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Official: Home Office: Correspondence., Sep 1902 - Apr 1911

Reference Code: GBR/0014/CHAR 12/2

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INTRODUCTION TO CHAR 12: THE HOME OFFICE: GENERAL The Home Office papers contain correspondence, printed material and papers which were created or accumulated as a result of WSC's activities as Home Secretary. The papers have been arranged into correspondence and subject-based files. The Home Office papers form a departmental sub-class of the official class of the Chartwell Papers which was divided according to the various offices held by WSC. Files containing varying numbers of items were created within each sub-class and include subject based files (e.g. CHAR 12/4 devoted to prison reform) and chronologically arranged correspondence files (e.g. CHAR 12/2). This introduction comprises four sections:.1. The historical background to the Home Office papers.2. The administrative position and responsibilities of Home Secretary.3. WSC as Home Secretary: including sections on prison reform, shops, social reform, the "Siege of Sidney Street", aliens, industrial relations and strikes, female suffrage and the Peers versus the People crisis.4. WSC's politics: including sections on his commitment to social reform, his attitude to the working class and party politics.1. THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO THE HOME OFFICE PAPERS The Home Office papers principally cover dates between February 1910 and October 1911, the period WSC was Home Secretary. WSC was a member of Asquith's Liberal cabinet. In 1904 he left the Conservative Party and joined the Liberals, but was still regarded with suspicion and often hostility by members of both parties. WSC's achievements as President of the Board of Trade and his continuing association with David Lloyd George had provided evidence of his commitment to Liberalism. Some historians have nevertheless pinpointed WSC's time as Home Secretary, which included stresses and strains posed by alarming industrial and political unrest, as the period when WSC began to return towards the political right.The period is remarkable for several notable incidents which have become part of the Churchill myth: he is still popularly thought to have sent the troops against the miners striking at Tonypandy in the Rhondda Valley in November 1910 (WSC himself later added another element to the controversy by claiming to have sent the Metropolitan Police to Tonypandy armed only with rolled up mackintoshes). The treatment of this incident by modern historians varies, and different versions of events are proffered as part of an overall interpretation of WSC's character and motives. WSC is also remembered for the "Siege of Sidney Street" in January 1911, when he was photographed in fur-trimmed coat and top hat outside a house in the East End of London in which armed Latvian anarchists had blockaded themselves against the police.WSC's work as a domestic politician is often passed over in favour of the figure of WSC of universal legend, the war leader. The achievements of the Liberal Party between 1905 and 1915, when David Lloyd George and WSC were in positions of influence, have been described as laying the foundations of the modern welfare state. Although it seems unlikely that either Lloyd George or WSC at the time would have seen themselves as pioneers of the welfare state, the tangible recognition of social problems provided by legislation was significant since it sanctioned principles aimed at ameliorating the lives of the lower classes. The Liberal reforms of the time were characterised by a tendency towards state involvement in the lives of individuals. This marked a departure from the principles of Gladstonian Liberalism and "laissez-faire" in which the individual was expected to fend for himself.From 1908 to 1910, before becoming Home Secretary, WSC was President of the Board of Trade and implemented social reforms which attracted support from both parties. Like any cabinet minister, he relied on civil servants to prepare the necessary legislation but his role was nevertheless decisive. He regulated sweated labour in certain industries through the setting up of trade boards by the Trade Boards Bill and drafted proposals for unemployment insurance. The Trade Board Bill covered four trades: ready-made tailoring, paper box making, machine lace-making and chain making. For each trade a central board was established. WSC's scheme for unemployment insurance was later incorporated into Part 2 of the National Insurance Act and was passed in 1911. WSC also appointed William Beveridge to the Board of Trade and instructed him to prepare a scheme for centrally-run labour exchanges which would combat unemployment.2. THE ADMINISTRATIVE POSITION AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF HOME SECRETARY The functions of the Home Secretary derive from parliamentary