HC Deb 28 January 1897 vol 45 cc762-78

moved:— That a Select Committee he appointed to inquire into the origin and circumstances of the incursion into the South African Republic by an armed force, and into the administration of the British South Africa Company, and to report thereon, and further to report what alterations are desirable in the government of the territories under the control of the Company; that the Committee have leave to hear counsel to such extent as they shall see tit, and have power to send for persons, papers, and records.

MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Cardiff)

rose to move the following Amendment:— That, in view of the peaceful settlement of affairs in the Chartered Company's territories, the punishment of all persons connected with the raid into the Transvaal, and the inexpediency in the interest of all South Africa, of reopening questions which have now been disposed of, this House thinks it unnecessary to re-appoint the Select Committee of 1896. In moving the Amendment, notice of which he had placed on the Paper, he thought it hardly necessary to offer an apology to the House for having, on the first day of the Session, prevented this Motion from being passed sub silentio. The extraordinary public interest which had been excited on the matter was the best justification he could possibly offer for what he did in that connection. He had had many conversations with Members of the House on the subject, and he had had very numerous communications from outside, and he thought all Members must be aware that a very strong public opinion had been excited in favour of dropping this Select Committee on the South African question. ["Hear, hear" and "No, no!"] So far as he could judge, it was the almost universal feeling in the House that it was grievous to the State to keep open an Inquiry which might prolong indefinitely a state of unrest in South Africa. ["Oh, oh!"] He was sure that this feeling had been expressed to him by a majority of the Members of the House—["No, no!"]—and if the Government were to relax for the occasion the ties of Party fidelity and discipline, and would intimate to their followers that they were free to vote according to their own judgment in the matter, he knew very well what the result would be. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government, so far as he could judge, did not affirm that they themselves were very keenly in favour of the reappointment of this Committee; therefore he was not open to the objection which had been alleged against him, curiously enough by many of the Radical newspapers, that in bringing forward this Amendment he was guilty of an act of disloyalty to the Government now in power, and he was not open to the charge, upon which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mon- mouth (Sir W. Harcourt) had made such pleasant reflections, to the effect that he and his friends had been obliged to come to the rescue of the Government frequently against their own rebellious followers. No doubt occasions of this kind had arisen, and it was sometimes embarrassing and bewildering to loyal supporters of the Government to find that when questions of great public interest arose, and discussions took place upon them in the House, the loudest cheers and strongest support given to the Government came from the opposite side of the House. [Laughter.] He had himself been so much taken aback by these manifestations that when a division was called he had sometimes been tempted to address his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury in the words of the bold Sir Bedivere:— Oh, my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go? [Laughter.] But this was not what happened on the present occasion; it was a perfectly loyal Amendment brought forward by a Member who supposed he was really doing a, service to the Government by helping them to get rid of this Committee. He had been told that a compact had been made by the Government with somebody or other that this Committee should be reappointed, but he did not see how any Government could pledge the House to renew a Committee in a new Session. Surely the House was the best judge of its own dignity and honour, and if circumstances had arisen which rendered it indispensable that the Committee should be reappointed, the House could absolve itself from any breach of faith in the matter. Had any circumstances arisen since the Committee was appointed last year that rendered it inexpedient that the Committee should be reappointed? It was easy to point out that such circumstances had arisen. In the first place, with regard to the Inquiry into the existence of the Chartered Company and the desirability of continuing it in the employment of its present powers, it was well known that since the House last met this Chartered Company had prosecuted a successful war, and had restored peace within its territory, had done that at its own expense, and had been trusted by the Government of the country to do it. It would be a very inexpedient thing indeed, now that the Company had restored order in that vast region of South. Africa, to go on to question