§ [SECOND HEADING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
MR. BRYN ROBERTS
said that the House must be aware that he had throughout consistently voted in every division against the war, and now he was against the continuance of the war. He believed that a majority of his colleagues and friends on that side of the House were as strongly opposed to the war as he was at the origin, but still they were of opinion that after hostilities commenced, and especially after the ultimatum delivered by the Transvaal Government, this country had no option except to support the war. He had never been able to adopt that view. He did not propose to argue the question of the original injustice of the war, even if he should be in order, but he would defend the course he had taken by pointing out that the First Lord of the Treasury and the Colonial Secretary had on different occasions stated that the duty of any person who believed that this was an absolutely unjust and iniquitous war was to vote against it on every possible opportunity. The Colonial Secretary said he could not restrain the expression of his contempt for hon. Gentlemen who, admitting the injustice of the war, yet voted for its continuance. These remarks expressed entirely and exactly the reasons why since the commencement he had voted against the supplies for the war. The difference between him and his hon. friends really started with the ultimatum. They said, "Oh, the ultimatum makes a difference," and they thought, therefore, that they were bound to support the Government in prosecuting the war through all its stages. He would admit that, if the 762 ultimatum had been spontaneous on the part of the Transvaal Government and not forced by our action. The ultimatum was not delivered until speeches had been made in this country which were equivalent to an ultimatum. It was stated that having put our hand to the plough we could not go back—
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has already suggested that he would not be in order in referring to the origin of the war.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS
said he would not pursue that point. He was not referring to the question whether the grievances were such as to justify the war. The ultimatum did not make a difference, and that was the only point on which he and his political friends had differed in the matter of voting supplies.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS
I will keep myself as closely as I can to your ruling. I only wished in passing to make the observation that these declarations had been made and that this country had announced its intention of sending an army to South Africa for the purpose of the invasion, and my hon. friends who justified their conduct in supporting the Government in Supply throughout these proceedings have persistently ignored, and very improperly ignored, those controlling acts of the situation with respect to that point. Continuing, the hon. Member said the position of his friends who still continued to support the Government was really more inconsistent at present than at the time when they first embarked on their support of the Government. At that time they said they were only actuated by a desire to repel the invasion of our territory, and that after this had been done their voices would be raised in favour of a fair, just, and equitable settlement so far as the Transvaal Government was concerned. He felt at the time that that was a ridiculous, if not a puerile, proposition for any gentleman to make. They talked then as if the withdrawal of their support would cause some very great change in the policy of the Government. He knew very well that the Government would sneer at any attempt to control them by withdrawing their support. After the evacuation of Natal and Cape Colony, 763 after General Cronje and a number of troops had been captured, the Presidents of the two Republics made overtures for peace on conditions which would have abundantly satisfied the necessities of the case, but, so far as he remembered, not a single voice was raised by his hon. friends on that side of the House in favour of pressing those terms on the Government. They had followed the course which experience showed was always taken in such a case. If they started on a wrong road they were forced by circumstances to go further and further. Not only his hon. friends, but hon. Members opposite and members of the Government, were now openly advocating a position with respect to the Transvaal that they themselves shrank from with horror before the commencement of the war at all. Why were we continuing this war? Nobody could suggest that there was any other cause than the fact that the Government, in breach of its promises, had insisted upon the total extinction of the internal independence of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and the annexation of these territories to Her Majesty's dominions. That was completely at variance with the repeated declarations and assurances of the most prominent members of the Government. It was clearly necessary to remind the House that Lord Salisbury stated that we sought no territory. That assurance was given a month after the war commenced. The very day after the decision had been arrived at to send a force of 48,000 men to South Africa to invade the Transvaal, the Duke of Devonshire referred to the rooted conviction the South African Republics appeared to have that England was cherishing some design against their independence and self-government, and he declared that such apprehensions were absolutely unfounded. Three weeks after the war had broken out the Secretary of State for India, referring to the taunts that British talk about reform and the desire to improve the internal government of the Transvaal were mere hypocrisy, said that when success was achieved and the terms this country proposed, as victors, to the vanquished were known, foreign nations would change their opinion, and would see that the main cause for embarking on the conflict was not a desire for pecuniary profit or territorial aggrandisement. There were other declarations of leading and responsible politicians to the same effect, and it 764 was deplorable and humiliating for every honest subject of the Queen to have to confess that all those assurances had been openly broken. As soon as the Government found they could break those assurances with impunity they did not hesitate to do so. It was actions such as that that brought disgrace and discredit on the name of England, and had made the name of England a by-word for perfidy among the nations of the Continent. A reason given for the adoption of the policy of annexation was that a recurrence of such a war must be rendered impossible. That was an utterly unfounded argument. If it were a sound argument it might be some, although not a sufficient, excuse for breaking faith, but he contended strongly that so far from annexation securing the country against disturbance, it was certain to lead to a repetition of the unhappy events now occurring. The question should be asked, What caused these events before, and would those causes be removed by annexation? It was believed that the campaign would be a short and victorious one of four or six weeks duration, that the Transvaalers were absolutely weak, and that 50,000 men would be more than sufficient to finish the business. It was that mistaken belief that had led to the false step. By annexation the British Government would be lulled into a false sense of security in the future as in the past. It would be impossible to deprive the Transvaalers of rifles, as they were absolutely necessary for their protection against wild beasts, and when a suitable opportunity for rising occurred this country would be astonished to find the fighting capacity of the Boers only very little less than at present. Although it was assumed that annexation would have the result he had mentioned, the conduct of the Government showed that they did not believe it. They themselves admitted that it would be necessary to have a permanent military garrison of from 30,000 to 50,000 men to guard against the danger of future disturbances. He contended that annexation was the worst possible solution of the problem, even from the purely selfish and opportunist point of view, and setting aside all questions of international obligations and good faith. The best plan would be to retain the internal independence of the two Republics. Annexation would be regarded by the whole of the Dutch of South Africa as a gross and fraudulent breach of faith, and 765 would cause undying hatred in the breast of every Dutchman in South Africa. No human passion was more permanent than the resentment occasioned by a sense of gross injustice, and the iniquities committed during this war would be related around the hearths of the Transvaal families for generations, giving to every lad a strong desire to avenge the wrongs done to his nation and his forefathers. It was admitted that eventually representative government would have to be established, and it was certain that in the future the Dutch population would be preponderant. When the time came there would be a majority absolutely irreconcilable against Great Britain, and how would it be possible then to retain South Africa? Then, it was suggested that the result of annexation would be the ultimate federation of all the States in South Africa under British suzerainty, but that federation instead of being a protection to England's supremacy would be its greatest danger. Government from Downing Street would be absolutely impossible, and the result would necessarily be the total loss of these colonies. All these prophecies would doubtless be derided, but he felt confident they would be fulfilled. The reason annexation was insisted upon was that it was only by annexation that the absolute falsity of the main ground upon which the Government went to war could be concealed. That main ground was to enforce the right of the Uitlanders to the franchise, but the Government had discovered that the English Uitlander would never accept the franchise at the cost of his British nationality, and the claim was therefore a false one. President Kruger never made a greater mistake from his own point of view than when he refused to grant the franchise at once, because it was perfectly certain that not ten per cent, of the British Uitlanders would have accepted it, and Sir Alfred Milner and the Colonial Secretary would have been deeply humiliated by having threatened war for such a fictitious cause. It was in order to avoid the humiliation of that exposure that this war was being continued week after week and month after month, and thousands of lives sacrificed, and millions of treasure wasted.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