legislation and the royal prerogative: the Home Secretary has responsibility for all internal issues which are not assigned to another department, and his duties are extremely diverse. This range is reflected in the Home Office papers which cover issues such as:- supervision of the penal system and the police service; maintenance of law and order; regulation of aliens and naturalisation; control of explosives and firearms; administration of the Order of the British Empire and the Imperial Service Order; infant health and child care; lunacy and mental health; the health section of the Factory and Workshops Act; supervision of the clerks of County Councils and the proceedings of Metropolitan Boroughs; registration of trade unions; responsibilities relating to industry and labour (including the representation of Britain abroad in labour matters); supervision of the workmen's compensation scheme; and responsibility for the Mines Department and Inspectorate and administration of the Aerial Navigation acts.The Home Secretary has a special link with the Crown and exercises the royal prerogative of mercy in criminal cases. His duties include writing to the King each day with a report of the proceedings in the House of Commons.3. WSC AS HOME SECRETARY WSC became Home Secretary at the age of thirty-five in recognition of his achievements in the January 1910 general election. This made him the youngest Home Secretary since Robert Peel and his relative youth made this appointment a greater distinction. a) Relationship between the Home Secretary and the King. The papers demonstrate the close relationship between the Home Secretary and the Crown. WSC's House of Commons letters and correspondence with the Secretaries of Edward VII and George V on various issues are prominent amongst the papers. Correspondence between WSC and Lord Knollys in February 1911 concerning the appropriate style for the House of Commons letter is illuminating and copies of WSC's House of Commons letters show the intrusion of his personality in these routine letters (See CHAR 12/9/41, CHAR 12/9/42-43 and CHAR 12/15).This period also included the prosecution of Edward Mylius for a criminal libel on George V which had been published in the Liberator. The case was unprecedented and raised sensitive issues which required careful consideration.b) Prison reform Substantial reforms had been effected to the prison service under the guidance of Herbert Gladstone, WSC's predecessor as Home Secretary and Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise (Chairman of the Home Office Prison Commission). Shortly after arriving at the Home Office WSC drafted proposals to improve prison conditions, exclude petty offenders from gaol and reform sentencing policy which he intended to include in a Bill on the administration of justice. WSC's sympathy for prisoners was coloured by his own experiences as a prisoner of war in South Africa and what he had heard of solitary confinement from one of his father's friends, Wilfred Scawen Blunt, who had been imprisoned in the 1880's (see CHAR 12/4/3-12A). In fact constitutional deadlock between the two Houses of Parliament eclipsed these plans and Reginald McKenna (WSC's successor as Home Secretary) only included an extension to the period of grace for the payment of fines in the Criminal Justice Amendment Bill 1914. Nevertheless WSC succeeded in reducing the amount of solitary confinement for prisoners (except persistent offenders), providing concerts and lectures within prisons and improving the help given to prisoners after their release.c) Supervision of sentences WSC took his role in the supervision of sentences seriously and intervened in a number of cases which received attention in the press. For example, WSC reprieved the sentence of David Davies, the "Shepherd of Dartmoor", a persistent offender who had been sentenced to 3 years penal servitude and 10 years preventative detention for stealing 2 shillings from an offertory. His release was surrounded by publicity (as was his relapse and arrest for housebreaking in April 1911). WSC was particularly opposed to the practice of sentencing habitual offenders to additional periods of imprisonment beyond that allowed for a specific crime as preventative detention. WSC's opposition was probably the reason for the decline in the use of preventative detention after 1911. He also paid close attention to the capital cases which came before him and found this part of his position unpleasant. P Addison in Churchill on the Home Front, 1900-55 (Pimlico, London, 1993), examines the rates of reprieve during WSC's period at the Home Office: WSC reprieved 49% of the cases which came before him as opposed to 40% in the decade 1900-1909.d) Shops WSC progressed with legislation begun by Herbert Gladstone concerning the regulation of shops. He introduced a Bill into the House of Commons which proposed a reduction in the hours worked per week, a limit to the