HC Deb 12 June 1879 vol 246 cc1708-18

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether his attention has been directed to the South African Correspondence of the "Daily Chronicle" of the 3rd instant, in which it is stated that after the Battle of Kambula the defeated Zulus, exhausted with fatigue, fell in hundreds upon the ground, begging for mercy from their pursuers "but were shot, stabbed, or sabred where they lay," and that even though some of them had smeared themselves with blood in order to appear to be wounded and appealed for quarter, they were mercilessly put to death; whether he has seen an extract from the letter of a soldier engaged in the same fight at Kambula, published in the "Tiverton Gazette" of May the 27th, and copied in the "Echo" of the 3rd instant, in which it is avowed that— On March the 30th, the day after the battle, about eight miles from camp, we found about five hundred wounded, most of them mortally, and begging us for mercy's sake not to kill them; but they got no chance after what they had done to our comrades at Isandula; and, whether operations in South Africa are being conducted by the British troops according to the usages of civilisation?


Sir, the hon. Member evidently seems to expect that I should make myself acquainted with everything that appears in the newspapers on this subject. I make no complaint of that view; but I think we may take it for granted that he complies with that rule himself. Therefore, he must have seen in Wednesday's Times a letter from the War Office, in which it was stated, on behalf of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War, that the General Officer commanding Her Majesty's Forces in Natal has been called on to inquire into those allegations, and report whether there is any truth in them. If the hon. Member saw that letter, I cannot tell what object he has in asking this Question. I should not have thought that any Member of this House would have been willing, without necessity, to give pain to men who are serving Her Majesty on the other side of the world by giving to unsupported statements of this kind the stamp of importance, if not of credibility, that they derive from being made the subject of a Question in Parliament; much less that anyone would have based upon such a foundation as this an insinuation that his own countrymen do not conduct war according to the usages of civilization.


Mr. Speaker, in order to put myself quite in Order in the remarks I have to make, I shall conclude with a Motion. The right hon. Gentleman asks why—assuming that I had seen the reply of the War Office to some representations made to them by the Aborigines Protection Society—I put the Question to him? Although the interrogatories of the right hon. Baronet were not put in the most courteous form, or with the most careful regard for the independent rights of Members of this House, I will beg to answer them; and I hope he will consider himself perfectly satisfied by the time I have sat down. The reply to the Aborigines Protection Society seemed to me to be excessively inadequate—considering the circumstances of the case, considering the wrong committed, and the undoubted perpetration of atrocities in South Africa. I, therefore, asked this Question; and I hoped to receive an answer from the Colonial Secretary very different from the evasive and unsatisfactory answers he is in the habit of giving. ["Oh, oh!"] I do not make this a charge against the right hon. Baronet. I am disposed only to regard him in those matters relating to his Office as the channel of information in this House; but I regret to say that he is habitually the channel of most adulterated and misleading information. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members have heard the manner in which I have been treated just now by the right hon. Gentleman. If a Member gets up and asks the right hon. Baronet a Question—for instance, whether Native women and children in South Africa are captured and indentured out into practical slavery—we receive the answer that no women or children in South Africa are treated in this way, or at all approaching it, except those who are deserted. I beg to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to inform the House, in regard to the word "deserted," whether it is not an evasion perpetrated on the innocence of the right hon. Baronet, most unworthy of the traditions of the Public Service of the country? The alleged desertion—and I, and other Members on this side of the House, can prove it—is the desertion occasioned by driving off the male members of the tribe by bullet and bayonet. When the male members of the tribe are captured they are condemned to hard labour and penal servitude, and the Native women and children are then said to be deserted. It is for this House to judge whether that is a correct representation of the state of affairs. Not only have these poor women and children not been deserted by their natural supporters, but they have been deprived of them by the violence of Her Majesty's Administrator in South Africa. Again, Sir, if an hon. Member asks the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Colonies if it is true that prisoners of war, the tribesmen of Native Chiefs in South Africa, have, contrary to all the usages of civilization, been condemned to hard labour and penal servitude, the right hon. Baronet stands up in his place, and again—acting, no doubt, upon information which he has received—assures this House that no prisoners of war have been treated in any such manner. Sir, again, I am sorry to say, an evasion has been practised of the most culpable kind. These unfortunate tribesmen throughout South Africa are not, technically considered, prisoners of war; they have been tried for treason-felony, and under treason statutes, and are considered rebels and insurgents. I leave it to this House to say whether these tribesmen—ignorant, devoted to their Chiefs—who have followed those Chiefs into war against Her Majesty's Government, are not properly prisoners of war; and whether it is not unworthy even to speak of them as rebels punishable according to the ordinary law of the land? I have this year, and in previous years, asked Question upon Ques- tion of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Colonies; and on every occasion, though I have never previously complained, I have had a right to complain of the uncourteous manner in which he replied. I repudiate with scorn and contempt any insinuation that I am not as careful of the honour of that Army—of which my countrymen form so distinguished a part—as any Member, I care not what his nationality may be, in this Empire. But I have duties to discharge to my conscience, to my Colleagues, to my constituents. Let the right hon. Baronet venture to disprove a single allegation that is made; but let him not presume to reply with unworthy taunts to a Member of this House who is acting in the discharge of his duty. I beg to move that this House do now adjourn.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. O'Donnell.)