I only desire to ask two or three questions, and I do not wish in any way to continue the long discussion we have had. There are, 766 however, one or two points which I think should be brought up on this occasion, because we are very anxious to see what are the first steps in the direction of reforming the War Office. We hear a great deal still of men being sent out to South Africa, and if experience has taught this House anything, it is that it is wrong and extravagant, and a practice which we all deplore, to send to the front young men with no experience. I asked a question the other day concerning some troops sent from Omagh to join the Inniskilling Fusiliers. I think I was right in saying—and the right hon. Gentleman did not contradict it—that none of these men were over eighteen years of age, that they had practically never fired a shot, had received no battalion drill, and had only been four months enlisted. With our experience during this last year in South Africa, I think to send men of that sort out to the front is certainly an indication that we are not learning the elementary principles of warfare. The idea of sending men of this sort out is very extravagant, and although the reply given to me was that they were only going to serve on the lines of communication, still, while there are De Wets about, the lines of communication seem to be as important a part as any in the campaign. We know what has happened in different parts of the Orange River Colony and tie Transvaal, and it is obvious that in sending, out troops we should stop the practice of sending these young lads, who ought to be kept at home until they have learned to use a rifle and how to ride as well. I wish to get an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that in future troops will not be sent out of this tender age, and certainly not until they have learned the very first principles which are wanted when they get to South Africa. My second point is concerning those officers who have been sent back to England from the front. I do not wish to say anything unpleasant or mention any names, but it is common knowledge that a certain number of men have been sent back who have not been invalided home, who had either made mistakes or who were not considered competent to lead the men. There are several of these cases. We are very sorry for it, because no doubt many of them are gallant men, and personally everything that could be desired. I brought this matter forward in the summer, and I want to know whether it 767 is desirable in an Army which we are about to reorganise that the men who have been sent home in this way should be placed in high positions here at home when, in the very act of war, they have been sent back as not fit to carry out the duties of their position. Although it may be very painful to these individuals, still the only object for which a soldier exists is that when war comes he should be competent to perform his duties. If a man is sent home at a time when we are sending out more men—and when every available man is wanted to assist in the campaign—because he is not suitable, it is a very extraordinary thing that such men should be given high positions, and should be allowed, in some cases, to go about criticising the conduct of the war, in which they were not fit to take part. I wish to know whether there are any rules dealing with officers who have been sent back, and who are not considered suitable to carry on a campaign, to the effect that they shall be given commands in England which are so much coveted by the men who have done good service for their country. The third question I wish to ask is what regulations are there in regard to officers returning home whose regiments are still at the front. This is a matter which astonishes a good many people. We were told in the right hon. Gentleman's speech the other day that the Yeomanry and the Volunteers could not return, and that they had been called upon to servo a longer time. Of course I know that as loyal and patriotic men they will do their duty, and I do not think there will be much grumbling among them. They are quite willing to give their services, and they are acquitting themselves in a most heroic manner. It seems very strange to us how easy it is for some officers in high positions to leave their regiments and come home, and I should like to know whether this is a usual thing, and what are the rules under which they are allowed to return. I was always given to understand that an ordinary officer at the front never dreamt of leaving his regiment unless ho was invalided or promoted. It is common knowledge that a considerable number of these officers have come home. I will not mention names, but I think it is only right that the country should know for what special reasons they have come back, and what are the general rules which regulate these 768 matters. Many of them are very competent men, and should be at the front under ordinary circumstances. We have a right to know what special reasons there are for picking out certain individuals to come home leaving their regiments behind. Those are my three main points, and they are questions which we are all interested in. We are all extremely anxious that the war should be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible, and we desire also to see the War Office system completely reformed and made efficient, and I think that the three points which I have raised demand some explanation from the right hon. Gentleman.
MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea District)
I do not rise to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, and I am quite as ready as I was in the last Parliament to vote for any reasonable supplies for the vigorous prosecution of the war in South Africa. I believe that we are, substantially, in the right in this quarrel, and I believe that the demands made by the Government upon the South African Republic were fair and reasonable, and that there was no justification, either technically or really, for the invasion of our territory by the two Dutch Republics. I am simply stating the conviction I have formed from studying the literature connected with the subject, and taking into account what has happened since the outbreak of the war. I simply make that statement in order that my point of view may be understood. I have one or two points to put to the Government. I believe that there has never been a demand of this kind for so large a sum of money as £11,000,000, or rather £16,000,000, with which we are now dealing. The House is being asked to vote this money in complete darkness. I have done my best to follow the events of the war, and, from the accounts furnished by the generals and the correspondents, I confess that I really am not in a position to say whether the money which has been previously voted by this House has been well spent. I am not in a position to form any judgment as to whether the war has been conducted with efficiency or with economy. There are many arguments which I might raise indicating that there has not been an efficient conducting of the war in South Africa in many parts of the theatre of the fight, but I am not now going to go into the details. I am only leading up to this 769 point—Why is it that no full despatches from Lord Roberts have been published since April 17th? Since the commencement of the war ten full despatches by generals commanding have been published. During the Crimean War, in 1854, I find that the sending of despatches by Lord Raglan was pursued with the utmost care and promptitude, and immediately upon their receipt by the War Office they were published in the London Gazette. It is very remarkable, considering the difficulties of transport in those days, with what speed Lord Raglan's despatches were published, and that course was pursued throughout the whole war. Therefore, when the Members of the House of Commons were called upon to vote the money, they were in a position to form some judgment not only as to the efficiency of the War Office, but also as to the way in which the war was being carried on. Many Members of the House will remember that there was a debate about the Spion Kop despatches in the month of May last, and I suppose it is in consequence of what took place then that there has been this cessation in the publication of despatches. I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a passage from a regulation bearing upon this matter, which I think was referred to by the ex-Under Secretary of State for War, and which was read by Lord Lansdowne in another place. It reads—It will rest with the Secretary of State for War, acting upon the advice of the Commander-in-Chief, to determine what despatches shall be made public, and the manner in which they shall be made generally known.The question I wish to ask is whether it was upon the advice of Lord Wolseley, who until a few days ago was Commander-in-Chief, that no further despatches from Lord Roberts have been published. We have been told that the publication of these despatches rests with the Secretary of State for War, acting upon the advice of the Commander-in-Chief, and it appears to me that the Government are not treating the House fairly in coming again for another Vote without giving us the best information in their power to enable us to judge whether the money we have already voted has been well spent. Many hon. Members will remember the immediate occasion of the cessation, for it occurred at the close of a debate upon Spion Kop, when the right hon. Gentle- 770 man told us that the House should not complain if the Minister for War declined to publish despatches or answer questions about despatches. And so, because the Government acted indiscreetly in publishing one despatch, the House is to be deprived of all the despatches in future. That is all I have to say upon that point. Then there is the question of the promise of an inquiry into the organisation of the War Office and our whole system of national defence. I do not think that that point has been touched upon this session.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The only vote appropriated by this Bill is that for carrying on the war in South Africa and China.
