§ [FIRST DAY'S DEBATE.]
§ * MR. FORSTER (Kent, Sevenoaks)
I will not address to the House that appeal winch has grown almost to be customary on these occasions, because I have been a Member long enough to know that the House of Commons invariably extends to any one of its Members who is called upon for the first time to fill a position of responsibility the most generous measure of its kindest indulgence, and I am pain 73 fully aware that no one ever needed that kind indulgence more than myself on the present occasion. The House meets at a remarkable time. We are at the commencement of the first ordinary session of a new reign and of a new century, and the occasion is further signalised by the fact that His Majesty the King has opened Parliament in person. I therefore feel it is all the more an honour to have been selected to move the Address on this occasion, and, as I have just said, although I most deeply feel the honour, I am aware that I am but ill-fitted for the task.
I suppose that there is not a Member of this House present to-day whose heart is not filled with two different but kindred emotions, grief and hope—grief that the great lady who for so many years has ruled over us has been taken from us; and hope that our present Sovereign may be spared for many years to come to rule over a happy and contented people. I could not add one word to those two speeches which were delivered by my right hon. friend the Leader of the House and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition when Parliament met a short time ago. Those, speeches were worthy of the solemn occasion upon which they were delivered, and it is hardly possible to say much more. Perhaps, as I am the first unofficial Member who has found an opportunity of addressing the House, I might be allowed to associate myself—perhaps the Members of the House would allow me to associate them—with everything that fell from those two right hon. Gentlemen on that occasion. I feel that never has any member of this House given a vote which more fully, truly, and adequately represented the views of his constituency than he gave upon that occasion. Since then we have had a remarkable proof of the respect and esteem in which our late Queen was held in every part of her Empire, but even more striking than the solemn and sorrowing homage which was paid to her memory by all her own subjects has been the striking testimony that we have received from all the world over of the admiration and veneration with which the Queen was regarded in every part of the world. Such a gathering of the rulers and representatives of all foreign nations as that which recently assembled in this country at the funeral of Queen Victoria has seldom been seen, and amongst them there was one 74 whose presence the people of this country have especially valued. Difficulties there may have been, and differences may yet arise between the German people and ourselves, but we shall not lightly forget the part which His Imperial Majesty the German Emperor has taken in the nation's grief. His Majesty may have been animated by personal and not political motives, but who value his presence and his sympathy none the less. Family ties have ever been honoured in this country, and the presence of His Imperial Majesty appealed to the people of this country with a striking force that Ave shall not readily forget. I do not for one moment wish to belittle the presence or sympathy of the rulers and representatives of the other nations. We value their presence and their sympathy, and we treasure their recollection. I cannot but think that such an assembly, upon such a solemn occasion, may well do something to promote a mutual good understanding between the Powers of the world, and may do something to promote the cause of permanent peace. If that is so, then Queen Victoria in death has crowned the work: of her life. We accept to the full the assurance which is conveyed to us in the gracious Speech from the Throne that His Majesty the King intends to follow in the footsteps of our late Sovereign. That assurance is accepted by every subject of His Majesty in the knowledge that it is an absolutely genuine assurance. I cannot but think that it will be grateful to the King to know that all his subjects the world over not only offer him their loyal homage, but that they have a confident and a sure and certain belief that he will be able to approach very closely the high ideal which was set by his revered mother.
In another part of the Speech reference is made to the Civil List, and His Majesty informs us that he hands over those hereditary revenues which have been so handed over in the past. We shall, no doubt, on a subsequent occasion be called upon to make suitable provision for the maintenance of the honour and dignity of the Crown. I think we ought not to forget that the position of the Sovereign of the British Empire is not the least proud position amongst the Sovereigns of the world, and I believe that it will be entirely repugnant to the feelings of 75 the people of this country if we approach the question of the Civil List in a niggardly or parsimonious manner.