I must again, Sir, enter my protest against this repetition of a practice which I ventured yesterday, or the day before, to say must, if persisted in, prove utterly destructive to the possibility of conducting Business regularly; and with a view to the convenience of the House, I think it unnecessary to take any special notice of the extraordinary language which the hon. Gentleman has chosen to indulge in. It is language approaching—though I do not say that it goes beyond an approach—to a very serious breach of the usual language of Parliament. I am quite sure that I speak the sentiments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, as well as my own and those of my Colleagues, in saying that we think very little of language such as that employed by the hon. Gentleman. I think that when the hon. Member talks of evasion, he is using language which my right hon. Friend may very well think it beneath him to take any notice of. I rise mainly for the purpose of again entering my protest against the introduction and the adoption by the House of a system of moving the adjournment of the House, in order to introduce matters for discussion that are not at all relevant to the Business before the House.


This heat is very much to be regretted; and I am astonished at the Chancellor of the Exchequer apparently forgetting who introduced it. Although loyalty to a Colleague is praiseworthy, there is a higher duty due from him. He is the Leader of this House, and ought to be the protector of the privileges of an independent Member; and if he found a Colleague, under momentary irritation, converting a reply to a Question into a harangue and an impeachment of a Member, then I say that the Leader of the House should have risen above the feelings of the Minister towards his Colleague. I must say I heard with astonishment—I will not say with astonishment, but with great pain—the tone and character of the reply of the Colonial Secretary. I correct myself in saying with astonishment, because, after all, we are all human. Still, official life does impose some restriction upon one's feelings; and, whatever the right hon. Baronet's irritation might have been, he was bound to consider that he was Her Majesty's public official, and that he filled a highly responsible position in this House, where gravity ought to characterize his language. Instead of replying in an official tone to a fair and legitimate Question, he introduced, not only matter of argument, but matter of invective; and what was his invective? It was an accusation that the hon. Member for Dungarvan had abused his position in this House. ["Hear, hear!"] Is there one man amongst those who are ready to say "Hear, hoar!" who will have the courage to put his name to a Motion on the Paper that the hon. Member has abused his position? Let us watch the Notice Paper to see. If he has abused it, he is amenable to the Rules of the House. I regret this waste of time. Mark how, in the middle of June, when we ought to be proceeding with our Business, a Minister of the Crown, backed up by a loudly-cheering majority, wastes three-quarters of an hour of our time by getting up to lead us into a heated debate, instead of giving a courteous and proper answer to a fair Question. I will not go into other instances of this kind; but I charge upon Members of the Government this waste of public time. Let us hope that we shall have no more of these impeachments. I, for one, also complain of the language of the Colonial Secretary. He talked about our countrymen, and made imputations upon our countrymen in South Africa. He forgets, being a Colonial Secretary, that the paper which published the account was English. It was not an Irish newspaper, but The Tiverton Gazette, and the extract was copied into the London Echo, and the soldier who wrote that letter was an English soldier, you may be sure. ["No, no!"] Oh! there are a few English soldiers out in South Africa; although, when you wanted a man to lead them, you went to Ireland and found Sir Garnet Wolseley. This English soldier wrote as follows:— We found the day after the battle 500 wounded, most of them mortally, and begging us for mercy's sake not to kill them. That is not a statement of the hon. Member for Dungarvan; it is not a statement of an Irish witness. It is a statement published by an English newspaper— Begging us for mercy's sake not to kill thorn; but they got no chance after what they had done to our comrades at Isandlana. ["Divide, divide!"] Not so, Mr. Speaker. I am going to be heard. If anyone in this House sees a statement so serious as that, affecting the honour of your Army—[An hon. MEMBER: Prove it.] An hon. Member asks me to prove it. Take the statement out of an irresponsible public paper, bring it to the House, and then let the Minister give it a contradiction. If it is a slander—as I hope it may prove to be for the sake of our common humanity—let it be so branded; but the man who feels it his duty to call attention to it must not be received as my hon. Friend has been received; he must not be taunted and hold up to scorn, and the Minister who does so cheered by Gentlemen sitting behind him. I do not wish to complain too much; but I beg to remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that we, too, have our feelings who sit on this side of the House: and we cannot see without protest an hon. Friend and Member treated—as we believe the hon. Member for Dungarvan has been treated—in such an unhandsome manner. I repeat my regret that this heated debate should have been provoked from the Treasury Bench, and I hope we shall be allowed to proceed with our Business.