MR. BRYNMOR JONES
Perhaps my particular form of words did not properly explain my argument. Before I vote for this money I should like to know how far the Government are going to redeem their promise made last session in order to induce us to vote sums of money in regard to Army reform. I do not think that this money will be well spent unless we have some immediate changes in regard to the War Office and our Army. It is evidently the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman that this war is going to be prolonged. We are now face to face with sporadic encounters here and there. We are going to keep some 200,000 men still in South Africa, and if this inquiry is held quickly perhaps some good will result from it. A definite promise was made by Lord Salisbury on the 9th November, when he said that we must scrutinise every department connected with our national defence, and this is all the more necessary in view of the extraordinary miscalculation made by the Government in South Africa.
§ * MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helens)
I need hardly say that, as far as I am concerned, I am entirely in favour of the principle of this Bill, and if the amount was for £160,000,000, and it was required in order to bring this war to a final and satisfactory conclusion, I should cheerfully support it. I desire, however, to call the attention of the House to a certain specific matter affecting two battalions of the Imperial Yeomanry. I pass over the general principle of this Bill to the question of how some of this money is going to be spent, and to how some of it has been spent. I want to call the attention of the House to the detention 771 of two battalions of the Imperial Yeomanry—the 17th and 18th battalions—who formed part of the Rhodesian force, and who were sent out in April last and landed at Beira about May, and passed over the Beira Railway in order to take their part in the operations in Rhodesia. But before I call the attention of the House very shortly to this subject, I wish to make one or two preliminary observations. My statement deals with the detention of these two battalions in a very bad fever district through which the Beira Railway goes, and the result of that delay and the loss of life which occurred in consequence was due to some very serious mismanagement. Before I come to that fact I should like to say that I am making this statement entirely on my own initiative. I have not been requested by any officer or any man in that force to make any complaint about it. I think we ought to recognise that when men volunteer for the defence of their country and respond to the call of arms they take their chance of the hardships and suffering which they may meet with in the field of battle or in the field operations. The men I am talking about do not wish to complain of what they have suffered. The second preliminary point which I should like to mention is to answer the natural query—What business have I in this matter beyond the fact that I am a Member of this House? Well, I wish to say that I happen to be the individual who obtained authority from the War Office to recruit the corps. I only mention this fact in order to ask the House to grant me their indulgence in the matter. The third point I wish to make is that I have no complaint to make of any want of courtesy on the part of the War Office or of the way in which they have answered my correspondence in this matter. I have received long letters upon this subject, and I sent copies of them to the Secretary of State for War and to my right hon. friend's predecessor in this House, the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, and both these Ministers wrote me very sympathetic letters, and promised me an inquiry into the facts of the case. I wrote to my hon. friend the present Secretary of State for War asking for the result of that inquiry, and he sent me in reply a summary of the report of Sir Frederick Carrington, Commander of the Rhodesian Field Force, who had inquired into the matter. I have not seen the complete report, but I have read 772 the summary, and I should like to say that, in my humble opinion, that report is very unsatisfactory. It states that the delay of these two battalions on the Beira Railway was unavoidable, and that it was one of those inevitable accidents connected with operations in the field. I have to submit that this might have been avoided, and I make this assertion upon the facts represented to me. I have letters from some of the officers and men of the two battalions, and I have seen some of the men who were out there, and I think that the responsibility for this occurrence ought to be pressed home on somebody. This House should understand that the first sixty miles of the Beira Railway is the narrow gauge and the dangerous portion of the railway extends for about 200 miles. Now Beira is one of the worst fever districts on the coast of that continent. I am told that the principal means of subsistence at Beira is whisky and soda, which is necessitated by the climate. Unless your temperature is over 104 you are not considered to be ill, but if it goes over that you are justified in going home and lying down. Otherwise you are expected to go about and do your business. That will show you what kind of a place Beira is. For about 150 miles inland it is still worse. The country is full of game but it is reeking with fever. It was obviously, therefore, in any military operations, of the utmost importance to take your men over that railway with the utmost speed, and any commander with any foresight at all would be anxious to get his troops over the railway with as little delay as possible. Well, I believe that the colonials were I not delayed, and I am very happy to think that they were conveyed over the line without any delay. But the two battalions of Imperial Yeomanry were delayed twenty-three miles inland for sixteen days, and were then taken to Bamboo Creek, the narrow gauge terminus, where they were kept for fourteen days more. One company of the 18th battalion Sharpshooters were camped for three weeks at the Horse Paddocks at Beira—a bad fever spot, where the land crabs cover the ground with slime—in charge of 1,400 horses. The general result was that in the two battalions twenty-two men died, 200 were invalided home, and the remainder of that fine battalion of 1,100 men were so saturated with malaria that they were completely incapacitated for a time; for, however 773 strong a man may be, once having got the malaria into his system it takes months to get rid of it. In the words of one of them, when these battalions landed at Beira they were 1,100 of the finest young fellows that had ever left England, and when they reached Pretoria they were only a miserable remnant. I should like to say as an illustration of what stuff they were made of, that in spite of their weak condition, they shot a rifle match with the Umtali Rifle Club, who hold the championship of Rhodesia, and thoroughly beat them. The local newspapers said that no such shooting had ever been seen in South Africa. Now these men were worth looking after. Let me deal for a moment with the summary of Sir F. Carrington's Report. He says that this delay was inevitable, that it was owing to the break of gauge at Bamboo Creek, and to the misrepresentations made to the military authorities by the railway manager in regard to the carrying capacities of the railway. It is not my business to impute blame to anyone in particular. I do not stand here to blame a distinguished soldier like Sir F. Carrington, but I do say that there must have been some mismanagement somewhere. As to the delay being inevitable, I challenge that conclusion and submit that ordinary business foresight on the part of the military authorities would have obviated this sad blunder. There were several ways to avoid delay. In the first place there was no reason why all the transports should have arrived at Beira at the same time. Some of them might have been detained for a time at Durban and been successively brought up to Beira, and so have enabled the troops to go through, one detachment after another, without causing a block. Then having brought them to Beira at the same time there was no reason why they should not have been kept on board the ship instead of being landed in such numbers and sent to camp on fever swamps. I am quite unable to understand why that was not done. I believe that after the steamers reached Beira there was a demurrage of £150 a day, but I do not suppose that that consideration entered into the minds of the military authorities. Then it is said in the Report that there was not sufficient rolling stock on the broad gauge section, but there was no reason why the troops, instead of being planted down on fever swamps, should 774 not have been taken through at once to Umtali, and no further for the time. This was a healthy spot, and free from fever. This could, I believe, have well been done had the rolling stock been used more judiciously, and not used unnecessarily on the longer section to Marandallas, beyond Umtali, until all the troops were through the dangerous fever belt. I want to ask my right hon. friend if he will give us more explanation than is found in the report in regard to the control of this railway. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that at the time the Rhodesian field force arrived at Beira the railway was under the control of the military authorities. The Report states that these did not exercise any actual control, but left it in the hands of the railway contractors and their manager, Mr. Lawley. Now, I cannot imagine a better arrangement to enable all parties concerned to escape responsibility. If you blame the military authorities they may say, "We are not responsible, because we have not the actual control." If you blame the actual managers they will say, "We are not responsible, because the military authorities had the control of the line." Responsibility must be brought home somewhere. We cannot alter the facts of the case now; they are part of history. But our object is to see that the War Office system, and the system of national defence are properly reformed, and if that is to be done we are bound to find out who is responsible and so bring responsibility home in order to guard against a repetition of such blunders in future. I submit that, in the first place, if the rolling stock on this line was not sufficient to take, these battalions of Imperial Yeomanry through the fever belt, then the military authorities ought to have ascertained that with absolute certainty. In the second place, if, as appears in the Report, the military authorities were misled by the railway contractors as to the facilities for carrying troops on the line, the responsibility ought to be fixed on the railway contractors and their managers. If the military authorities had the formal control of the line they ought to have taken steps to enforce that control. Let me give an instance as to the absurd way in which the control was exercised. The Report speaks of the break of gauge causing delay. To my knowledge five non-commissioned officers and men of the Sharp- 775 shooters Corps at Bamboo Creek, where the break occurs, untrucked 215 horses in an hour and a quarter, and trucked, them again. If sufficient rolling stock had been provided at this point, a delay of two or three weeks would not have occurred. Again after the