to say, having failed to please every party there, I think he has failed to please himself. I gather that from the answer which he made to me and the hon. Member for Derby this afternoon, in which, speaking of the meeting to be addressed by the hon. Member for Derby, he said:Its underlying purpose, in my opinion, was such as would undoubtedly give offence to the great majority of the population of Cardiff, as it would, I believe to the people of any other locality in this country.That was his opinion. If it was his opinion that the offence to be caused by that meeting was so great as to excite the most vehement opposition of the majority of the population, how was it that he managed to salve his conscience so far as not to take any action against it Why did he allow the meeting to be held? Again he provided the answer, It is not the purpose of the Government to interfereso far as it can be avoided with the expression of opinion on matters of policy.I suppose there must be some marvellous hidden virtue in that limitation, "so far as it can be avoided." I wish he would explain it. We are always being faced with suppression of opinion. In the House of Commons I do not think that we are allowed very free expression of opinion on matters of policy. The, fact that a Coalition Government exists—it is a very good thing that it does exist, and I support it—is proof positive that there can be no very free expression of opinion on questions of policy. I am not aware that under existing conditions the great organs of the Press are allowed very free expression of opinion on matters of policy. The House and the country have been warned by the Prime Minister, and we were reminded again to-day by the Colonial Secretary, that it was best to keep off discussing vague terms of peace. All these limitations are put upon expression of opinions in Parliament and in the Press; but when a few gentlemen and a lady of German origin go down to Wales to discuss these very matters of vague peace proposals which are declared to be dangerous and undesirable, and certainly do not awaken 729 any response in the hearts of the people of South Wales, then, forsooth, all interference is to be avoided, and they are to be allowed the freest expression of their opinions. When there is an admittedly strong feeling, as the Home Secretary has admitted, it is simply playing with the public safety not to put in force under the exceptional conditions which exist in time of war those exceptional powers which are given to the Home Secretary to prevent the possibility of conflict taking place. I should be the last person in the world in normal times to stop a meeting. On the contrary, I have always said, "Allow people to let off their steam as much as they like; it does them good, and it does not do anybody else much harm." But these are not normal times. These are very dangerous times. We should not in normal times entrust to a Minister such powers as are given to the Home Secretary under the Defence of the Realm Act if we did not know that the times are dangerous, and that we intended those powers to be used. Therefore, I think I could make a very fair case against the Home Secretary.
I should like to say something as to the feelings of the people in South Wales on this matter, but before going into that, may I say a few words of a personal character, indicating how I came into this affair at all? It was represented to me from many persons at Cardiff and in the neighbouring coalfields of Monmouth and Glamorganshire that this meeting had been advertised, and that it was causing a very strong feeling amongst the people of that part of the country. There is no part of the country which has made greater personal sacrifice than the miners of South Wales. There is not a house in that country and in my own Constituency that has not got relatives and friends at the front; many, alas! will never be seen again in their homes. The War has come deeply home to the people of that country, and they do not see and they will not look at any idea of bringing this War to an inconclusive peace. They fully appreciate the eloquent and weighty words that fell from the Prime Minister at an early part of this Session. That is the feeling which exists throughout that part of the country, and then they find that certain hon Gentlemen who do not go to their own constituencies to preach the sort of doctrine they were going to preach at Cardiff, come down to Wales, which is, I admit, a turbulent part of the 730 country. We are somewhat hot, like our own coal, and there is always the element of trouble there. These gentlemen come down there to spread an insidious poison. That is the feeling all through that part of the country. I got communications from many of my own Constituents, and from people in Cardiff, and eventually I had an invitation from Cardiff to take the chair at a meeting of protest which was held last Friday evening. That meeting was one of orderly protest. It protested in emphatic terms, namely:That this meeting of the citizens of Cardiff protests against an agitation in favour of a premature and false peace as calculated to create dissension in a time of national crisis and to advance the interests of the enemy; it asserts its belief that an enduring peace is only attainable through unflinching adherence by the British Empire to the common cause of the Allies, and pledges itself to support any action the Government may deem necessary for the vigorous prosecution of the War until a final and complete victory is assured.'That resolution was carried unanimously by as large a meeting as I have ever seen in the city of Cardiff. It is in the concluding sentence that they wished to express what they considered to be of vital importance at this time, and that is that measures must be taken to keep the War going and to prosecute it with vigour. They fully recognise, as everybody in this country recognises, that we have not yet reached the limit of the efforts that we can make. We may have to demand further sacrifices from the people, and certainly the people of South Wales are fully prepared for those sacrifices. It was a large meeting, whatever the hon. Member for Derby may say. It was held in the largest building in Cardiff, and that building was crammed full. It was as full as I have seen it at any of the large meetings which I have ever attended, and I have been at some very notable ones, where the friend of the hon. Member (Dr. Clifford) was the principal speaker. That resolution would not have been adopted unless they had understood that further demands might have been made upon the people of this country. One of the objects of this insidious propaganda, which has been carried on, was to create an opposition to those measures necessary for the defence of this country. Letters have been addressed to the Home Secretary, I understand, with regard to this meeting. He had been warned, I believe, by the hon. Member for Cardiff some time ago that if this meeting was allowed to go on it would only end in disorder. We do not wish—the people of Cardiff do not wish—that there should be any appeal to mob law. Everyone realises that mob law is the last thing which we 731 should wish to bring forward at the present time. Therefore the hon. Member for Cardiff requested and urged that the powers of the Defence of the Realm Act should be made use of and that all meetings should be stopped. It would be far better to have all meetings on one side or the other forbidden than to have these unseemly conflicts in the public streets of the city.