number of evenings worked, and restrictions on Sunday trading. By excluding self-employed shopkeepers the Bill favoured them over retail chains, and also contained a clause excluding Jews from the restrictions on Sunday trading. WSC wrestled to accommodate the views of various groups affected by the Shops Bill but did not succeed in passing the Bill through the Commons despite several amendments. The Shop Act 1912 included vestiges of WSC's plans: a half-day holiday each week and a provision for meal-times.e) Social reform WSC was interested in the control of anti-social minorities and proposed labour colonies for "tramps and wastrels" although his Unemployment Bill was not passed due to lack of parliamentary time. He was also interested in the sterilisation of the unfit as a method to control the procreation of mental defectives who were thought to be contributing to national degeneracy.f) The "Siege of Sidney Street" In December 1910 three policemen were murdered by a gang of anarchists from the Baltic states who were interrupted while raiding a jewellery store in Houndsditch. The group was lead by a figure known as Peter the Painter and when discovered in a house in Sidney Street, in the East End of London, opened fire on the police. The police requested troops and WSC attracted bad publicity by rushing to the scene himself, an action which was inconsistent with the gravitas of his position: although he refrained from taking command, he did instruct the fire brigade to let the house burn down with the group still inside.g) Aliens Prior to becoming Home Secretary, WSC had promised lenient measures concerning aliens, including the establishment of receiving houses and a reduction in the naturalisation fee. Although the receiving houses had been established by Herbert Gladstone, WSC overlooked his second promise due to the changing political climate. As war with Germany became a possibility, the general attitude to aliens became less tolerant and WSC prepared draft clauses to the Aliens Bill which would give the King additional powers to deport aliens in the event of a national emergency. The "Siege of Sidney Street" also increased fears regarding the presence of aliens and was behind a proposal of additional powers for magistrates allowing them to expel aliens suspected of crimes (See CHAR 12/1/8 and CHAR 12/14/6, and CHAR 12/14/7).h) Industrial relations and strikes WSC was at the head of the alliance between Liberal and Labour: at the time Labour Members of Parliament owed their seats in the Commons to an electoral pact which existed between the two parties and endured through the two general elections of 1910. In order to govern, the Liberals were dependent on both Labour and the Irish Nationalists. The relationship with Labour was strained by the industrial unrest of 1910-1914 which took the form of major strikes in the mines and docks and the first national railway strike.The strikes often began locally and then spread throughout entire trade unions, membership of which increased dramatically during this period. Trade union leaders were put under pressure by discontented members who were thought to be under the influence of "syndicalists" who proposed the overthrow of the system by means of a general strike. Although the number of syndicalists and their influence were over-estimated, their existence disseminated the concept of a general strike and increased the fear of revolution. The Coal Mines (Eight Hours) Act which limited the number of hours miners could work came into force in July 1909. To combat employers' attempts to recoup revenue lost through lower outputs, miners campaigned for a minimum wage.David Smith in "Tonypandy 1910: Definitions of a Community" (Past and Present Number 87, May 1980, pp 158-184) analyses the causes of the riot at Tonypandy which developed from the strikes which spread throughout the collieries in the Rhondda valley by November 1910. Fierce confrontations between the police and the miners led the Chief Constable of Glamorgan to requisition two companies of infantry and 200 cavalry from the military. He later informed the Home Office of his actions and WSC ordered that the troops be replaced by Metropolitan Police. The cavalry were stopped at Cardiff and the infantry at Swindon.When the miners refused to meet Board of Trade representatives, and the riot spread to the town centre of Tonypandy and a man was killed, WSC lifted the ban on troop movements (although they remained under strict instructions that they were only to be deployed when the police were overpowered). The troops remained nearby until the strike ended in October 1911. WSC's behaviour during the Tonypandy strike in 1910 was remarkable for its diplomacy and restraint and forms a contrast to his attitude during the railway strike of 1911. Popular tradition nevertheless remembers his bellicosity.WSC worked on a Bill to improve safety conditions in mines which was passed as the