remarked, that it was the deliberate opinion of the Select Committee on Public Business, over which the late Sir James Graham presided in 1861, that the present fashion of putting Questions might be made the vehicle for conveying imputations, the necessary reply to which would entail the frequent interruption of the Business of the House. It was in order to avoid such exhibitions as the House had now been made the scene of, that the arrangement was come to that on going into Supply on Friday any subject might be raised which might be deemed worth the attention of the House. No abler Committee had ever been appointed than the Committee which framed that recommendation in order to avoid such scenes as had now occurred. For what had happened? A Member of the House had chosen, on the authority of a newspaper—or, it might be, two newspapers—to frame a Question in such terms as conveyed the grossest imputation upon our Army. When, in answer to that Question, the hon. Member was informed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies that if he had only consulted a newspaper, much more likely to attract public attention than those he had quoted, he might have known that inquiries were being instituted, and that it was inpossible at present that his inquiries could be satisfactorily answered, the hon. Member treated that reply as an imputation—and he (Mr. Newdegate) thought the imputation well deserved; and then the hon. Member interrupted the Business of the House in order to make a vindication of his action, in which he had totally failed.


I hope that we shall be allowed very speedily to proceed to Business. I do not quite accept the rules for the conduct of our Business of my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Newdegate). I think you, Sir, must be the judge whether a Question is in accordance with Order or not, and I must leave it to you to make that decision. Now, with regard to this Question, if it had stopped before the very last clause, I think the Government and the Colonial Secretary ought to have been glad that it was asked. These are two statements which are very distressing to anyone to read. The Government have done their duty in writing to be informed whether these and similar statements are true, thereby showing I primâ facie their disapproval; but I think it would have been rather a kindness to the Government, and rather a credit to the country, that the Colonial Secretary, or some other Member of the Government, should have been enabled by a Question to state officially that such a step had been taken. I think, however, that the hon. Gentleman went too far in his closing sentence. He seems by that to prejudge the case, which we all trust may turn out to be quite different to what he represented it. But when we come to the rebuke of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the hon. Gentleman for moving the adjournment of the House, I share the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that these Motions for adjournment are exceedingly inconvenient; but I confess that in this particular case the Colonial Secretary ought almost to have anticipated the Motion. The way in which he answered the Question may or may not have been a just one, but he gave a strong rebuke to the hon. Member for the mode in which he asked it; and I think it is not unnatural to expect, that if a Member of the Government strongly rebukes in his reply to a Question a Member of this House for the form in which he has asked it, it is not unreasonable to expect that that Gentleman should get up and reply. I do hope that now we shall be allowed to proceed to Business.


I will only detain the House while I say one or two sentences in my own justification. Nothing that the hon. Member for Dungarvan can say in this House will provoke mo to warmth on my own account; hut I did feel, and I do feel, very deeply, the imputation which he appeared to me to cast upon men who were absent, and whom it seemed to be my duty to defend. I think that, at all events, I was so far justified, even upon the hon. Member's own showing; for by his reference to the Aborigines Protection Society it is clear that he had seen the letter to which I alluded. But, Sir, in moving the adjournment of the House the hon. Member went on to charge me—in language which I can well afford to pass by, I hope—with having answered former Questions in a way which he did not approve. He said that I had denied the existence of the practice of indenturing of women and children, or had explained it away in a manner which he considered evasive. But, Sir, I told the hon. Member, in my reply to that Question, that every information which I had received, or should receive, with reference to this practice of indenture—which I knew to be liable to abuse—had been, or should be, given to the House; and I told him also that I had made further inquiry as to what had actually happened in the matter. The hon. Member went on to say that I denied altogether that any persons who had been taken prisoners in the rebellion, or war in the Transkei, had been treated as convicts, and sent to penal servitude. My reply to the hon. Member—I recollect the exact words—was that I was not aware that anything of the kind had occurred; but there, again, I said I would make inquiries, and such inquiries have already been made, and the result, as soon as I receive it, shall be communicated to the House.