The Speech expresses regret—a regret which the whole House will share—that it has not yet been possible to bring to a close the war in South Africa. We had all hoped that the policy which was so clearly laid down by my right hon. friend the Colonial Secretary in a speech delivered in this House, I think early in December last, and the Proclamations which were issued in various parts of South Africa, would have had a wider influence in the direction of peace than appears to have been the case. But if the Boers continue deaf to the voice of reason, there is nothing left to us but to promote those warlike operations which are necessary with the utmost possible vigour. In Lord Kitchener the country knows that it has a commander of exceptional capacity. We know that his task is a task of extreme difficulty, and who is prepared to deny it? I think it must support and comfort him in his arduous undertaking to know that he retains the full confidence not only of the people of this country but also of this House. It is satisfactory to know that the reinforcements which Lord Kitchener has asked for are being and have been supplied with every possible rapidity, and the manner in which recruits are coming forward for the Yeomanry and other forces proves that the patriotic fervour which was so noticeable in the earlier stages of the war was no mere wave of emotional excitement or spasm of martial ardour. The call to arms will ever meet with an instant and generous response on the part of all the inhabitants of His Majesty's Empire. I think we may well be proud to know that the fighting value, the military capacity of our brave Volunteer forces is of the highest order. This has been proved recently by the tributes paid to these forces by Lord Roberts in the despatches published last week, for he has given them great praise indeed. We cannot say, and time alone will show, to what extent it may be possible in the future to train and develop these forces which have done such good work in the past. I think who may be certain of this, that neither my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War nor Lord Roberts will forget those services when they are evolving some 76 scheme for increasing the efficiency of the military forces of the country.
Our minds and the minds of the people of this country have been so full of other topics recently that attention has been somewhat diverted from the difficult questions which are in course of settlement in China. We all remember with what breathless interest we watched the gallant defence of those who were besieged in the Legation, and how we rejoiced in the success of the combined forces of the Powers. We all remember well how we gloried in the part played in those operations by our Indian troops and by the Naval Brigade. It is very satisfactory to know that China has submitted to the demands made upon her by the Powers. In regard to the negotiations which are at present proceeding, although they may appear to progress somewhat slowly, we can but remember that rapidity is not to be expected where you have negotiating, on the one hand the representatives of six different Powers, and on the other a nation so dilatory and crafty as. China. I think it is a remarkable thing that the concert of the Powers has been preserved so long and fully maintained in spite of so many difficulties.
I think the House will be glad to see that such favourable mention has been made in the gracious Speech from the Throne of the campaign in Ashanti. I have no doubt whatever that if the public mind had been less occupied with other topics, this campaign in Ashanti would have met with a far wider measure of popular esteem, and would have received that amount of appreciation which it undoubtedly deserves. The signal success which attended our arms in that campaign is none the less remarkable because the troops that were engaged were composed, I believe, entirely of those coloured subjects of the Crown whose indomitable courage is only equalled by their loyalty. I feel certain that Sir James Willcocks and his gallant comrades in arms will regard it as a proud honour to have received such favourable mention in the King's Speech.
I have no doubt whatever that the House and the country will be prepared for some material increase in the Estimates, and that they will not grudge the money which is necessary to maintain our military forces upon a proper level of strength and 77 efficiency. Our Navy must be maintained; as to that I think there can be no question. As for the Army, I think the House and the country will see with satisfaction that special mention has been made of the important topic which has for months past attracted so much attention and interest. I mean, of course, Army reform. There is no reason whatever to doubt the intentions of the Government and of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War or of Lord Roberts to undertake that great and important question in the most serious spirit. We have not the slightest ground for doubting that. Of course, it would be impossible either in the Speech from the Throne or for me to indicate what measures will be proposed. They will, no doubt, be explained at the proper time by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War, and under the circumstances, I do not think that the House will be surprised to find that the legislative proposals of the Government are not of a particularly ambitious character. [Opposition laughter.] What would be the use of putting into the Speech from the Throne a large number of measures of the first importance when? everyone knows that the greater part of this Session must necessarily be taken up by the consideration of Supply, the Civil List, and Army reform? consider that it is only businesslike on the part of His Majesty's Government to have adopted this course in regard to the question of proposed legislation.
I feel that I have trespassed too long upon the time of the House already, and I wish to offer to the House with all sincerity my very grateful thanks for the kindness and indulgence which they have shown to me.
§ * SIR ANDREW AGNEW (Edinburgh, S.)