I think that I have made a good case against my right hon. Friend of lâches in his duty of Home Secretary, as one who has occupied his high position in order to prevent the possible appeals to mob law, who is invested with special powers in order that peace may be maintained within our bounds during the time we are engaged in war abroad. Those are not the grounds upon which the House is asked to adjourn. I am afraid that I could not consent to such a Motion as has been made by the hon. Member for Derby except on some such grounds as those which have been put forward. I will not venture upon that sacred ground which has been trodden by hon. Members on the opposite side. I am not sufficiently versed in the controversies in which the Labour Party are interested; but I know the working men in South Wales, and I know them well; I venture to say that I know the miner in South Wales as well as anybody, even my old Friend the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. W. Abraham), and I can say this, that there is no feeling in the hearts of any of those men for any of that doctrine which was to be preached at the Cory Hall. To-day they have one idea: They have sent me here to express it, That is, to demand of the Government at all times that they should use the utmost earnestness and vigour for the prosecution of this War, and use the strong hand which is given them to maintain peace and order here, so that we may fight and defeat the enemies of the Crown.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
The speech which we have just heard accuses the Home Secretary of weakness, and, consequently the hon. and gallant Member would be inclined to go into the Lobby against him if it were not—
§ Mr. MACDONALD
Were it not for reasons which we have in mind in moving the Resolution, I think that that actually 732 represents the hon. and gallant Gentleman's position. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says he knows South Wales. Ho says, "I can assure this House, I can assure the Home Secretary, that there is no echo for those opinions in South Wales. I can assure this House that my Constituency is so loyal that it sent me here in order to make certain declarations. I can assure this House that not only my own Constituency but Cardiff has got no support to give to those resolutions," and yet, with a lack of logic and something more which is somewhat unusual from the hon. and gallant Gentleman, "therefore," he says, "the meeting ought to be forbidden." Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman when he took the chair at that remarkable meeting on Friday, with the duty imposed upon him to be the custodian of law and order—he was made Lord Lieutenant for that purpose—might have defended that law and order with a certain amount more of heart and strength of voice and strength of reason than he did. The hon. and gallant Member cannot get away from this fact, that he, a Lord Lieutenant of a county in Wales, took the chair at a meeting where riotousness and disorder were plainly and visibly advocated and appeals were made to all the passions of the people of Cardiff—and passion is very strong just now—and yet in those circumstances the hon and gallant Member, as a Lord Lieutenant of an adjoining county and an official custodian of law and order has not a single word of protest to make at that meeting against the lawlessness which was advocated. For that lawlessness the Home Secretary must put a large amount of responsibility on the shoulders of the hon. and gallant Member.
On this occasion I hope the House has not lost the significance of the speeches which have been delivered. We have had extraordinary appeals and extraordinary statements, and the impression that one gets from the Debate, and more particularly from the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, is bound up in these words, "If anybody disagrees with me, then he should not be heard." Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to say this. However much he may talk about a premature peace, I say he cannot be more opposed to such a peace than I am. The hon. and gallant Member has claims that because the majority are with him, then all the talk of peace is premature, and anybody who holds a different view to himself ought to keep his mouth 733 shut. If the notions of liberty thus given expression to by the hon. and gallant Member are the notions of liberty entertained by the Government, then I submit the Government are not fit to be the custodians of liberty in this country at the present time. As a matter of fact, we are entitled to say that the sentiments expressed by the hon. and gallant Member are exactly the sentiments which make a premature peace inevitable. I know the policy the hon. Gentleman has in his mind. I do not ask him to agree with me, but I do ask him and other hon. Gentlemen to be Englishmen, to be prudent, fair-minded men.