Mines Act in 1911, after he had left the Home Office. There had been a number of serious accidents in mines which had prompted the establishment of a Royal Commission in 1906, and this piece of legislation aimed to improve relations between the Miners' Federation and the Home Office.In June 1911 a national seamen's strike broke out and spread from the ports to the railways. WSC authorised dispatches of police to Hull, army to Salford and troops to Cardiff under the threat of a stoppage in food distribution. In August there was a general strike amongst transport workers which created widespread alarm and fear of revolution. One man was killed when a crowd halted a prison van in Manchester and WSC sent H M S Antrim to protect the Merseyside docks.In early August, the London docks were brought to a standstill and WSC was put under pressure to bring in the troops. He stationed 25,000 troops outside London, but insisted on time for arbitration and the dispute was settled by 18 August. During the national railway strike from 18-19 August, troops were again used as a demonstration of force in London and 32 other towns. WSC suspended the Army regulation which meant that troops could only be provided at the request of local authorities. When troops failed to clear railway tracks blocked by strikers at Llanelly, they read the Riot Act, then fired into the crowd and killed two men. This strike was brought to an end through the mediation of Lloyd George.i) Suffragettes By 1910, the Liberal government had been experiencing troubles over the issue of female suffrage for some considerable time. In 1908 a private member's Bill had been passed by the Commons which proposed limited female suffrage, but the cabinet were divided over the issue and procrastinated by refusing to provide the parliamentary facilities to pass the Bill. Mrs Pankhurst, at the head of the Women's Social and Political Union, instigated militant tactics which were disapproved of by Mrs Fawcett, the head of the constitutional National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.The treatment given to imprisoned suffragettes was the subject of controversy (for the case of Lady Constance Lytton, see CHAR 12/2/21 and CHAR 12/4/17) and WSC proposed to ease the situation by creating a new class of political prisoner, who would be treated less harshly. This plan was incorporated into a formula which had been devised by Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise to cover "persons of good antecedents, and who have been convicted of offences which do not involve dishonesty, cruelty, indecency or serious violence".WSC's subsequent actions did not prove popular with two of his friends, Victor, Lord Lytton and Henry Brailsford, who prepared a non-party Conciliation Bill on the subject of female suffrage. WSC initially gave this Bill qualified support but spoke against it when it was introduced to the House of Commons. The Bill was passed but lapsed with the dissolution of parliament and on 12 November 1910 Sir Edward Grey announced that the government would not give parliamentary time to the Conciliation Bill. The suffragettes staged a militant demonstration at the opening of parliament on 18 November 1910 and the cruel behaviour of the police gave the day the name "Black Friday". A similar event took place four days later when the suffragettes tried to storm 10 Downing Street. Both incidents created controversy and it was incorrectly alleged that WSC's orders to the police had led to the scenes of brutality (see CHAR 12/3/43). The combination of Black Friday and the Tonypandy riot which took place within ten days of each other gave WSC the reputation of a militarist.WSC's attitude towards female suffrage was ambivalent and his declaration in 1911 that he would base his action on the results of a referendum avoided the necessity of publicly committing himself to an opinion on the matter. He seems to have approved of limiting the numbers of women enfranchised as far as possible (see CHAR 12/2/55, CHAR 12/2/56-59).j) The "People's Budget" and parliamentary reform During the time he was Home Secretary, WSC supported the People's Budget and the Parliamentary Bill which aimed to restrict the power of veto of the House of Lords. These issues coloured the atmosphere of the time and WSC's involvement with them was more controversial than the majority of his departmental activities. In 1909 David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, incorporated in his budget radical proposals to tax wealth. The People's Budget intended to increase direct taxation of the rich through increased income tax, land tax and death duties. There were also new taxes on cars and petrol and increased taxes on liquor and spirits. WSC toured the country in support of the budget and was considered a traitor by many of his aristocratic peers. It had been an accepted orthodoxy that the House of Lords would not amend money Bills and therefore