I beg to second the motion which has been so ably proposed by my hon. friend. We all feel that with a new reign and a new century we have entered upon a new and distinct stage in our history. We have every expectation, however, that the blessings of the late reign will be continued, and that the great improvement in the country which marked Her late Majesty's reign will be maintained and increased. So far as His Majesty the King can promote this we know that 78 it will be done. We had the assurance given to Parliament to-day and in more than one message to his people, that His Majesty intends to follow in the footsteps of the late Queen in everything that can advance the welfare of the Empire. With such an ideal before him we may be confident that he will not only prove himself a worthy successor of the Sovereign whom we have just lost, but that he will establish himself in the hearts of his subjects as firmly as his revered predecessor did.
Sir, it is a matter of congratulation that, in spite of his recent bereavement, His Majesty the King has been able to come down and open Parliament himself and to deliver in person the gracious Speech to which it is now my duty to reply. We could have wished that in that speech he had been able to tell us of the conclusion of the war in South Africa. We had all hoped that the war would have been over by now. We are all disappointed that it is still dragging on; but in spite of the disappointment, there is no change in the spirit of the people of the country or in the determination of His Majesty's Ministers, and they are both resolved that this war shall be carried on until our object has been attained. The difficulties have proved even greater than were expected, but our efforts must consequently be greater, and the announcement made a few days ago that 30,000 fresh mounted troops are to be sent out to Lord Kitchener has met with universal approval. And we may earnestly echo the hope which is expressed in His Majesty's Speech that the measures taken by the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa will enable his troops to deal effectually with the forces by which they are still opposed. Sir, the war would very likely have been over by now if it had not been for the false stories and false hopes circulated amongst the men in South Africa who are in arms against us, but who have had no means of ascertaining the truth, and who have therefore been induced to continue fighting in the expectation of wearing out our armies or of regaining their independence through the intervention of foreign Powers. If they had known the real facts, and if they knew the real terms offered to them we can hardly doubt that large numbers of them, at any rate, would have been pre- 79 pared to lay down their arms. Everybody in this country, excepting a very small party, admits that we cannot restore the independence of the Transvaal or of the Orange River Colony; but short of independence, the Government have always wished to, and expressed their intention of granting the Boers everything that could be asked for, the fullest measure of self-government as soon as they can be trusted with it, and liberty to every man to return in peace to his own farm. These terms have been accepted by large numbers of Boers who have surrendered, and I believe a very large number more would have accepted them had their nature been fully realised by them. But we know the reception which has been given by leaders like De Wet to anyone who dares to explain the conditions of peace to his fellow-countrymen. There is therefore no choice left to us but to continue the war; and since the war is to be continued we desire to see it carried on with vigour, and I am sure that the House will support His Majesty's Ministers in any measures necessary for that purpose. There is one feature of the war which I think we shall always look back upon with satisfaction, and that is the humanity with which it has been conducted. [HON. MEMBERS on Irish Benches: What about the women and children?] There has been nothing done on our side to make it more difficult for Briton and Boer to settle down side by side in peace and tranquillity. No doubt there have been stories told of atrocities committed by our officers and men, but whenever these stories have been investigated they have turned out to be calumnies. We have not only the testimony of Lord Roberts that the bravery of our troops in the field was only equalled by their humanity and generosity to the people of the occupied States, but we have the admission of those who fought against us that our soldiers in South Africa have shown that war instead of brutalising men may ennoble them. The principal lesson we have no doubt learned from the war is the fact that reforms are necessary to make our Army as efficient as we would wish it to be. This subject has already been alluded to by my hon. friend, and I can only add one word in behalf of the Volunteers. 80 I hope personally, that when a scheme is formed for reorganising the Army, the Volunteers may occupy a more important and definite place than they have hitherto done. If there had been any doubt as to what kind of soldiers our Volunteers would make, that doubt must have been entirely dispelled by the services rendered by the Volunteers in South Africa— whether infantry, mounted infantry, cavalry or artillery. They have shown that with a very short training they are the very best of soldiers. This country is not prepared for conscription; I do not believe it would agree to any measure of conscription until every other means had been tried and failed; but I believe that the Volunteers could be increased, and now is the time for doing it. There never was a more favourable opportunity in the country than at the present moment, there never was a time when people were so ready to admit that it is the duty of every citizen to take his share in the defence of the country, and therefore I believe that with a little encouragement and assistance, the Volunteers could be increased, and if organised they might be made a most efficient force, which might in fact be relied upon to take a principal part in the defence of these shores if ever they should be threatened with invasion.