I contend that men can honestly disagree with their views. Some hon. Members think apparently that is impossible. I hope the majority of the Members of this House do not take that view. I say that hon. Members can quite honestly disagree with them, that they are entitled to put forward a reasonable statement of their case under circumstances which are perfectly legitimate and perfectly legal, and that they could thus contribute ideas which would influence the mind of the country, and which would make peace when it comes not premature, and not even patched-up. That, at any rate, is what I have tried to ascertain, and that is what was the intention of the conference at Cardiff. Our charge against the right hon. Gentleman is not that he encourages these things. My hon. Friend never made any such accusation. All we said was that this meeting was broken up, and that the hon. and gallant Member took the chair at a meeting called for the purpose of securing the break-up of the conference. A most insulting telegram was sent to the right hon. Gentleman by one of the chief speakers at the hon. and gallant Member's meeting, demanding that our meeting should be stopped. The right hon. Gentleman quite rightly refused to listen to it. Up till now, at any rate, the Government has not associated itself with mob law. The meeting was held, and it was broken up. We asked the right hon. Gentleman to-day if he proposes to do anything to protect similar meetings in the future. He gave us an unsatisfactory reply, and that is why we are moving the Adjournment of the House. What was the purpose of the conference? My hon. Friend read a resolution which he was going to move. I will read one which I was groins to move. It is:This conference views with alarm the recent projected invasion of liberty of person, subject and 734 opinion in this country, and demands the immediate restoration of the traditional rights of British citizenship.What was offensive to the citizens of Cardiff in that? What was offensive to the patriotic miners who sent the hon. and gallant Member to this House to represent them? Let me read another resolution:That this conference holds that the administration and defects of Conscription in this country have proved a national disaster, and calls on the Government to review and correct the administration of the Act in regard to conscientious objectors—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Why not? This House has put it into the Act. We are perfectly entitiled to ask the Government to carry out the decisions of this House whether hon. Members agree with them or not. It is only right we should do it, and the House has sanctioned our doing it. The resolution continues:and domestic hardship—Do hon. Members sneer at that?and to guarantee that there shall be no further extension of the Act during the War—Is that wrong? Is it wrong to ask there should be no extension of the Conscription Act during the War? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes!"] If that is the case we have not far to go in order to get an example of a certain type of person who is supposed to be fighting the battle of liberty in this country. But, to continue the Resolution:and an immediate return to an entirely voluntary system on the conclusion of peace.Put it at its worst, the resolution is a mixture of wrong and right. But let me take the fourth resolution, which is perhaps the worst of all, from the point of view of prejudice. I do not want to be misunderstood. What I mean is that this resolution is the easiest upon which to raise prejudice:This conference is of opinion that the time has arrived when the object for which this nation entered on war may be secured by negotiation—[An HON. MEMBER: "Pompous flapdoodle!" and "How do you know it?"] This resolution was drafted for the purpose of being put before the Cardiff Conference. What is the use of breaking up meetings which, according to hon. Members, are only held for the utterances of pompous flapdoodle? There must be an application of means to the end. There is no use whatever in putting enormous and dangerous machinery into operation for the purpose of preventing a piece of pompous flapdoodle. The resolution continues:and therefore urges the Government to seek the earliest opportunity of promoting negotiations with a view to securing a just and lasting peace—735 There is no vacillation about the nature of the peace that is in the minds of those who drafted the resolution.and to assure the Government of its unqualified support in any step it may take to bring this War to a satisfactory and honourable end.That is the worst resolution of them all. [An HON. MEMBER: "Moved by whom?"]
§ Mr. MACDONALD
The resolutions were not moved because there was no opportunity for moving them, and we are moving the Adjournment of the House instead. These were the resolutions.
§ Sir IVOR HERBERT
To prevent any misunderstanding, may I ask is it a fact, as certainly it was reported, that that last resolution was to be moved by a German lady?
§ Mr. MACDONALD
When the hon. and gallant Gentleman was making his speech I made a note of that assertion with a view to dealing with it. Then I thought I would not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] But the assertion is quite untrue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] The name of the person down to move the resolution was Mrs. Swanwick. I am perfectly certain that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is mistaken, and that no one will be sorrier than himself at having given currency to this rumour.
