§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
I speak so seldom that I think the House will excuse my referring to a number of people in Cardiff Gaol—sentenced at one of the Assizes for alleged rioting. Before I get to the sentences I ought, perhaps, to describe the position which led up to them. Bedwas is a new place, a very large township. Pits were put down there, and there is a large population at present. The local council incurred very heavy expenditure laying down roads and sewers, and carrying out other works. They raised a loan of £300,000 for the 1753 borough, and the council are very concerned as to how these payments are to be met. They built about 328 houses, and have a very large responsibility in that respect. Bedwas is just on the borders, between Monmouthshire and Glamorgan-shire.
There has been trouble at a colliery there for a long time. For some reason or other, the pits were stopped and when they commenced to reopen they took it into their heads to put off Bedwas people. It is a very old custom in South Wales that when their places become ready again, the same people should go back to them. That is a very old custom which I have known ever since I have known the coalfields, not only people on our side, but on the other side agree that this is so. These people decided that they would put on anybody except the people who lived in the place. This dispute went on for ever so long. South Wales miners entered into an arrangement. Promises were made, and they were broken. The colliery people went on putting on anybody they liked. The Labour party raised the point whether it was not an obligation of the Government to see that the suggested arrangement should not be carried out, but the Government did not agree with that position.
A representative of the Mines Department made a suggestion which, if carried out, would have settled this dispute for all time. The colliery people took no notice, just as they took no notice of the arrangement with the executive council of the South Wales miners. The company agreed however to appoint two represeatatives from their own side and two from the workmen s side. They appointed the two best-known mining engineers in South Wales who knew the customs well—Mr. John Kane, late Managing-Director of the United National Colliery Company, and Mr. W. Jayne, General Manager of the whole of the Powell-Duffryn Companies. The executive council appointed two, one of whom sits in this House the Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring).
They went into this dispute, drew up an agreement, signed it, and we all thought that the trouble would be over. As soon as the agreement was signed, and notwithstanding that they had appointed two of their number, the colliery ignored it 1754 and went on as before. Some little time after they wanted about half a dozen men, and instead of Bedwas men they put on six other people, with the result that there was a stoppage of work. It was an illegal stoppage, but there was grave aggravation. I was surprised that there was not a stoppage before. Nobody would sit down under conditions like that. The company then introduced blacklegs into the colliery. I do not want to say much about them. These men were escorted to and from their work. It must have been a distasteful task for the police. There were booing and shouting every day, until one day the crowd was bigger, and the police say that a stone was thrown. A baton charge was ordered. If a stone was thrown from an excited, protesting crowd like that, it should be put in favour of the people, and not against them, for it is a wonder there was not a volley of stones. It speaks well for the restraint of the crowd. The men say, of course, that there was no stone thrown. Whether that is so I do not know. The police say there was, and a baton charge was ordered. These cases are the result of that.
They were taken to the Monmouth Assizes and sentences ranging from six months to one month were imposed. I think one man had one month, and I believe he returned home last week. Three of them got six months. Two of them have three children, one a child of five. Six others were imprisoned for four months. In one case a man and wife were imprisoned. They have at home a child of three years of age, looked after by some neighbours. One can imagine the state of the mothers in gaol with babies at home. At the same court there was a man in Monmouthshire who had defrauded people of £6,000, and if everybody had come forward the amount would have been nearer £20,000. He deliberately set himself out to do this for the last couple of years. He was given 12 months in the second division. These people were given six months for shouting at blacklegs who were taking their livelihood from them. That sort of thing does not fit very well.
These people could not help protesting, for anybody would have protested if they had seen their living taken away. Their crime was simply trying to protect their jobs, their homes and their children. Anybody would shout at men who were 1755 taking bread out of their children's mouths. If a man would not do so, he would not be a man. Were there any previous convictions? One man who had two convictions before got six months. I do not know what the previous convictions were. Against the others there was no conviction up to this time. They were summoned to the local court for this very same thing—unlawful assembly. They are people of excellent character and standing, and I know them well, as does my hon. Friend whose division comes near to this place. They are decent people, who were simply trying to protect their homes, children and livelihood. It is very hard.