I now turn to the paragraph in the King's Speech which announces that the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to Australia to open the First Parliament of the New Commonwealth is not to be abandoned. That announcement, I am sure, will be received with great satisfaction by this House and the country as well as by Australia. The visit is due in the first instance to the greatness of the occasion, but is due also to the fact that the King has felt, as Her late Majesty felt, that the visit would be a gracious acknowledgment of the loyal help given us by our self-governing colonies in the war in South Africa, and the visit is therefore to be extended to New Zealand and Canada. There can be no doubt of the cordial reception their Royal Highnesses will meet with in Australia, and though under the altered circumstances the occasion may be shorn of some of its outward rejoicing, it will lose none of its deep interest and significance. The experiment which 81 Australia is making is one full of promise. In union countries nowadays find their strength and their success. This was so in Canada, and now it will be with Australia. The various colonies have noticed that separate Parliaments with separate policies act as an encouragement to jealousies and a hindrance to trade; and that with one Parliament and one policy they will have much greater strength for defence and more efficiency for developing the resources of their vast continent. Since the strength of the mother country increases with the strength of her loyal sons, the Empire gains by the new departure which the Heir to the Throne is to be permitted to inaugurate. Closely connected with this is the subject of a Court of Final Appeal. The right to claim redress from the Throne is a powerful link binding in obedience to a common authority. I can only say that with the large expansion of the Empire there has been a large increase in the appeals to the Privy Council, and with that increase of business it is natural that there would be a feeling that that Court should be strengthened. It has long been felt that when the occasion came for strengthening it there should be that alteration in its Constitution foreshadowed in some respect in the King's gracious Speech. I am sure that this House will be prepared to aid His Majesty's Ministers in setting up a Court so strong and representative as to win the confidence of the people of all parts of the Empire.
There is only one other topic in the Speech to which I wish to refer in a few words—I mean the provision for the Civil List. I am certain that the House will deal with this matter in no grudging spirit, but will be anxious to make the provision adequate to the honour and dignity of the Crown. We must remember that two generations have passed since the last settlement of the Civil List was made, and that what was adequate sixty-two years ago may not be quite adequate now. Many things have happened during these years. The Empire to-day is a different Empire from that to which Her late Majesty succeeded in 1837; and that is true not only in regard to its extent but to the position it occupies in the world. The people of this country fully realise the fact, and will not hesitate to approve any settlement of the Civil List which 82 will enable the Sovereign of the Empire to fill his position with the dignity which is becoming.
I will not detain the House further, but only thank hon. Members for the indulgent way in which they have listened to one who has had the honour of addressing them to-day for the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and, loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Forster.)
§ * SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
Mr. Speaker, the House of Commons has already had an opportunity of giving solemn expression to its loyal attachment to the Crown, and to the high hopes with which we all of us greet the accession of the King to the throne. That declaration was made, Sir, as you at the time announced, nemine contradicente; and the sincerity and fervour with which we made it was not in any degree diminished, nay, was greatly increased, from the fact that the sentiment to which we were giving utterance was mingled, in its essence as well as in relation of time, with the profoundest sorrow over the loss to our country and to the world of our revered and beloved Sovereign Queen Victoria. To-day, with the gracious Speech from the Throne and the splendid ceremonial by which the delivery of the Speech was accompanied, the new reign has been publicly opened. What more can we of the faithful Commons do than again tender our humble duty to the King and Queen, with many a wish and many a prayer that their reign may be long, and happy, and beneficent? The hon. Members who have been entrusted with the task of submitting the Address for the approval of the House have discharged their duty, I am sure we shall agree, in an admirable manner. I would especially say this of the hon. Member who moved the Address: that, as we are told the world 83 knows nothing of its greatest men, the House of Commons often discovers in some dumb and unobtrusive Member one perfectly capable of taking a prominent part in its debates; and the hon. Member displayed that capacity not only in his powerful eloquence, but also, to no small degree, in the manner, which I could not but admire, in which be extenuated and accounted for the somewhat poverty-stricken programme which the Government had put before us. These years of two sessions furnish in a double degree to hon. Gentlemen opposite opportunities of distinguishing themselves in this manner, and we note with satisfaction that there is no apparent lack of duly qualified persons capable of discharging the duty. If I were confidential to the House, I might say I find the stock of complimentary adjectives at the disposal of the Leader of the Opposition, who is expected to express the approval and admiration of the House, almost exhausted, for it would never do to repeat in February a phrase which had done duty in December. All I can say to the two hon. Members, therefore, is that, from its experience of them to-night, the House will hear them gladly, provided always (because I must put some limit to my invitation) that they exercise their privileges with reasonable rarity and, above all, cultivate that Parliamentary virtue of apparent reluctance to engage in debate —it need not be more than apparent— which more than anything commends to the House of Commons the individual Member.