wished humbly to suggest that the Motion made by the hon. Member for Dungarvan should not be allowed to be withdrawn, but should be met with a negative, and it would be then for the hon. Member to say whether he would test the opinion of the House on his conduct this afternoon.


Repeatedly, Questions have been put to Ministers without the effect of eliciting any information whatever. All kinds of excuse are made. At one time the absence of telegraphic communication; at another time the highest State reasons are urged to deprive the House of any information. Now, Sir, when this Vote for the expenses of the Zulu War was brought before the House, I ventured to anticipate that a policy of extermination would be adopted in South Africa. I said I presumed that, as the Zulus had given no quarter at Isandlana, so no quarter would be given by the British troops to the Zulus in South Africa; but I was at once contradicted by several hon. Members behind the front Opposition Bench, who said that the utmost pains would be taken to secure that the operations of the troops should be continued in accordance with the usages of civilization, and that the conduct of the Zulus at Isandlana should not be imitated. I entered my protest against the war as the first Vote for Supply for the war——


If the hon. Member for Meath is referring to discussions which have arisen during this Session, he is not in Order.


On several occasions, not in this House, I have felt it my duty to point out that, in all probability, the example of the Zulus at Isandlana would be imitated by Her Majesty's troops in South Africa; and I think the course of events has very fully justified my anticipations, and shown that, at all events, caution and forethought to avoid such occurrences was necessary on the part of Her Majesty's Government. But what have Her Majesty's Government done? we know that the Native auxiliaries are employed to aid the troops in South Africa. We know that those Native auxiliaries are not trained in the usages of war; and we have it on the authority of the different reports received that after the recent action at Ginghilova these Native auxiliaries did massacre these wounded Zulus in cold blood—and that these men were employed, not for the purpose of fighting or defending the trenches, but for the purpose of chasing and hounding down the Zulus after the battles. The Cavalry followed. ["Divide, divide!"] If hon. Gentlemen opposite do not consider that their good name and the good name of English soldiers in South Africa is worth anything, I consider that the suffering of these unfortunate Zulus is worth far more than all the trumpery Bills that have been introduced by Her Majesty's Government this Session. ["Divide!"] I shall not be deterred from pursuing the subject by any desire to proceed with the discussion of Government measures, which are entirely worthless in their character. Have we heard from the Secretary of State for the Colonies that he has taken any pains to prevent the recurrence of these things? And this is the example which is to be set to our troops! They pursue the flying enemy and massacre the wounded!Naturally, the young soldiers of England think they may do likewise, and they gratify their thirst for blood by following the example set by the Native troops. The conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in particular, in endeavouring to thrust aside the matter at issue and attaching a charge of abusing the Forms of the House to the hon. Member for Dungarvan, is very significant. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer were of opinion that the action of the troops in South Africa had been carried on according to the dictates of humanity, he would not have acted in any such manner; he would not have turned on the hon. Member for Dungarvan and attacked him in the manner he did for acting in a way which was perfectly in accordance with the Rules of this House, and which it was perfectly competent for him to adopt. When you make a war against a savage nation, it follows that your soldiers will also become more or less savage; and when they see their own countrymen massacred, it is almost impossible to restrain them; and, therefore, Her Majesty's Government should be careful not to enter into a war with a savage people unless compelled by the most urgent necessity to do so.


Unless it is the wish of hon. Members, I have no desire to continue this discussion; but I think it is due both to the right hon. Baronet and myself that I should make this explanation. I bog to impress on the right hon. Baronet, that even if I had felt irritated by the manner in which he attacked me, I should have endeavoured to avoid any personal feeling. I distinctly declined to go further than to say that he was only the channel for evasion and imperfect information. As for his personal remarks, and for his supreme disdain for anything that a person like myself can say to him, that, Sir, is a piece of cheap scorn not to be imitated, I hope, by any Irish Member. I beg to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.