§ Sir IVOR HERBERT
I would like this point to be cleared up. I merely said that it was a statement which had been made.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
The basis of the statement is that this lady happened to be born in Berlin. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]
§ Mr. MACDONALD
Hon. Members appear to believe rumours that lead one to quote the old adage, that a man who is born in a pigsty is a pig. The point of all this is that nobody asks this House to agree to these resolutions. That is not the question. The question before us is this: Is the Government going to suppress opinion? That is all. That is the whole point. Is the Government going to allow a minority—a very small minority, for I agree with a large part of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman—to speak? We cannot help it. It is a most unpleasant thing to do what my hon. and gallant Friend says some of us are doing, a most unpleasant thing, I assure the House. Nevertheless, in doing it we feel we are doing a service to the country which is going to be fruitful, both during the War, and still more fruitful, particularly at the settlement of peace which is going to follow the War and the years that come after that. We may be wrong. Hon. Members may say I am wrong. I am just exactly in the same position as other hon. Members in that I have got to follow the dictates, as they, of my own reason, and do the best I can. What happened here was this: These resolutions were sent out to branches of the trade unions, to co-operative societies, and so on. Those delegates to whom my hon. Friend refers were not elected by these societies until they considered the resolutions and the subjects of the resolutions. Those people came to Cardiff, not merely 415, as my hon. Friend says, but 449.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
It may be a cooked lot. It is all very well for hon. Members to say "a cooked lot." We have here incidentally, I suppose, the representatives of the religious denominations, and then we get the lot.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
My hon. Friend says that there were thirteen of these. So that we see that this condemnation is not absolute. The point is this: that these resolutions were sent out, and those people were delegated to come and represent the various societies to which they belong. Any amendment was in order. The fullest play would have been given for discussion. There was not a single resolution of those four that would have been passed under any system of closure- 737 There was no delegate present who desired to put a point of view that was essential to the resolutions or to express hostility to those resolutions that would have been suppressed by the chairman. The conditions were absolutely free. Yet the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks the Government ought to have suppressed the meeting. It is very curious that the facts do not correspond with the statements made to this House. There is a question about the meeting. The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows perfectly well that a very large place of worship was taken. I was told that it seats about 3,000 people.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
According to the "South Wales Daily News," a paper which was in favour of the protest—I am now quoting—Major-General Sir Ivor Herbert, Baronet, M P., presided over an audience of about 600 persons.I myself saw several people who was present, and who came to see me, and the highest estimate of this meeting was 900. The description of the hall says that it was not quite half full. I am sure I would not say anything against my hon. and gallant Friend, but I give the information I have, and part of it is printed in a friendly paper. He will not dispute that arrangements were made for an overflow meeting. Then my hon. Friend knows that the advertisement appealed to the patriots of Cardiff to roll up in their thousands. They did not do so, even on my hon. Friend's admission. What can be said for that? Surely that at the very best there was indifference. They did not care. They stayed at home. The only effect of the meeting was to stir up the element which displayed itself on the Saturday afternoon. Why was this done? I think it was largely owing to the regulation which the right hon. Gentleman has issued. Consider the situation now? We are in a minority now, I admit. The emotions of the day are rather rough-shod emotions. We will put up with them. I hope hon. Members are not going to forget the future. Hon. Members have been reminded that the day may not be far distant when disorder may not be in favour of what they themselves are in favour of at the moment. This House knows perfectly well that so far as we influenced 738 opinion and action before the War it was always in opposition to anything that was disorderly, anything that was simply wild and furious and irrational. I hope it will be encouraged to continue in that spirit right through. Once a disorderly mob is recognised by people in authority and of influence it is going to have its way under all sorts of conditions, and it may be that the hon. and gallant Gentleman may find cause to repent associating with the people he associated with on the platform on Friday night. Now the position is this: Under the Regulations which the right hon. Gentleman has issued a meeting is advertised. We may not want to make it a public meeting. We may simply want it to be a meeting of friends, of supporters who want to discuss things together, who want to lay their heads together to talk about things in which they are commonly interested, partly from the point of view of national interest as they understand it. All that is necessary is for somebody to assemble and make a row, or to come from the place where the meeting is to be held and to interview the officials at the Home Office, and be told by them that they are not going to suppress the meeting, then to go back and begin to stir up an agitation in the newspapers. In every town in the country, as hon. Members know perfectly well, there can be got together one or two hundred people whose emotions are not quite of the most desirable character and not always those with which people care to be associated. We know that perfectly well. All that has got to be done at the present moment is to get up this emotion to make this cry, to tell lies about the promoters of the meeting, to misrepresent their opinion, to assert that the purpose of the meeting is something hidden and sinister, and then the meeting is broken up or is prohibited. That is the position in which free speech, free thought, and