when they used their Tory majority to block the budget it marked a drastic step. The Liberals' use of the "Peers versus People" slogan led to a class war situation.The continued opposition of the House of Lords to the Budget created a constitutional deadlock and the government proposed measures to limit the powers of veto of the Lords. WSC's House of Commons letters (see CHAR 12/15) evoke the atmosphere of crisis and anticipation which permeated the contemporary parliamentary atmosphere. It was clearly expected that the 1910 Liberal Government would be very short-lived and it is striking that despite these fears, WSC accomplished and envisaged considerable reforms from the beginning of his time as Home Secretary.King Edward VII needed to promise to create more peers to swamp the Conservative majority in the Lords. The situation was exacerbated by the Irish Nationalists' threat to vote against the 1909 budget unless the Lords' power of veto was removed. The Irish Nationalists saw the opposition of the Lords as the only obstacle to the passage of a bill which would allow Irish Home Rule. Before the Lords had the chance to oppose a Bill which had been passed through the Commons on the issue, the death of Edward VII brought an end to political wrangling.Lloyd George secretly proposed a coalition which could carry through the reform measures. These plans collapsed and the government was forced to hold the second general election of 1910 to obtain the electoral mandate for parliamentary reform. The election was held in December and produced a similar result to that held in January, confirming the fact that the balance of power was held by the Irish Nationalists and the Labour Party.The Parliamentary Bill which was passed through the Commons sought to limit the power of the Lords' veto to a delaying power. It proposed that measures which had been sent to and rejected by the Lords in three successive sessions would still become law and that financial measures would be passed without any delay at all. The Lords returned the Bill to the Commons in a much amended form and King George V promised that he would create the necessary number of peers to end the Tory majority in the upper house and therefore pass the Bill: this promise secured the passage of the Bill.4. WSC'S POLITICS During his time at the Board of Trade and the Home Office, WSC accomplished significant domestic reforms. The Agadir incident (in which Germany sent a warship to Morocco to assert her position as a colonial power) forced a change of attitude. WSC became pre-occupied with the threat posed to Britain by Germany. The beginnings of the Great War and WSC's involvement with military events as First Lord of the Admiralty brought the radical section of his career to a close and focused his attention on events outside the country.In the light of WSC's return to the Conservative Party and achievements in the military sphere some historians have seen this period of WSC's life and its focus on social reform as something of an aberration. His commitment to social issues is dismissed as superficial and largely rhetorical. Evidence is advanced from his aristocratic background and lifestyle to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the lives of the poor or recognition for their problems.a) WSC's commitment to social reform By 1904, once WSC had crossed the floor of the House of Commons, he came into contact with the radical reformers of the period who included Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Social investigators had revealed the terrible conditions in which the poor lived and the effects of malnutrition had been demonstrated by the poor performance of the British troops in the Boer War. The social reformers sought "scientific" solutions to these problems.The beginning of WSC's interest in social reform is pinpointed by Martin Gilbert (in "Churchill's Political Philosophy" (Oxford University Press [for the British Academy], Oxford, 198, p 27) to 1901 when he was given Seebohm Rowntree's book on the conditions in which the poor lived in York about which he subsequently wrote: "I have lately been reading a book by Mr [Seebohm] Rowntree called Poverty...It is quite evident from the figures...that the American labourer is a stronger, larger, healthier, better fed, and consequently more efficient animal than a large proportion of our population, and that is surely a fact which our unbridled Imperialists ... should not lose sight of. For my own part, I see little glory in an Empire which can rule the waves and is unable to flush its sewers. The difficulty has been so far that the people who have looked abroad have paid no attention to domestic matters, and those who are centred on domestic matters regard the Empire merely as an encumbrance..."