Sharpshooters battalion had been kept for three weeks at Bamboo Creek they themselves commandeered some trucks, and fitted them with sides to protect the troops, in spite of the assurances of the railway officials that there was no rolling stock available. Unless they had thus taken the matter into their own hands they would not have got away as soon as they did. That shows that the management of the railway transport and the arrangement of the different sections was most inefficient; and I most humbly resent the taking: away the responsibility from the War I Office by the statement that this was an inevitable state of things. I am perfectly well aware that you cannot carry on warlike operations 6,000 miles from this country without some inevitable mistakes and mishaps, but here you have a fine force, some of them the finest men and the finest shots in the country, and all of whom had left their businesses at the cost of a good deal of money to themselves and friends—absolutely squandered by the delay of three weeks in what is known to be one of the worst fever districts in the whole of South Africa. I do not want to blame anyone unnecessarily, but I want to see the responsibility placed on the quarter where it properly belongs. My right hon. friend has said that he is going to lay the Report of Sir F. Carrington on the Table of the House. I have taken the trouble to collect the facts from the men who were there—I hope it will not be thought presumptious on my part—and I have placed these facts in a statement I have sent to my right hon. friend. I should like him, if he would, to place that statement on the Table along with the other documents. I hope that whatever we do in the future in carrying on our wars, we shall make our arrangements on a better footing than we have apparently hitherto done. In a daily paper this morning I saw a form of words which exactly expresses my meaning. I do not know who the writer is; he writes anonymously; but he says—I appeal to business men. Given a large technical business, employing a great number of workpeople and containing many different departments. Put in absolute control a man 776 who has made such a business his life's study, and who understands every detail. The result will be success. Make such a man subservient to a gentleman who is entirely ignorant of the business, and the result will be failure. Surely this rule applies also to matters of State.I hope the matter will be pressed home, and this want of business capability will disappear from the management of our national defences.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I sympathise most warmly with the woes of the Sharpshooters, but the hon. Member has only confirmed what we have said on this side of the House, that when in this South African business there is an opportunity to muddle, muddling takes place. I have not risen, however, to discuss that point. I think that although this session has been a short one, we may congratulate ourselves on this side of the House as to what has taken place. We are in a small minority. We have not the advantage of a large and dominant majority; but, on the whole, although we, of course, have not been able to beat; the Government by our votes, yet we have thoroughly singed their wings. I think if the country at large were consulted now on this South African business it would return a somewhat different verdict to what it did at the General Election. For my pare I consider that the session has been a session of inquiry and investigation, and I regard the Government as being much in the position of a person who has been brought before a magistrate and has been committed to the February Assizes. When the February Assizes come on and the issues are in we shall have a very great deal more to say to the Government than we have had the opportunity of doing on the present occasion. There is a minor point I would again press on the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War. It is a question in regard to the Reservists and their families. You give a Reservist's wife 1s. a day and his children 1s. 3d. I say it is quite impossible that they can live in the same decent comfort as when the husband was earning large wages, on that small pittance. The consequence is that in almost every town in the country public subscriptions have flowed in to supplement the Government allowance. But these subscriptions cannot last for ever, and I do think if you cannot allow these Reservists to come back to England, the very least you can do is to keep their 777 families here in decent comfort. I have been attacked for not having a sufficient sentiment of vicarious patriotism in thinking how these soldiers have conducted themselves in the field. I say they have conducted themselves very well; but there are many in this House who blow their own trumpets. For my part I take more interest in their wives and children than in the soldiers themselves. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that the allowances to their families are increased, and that they should not have to depend upon public charity, which, to a certain extent, is dried up. I wish to call the attention of the House to a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman last night—the most extraordinary statement that has yet been made in connection with affairs in South Africa by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman said that Sir A. Milner—I will quote from The Times—
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! That is not a question that can now be raised. Sir A. Milner's position does not arise on this Bill.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I am raising the question in this way because I have doubts and hesitations in my own mind whether I ought to vote for this Bill.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Why I have doubts is this, that I conceive that if this statement is not contradicted it is vain and useless for us to vote money in the way we are doing, because the war will be perpetuated for ever and there no peace or harmony in South Perhaps I may allude to the will be Africa, fact—
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I will mend my ways, Mr. Speaker. I will not even go so far as to hope that before the debate is over the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that all those who distrust Sir A. Milner—
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must ask the hon. Member to observe my ruling. He is now persisting in discussing a topic which I have told him is not in order.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I did it in the interests of the country. Perhaps it is right that the statement should go to South Africa as it stands. I am not very clear in my own mind, and if I were to ask hon. Members opposite I am sure they would also say that they were not clear in their minds, as to what is going to be done in South Africa. We have had statements here and in the other House in regards to how the war is going to be conducted; but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, before this House breaks up, to more clearly tell us something in regard to this burning and devastating of the country in South Africa. So far as I have been able to gather, the proclamations of Lord Roberts are to be in some way modified. I believe myself that if you want to crush out a national resistance in any country it is impossible to do so without the means taken in the present war. As I understand, some sort of change is going to be made, but I do not believe that if you really intend to carry out what you say is your object, you will ever be able to do so without practically and to all intents and purposes using the means you have already employed. I suggest an alternative to that. I do not believe the Boers are likely to surrender. My belief is that, although probably a considerable number of adventurous spirits are fighting for fighting's sake, there are also in these commandoes numerous Boers who are exceedingly desirous that their country should not cease to exist as a separate country, and that they are fighting, as we ourselves would fight, for what they consider is the noblest of all causes. I admit fully that we cannot go back to the status quo ante, and that there must be an annexation of these two Republics to the political area of the Empire. But it seems to me that it would be desirable that some proposal should be made to the Boers that, subject to every precaution that can suggest itself to the mind of man to prevent a second war breaking out, they should be put in a position in which they would have some kind of autonomy. Take the case of the Native States in India. The subjects of one of these States are not subjects of the British Empire, but of the ruler of the State. I cannot help thinking that the Government might very easily, if it would give its mind to the question, make some sort of proposal that would be perfectly safe 779 to us, and at the same time would give to the Boers what may be termed a special reserve, where they might live under their own laws, and according to their own habits, and call themselves Boers if they preferred that. We go on telling them that it is a great and glorious thing to be a British citizen. In the same way a German thinks it a great and glorious thing to be a German citizen; but if the Germans were to invade this country there would be a national resistance, and we would say that we prefer to be British rather than German citizens. Take the case of Scotland. History does not regard Wallace as a mercenary or a robber. He did his duty to his country by fighting against the English to the death, and I am not prepared to blame the Boers resisting to the bitter end. I tell the Government they may depend upon it that if the Boer resistance goes on, and if, as a necessary consequence, they have to fall back on these burnings and devastations now going on, the British public will not much longer stand it. There is a strong feeling already growing up against it. We know perfectly well that there have been other cases before in which we have expressed our opinion in regard to such transactions. We know what happened in Bulgaria. The Turks wanted to crush out the Bulgarian nationality, and they were obliged to do so in the same way in which we are carrying on this war. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh.] I say that the Turks were obliged to devastate the country in Bulgaria and to burn down the houses. It is a necessary consequence of policy, and I am not blaming the Government or the military authorities. Those who are old enough to remember will recall the feeling that was excited by the occupation of Italy by Austria, and I say, looking at the past history of England and the feeling that has been elicited in England under somewhat similar circumstances, I certainly believe that the Boers have only to continue to resist for a certain time, and we to combat that resistance by military measures in the only way we can, to excite the sentiment of this country to a pitch that it will be impossible for the Government to control, and they would be compelled to give more advantageous terms. What we want to do is to establish peace and prosperity in South Africa. I want the South African Colonies to be united to us in the bonds of friendship, and that is why I urge that 780 every effort should be made to arrive at the end of the war.