its title to the territory secured. ["Hear, hear!"] The Chartered Company had a long history, but down to the Jameson raid its title was unquestioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and since the raid there had been absolute proof that the Government itself had ample power within the limits of the present charter to clip the wings of the Chartered Company and to prevent it from taking the aggressive against any other State in South Africa or from doing anything beyond administering its own affairs. The House knew that the Government took away from the Chartered Company the military and police powers which it had exercised in Rhodesia, and the Secretary of State for the Colonies had been placed in the position of the Board of Control of the old East India Company. The Chartered Company had not ventured to perform any administrative act whatever which was contrary to the wishes of the Secretary of State. There was no advantage, therefore, to be gained by going into the history of what had been done by the Chartered Company a year ago. He did not suppose any one imagined that the Chartered Company could be proved to have any connection whatever with the Jameson raid. ["Oh, oh!" and cheers.] Was it desirable to inquire into a matter of that kind now. ["Yes."] Had the House not had enough of the Jameson raid and all the circumstances connected with it? By no possibility could the inquiry into the Chartered Company's acts of last year lead to any interference with that Company beyond the power which the Colonial Secretary possessed at the present time and which was allowed by the charter. Did hon. Members propose that the property of the Company should be taken away from them after being allowed and encouraged by the Colonial Secretary to wage war to maintain that property? There was a multitude of small shareholders in the Chartered Company throughout the country besides the aristocratic capitalists, about whom the hon. Member for Northampton seemed to know more than he did. These men and women had invested a small amount of money in the Company individually, on the principle, no doubt, of backing the British hon. and was it possible that any Committee could think of taking away that property and abolishing all the rights which the Chartered Company possessed? So far, therefore, as the Chartered Company was concerned, any further inquiry by a Committee of the House could lead to no useful result whatever. Then as to the question whether the Committee could deal with Mr. Rhodes, who was looked upon by many persons as the chief offender against the peace of South Africa. Could this Committee hope to deal with Mr. Rhodes. What had been the history of Mr. Rhodes during the interval between last year and this? The House knew that he had been busily engaged in the territory which bore his name: they knew of the good work he had done there; and if they wanted to find out what the Government thought of the work of Mr. Rhodes in South Africa they had only to refer to the Queen's Speech. One passage in the Queen's Speech dealt with the rebellion in Matabeleland and Mashonaland, and it said that this rebellion had been repressed by the steadfastness and courage of the settlers, reinforced by our troops and the aid of the English and Dutch. Who had been the inspiring genius to the settlers in Rhodesia except Mr. Rhodes himself? And yet this was the man whom they were going to accuse of sowing dissension between the English and Dutch races in South Africa. [Cheers.] Mr. Rhodes had been the most active man in our colonies there to induce the English and Dutch races to work together. Mr. Rhodes had completely rehabilitated himself in the public opinion of this country by the work he had done since Parliament rose last year. ["No, no!" and cheers.] The enthusiastic receptions given to him by his countrymen in Cape Colony proved that they regarded him as the living impersonation of that spirit of private enterprise which had transformed this island kingdom into a world-wide Empire. [Cheers.] What was it proposed that this Committee could do to Mr. Rhodes? Suppose it came to the same conclusion as that which was arrived at after full and thorough inquiry by the Cape Parliament—that Mr. Rhodes had nothing to do with the actual raid itself, that he only made preparations and acted as Lord Loch had previously done, and that Lord Loch's conduct had never been repudiated either by Lord Ripon or by his successor, the present Colonial Secretary? That was the state of things they had to deal with, and they knew that a Committee of the House of Commons could not go well beyond the inquiry which was made at the Cape. That inquiry was most searching and thorough. He did not know if hon. Members had seen the Blue-book published by the Cape Assembly, which contained a large mass of evidence, and he said that a Committee of the House of Commons would not be able to obtain any further evidence than was submitted to a Committee of the Cape Assembly. He knew there were some people repeating current gossip, who said there ought to be wonderful revelations made, some of them affecting the Colonial Secretary