We saw the Home Secretary. A number of my friends gave ten or a dozen cases. The men were from South Wales, and especially those from mining constituencies know that it looked as if the whole of South Wales was to be involved. We saw the Minister of Mines about the point. We did our best to secure that it did not eventually involve the whole of South Wales. I thought that we had earned the good will and respect of hon. Members of this House, but I am afraid that has not filtered through to the Home Secretary. We had no effect upon him. He acted upon some report from somebody and ignored the whole of us. I assume it was the police, because action between the police and the Home Office is pretty close. If he applied to the police for information or a report, I should say he applied to biased people. If any action of mine were questioned and I were asked to report upon it I should naturally wish to prove that I had been right. The police are in that position. It is a question of self-preservation. If the right hon. Gentleman has applied to the police, I say that they are biased people—much more so than the 10 or 12 hon. Members to whom I refer.
I wonder did the Home Secretary apply to the legal representatives of the workmen? They are no more biased than the police and it would be as reasonable to take their report as the report of the police. Did he apply to the Mines Department for a statement? I should not be afraid to take the report of the Mines Department on this question and to accept their findings. They are certainly more independent than the police in this 1756 case. Did the right hon. Gentleman ask for a report from any independent people, from the local authorities for instance, or from the clerk to the local authority who is a very honourable man, a solicitor practising in the local courts? I know what his reply would be if he were asked for a report. He attended a transport inquiry into the question of the running of the omnibuses to the colliery. I sent a copy of his evidence to the Home Secretary. I have kept nothing from the right hon. Gentleman who knows the position as well as I do. But this gentleman, the clerk to the urban council in giving evidence before the Traffic Commission said:I wish to state publicly that if the management of the Bedwas Navigation Colliery persists in its present attitude of giving employment only to men residing outside the Bedwas and Machen District it can only have one result—bankruptcy and ruin for the district and all concerned in it. If the present conditions continue it will become impossible for the Bedwas and Machen Urban Council to meet its very heavy financial commitments.That is the evidence of a local authority official and I think it a scandal that a few men should have the right to render derelict a whole district in this fashion. A number of these workers had purchased their houses and were no doubt paying for them by instalments. They are now left, not knowing what to do and with this millstone of debt to carry. They have a splendid hall there, one of the best in the country, paid for out of the pennies of the workers. There are all the amenities belonging to that hall. They have also paid for a very large recreation ground and have taken some acres for the purpose of extending and beautifying it. That shows the character of the people and the interest which they take in their locality. They are all idle now and the place is left derelict. But, as I say, the Home Secretary did not take our advice, although I claim that we are far more independent in the matter than the police would be. I repeat that the police are biased people in this case, and that the Home Secretary ought to have asked for a report from somebody else.
The people concerned in this case who live on the Glamorganshire side were tried at the local court in Caerphilly and were either fined or received small sentences of imprisonment. They were tried for this same offence, but the chief constable of Glamorganshire was satisfied that the local court should deal with 1757 the case. I do not know whether the chief constable of Monmouthshire is more Callous and vindictive than the chief constable of Glamorganshire, but he put the case in such a way that it had to go to the Assizes where heavier terms of imprisonment could be imposed than in the local court. That is a point which the Home Secretary ought to consider seriously. Glamorganshire was satisfied with the local court but Monmouthshire was not. I look upon these sentences as harsh, cruel and unjust and I claim that there ought to be very substantial remissions. I have said that there was one man and his wife. There was another man there who has four children and whose wife is an invalid suffering from tuberculosis. That man is in prison and the children are getting on the best they can.