§ MR. YERBURGH (Chester)
said the question he desired to raise was the position of the Imperial Yeomanry at the present time. The position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman was that the Yeomanry had enlisted for the period of the war, and that so long as the war lasted the Government had a right to the services of the Yeomanry in South Africa. That might be the letter of the agreement, but it certainly was not the spirit of it. The Yeomanry came forward at a time of national peril to assist the Government at a time when the military force was at its lowest. It was composed of men of all classes and occupations, and only enlisted to assist so long as the war continued on a large scale. The war was now practically over, and police duty was not the sort of work for which the Yeomanry were required. He felt most strongly upon the matter, and considered that if the Government insisted upon the Yeomanry remaining in South Africa until all military operations were corm-completed they were violating the spirit of the agreement into which they had entered with that body. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would see his way to relieve them from further service. He had seen it stated that the Chinese regiment at Wei-hai-wei had been engaged in operations for the relief of Peking. He would like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman in what capacity the regiment had acted, and whether that regiment had distinguished itself or not.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
dissociated himself entirely from the position taken up by the hon. Member for Chester. Everybody admired the way in which these Volunteer forces came forward at a time when there was a check to British arms in South Africa, at the risk not only of their lives, but the loss of their prospects in their various professions and occupations, in order to assist the Government so far as they could in maintaining the honour and integrity of the Empire. It was a gallant and praiseworthy act, which had a great moral effect not only on this country, but on the world at large; but it was hardly fitting that the Government should allow any claim that these men should judge for themselves as to the proper time for them to come home. They 781 undertook to serve during the war, and it was not for them to say when the war had come to an end or when their services were no longer required. Many of the Yeomanry who when they joined were perfectly raw and had only a most rudimentary knowledge of military service had become some of the finest soldiers in the Army. Some had become most efficient scouts and light cavalry only second—for indeed they were second—to our colonial troops, and they had gained immortal honour. It might be that in the Army broken up into detachments to put down this guerilla warfare they were doing as efficient service as any done when our forces were fighting in large detachments. They had been engaged for the war, and were now occupied in bringing the war to an end and pacifying the country, audit was not for the House to protest at their being kept in South Africa, and he hoped there would be no attempt to interfere with the military authorities in this matter.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said he desired to support the very sensible and experienced view that had just been expressed. If there had been a mistake in this matter it was that the Government originally allowed the Yeomanry, as Yeomanry, to enlist at all. Undue preference had been given to certain sections of men in this war, and if ever Great Britain was placed in a similar position he hoped the Government would be influenced by the lessons taught by the experience of these particular regiments, the Yeomanry, Lovat's Scouts, and other sections of Volunteers, and that they would see how unjust it was to the Regulars and Militia that these Volunteers should be split up into regiments—class regiments—as against the Regulars, who, after all, would have to see the thing through. Six hundred Cavalry enlisted, and should have been attached to some regiment, instead of which they were formed into one regiment, described by Tommy Atkins as the "Dandy Regiment" We had regiments under noble lords and distinguished gentlemen whose idea was that the war was to be a picnic and medal-hunting expedition. Every man who volunteered for this war and wished to join a Cavalry regiment should have been attached to an additional squadron of regular cavalry; every man who desired to join a foot regiment should have been at- 782 tached to the territorial regiment which he wished to join; if a Volunteer Artilleryman he should have been attached to a regular battery. He made these observations because this preferential treatment had created a profound feeling of dissatisfaction, amounting in some cases to positive jealousy, among the men who would have to see the war through. This sort of thing ought to be avoided in the future. We ought not to have a Brigade of Guards which had done its work extremely well receiving 1s. 2d. a day, while a special corps was getting 5s. a day. While Bundle's half-starved regulars were pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for the Colonial Secretary, these special corps were sheltering behind zarebas of Fortnum and Mason's delicacies and tinned food. If this was a just war there ought not to be any distinction in treatment of the men. If patriotism was the inspiring motive to make men fight, then a man ought to be as glad to fight with the Tower Hamlets workman as with the Yeomanry, which is now crying out to be sent home. If we were to maintain a Volunteer Army it could only be done on one footing, which should be that the whole force should have a co-equal share in the burden and hardships of the campaign, and that every soldier, whether a gas-stoker, an aristocrat, or a farmer, should be equal in war with his fellows. It was a disgrace to the honour and best traditions of the British Army that, when the war broke out, any man with a title had only to land at Cape Town to be immediately attached to the general staff, to the exclusion of fine soldiers, company officers, who by distinguished work in other campaigns had a right to a position on the general staff—a right to the prizes which war offers to all. But in this campaign Lord Roberts had been surrounded by a ring fence of younger sons, many of whom had not earned their spurs in any quarter of the globe. This was causing great dissatisfaction among the officers of the Army. If we were to have an Army and give encouragement to our officers, many of whom had done admirable work, it should not be possible, when there was staff promotion, for men with only political influence or back-stairs power to secure a position which only fighting ability and patriotic zeal should entitle them to have. He hoped that this war 783 would put an end to this sort of thing. Let all men come under one discipline in the battlefield. If that was done we should get patriotic soldiers. If it was not done, the rank and file of our Army would be dissatisfied, and we should not get recruits, because no one would enter the Army when it was proved that you had to be a gamekeeper to Lord So-and-So before you could become a sergeant-major and get a commission. With regard to the money which had been asked for, the House had been asked for £16,000,000 to bring this war to a conclusion; and a great deal of that money would be spent upon stores of various kinds which were very badly needed, and upon food which was not there in the quantity that it should be. He had received a letter from the father of one of the Volunteers, enclosing a cutting which had come from his son who had cut it out of a Rhodesian paper, which stated how at Salisbury there were sold, for ridiculously low prices, great quantities of overcoats, provisions, saddles, and other necessaries at a time when our soldiers were suffering from exposure to the cold and were short of food. That savoured rather of what happened in the Crimean War. Apparently we were sending stores, saddles, overcoats, and food out in sufficient quantities, if it were only properly distributed and reached the men at the right place at the right time. It appeared to him, in the face of the paragraph which he had just read, that the Secretary of State for War ought to inquire how it was that in many portions of South Africa men were contracting rheumatism owing to improper clothing, while these things were being sold at these low prices in other parts of the country. It was the duty of the Secretary of State for War to inquire into this matter, and to ascertain whether the facts that he had brought to the attention of the House were true. If they were true it was a reflection upon the War Office, and was a reason for some officer, whoever he might be, being brought home and immediately cashiered for allowing stores to accumulate where they were not required. As a great portion of the £16,000,000 the House was then voting would be expended on these things, he had thought it was his duty to bring that paragraph to the attention of the House, and to state from his place what was the general view of the British Army. Out of the 24,000 men on 784 the register in the constituency he represented nearly 800 were out at the front, and, being near the Guards' barracks as he was, he knew an enormous number of Reserve men in London, and he knew the view of the average soldier. These men did not complain about short rations, or of having to march with boots half off their feet, or of dying as the brave fellows had done, but what they did feel keenly was the differential treatment in pay, status, and social condition. If the class distinctions made in this campaign were to prevail, we should be driven to conscription to get our Army. The only thing which bound the Army together was comradeship. It was a mistake, a blunder, and might be some day a crime, and it was in order to save the military authorities from a more serious mistake in the future that he now ventured to express the views of every Reserve man, every Militiaman, and every man in the Regular Army.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. BRODRICK,) Surrey, Guildford
When the hon. Member and I rose together I gave way to him, and I am glad that I gave way. If I had not done so I should not have had the opportunity of repudiating on behalf of the Army one of the most regrettable speeches I have ever heard in my life. I have listened to a good many Army debates, but a more inaccurate and a more unjustifiable speech, a speech worse in tone and in temper, I never listened to. It contained innuendoes which the hon. Member could not support by a single instance. It was a speech of accusation for which ho had no authority whatever to quote to the House, a speech of pretension to speak on behalf of the rank and file of the Army.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
Mr. Speaker, I did not pretend to speak on behalf of the rank and file of the Army. What I did say and what I adhere to is that that portion of the rank and file of the Army who have been invalided home, with whom I have had conversation, endorse my view, and it is only that section whose opinion I voice.