free exchange of opinion stands at present. I do not believe that any Member of this House wants that state of affairs. I listened the other day to a very interesting speech made by an hon. Member, in which he talked about how the War was to be ended. Surely it is all to the interests of this nation that all possible honest and instructive and intelligent opinion regarding political problems created by the War, the political problems that will have to be faced immediately the War is over, may be considered from an independent and a fresh 739 point of view. The only thing that this House and the Government ought to insist upon is that the meetings shall Be held in a legal way, that the opinions expressed shall be honest opinions, and not deliberately directed towards national weakening or national destruction. I have never asked to be exempted from any such rule as that, and I never will ask to be exempted from any such rule as that, but I do ask simply that hon. Members should allow differences of opinion and not insist upon judging honesty by a coincidence with themselves and an agreement with what conclusions they come to. These problems are very difficult problems, they are going to be very big problems, and they are going to be very critical problems, and I appeal to this House not to associate itself in any way whatever with the incidents of Saturday that were deplorable, that should never be allowed to be repeated in this country as long as this country professes to be the friend of liberty and the home of free speech, free thought, and free publications—incidents which really put a black thumb-mark and an insult on the men who are fighting for us at the present time, and which are a disgrace to the country.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
I have listened with great attention, of course, to this Debate, and have been waiting for the criticism of the Home Office to develop. Hitherto I have found nothing to answer from those who have brought forward this Motion. The hon. Member who has just spoken, and the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) have not indeed attacked me for anything that I have done or left undone, but have criticised me on the ground that at some future date I might leave them without protection to which they might be entitled. I am forced to the conclusion that the mention of the Home Office in the Resolution which is now before the House is little more than a peg, if I may so express it, on which to hang discussion on the recent events in Cardiff. The only serious criticism that has been addressed against the action of the Home Office has been, indeed, from the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Ivor Herbert), who, at the same time, finds himself in complete disagreement 740 with the proposer and seconder of the Motion. He, indeed, raised a large question of policy, the question whether, in time of war, the minority which opposes the War or its continuance—and there is always such a minority, though never, perhaps, so minute a one as there is in this country at the present time—whether that minority should be prevented by the Executive from expressing its views in public. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Macdonald) said that he thinks that he and his friends, by the course that was adopted, are rendering a service to the-nation. I cannot conceal my own convinced and emphatic opinion that they are-on the contrary rendering grave disservice to this country and to the national cause. When they speak of entering into Peace negotiations now, in order to secure an immediate and honourable peace, the vast majority of hon. Members of this House know that what they would consider honourable the nation at large-would consider the grossest dishonour and we are convinced that we cannot secure a peace at the present time without surrendering many of the great objects for which we are contending, and for which our men have died. There is a simple test. If the hon. Members were to succeed in their propaganda, if they were to carry with them a large part of the population, if their followers were to number, let us say, a fourth or a third of the whole country, who would be most encouraged, our Allies or our enemies? That is a simple test, but no one can, doubt that should the hon. Members' propaganda be as successful as till now, happily, it is unsuccessful, it would carry discouragement to the hearts of our friends and joy to the hearts of our enemies. There can be no doubt about that. But that is not the question we are discussing to-night, which is, whether even in these circumstances the Government would do more harm or good to the national cause by using the powers of the law, by using the powers of the policeman, by using the goaler, to suppress the expression of the opinion of this minority. I believe that a movement of this kind, if it were driven underground, would assume a formidableness that it has not yet attained and is not likely to attain. Unseen, it would become more sinister, and would be thought to possess dimensions which it would otherwise not be thought to possess. If they 741 have liberty to show themselves we can see how insignificant they are, and the nation can tell who are the men who are helping to win the War, and who are the men who are hindering. Further, I hold the view, and have always held the view, that an Executive Government in a democratic country such as this ought not, even in time of war, to assume to itself the right of determining when the opposition to its own policy should be allowed to be expressed and when it should not be allowed to be expressed. Our tradition now for many generations, which was upheld during the Crimean War and during the South African War, was not to use the powers, the legal powers, of the Executive to suppress opposition to the policy of the Government of the day. But it has always been held also, in time of peace as well as in time of war, that the right to hold public meetings is not absolute and unqualified. It has never been recognised either in this House or in the Courts that any man at any time may speak where he will on any subject. The most typical instance and the instance most often quoted is the case of some religious propagandist, a Protestant preacher who speaks in a strongly Catholic district, and gives rise to breaches of the peace, or a Catholic who desires to convert the inhabitants of a strongly Protestant district. It has always been held that freedom of speech must be qualified in a case such as that. When this matter was discussed at the time of the Boer War on a Motion for Adjournment in the year 