(CHAR 28/115/29-31 published CVII, Part 1, p 104).In 1904 Beatrice Webb observed that WSC was uneducated in the prominent theories of the time and recorded in her diary: "I tried the 'national minimum' on him but he was evidently unaware of the most elementary objections to unrestricted competition, and was still at the stage of 'infant school economics.'"( N and J MacKenzie (eds) The Diary of Beatrice Webb ii 1892-1905, London, 1986, p 327 quoted in R Blake and W Louis (eds) Churchill, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 199, p 59).However in 1906 WSC spoke in Glasgow about the concept of national minimums and developed the theme in 1908 in an article "The Untrodden Field of Politics" which was published in The Nation on 7 March 1908. The origins of the ideas are less important than the fact that WSC, Lloyd George and Herbert Asquith were a vital conduit which translated theories into action. An interest in social reform was also a shrewd political move.b) WSC's attitude to the working class WSC, amongst many others, was impressed by the example set by Bismarckian Germany, a thriving welfare state. However the concept of the "deserving poor" still endured and gave rise to ideas like the sterilisation of the unfit, and labour colonies for the feeble-minded. WSC's attitude to social reform as Home Secretary can be seen as indicative of the paternalism which characterised his attitude to the working class. Charles Masterman wrote that WSC "desired a state of things where a benign upper class disposed benefits to an industrious, bien pensant, and grateful working class"( R R James "Churchill: a Study in Failure 1900-39", Penguin, Harmondsworth, 197, p 45).Violent demonstrations and demands for better treatment contradicted WSC's view of society. He had sympathy for the trade unions and the plight of the working class but his treatment of industrial unrest and the suffragettes in 1910-11 demonstrated the limits of his radicalism.c) WSC and Party politics WSC was always against socialism, although as Addison ("The Political Beliefs of Winston Churchill" Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, Volume 30, 1980, pp 23-47) points out, in 1904 he was happy to blur the distinction between Liberalism and collectivism to cement the alliance between the Liberal and Labour parties.How genuine was WSC's conversion to Liberalism? Although WSC changed parties ostensibly over the issue of tariff reform, there were factors of political expediency at work as well. During his early political career, WSC aroused animosity amongst the Conservative Party and was not prepared to wait until thought worthy of taking office. Opinions of him were also shaped by unfavourable comparisons to his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, whose political career had been characterised by brilliance and instability. WSC felt frustrated at not being given office by the Tory government and after his change of party managed to be in office consistently from 1905-15, for the entire period that the Liberals were in office.In fact WSC was never truly committed to any party: he was Prime Minister of a Coalition government during the Second World War and always yearned for a "middle party". He wrote to Lord Rosebery on 10 October 1902: "The Government of the Middle- the party wh[ich] shall be free at once from the sordid selfishness and callousness of Toryism...and the blind appetites of the Radical masses on the other- may be an ideal wh[ich] we perhaps shall never nevertheless worth working for..."( CV II, Part 1, p 168).In the political vacuum created by the death of Edward VII, Lloyd George secretly proposed a coalition to end the stalemate created over the constitutional issue of the House of Lords. Although these negotiations came to nothing, WSC was enthusiastic about the idea and may have been responsible for winning F E Smith and Austen Chamberlain over to it.The origin for WSC's desire for a middle party may have been his father's rhetorical tag "Tory Democracy". WSC's relationship with his father was problematic and the memory and influence of his father lived on to shape his early political career especially after he had written a biography of his father. In fact, WSC's membership of the "Hughligans" or "Hooligans" who clustered around Lord Hugh Cecil mimicked his father's participation with a group of Tory rebels called the "Fourth Party".Throughout his life WSC was conservative: although he aimed to improve conditions for the working classes, he did not aim to alter the structure of society and frequently stressed that changes should be gradual. In this respect, WSC found a political home in the Liberal Party of the early twentieth century as described by Robert Rhodes James "The 1905-14 Liberal government was far removed from any revolutionary instincts, and, for all its achievements, it tinkered in a conspicuously ad hoc manner with the great social and economic problems" (James "Churchill: a Study in Failure" p 36).Natalie Adams (1 May 1997).


  • Creation: Sep 1902 - Apr 1911

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