§ MR. BRODRICK
The hon. Member made an allusion to the 24,000 electors of Battersea. I venture to say that out of the electors in my division there are more who are serving in the Army than out of the hon. Member's division. I have come in contact with a good many of 785 them, and I undertake to say that they will repudiate the view which has been put forward by the hon. Member. What is the meaning of these statements about the preferential treatment of the Imperial Yeomanry or Volunteers?
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that the Australians are getting 5s. and our men only Is. 2d?
§ MR. BRODRICK
I deny that the Imperial Yeomanry or Volunteers have not shared alike with the Regular Army in every one of the fatigues and privations of the campaign. What the hon. Member complained of is that any allusion should be made to their services, because he urges they are Volunteers and ought to have been proud to go. What meant that allusion—an allusion, which, I think, was one of the most ungenerous ever made in the House of Commons—about Volunteers hiding behind Fortnum and Mason's provisions? The hon. Member cannot support that. It was unworthy of the hon. Member and the House. I should like to see him go to any regiment of the Line and make that insinuation about the Volunteers who have served in the ranks. Coming to my own county, the regiment of West Surrey have had I do not know how many Volunteers from my own neighbourhood serving with them for nine months of this campaign. Ask them whether the Volunteer company of that regiment has not shared every fatigue and privation without a single grumble. The hon. Member has no authority, no proof, no vestige of justification for the attacks on these Volunteers, who have given up everything to serve the Queen, as hiding behind Fortnum and Mason's provisions. I could say a good deal more. To-morrow it will be known that the man who has represented so long so large a body of working men has so detracted from the reputation he has deservedly gained in this House, and so presumed on the position which he occupies. I am only sorry that there should have been a debate of this character. As regards the Yeomanry, the Volunteers, and the Militia, who are as much Volunteers in this business as the others, they have probably in their ranks a larger proportion of married men and men who have left their business than any other class in the Army. I would say on behalf of all the men that to them we 786 will give the utmost consideration we can when circumstances which, I hope, will not be far distant will enable us to recall troops, but at the present moment, as I pointed out to the House two nights ago, we have got to consider first of all the exigencies of the campaign. As soon as circumstances admit of it, we will release those whom we can spare. I hope that will not be, as I said, at any great distance of time. Several other points of great importance have been raised to-night before the House was as full as it is at this moment, and I will very briefly deal with the indictment brought by my hon. friend the Member for St. Helens. I am perfectly willing to take for the War Office any blame that it can possibly bear, but in regard to Beira it would be an abuse of the term to ask the War Office to bear any share of that blame. The expedition from Beira to Rhodesia was not organised by the War Office. Lord Roberts, commanding at the front, made up his mind to do something towards the relief of Mafeking through Rhodesia. The circumstances were very peculiar. Beira is Portuguese territory. It is not British territory. The railway the troops had to operate by was not an English railway, and it happened at this moment to be in process of conversion from the narrow gauge to the broad gauge. In the month of March we were assured that the total conversion of the railway had taken place. In the month of April, when we began to land troops there, 220 miles had been converted to broad gauge, and 60 were still narrow gauge. I believe the British officers did everything they could to push forward the troops, but it was impossible to keep them for a prolonged period on foreign territory; it was equally impossible without the railway to get them forward, and undoubtedly, as my hon. friend says, at Bamboo Creek some of the men were encamped for more than a fortnight, and a large number caught fever. This is due to one of the exigencies of war. I am not prepared, even if it were possible, in a case like that to make any officer accountable for circumstances as regards a railway over which we had no control.
§ * MR. SETON-KARR
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman for a moment? Is it not a fact that the military authorities had nominal control of the railway at the time?
§ MR BRODRICK
Nominal control! The question is simply, Had you got materials on the spot? There was no time to make an exhaustive examination of everything. The rolling stock turned out to be defective. None of these things were under the control of the War Office. The effort of every officer and man in that place was directed to getting through to the relief of Mafeking. As it happened, one of the most important items in that relief was the arrival of the Canadian battery. I am far from saying that, when you have got a very serious difficulty of that kind to deal with, and when you consider what a blow it would have been to this Empire if Mafeking had had to surrender, we should censure officers who ran the risk of keeping troops there in order that they might get forward as soon as those defective engines would take them over the ground. The troops underwent severe experiences, and I would not be behindhand in taking up the matter from that point of view; but in those matters it is not our business simply to find out whether there is anybody we can hang, The question is whether what occurred was due to the exigencies of war. The hon. Member for North Islington has put a very pertinent question to me; he has asked whether troops were sent out without any experience in musketry. Up to about a month ago some very young drafts had been sent out with a view of attaching them to Militia battalions on the line of communications. I had considerable doubts as to the desirability of the procedure, and about three weeks ago I gave orders that no more drafts should be sent out under those conditions. My hon. friend touched a delicate question when he spoke of officers being sent home because they had failed during the war. The hon. Gentleman asked whether those who were not considered fit to hold commands during a campaign would be considered suitable to hold commands at home. Each ease must be decided on its own merits, but I can, perhaps, go as far as to say that I have been in telegraphic communication with Lord Roberts as to some individual cases. So far as I am concerned, unless in some very exceptional cases, I certainly should not be prepared to recommend for a command at home an officer who has been sent home because he has failed to fulfil a command to the satisfac- 788 tion of the Commander in-Chief in South Africa. I hope I shall not be pressed further on the subject. I can assure the House that the general spirit in which the matter will be approached will be one that will be by no means inclined to that spirit of leniency which every man of good nature would like to adopt, but which, I think, is altogether unsuitable when it comes to dealing with the training of troops and to giving commands to men who may in future be expected to exercise them in the field. My hon. friend also asked me in regard to officers who have returned home while their regiments are still at the front. He said that distinguished officers were coming back from the seat of war, and yet the mass of the troops still remained there.