1900, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, then in Opposition, laid down very clearly the doctrine that the right of free speech cannot be regarded as being wholly unqualified by conditions and circumstances. The case arose very clearly some months ago, not long after I had the honour to assame my present office. Am organisation with which some hon. Members are connected, the No-Conscription Fellowship, and a little committee, the Stop-the-War Committee, which I think is now dead, and one or two other organisations, proposed to hold a great meeting on Peace Sunday in Trafalgar Square, and there was no legal power at that time to prevent them doing so, I was told by the Commissioner of Police in the most emphatic terms that in the temper of the population of London such a meeting held that day in that place would infallibly result in a most serious riot. That is the origin of the Defence of the Realm Regu- 742 lation which for the first time gives the Secretary of State power to prohibit meetings if grave disorder, imposing undue strain on police and military, is to be anticipated. I cannot refrain from saying to my hon. Friends that the proposal to hold that meeting in Trafalgar Square was most ill-advised. It was a provocation to London, and it compelled the Government to make the Defence of the Realm Regulation which is now amongst those Regulations. That Regulation imposes on the Secretary of State a new responsibility, and a heavy one, one most difficult to fulfil, and a responsibility which none of his predecessors have ever had to bear. He has to judge each case as it comes to him on its merits. Under that Regulation the Trafalgar Square meeting was prohibited, and not a word of protest was raised in any form—not a word. Hon. Members recognised that it was necessary to limit the right of free speech, that the circumstances compelled it, and no one in this House or out of it, and not one of those newspapers that support this policy, criticised my action in prohibiting that meeting, under the new powers then assumed. But it is a new duty, and, as I say, one most difficult to fulfil. I have had seven requests from various parts of the country to prohibit meetings on the ground that they would give rise to serious disorder. I went into the merits of each case, and I declined, on the general ground which I stated at the beginning of my remarks, to intervene in any one of those cases, and in none of them, as the event showed until this case, which is not included in the seven, was there any disorder of a serious character. With respect to the Cardiff demonstration, here was a conference held, not in some great public place like Trafalgar Square, but in a hall obtained for the purpose. It was to be a ticket conference, its composition purported to be of a representative character, although one may have some doubt how far, as a matter of fact, miners' lodges had really in any representative fashion sat down deliberately to elect persons to-take part in those discussions.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I am quite sure the president at the conference, who is the president of the South Wales Miners' Federation, did not attend in his official capacity.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The hon. Member who moved spoke as if they were backed by the whole body of the Welsh Miners' Federation.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The hon. Member said nothing of the kind. The hon. Member said that an invitation was sent to the branches and that delegates were elected in the usual way, and will the right hon. Gentleman make the same statement with regard to the railwaymen?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The hon. Member quoted the figure of 196,000 people who were at the back of the conference, and one was naturally entitled to assume that, as the members of the South Wales Miners' Federation almost tallies with that figure, he was referring to them.
§ Mr. THOMAS
On a point of Order. Is the right hon. Gentleman entitled to say that I gave any figure approximating to the South Wales miners when I quoted the railwaymen, the miners, the transport workers, the seamen, the co-operative societies, and the Trades Council?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I am quite willing to accept the hon. Member's assertion. I do not wish to misrepresent him, but I think the impression left upon many hon. Members besides myself was that he regarded, or he represented, the conference as being, at all events, in some degree representative of the South Wales miners, or a very large proportion of them. However, I had to deal with the conference that purported to be in some degree representative of considerable bodies of trade unionists in South Wales, which was to have been addressed by two hon. Members of this House, and was to have been presided over by the President of the South Wales Miners' Federation, and, after a most careful review of all the circumstances, I thought on the whole it would be better even if some disorder took place—and I did not anticipate it would be anything in the nature of a grave riot or disorder that would involve risk to life or limb—even if there were some disturbances, it would be better to face that than to suppress this conference by Executive action, with the result that the British Government throughout the world would have been declared to have been imitating the policy of its enemies, and preventing any freedom of expression of opposition to its 744 policy. So far with regard to that aspect of the question which was dealt with by the hon. Baronet.
If a meeting is to be held, and is not held for any illegal purpose, it is undoubtedly the duty of the local police authority to protect that meeting, and, so far as its force allows, to maintain order outside the hall. As to the duties of the local authority inside the hall, the practice differs in different localities, but the duty to maintain order within its proper sphere, so far as its force allows, has been laid down by every Home Secretary speaking at this box, and as clearly as any by the late Sir Matthew White Ridley in connection with the disturbance of anti-war meetings at the time of the South African War. Some hon. Members have spoken as if there were a direct responsibility upon the Home Secretary. That is not so. He is not the police authority anywhere out-side the Metropolis. The police is managed by the local authority. It obeys the orders of the local authority. The Home Secretary's power is limited to causing its efficiency to be inspected, and on receiving a certificate of efficiency, to enable the annual police grant from the Treasury to be paid.