and others affecting Mr. Rhodes, but he treated these reports as of no value whatever. ["Hear, hear!"] He had criticised very freely the public policy of the Colonial Secretary, but no one would dream of saying that the right hon. Gentleman personally had any complicity in the raid which took place in South Africa. To accuse him of dishonour of that kind would be idle and ridiculous. ["Hear, hear."] And in the same way he did not think they could expect to obtain any revelations as to some extraordinary conduct of Mr. Rhodes in relation to this raid beyond what they knew already. That was the position in which they would find themselves. What was to be done, supposing they came to a resolution that Mr. Rhodes was simply a man who determined to assist British subjects in the Transvaal if they rose against an oppressive Government? Supposing they were to come to that decision; would that satisfy the people who insisted that Mr. Rhodes should be their personal enemy, and who demanded that he should be banished from South Africa? They would at once say that a Committee of that House were simply accomplices with Mr. Rhodes in hushing up the whole affair. On the other hand, did they think a Committee of the House of Commons could punish Mr. Rhodes, could banish him from South Africa and exile him from public life? That House dare not lay its little finger on Mr. Rhodes. If it were to do anything of the kind it would set the whole of South Africa in a blaze. ["Hear, hear!"] That was one of the principal reasons why he had interfered in the matter. He had been anxious to prevent the House from making the mistake which it had made several times before with great loss of dignity and authority—the mistake of coming into collision with the public opinion of a powerful colony. ["Hear, hear!"] South Africa must be maintained for the British Empire by the good will and public opinion of the settlers out there, and if the House of Commons were to take upon itself to proscribe the most powerful man who had risen in late years in South Africa, the man who was beloved by the great mass of English settlers out there, he did nut think it could avoid placing itself in a position from which it would with difficulty emerge without loss of authority and prestige. ["Hear, hear!"] So much for the position of that House. With regards to Mr. Rhodes, he did not know what crime he was to be accused of committing during the last year. He seemed to him to have devoted all his labour's to the service of his country, just as he did at the time when he saved the whole of the territory from the frontier of Cape Colony up to the Zambesi from falling into the hands of a foreign Power, and prevented the Boers of the Transvaal from joining hands with the Germans in South-West Africa, which would for ever have prevented the predominance of the British race in that part of the world. ["Hear, hear!"] He had seen a great many articles in the newspapers lately speaking in terms of grave rebuke of the indiscretions of speech committed by Mr. Rhodes. Was he to be summoned before a Committee of the House of Commons to answer for those indiscretions of speech, to tell them what he meant by the reference to people who grew orchids or the exact meaning of that stinging phrase, "unctuous rectitude," which he used with regard to some people in this country? A man who saved or made an empire could not pick and choose his language as they did in that House—[laughter]—or as an editor of a newspaper sitting in his comfortable armchair could afford to do. He did not think they should punish Mr. Rhodes for committing a few crimes of that kind. So much for the position of Mr. Rhodes with regard to the Inquiry. He might say that, personally, he had no knowledge whatever of Mr. Rhodes; he never had any communication with him of any kind, and he had simply taken up this question because he believed his experience had given him a great know ledge of the sentiments entertained with regard to Imperial questions by their fellow countrymen living in distant parts of the Empire. ["Hear hear!"] He asked himself with whom was this compact made which the Government spoke of? Was it made with the Transvaal Government? Now he did not think that idea could be maintained for a moment. If any compact of that kind had been made with the Transvaal Government he thought it had been cancelled by the conduct of President Kruger during the last twelve months, but the Blue-book showed that no such compact was ever entered into by the English Government. He ventured to recall what many Members, perhaps, had forgotten, the exact position taken up by our Government here in January, 1896. After Jameson's raid Mr. Hofmeyr telegraphed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies asking for an assurance that justice would be done upon all the parties who had joined in the raid, and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, on January 7, replied:— There shall be full inquiry into the circum-stances of the late raid upon Transvaal territory, and stops will be taken to make it impossible for such attempts to be planned or executed in future. That seemed to