§ MR. BRODRICK
I would just correct a misapprehension. It is obvious, now that the war is broken up into small operations, it is unnecessary to keep the large number of generals commanding divisions, and, indeed, commanding brigades, who were employed when the war was taking place upon a larger scale. I am not aware of any officers having left except those who have returned with the direct leave of Lord Roberts and those who have been invalided home. I believe some few exceptions have possibly been made in the case of Members of Parliament, and, really, I do not think the House of Commons and the House of Lords have any reason to be ashamed of the part their Members have taken in this campaign. Of course, it must be understood that when a man has Parliamentary duties to fulfil some little latitude must be allowed to a general in deciding whether such men are to be precluded altogether from serving with the forces or whether they are to be allowed some consideration owing to their Parliamentary duties. Generally speaking, the position is perfectly clear; officers, whoever they may be and whatever their social condition, will remain with their regiments so long as their regiments have to stay abroad. I think my hon. friend will find, if he goes into details, that that rule has been carefully observed. So far as I am concerned, those questions which have been brought before the House, even though I have not been able to answer all of them, will not go without notice.
§ MR. CAWLEY (Lancashire, Prestwich)
So far as the rank and file of the Army are concerned, and so far as the experience of practical men is concerned, I would rather take the opinion of the hon. Member for Battersea than that of the right hon. Gentleman. I am one of those men who fought at the General Election under somewhat difficult circumstances. I am one of those who were called traitors to their country. I do not think that I was a traitor then, or that I am a traitor now. I was called a traitor because I did not believe in the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies. I believe when the right hon. Gentleman said this would be a long and bitter war, and that it would leave the seeds of disaffection for generations, he was speaking the truth. I believe when he said that we should not carry the Dutchmen with us that he was speaking what was true statesmanship. We have not carried the Dutchmen of Cape Colony with us in our policy. The Dutchmen of Cape Colony and the Orange Free State were against President Kruger. I do not think that the loyal Dutchman of Cape Colony likes to be called a traitor, but when he comes to read the debate in this House he will know that that is what is said of him because he disapproves of the action of Sir Alfred-Milner.
§ MR. CAWLEY
With reference to the Yeomanry and the Volunteers, it should be remembered that they went out to remain until the war was over. Now we are told that the war is over, and that it has degenerated into a guerilla war. I think the war is not over. The war is going on, and the Yeomanry are wanted and will have to stay there. I agree with the right hon. Baronet the Member for North-east Manchester that they must learn that one of their first duties is to be obedient to those above them. I only wish that this war may soon come to a close, but I do not think that the speeches which we have heard on the other side are quite likely to bring it to a close.
§ MR. MILDMAY (Devonshire, Totnes)
Having personally had the honour of serving in the Yeomanry with what has 790 been called Rundle's half-starved division, I feel bound to rise if only to assure the hon. Member for Battersea that the existence of jealousy between the Regular forces and the Yeomanry and Volunteers is entirely a fiction of his imagination. The Yeomanry are proud of having been treated absolutely in the same way as every other man in the division. I may tell you that they suffered the same hardships and experienced the same want of food, and so on. We were on the very best of terms with the Guardsmen in the division, who were kind enough to help us in difficult circumstances, and we were only too glad to return those kindnesses whenever we were able, and I am sure that every Guardsman in General Rundle's force will bear out what I say. The Yeomanry certainly suffered, as did every man in the division, but they recognised that they could not take part in a war without undergoing hardship, and therefore they endured their hardships as good soldiers should. The hon. Member has alluded to Lindley. I should advise hon. Members in this House and any of those who have been at home during the operations to refrain from criticising men who for five days and five nights fought in circumstances which any man at home would have looked upon as a frightful experience. I thank hon. Gentlemen for listening to me. I thought I must intervene in the interest of men with whom I have lived so long, and to whom I have become so deeply attached.
§ * MR. KEIR HARDIE
I would not have intervened in this debate but for two causes. The first is the after dinner display of manners which we have had while my hon. friend the Member for Battersea was speaking, and the second is the ebullition of temper shown by the Secretary of State for War in replying to the hon. Member. Anyone who took the trouble to listen to the remarks of the hon. Member for Battersea would understand that they were meant to apply exclusively to the regiment known as the Duke of Cambridge's Own. The hon. and gallant Member for Totnes has given us the officer's view of what the Army feels, which is about as valuable as what the employer thinks of what the workman feels. Last night I travelled from London to Crewe with three soldiers, home on sick leave, belonging to the South 791 Lancashire Fusiliers. If hon. Members could have heard the conversation which those three men carried on amongst themselves they would have altered their opinions as to the feelings prevailing in the army in South Africa. If one tithe of what they said were true we are on the eve of a mutiny among the rank and file in South Africa, largely the outcome of the favouritism shown to certain regiments. I do not know that it would be in order to inform the House of one remark of one of the three men. When they learned that Michael Davitt was going out to South Africa a thrill of relief went through the Army because of the impression that he had come to organise the revolt for which they were prepared. In conversation one of them; declared that should he return again to South Africa it would be to enlist under De Wet as a protest against the treatment to which the men had been subjected. I want to call the attention of the Secretary of State for War to statements occurring in letters from the front. One is as to the punishment meted out to men who fall out on the line of march, even to obtain a drink of water when thirsty. I cannot vouch for the statement, but it has been made, and has to be answered. Eight men came home in the ship with the three South Lancashire Fusiliers to whom I have referred. ["Names."] I will give the names to the Secretary of State for War if he desires them. These men had been sentenced to terms of imprisonment of from three to five years, some of them for having fallen out on the line of march to take a drink of water by the roadside, In the case of others the charge was one; of so-called malingering. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will produce the list of punishments imposed upon men in South Africa for the offences I have mentioned. The result of this treatment is likely to be the impossibility of getting Volunteers to enlist at any cost. The truth about the war is now becoming known. The men in the field understand what they are there for. They have seen the Boers; they have; fought with them; they have chummed with them; and nine out of ten of the soldiers in South Africa if they had their choice would be fighting to-day under De Wet and helping the Boers to recover their independence. There are three classes in the country who still favour the war. There are those who 792 make something out of it, either as contractors or as shareholders in companies; there are the people who know nothing about the facts, the "men in the street," as they are called; and there are those who are lost beyond redemption to all sense of honour and truth. These classes continue to support the war, but there is rising up in every constituency a feeling of protest against the further continuance of these operations. The more the truth becomes known the less defensible the war seems to be. I trust the hon. Member who opened this discussion will go to a division, because as a newly-returned Member I desire to have every opportunity in the division lobby of recording my protest against the blood-guiltiness of the nation. The men in the field against us are not being treated in a manner worthy of their courage, their humanity, and their devotion to their freedom. If the Government could but realise how much this country would gain and the Empire benefit by meeting the heads of the Boer army and of the two Republics in consultation in order to agree upon a peaceful future course in South Africa, I feel certain they would not hesitate to take that step. A gentleman not unknown in this House, and whose name was on all lips on a certain morning in December some five years ago, and who is in London at this moment on a visit from South Africa, has, in conversation, been justifying the war. Here is a summary of what he says—But for the war, in a few years from now, when President Kruger had either died or given up office, there would have been a rapprochement between the progressive forces of the Transvaal and the progressive forces throughout South Africa, and they would have offered to this country a federated South Africa under the Union Jack and such a subsidy towards Imperial defence as is undreamt of by any other colony.Had that come to pass the loyal Dutch subjects at the Cape would have ruled South Africa, and Rhodes and Beit and Eckstein, and others of that unholy gang would have occupied their rightful places. It is to prevent this that we are spending our blood and treasure, and every day that passes is bringing fresh light to the minds of the people, and making them feel that capitalism in South Africa as at home is becoming a menace to the progress and peace of the nation and must be held in strong check. I rose in the first place because of the unmannerly interruptions 793 from the opposite benches, and because, although in the streets the myrmidons of the war party may smash our heads and sometimes close our lips, yet in this House we should insist upon freedom of speech for even the smallest minority.