The question of whether or not there ought to be more centralised police control has often been argued. It was considered by a Committee consisting largely of Members of this House in 1909, and that Committee came to the unanimous conclusion that it was not advisable to alter the existing regime, and that police questions were properly to be regarded as a matter of local government. They said:We believe that the right of public meeting would be best safeguarded in the future as at present by leaving the responsible police authority of each locality to determine the practice most suitable to the very varying circumstances with which they have to deal, and with which, on the whole, they have very successfully dealt in the past.I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Derby would be the first to protest against any proposal in any matter relating to the management, discipline or control of the police in the town which he represents, if the Home Secretary were to venture to put an interfering hand into the doings of the Watch Committee of that corporation. With reference to the Cardiff police, the responsibility then rests with the Watch Committee of Cardiff. They were fully alive to the facts of the situation with reference to the conference and meeting to be held last Saturday. The Chief Constable had given the matter the 745 closest possible attention for some weeks past. He had seen the promoters of what was called the patriotic demonstration, and he had forbidden them to carry out their original intention to march their procession past the Cory Hall where the pacifist conference was to be held. The Cardiff police force, like other police forces, is largely depleted because many of them have patriotically joined the Army, no fewer than about seventy constables having joined from Cardiff—a very large proportion of the police force of a town of that size. The Chief Constable, in order to deal with the situation of last Saturday, had instructed the half of the whole of his available police force to be on the spot or to be close at hand in reserve in case any serious disturbance should arise, and he himself was at hand ready to take action if necessary. The question has arisen about the interference of the police with the efforts of the stewards to shut the doors at a moment when it seemed that some persons endeavoured to force in their way from outside. The Chief Constable reports to me on the question as follows:One of the stewards made an effort to close the outer door of the main and only reliable entrance to or exit from the building. As there were a number of men and women leaving at the time, and as a state of commotion existed, the police officer in charge very prudently, in the opinion of the Chief Constable, refused to allow me doors to be closed.That is the reason why they took that action. The Chief Constable further reports:If they (the stewards) had sought the intervention of the police it would have been given.No request, the report says, was made by the stewards at the hall to help them to bar the door or to shut out the persons who were coming in, and if such intervention had been sought it would have been given. The Chief Constable further says:If, however, the police had intervened the crowd, in its temper, would have become unmanageable, and grave disorder would have taken place. The course adopted by the police prevented any injury to life, and not one injury requiring medical treatment was reported to the police.The hon. Member for Derby made use of one expression which I confess I heard with great surprise, particularly since it was supported by no proof; it was a mere assertion unsupported by evidence. He said:The Cardiff police directly encouraged and incited to mob law.That is a very grave charge to make against the police. All the graver when no facts of any sort or kind are adduced to 746 support it. I cannot refrain from saying that I regard that as a most unfair statement to make against a body of men who I am sure were only anxious to do to the full the duty which devolved upon them. I do not know that there is anything more for me to say. I have seldom heard of a Parliamentary occasion being used for criticism of the Government with less substance behind the attack, and the only opposition to the action of the Home Office comes from an hon. Member who is equally opposed to the views of those who have made this Motion. As to the future, we must judge each case, as we do now, on its merits. It is impossible for me to guarantee in all cases and at all times, especially as the police forces are so-depleted owing to the War, that every pacifist meeting shall remain undisturbed. It is no lack of sense of duty on my part, and no lack of sense of duty on the part of the police authorities, but circumstances, like those of the Trafalgar Square meeting, may be such that in the present temper of the nation no Minister could honestly say that he would guarantee every meeting should be held without disturbance, because the only way to enforce it would be to invoke the aid of the military, and that I am quite sure my hon. Friend would not for a moment suggest. Every Home Secretary is always reluctant in cases of civil disturbances to ask the military authorities to send troops, but at a time like this, when our Army is fighting against a foreign enemy, to bring in a military force in order to protect pacifist meetings against interruption is clearly a course which it is utterly imposible for any Home Secretary to adopt. Subject to that qualification, the Home Office and the police authorities will do their best within the measure of their powers to prevent mob law, and to secure that freedom of speech which even in time of War the Government of this country has, however, tried to maintain.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I must say that I think it is very regrettable that the Home Secretary should have sat down without one single word of condemnation of those who broke up this meeting.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I venture' to support what my hon. Friend has just said. There have been many meetings broken up before in this country, but I do not think that we have ever before had a meeting attended by hon. Members broken up by another hon. Member, who boasts of the 747 fact, and says that he is going to do it again with the full approval of Members opposite, and without one word of disapproval or dissociation from the Member of the Government who is responsible for law and order in this country. For my part, I believe that one of the greatest functions of the House of Commons is to preserve freedom of speech in this country, and it is profoundly regrettable that hon. Members opposite should applaud an hon. Member who comes down and boasts that he has broken up a meeting, a perfectly orderly meeting, which was being addressed by other hon. Members. I do not think that they are doing any good to the House of Commons. An hon. Member who breaks up a meeting addressed by other hon. Members is dishonouring the House of Commons and dishonouring himself. I am very sorry that any hon. Member of this House should dare to support another hon. Member who has disgraced himself as this hon. Member has done.