him to have been the only pledge given to people in South Africa by the Colonial Secretary. Now, what was the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman a few days after that, on January 13? He said:— Now that Her Majesty's Government have fulfilled their obligations with the South African Republic, and have engaged to bring the leaders in the recent invasion to trial "— not before a Select Committee— Her Majesty's Government are anxious that the negotiations which have been conducted by you should result in a permanent settlement, by which the possibility of further internal troubles will be prevented. So that any compact that was made with the Government at Pretoria must have been purely conditional—conditional on the carrying out of certain concessions by the Government of Mr. Kruger. The Colonial Secretary made that quite plain in the second part of his Dispatch, when he said:— It is my sincere hope that President Kruger, who has hitherto shown so much wisdom in dealing with the situation, will now take the opportunity afforded to him of making of his own free will such reasonable concessions to the Uitlanders as will remove the last excuse of disloyalty and will establish the free institutions of the Republic on a firm and lasting basis. There they had the policy of the Colonial Secretary before he allowed his better instincts to be overborne by the timid counsels of Sir H. Robinson. ["Hear, hear!"] Only one more passage would he refer to as confirming that view of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman. On January 15th he telegraphed again to Sir H. Robinson, and he said:— There can be no settlement until the questions raised by these telegrams are disposed of. The people of Johannesburg laid down their arms in the belief that reasonable concessions would be arranged by your intervention—[cheers]—and until these are granted and are definitely promised you by the President the root-cause of the recent troubles will remain. Now, in those words the right hon. Gentleman distinctly declared that the root cause of the trouble which culminated in the Jameson raid was the attempt on the part of the Transvaal Government to deprive the Uitlanders of their just civil rights. He thought the language the right hon. Gentleman there used might be said to afford a reasonable justification for the rising of the Uitlanders and their insurrection against such a tyrannical Government as that of the Transvaal. He said the President had again and again promised reform, and added that grave dissatisfaction would be caused if he (Sir H. Robinson) left Pretoria without a clear understanding on those points. Sir H. Robinson left Pretoria without a clear understanding on any point whatever. [A cheer.] No concession whatever was made by President Kruger in return for what we did for him. He did not blame President Kruger for that. The President was a sagacious and far-sighted man, engaged in building up an indepen- dent nation, and, speaking from an impartial point of view, he could admire the wisdom and determination with which he prosecuted his design. [Cheers.] He did not wonder that Mr. Kruger proved himself superior to the finished diplomatists of more civilised nations [laughter and cheers], because he was free from the necessity of attending to employers' liability and old age pensions [cheers and laughter], and strikes and trade unions, and the thousand different channels in which the energies of statesmen in a civilised country were frittered away. Mr. Kruger had only one end to accomplish. He wished to make his people free and strong, and he went direct to the accomplishment of that end. He admired Mr. Kruger for it; but he could not absolve our own Government for having neglected to obtain from him those concessions for which alone the people of Johannesburg were; induced to lay down their arms, and Jameson and his men were brought to trial and punishment. No concessions of any kind had been made. On the contrary, all to whom the reputation of the Colonial Secretary was dear [cheers and laughter] must resent the cavalier treatment to which the right hon. Gentleman had been exposed at the hands of President Kruger. He had often heard Mr. Kruger spoken of as like one of the heroes in Plutarch; and he was reminded of the way in which Plutarch told of Sylla's treatment of the Greek orators, when they came out from Athens and wished to read to him long harangues. Sylla said to them:— My good friends, pack up your speeches and be gone. I have not come here to take lessons, but to subdue rebels to obedience. The Colonial Secretary had tried to practise on Mr. Kruger all that dialectical skill with which he so often charmed the House of Commons into obedience to his wishes. But Mr. Kruger's only reply was, "My good friend, take up your dispatches and be gone." [Laughter and cheers.] "I have not come here to listen to lectures, but to subdue a rebellious city." [Laughter.] Not only had no concessions been made, but Mr. Kruger had advanced his pretensions still further. The English settlers in the Transvaal were further than ever from getting the elementary rights of citizens; and