§ * MR. T. M. HEALY
Because I rose a moment ago to ask a question the hon. Member for the Totnes Division seems to suppose there was some reflection of cowardice against those who took part in the transaction. The very reverse is the fact. In July last I protested against the manner in which a number of Irish troops at Lindley were led into a trap by the folly of an officer, and I rose to-night only to ask for further information on the subject, not to cast the slightest suspicion on the gallantry of my countrymen. It is a peculiarly English characteristic to charge men with cowardice according to the side they are on. When the Irish are with the Boers they are drunkards and scoundrels, ravishers and assassins, but the moment they put on the scarlet coat they become brilliant Irish soldiers at once. It is exactly the same thing with the Irish Members of this House—the side upon which they sit makes all the difference. Is it a crime to ask for an explanation of the Lindley disaster? That this Irish regiment was driven to surrender because of the mismanagement of certain English commanders I greatly deplore, because it is a humiliation I very much dislike to see upon a gallant body of my own countrymen, although I entirely differ with them in political views. They were ordered to Lindley by Colonel Colville, I understand—I go only by the newspapers, and cannot vouch for the fact—and the moment they got near Lindley the colonel said "Good evening," and turned his back and took off all his forces without sending word to these men, with the result that the Boers at once marched into the town. Then this Irish regiment is said to have held out for five days awaiting succour which never came, with nothing to eat except a spoonful of jam per man. I don't vouch for these details, but I asked last July for an explanation of this matter, but received none. As far as I can understand, after this surrender the men were sent home, and the whole business is hushed up, with disgrace thrown on Irishmen, while those really responsible are screened. Why have we no consecutive military narrative 794 of this war from authorised sources? When the Government so easily get Supply it is very unusual that hon. Members should be howled down. I do not say that generals who are fairly busily engaged should sit down and write this narrative; but, for instance, Lord Stanley is out there; he is only censor; and there are other gentlemen of great competency who might fulfil this duty. We are fairly entitled to have a consecutive account of the operations of this war before we vote all this money. The Germans in the war of 1870 did not minimise the checks or reverses they received, but rather set them out with great frankness and austerity as warnings to future generations. Another point I wish to raise is as to the great inconsiderateness with which inquirers as to casualties have been treated by the War Office. The Protestant sexton of my parish had three sons at the war, one of whom was badly wounded. He is a poor man, but in order to get information concerning his son he came over to London; he sent a cable and prepaid the reply, but after waiting for six weeks he could get no answer as to whether his son was dead or alive, notwithstanding the fact that all the time messages were passing as to the sons of big people. Yet we are told there is no distinction made between officers and soldiers! I wrote to the War Office asking whether they could not relieve this poor father's mind, and instead of getting any kind of courteous or reasonable reply, the only answer I got was that owing to the crush of work the War Office was wholly unable to pay any attention to the matter. I say that the humble people in the Army do not receive the same consideration as the rich. Of course, that is not a state of things peculiar to the British Army; it is true of every walk of life; but when it is a matter of wounds and deaths I think there ought really not to be any such distinction.
§ * SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
The hon. and learned Member for North Louth has referred to the surrender or misfortune at Lindley. I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the proceedings of the courts of inquiry into the various surrenders of considerable bodies of troops will be made public. I quite see that in some cases it might be undesirable to publish the proceedings, but I think at all events we ought to have the results. 795 In most cases eight months have elapsed since the deplorable events took place. The feeling in the country and in the Army on this subject is very strong; there is a very great desire that the truth should be known and the action of the Government in regard to these matters stated.
§ MR. BRODRICK
By the indulgence of the House I may be allowed to deal with the two or three points addressed to me. With regard to the general question which my hon. friend raises, I think there is great force in what he suggested—namely, that there may be considerable inconvenience in publishing the proceedings of all these courts of inquiry, they being exceedingly voluminous. With regard to the results of these inquiries, Lord Roberts is on his way home, and before absolutely committing myself I should like to refer to him to ascertain what he has to say before giving a definite pledge to the House. I will only say that as far as the Government are concerned, we have not the smallest desire to conceal or minimise the facts laid before these courts of inquiry, and my own view certainly is in favour of giving the House of Commons and the country as frankly as possible all the facts. With regard to the particular case referred to by the hon. Member, I might perhaps explain that it was not possible to come to a conclusion earlier. The difficulty of holding these courts of inquiry is great, for although the inquiry has been ordered the moment after the event has occurred it may be that the troops have moved off in different directions and the necessary witnesses may be hundreds of miles off and very difficult to bring together. As to the Lindley case, I only received the proceedings of the court of inquiry by the last mail. I have carefully studied the proceedings and I can say that, generally speaking, they entirely exonerate from blame Colonel Spragge and his regiment.
§ MR. BRODRICK
There are persons whose names are mentioned in the inquiry who certainly require censure, and, in my opinion, more than censure, and after telegraphing to Lord Roberts I have taken further steps—namely, I have taken steps to dismiss two of them from the Army, 796 and I am taking some further steps as to a third person.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Am I to have no answer about the wounded man whose father could get no answer for six weeks to his telegram, although the reply was prepaid?
§ MR. BRODRICK
I am sorry if that is the case; I have never seen it. If the hon. Member will give me the facts I most certainly will see who is responsible. The difficulties have been very great in these communications, and they are much more serious in the case of the private soldier than in the case of an officer, because an officer is more easily traced, and there have been cases in which the very best attempts of the authorities have not been successful. May I just allude to one point referred to by the Member for Battersea? He read an extract from a Rhodesian paper professing to show that a large quantity of stores had been sold at Salisbury. I saw that extract about ten days ago, and I at once ordered an investigation to be made.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
The Secretary of State said the results of the courts of inquiry would be published. Does that mean the recommendations of the courts?
§ COLONEL WEBB (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
I have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Battersea with so much pain and regret that as a Volunteer officer I thought I could not allow it to pass without saying that as I have two sons at the front I can in a measure contradict what the hon. Member said. One of my sons has just returned, and I can assure the House from what he has told me that there is no favouritism at the front. As to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for North Louth, I can assure him that the fact of the men to whom ho referred being poor men makes not the slightest difference; the same consideration is shown to the poor as to the rich; there is no distinction whatever. I am speaking only in the interests of the Yeomanry and the Volunteers, for whom I have so much respect, and I am quite satisfied that if it be necessary and if this country asks them to remain in South Africa longer they will do so with the greatest pride and pleasure.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.