If ever there was a case for sympathetic consideration this is one. If hon. Members could only put themselves in the shoes of these people for a few minutes their judgment would be very different from the judgment which has been passed. It is not easy for hon. Members to put themselves in the place of these people but I appeal to the Home Secretary to reconsider these cases. The trouble is over and everything is going on all right. The evidence of the clerk to the local authority shows that there are only 50 men from Bedwas working in that colliery out of 1,500. Surely now that the trouble is over—the police have had their sentences and the verdict has been given—it is np to the Home Secretary to reconsider these cases. I ask him to do so in the light of what I have said.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
May I be permitted to supplement the appeal of ray hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Edwards). My reason for intervening is that a number of the people who were engaged in this controversy belong to my constituency which is on the other side of the river. Those who belonged to my constituency and who were arraigned before the local court in respect of these same occurrences, were much more happy in the issue of their case than the people on the Monmouthshire side. I was born in this valley. I lived in it all my life until the last few years. I know something 1758 of the history of Bedwas. I recall it as a very small village. My own relatives on my grandfather's side came from this very village and I have been acquainted with it from my youth upwards. It has grown from a small isolated village into a comparatively big modern mining township. There is only one colliery there and upon the colliery everybody in the village depends. There is practically no other means of livelihood available. When this colliery was started thousands of people gravitated towards it, habitations grew up around it, and, indeed, the colliery proprietors built a certain number of houses there so as to make it possible for more people to live in the neighbourhood.
Let hon. Members on all sides try to visualise this situation. Here are thousands of people who have come from various parts of South Wales to earn their livelihood in this place. An edict goes forth from the colliery company that these thousands of people who have come there at the behest of that company and to work that company's colliery, are no longer to be employed there. Not a single soul in that township is to have his living out of that colliery henceforth. We are told on the authority of the clerk of the urban district council that only 50 people out of the thousands—as I suppose they are now—in that township, are entitled to earn their daily bread in that colliery. What would hon. Gentlemen feel; what would the Home Secretary himself feel, if, having been induced to come into a township like that, they were to be deprived in the fashion I have described of the chance of earning their livelihood there?
That is one element in the situation. The other is this. Collieries cannot be run except with the aid of workmen and the colliery company in order to attract workmen there have actually been recruiting at the top of the valley, miles away from Bedwas and bringing scores of men by omnibus, through a number of 'mining villages where there are hundreds and thousands of unemployed, into that village where practically everybody is unemployed. What would the Home Secretary say if he were in the position of an unemployed man who saw a colliery company wilfully bringing hundreds of people a dozen miles, to work at the pit where he had earned his livelihood before and where he was forbidden to earn it any 1759 longer? In such circumstances would not the right hon. Gentleman feel hurt? Would he not feel bitter and angry about it? Would he not, perchance, find it possible to call these people who were supplanting him and thousands of his fellows, by the name of "blacklegs"? But in this case the people for whom we are appealing were haled before the courts for shouting the word "blacklegs" at those who had been brought in to take their places.
I do not want to import into this matter any more feeling than there is in it already, but I know of thousands of people on my side of the valley who have been moved by this incident as I have never known them to be moved before. There are decent, law-abiding citizens there who feel a sense of desperation when this kind of thing happens in their midst. When these unfortunate people—and I call them so advisedly—are given what I regard as these heavy punishments, in the circumstances that have been described, is it any wonder that there is a strong wave of sympathy with them throughout the length and breadth of the valley? If that were all it would be bad enough but in addition to those facts there is this further circumstance which my hon. Friend has already indicated. I do not blame the Home Secretary in regard to this matter and obviously it would be improper to do so, but let the House consider the state of mind which is produced in the locality when, side by side with the sentences on these men, there is a sentence of 12 months in the second division on another man charged with defrauding his fellow-citizens of £6,000. He gets 12 months in the second division—no doubt just to make it lighter for his honourable highness, just to make things a little more comfortable for him—whereas these other decent law-abiding excellent citizens receive the sentences which have been described.
I saw one of the women concerned in this case being taken under escort from Cardiff to the trial. I felt a sense of revulsion at seeing an obviously decent citizen like that woman being taken away on such a comparatively flimsy charge to stand a trial and ultimately to be sent to prison. I do not know in what form we should make our appeal to the Home Secretary but I feel that this is a case 1760 which he ought to review. Whether we can bluntly ask for remission of the sentences I do not know, but while I do not excuse stone-throwing or breaking the law, I ask the Home Secretary to review this case in the light of the mitigating circumstances that these people's livelihood was being taken from them, that blacklegs were being brought in and that, as far as the general public are concerned, resentment is felt at the obvious difference between the treatment accorded to one type of prisoner and the treatment given to those for whom we are pleading to-night.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
May I add briefly to the statement of the circumstances of this case already given to the House with a view to convincing Members that the Home Secretary would be fully justified in favourably considering our appeal.
§ It being half-past Seven of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.