we were confronted with the fact that the Boers intended to create a state of society in the Transvaal in which British subjects should be an inferior caste to the Dutchmen, who were the ruling power in the State. The immigration returns of the Cape would show a large increase in the immigration of foreigners as compared with British subjects. Many of those foreigners went straight to the Transvaal, where the Boers were building up a strong military State, centrally situated on the long line of communications between Cape Colony and Rhodesia and a great menace to the security of our possessions. Alarm was often expressed lest Mr. Kruger should some day throw off our suzerainty. Why should he? What had become of that suzerainty? As it now existed it could only be compared to Milton's description of death—" What seemed his head, the likeness of a kingly crown had on." [Cheers.] That suzerainty would never be a reality till we asserted our power and preponderance in South Africa. If we had no compact with anybody outside the House was there a compact with anyone within the House? Those who pressed for the appointment of this Committee were not men on the Ministerial side of the House, or Members of the Government, who might be influenced by a fancied point of honour. The men who desired the Committee were the right hon. Member for West Monmouth and the hon. Member for Northampton. If anybody's, the Committee was that of the hon. Member for Northampton. [Cheers.] Those who were familiar with the story of the impeachment of Warren Hastings would remember that there was one vindictive personal assailant of the great Proconsul —Sir Philip Francis—who was at the bottom of the mischief. He brought Pitt and Pox together and got the impeachment arranged. We had a Sir Philip Francis in our own day, who had brought together our modern Pitt and Fox to arrange this Inquiry, though he did not attribute to the hon. Member for Northampton the personal motives which animated Sir Philip Francis. He admired the courage and independence of the hon. Member's character, and he had always thought the hon. Member to be the only consistent man in attacking Mr. Rhodes and the Chartered Company. The hon. Member at least would not bow down to Mr. Rhodes, even when English society threw itself at his feet and the Government of Lord Rosebery heaped honours upon him and made him a Privy Councillor. Therefore he found no fault with the hon. Member for the action he had taken in the matter. But, while he was willing to do a great deal to oblige the hon. Member, when it came to making a choice between him and doing something towards maintaining the dignity of the British Empire, the hon. Member must pardon him for not giving him his support. He could not find any substance in any of the considerations that suggested themselves to his mind as possibly affording a justification for the action of the Government. On the other hand, he knew from what he had read and heard that the people of this country had grown heartily sick and weary of the irritating and humiliating references to the Jameson raid, which were now apparently to be prolonged for a year or two at the pleasure of a Committee of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] The public felt that they had sat long enough in sackcloth and ashes lamenting their sins and praising the magnanimity of President Kruger. [Cheers.] Let the dead past bury its dead. Let them be up and doing again. He felt sure that if they would but adopt a firm policy they would do more to bring the Dutch and English in South Africa together than by following a pusillanimous policy. [Cheers.] It was because an unsettled and wavering policy had been hitherto followed in regard to South Africa that many Afrikanders were inclined to gravitate towards the Dutch Republics. A favourable opportunity was now at hand for the adoption of a firm policy. Lord Rosmead was coming home. Let there, then, be an end of the policy associated with Lord Rosmead's name. He hoped the Government would select for Lord Rosmead's place someone who would lift up the standard of England and assert our power and permanent authority in South Africa. [Cheers.] He felt sure that if we spoke on that boldly and firmly, and above all took care to make clear that we would maintain what we said with our Imperial forces, we should command respect, and everybody would quietly assent to what we asked them to do. [Cheers.] The time had come for telling the Transvaal Government what we meant to have done, and to insist upon that Government carrying it out. [Cheers.] Much had been said against English civilisation, but at least it gave equal right to every man. [Nationalist cries of "No."] He did not know what hon. Gentleman opposite had to complain of, except it was that the Irish got more than their fair share of rights. [Laughter and cheers.] We ought certainly to insist that the Transvaal Government should give the same privileges to English settlers that Dutchmen received in our Commonwealth; and when all men were equal in South Africa we might hope to see restored order, peace and prosperity to that country. [Cheers.]

SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)

said he seconded the Motion of his hon. Friend. He did so with a deep sense of the gravity of the issue before the House as regards the South African portion of the British Empire. Things were now beginning to settle down in South Africa, and this Inquiry would, he feared, tend once more to revive bitter memories and angry feelings between the different races and interests in that country. At the same time he did not for a moment complain of her Majesty's Government for the course they had taken. They were no doubt, honourably bound by their understanding with the Leader of the Opposition. It was said that the right hon. Gentleman claimed the fulfilment of their promise, and that they feel themselves committed to him. But much had happened since then, and he should have hoped that the Government might have left the decision to the judgment of the House. It was a difficult question of political ethics, and he appreciated the chivalrous spirit which made the Government feel bound to press the Motion. But the House of Commons had a duty to the country and the Empire. They had to consider whether this Committee would do good or harm, and to vote according to their consciences. They had some years ago a somewhat similar case. In 1884, Mr. Gladstone had promised a discussion on Egyptian affairs. On June 30, the right hon. Gentleman proposed to redeem his pledge, but he was opposed by Mr. Forster and the present First Lord of the Admiralty on the ground that circumstances had changed, and that a discussion had become undesirable. The present First Lord of the Admiralty said:— I freely admit that the Government were bound to give a day for discussion when they were challenged by the Opposition. … but I claim this, that the House of Commons at large is entitled to disregard these considerations, and that we have simply to look at what is most for the interests of the country. As to any imputations on the Government, the Colonial Office, or his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies, they could afford to treat them with scorn. [Cheers.] There had, of course, been nothing but dark innuendoes and vague suggestions, and these would in any case continue to be made. As to foreign opinion, those whose confidence was worth having, those who looked fairly at the circumstances, knew quite well that in difficult circumstances Her Majesty's Government had acted loyally and in good faith towards the Transvaal. There were, unfortunately, some foreign papers, even in Germany, allied to us as she was in blood and in her real interests, justly called the Reptile Press, which lost no opportunity of traducing and misrepresenting this country. They would probably continue to do so whatever we might do. As regarded the Chartered Company, he had no interest in the Company and was not connected with it, but he believed that no evidence would be forthcoming which would in any way implicate them. At the same time he confessed he regretted that at a crisis of great difficulty, when their full attention was required to deal with the grave situation arising from the rinderpest and the native rebellions, they should be distracted, and some of their ablest administrators should be dragged from their natural places at the post of danger to resist an attack from the rear, and to take part in a mischievous, though academic, Inquiry. They were invited to inquire into the origin and circumstances of the raid. But in that case they must investigate the refusal of political rights, the system of taxation, the system of monopolies, the impediments of commerce, from which the Uitlanders alleged that they so grievously suffered, and which, in their opinion, were so unfair and oppressive as to have driven them to rebellion. What good could possibly come now from this Inquiry? Were we to consider the complaints of the Boers and take no account of the grievances of the Uitlanders? The possible harm was clear enough; it stared us in the face; it might stir up hatred between the different races in South Africa; it might endanger our relations with foreign Powers; it might paralyse, and would certainly injure, the trade and industries of South Africa—and for what? No one had yet pointed out any good that could possibly result. ["Hear, hear"!] Those responsible for the raid had been punished. The Cape Parliament had made an Inquiry and published a report. They had not thought it necessary to do more; why should we? ["Hear, hear!"] Our policy should be to let bygones be bygones—[cheers]—to endeavour to promote peace and goodwill between the different races in South Africa. This Inquiry would, he feared, relight the slumbering embers of race jealousies and personal animosities. To press for it just now, when angry feelings were beginning to subside, but when difficulties with the native races were acute and threatening, seemed, he did not say unpatriotic, for that would imply a sinister intention, which he was sure did not exist, but most unwise. If the Inquiry led to new troubles and complications, they would at least feel that they did their duty in endeavouring to prevent it, and they must throw the onus of the responsibility on the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues. [Cheers.]

The right hon. Baronet was speaking at Twelve o'clock, when the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.

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