Editorial: The Assassin Asquith

Again Mr. Asquith has disclaimed responsibility for the death of the men killed at Featherstone in. 1893. Speaking upon the Army (Annual) Bill in the House of Commons on 22nd April, he said “I had very little to do with the matter,” and went ou to talk of the event as though he never knew it really happened.

It is necessary, therefore, to bring home to the minds of working men the real facts of the case, especially as Mr. Keir Hurdle, during the dis­cussion, denied that he ever called Mr. Asquith an assassin, and failed to use the occasion to expose the Liberal Prime Minister and his allies. Here was a debate during which the spectre of Featherstone haunted every speaker, yet the so-called Champion of Labour, busy though he had been in 1893 denouncing Mr. Asquith outside the House, did as he did that year, ran away from the charges.

Instead of pressing forward the lesson of that foul record of Liberalism, Hardie repudiated the charge that he had called Asquith an assassin.

These are the facts regarding Mr. Asquith and Featherstone.

The miners to the number of 300,000 were locked out because they refused to accept a re­duction in their wages amounting in some cases to 25 per cent. The Acton Hall Colliery at Featherstone in the West Riding, was owned by one of the bitterest opponents of the men, Lord Masham, a Tory.

In spite of promises that no blacklegs would be employed, some were engaged, and in a panic a magistrate (who was also a colliery owner) made a requisition for troops, and the South Staffordshire Regt. was despatched from Brad­ford. James Gibbs and James Duggan were done to death and others were injured. Both were a great distance away from the mine and neither had anything to do with the dispute. One was carrying his Bible under his arm on his way home from Church. “The Jury deeply re­gretted that such extreme measures were adop­ted by the authorities.” A Commission appointed to investigate consisted of Lord Bowen, lawyer; Mr. Haldane, now Lord Chancellor, and Sir Albert K. Rollit, a man of property. They thoroughly whitewashed the authorities and property-owners.

Mark Asquith’s responsibility ! He was then Home Secretary, and had control of the forces of “law and order.” In the House of Commons on 21st Sept., 1893, Asquith thus answered the men who stayed away fr®m the House and denounced him outside :

“These gentlemen know as well as I do, and would admit it if they cleared their minds and tongues of cant, that there is no man in the country who would, not have done the same as I have done and who would not have felt it his bounden duty to supply the local authorities with such a force as in their judgment was necessary to supplement the local resources at their disposal.” (“Hansard,” Vol. 17, pp. 1725-6.

That blunt and plain confession that he sent the troops to Featherstone can be supplemented by a quotation from his speech at Glasgow the following month.

“The year that had gone by had been distin­guished by a large number of deplorable indus­trial disputes. Those disputes had culminated in what had been a most serious and regrettable conflict—he alluded to the dispute between the coal masters and colliers in the Midland parts of England. In his character as Secretary of State for the Home Dcpt it had been his duty to take executive action in more than one of those cases for tlie maintenance of the law and for the prevention of disorder, and he accepted the full responsibility for everything that had been done.” (17.10.93.)

The above words stand as indictments against this lawyer Premier, and are a sufficient reply to the question : “Is Asquith Responsible ?”

We may remind our Labour apologists that the procedure of those days still stands, as may be seen from the official records ia the Tonypandy massacre.

Winston Churchill was Home Secretary and in that capacity controlled the movement of troops. The question was raised in the House of Commons as to the Home Secretary’s control over troops, and in reply he said (26.6.11) :

” As to the question of the dispatch of soldiers in case of apprehended disturbance, there was no change in the law as it had always been interpreted.” He pointed out that it was the right of “the War Office, acting no doubt in con­cert with the Home Office, to dispose of and arrest the movements of troops.”

To emphasise the responsibility of the Home Secretary in cases of troops being used in indus­trial disputes, we will quote the official tele­grams which, passed between the Home Secretary and the Officer in Command of the Troops. The report containing the correspondence contains 50 odd pages, and practically the whole of the telegrams, letters, etc. between the Government and Gen. Macready, the officer in command of the troops, was done through the Home Office.

Let us quote a few telegrams: (CD 5568, 1911).

Stipendiary Magistrate, Pontypridd, to Home Office.
“Troops at Cardiff absolutely necessary for further protection. Will you order them to pro­ceed forthwith. Am ready to accompany them.”

Home Secretary to General Macready.
“As the situation appears to have become more serious you should, if the Chief Constable or. local authority desires it, move all cavalry into the disturbed district without delay— Churchill.”

Home Office to Stipendiary Magistrate, Pontypridd.
“Home Secretary has already authorised officer commanding cavalry at Cardiff to proceed without delay to disturbed district if Chief Constable applies to him.—-Under Secretary.”

All the reports from Gen. Macready were made to the Home Secretary, and the latter issued instructions as to the disposal of the troops.

What further evidence is needed now to fix the responsibility for the use of soldiers in in­dustrial disputes ? The plain fact emerges that permission to have troops in use is given by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and in the memorable year of 1893 it was Mr. Asquith.

Leave a Reply