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think my hon. Friend (Mr. A. Williams) has been somewhat unjust to the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary, if not in express terms, did implicity condemn the action of the mob in breaking up this meeting. He himself by his action took the view that this was a perfectly legal meeting, that it was perfectly within the competence and within the legal rights of British citizens to meet in a hall to discuss the situation of this country in relation to the War, and to state their views, whatever they may be, as to the conclusion of the War. They are many invitations issued from various points of view at present in regard to the conclusion of the War. For example, only last week I received through the newspaper post a copy of a periodical called "New Europe," and in that paper there was an article called "Reconstruction of Europe." There was set forth what, according to the view of the writer, was the state of Europe that was to follow the War. I do not wish to enter into details at this stage. But it is said that many share the opinion that Germany ought to be forced back to the Rhine, that Austro-Hungary ought to be dismembered, and Armenia to be a separate kingdom, and it expressed a policy which no sane man interested in the future civilisation of Europe would advo- 748 cate. I believe there is no harm done in having the right to advocate it; I do not mind its being advocated. But if these things are advocated, then I say the Government should allow views of another kind to be advocated—views which suggest that it is possible to make with the Central Powers terms of peace far more moderate than are proposed. That is a matter on which every man, whatever his views on the War, should be allowed to express his opinion, and that is all that is being asked for. I think it is extremely valuable both in respect of this meeting and in respect of similar meetings in the future that the Home Secretary has announced in the House of Commons tonight that, so far as he is concerned, there will be no Executive action on the part of the Government to prevent the expression of reasonable and patriotic opinion in regard to a rational and lasting settlement of the terrible conflagration which at the present time covers the whole of Europe. Therefore I welcome the statement of the Home Secretary. I hope that in spite of the clamour of the junior Member for Merthyr and the hon. and gallant Member for Monmouth, the right hon. Gentleman will not be swayed from that position. The only regrettable feature on this occasion is that much of the disorder—I do not think the disorder amounted to very much—might be prevented if the minority who decade to hold a meeting themselves took measures to carry out their meeting successfully. I was one of the minority during the South African War, and once or twice I took part in meetings which were then held under considerable difficulties, but in every case we succeeded in holding our meeting and in preventing the crowd from getting in. The only thing that I regret is that the people who held this meeting were not more successful in holding it. But the blame is thrown on the police, and while I am dealing with the police I would like to refer to a statement which the Home Secretary made on behalf of the Chief Constable of Cardiff. It seems to me that the statement was rather inconsistent, and I am rather surprised that a logical man like the Home Secretary should have read it. I should have thought that he would have seen through its totally contradictory nature. The first part of the statement was that it was impossible to close the doors, because at the time there were some women and children coming in. It is very funny how women and children always come in in these matters. Then 749 he said that undoubtedly the police would have closed the doors if they had been asked to do so, whether there were women and children or not.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
There were two incidents. First of all, there was the incident where the stewards tried to close the doors, and the police said they must let the people out and not allow the doors to be closed. And some time afterwards, some minutes, as I gather from the Chief Constable's report, the crowd came.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The newspaper report says that the police refused to close the doors, as they knew their business best.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am not quite sure whether the Home Secretary's subsequent explanation really improves matters. Are we to understand that at the time the stewards asked for the doors to be closed there was no crowd there, but that there were one or two harmless women and children who wanted to come out, and that the only desire of the steward was to prevent the women and children going out? I should naturally have thought he would have allowed women and children to come out of a pacifist meeting so that they should not be contaminated by these false views. But apparently it was the view of the Chief Constable of Cardiff that the women and children should be kept in the meeting. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no !"] Of course, they were allowed to come out. That was the main consideration. Therefore, when the crowd came up they were willing to shut the doors. Why was it not done? I suppose it was because the crowd were inside at that time. At least, that is the only intelligible explanation.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Ultimately we arrive at the truth. Apparently the women and children were allowed to go out, and then the doors were closed when the hon. Member for Merthyr got there. Mark that the Chief Constable of Cardiff says that he would have closed the doors, which, apparently, were closed. My right hon. Friend should really write to the Chief Constable to ask him for a revised report, or, at least, to take into consultation into him the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, who, being on the spot, and being the chief actor in these proceedings, will give him a true account and enable a true account to go forth as the version of the Executive. In the circumstances—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]—it is not necessary to divide —it is unnecessary to continue this discussion. It has been valuable in that it has evoked from the Home Secretary a definite statement of policy, which is of extreme value in maintaining the traditional character of the Government of this country in allowing the utmost liberty of speech in the discussion of matters of public policy.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 22nd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter before Eleven o'clock.