Now, the hon. Members have referred to a good many topics which are included in the Address; but there is one subject, above all, which weighs upon our thoughts, and it is upon that chiefly that I shall make some observations. It is a dismal, one feels it is almost an ungracious, thing to call away our attention from the themes of joyful anticipation which this day and its events suggest to the heavy cloud which hangs at this moment over our country and Empire. But it is a plain duty to do so, and we must not shrink from it. I did not use words of exaggeration when I spoke of a heavy cloud. What should who gain by blinking the truth or shutting our eyes, even if it were possible for us to do it, to the true gravity and urgency of 84 the situation in South Africa? We may indeed appeal to our countrymen as passi qraviora. These are perhaps not, in one sense, the darkest hours; and there is little in the military circumstances of this month of February, 1901, to recall anything of the consternation and alarm which prevailed in many quarters among us in the critical weeks of last winter. Yet I am not sure that many thinking men do not stand even in a greater degree aghast at this present moment, when they contemplate the military necessities with which our gallant officers and soldiers in the field are confronted, and, beyond the military necessities, when they see that those military difficulties extend and run into and lead up to political issues of the supremest gravity, going far into the future. It is my desire, if the House will allow me, earnestly to invite hon. Members to face the facts of the hour, to put aside our individual prejudices, to forget our old controversies, to consider things as they stand, and, as it were, to rub our eyes and clear our vision. We all accept the war as a fact, and the House of Commons has shown from the first an extraordinary, I would say unprecedented, facility of disposition in voting all the supplies that are required for it.
On this footing, then, let us see how we stand. What are the objects that we have in view in this war? Well, the first and the most important object in any war is, as I take it, the conclusion of peace—that is to say, the successful termination of hostilities, the vindication by arms of the King's authority, the restoration, as I have said, of peace, and the cessation of bloodshed. I invite the House of Commons to consider how this object, in which I am sure we all agree, has fared during the last two or three months. At the General Election the country was told that the war was over. I see that it is now spoken of as being "not yet entirely terminated." I am not going to revive the history—let me use the pleasantest epithet I can find and say the unseemly history—of the recent election, in which the Government sought to make capital for themselves out of the deeds, the prowess, and the successes of our Army, and in which they also sought to palm off as entirely finished a war for the further prosecution of which they are now 85 sending 30,000 fresh troops to South Africa. Was this intimation of the ending of the war a ludicrous miscalculation or was it a scandalous misrepresentation? One or the other undoubtedly it was. I am perfectly content to give right hon. Gentlemen the benefit of the former alternative. And that more amiable alternative commends itself to the Parliamentary judgment, because of all our favourite arguments that which we always consider the strongest is that of precedent; and, as it would be altogether without precedent if the Government in the course of this war were to publish any prognostication which did not turn out to be all wrong, so, also, the fact that this estimate of the position was hopelessly wrong does not prove at all that they did not seriously entertain it. At all events, Sir, they completely misled the country on this matter. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] Then the war did end in October last? They misled the country at a time when they were seeking constitutionally the judgment of the country. For, whereas, in October, we are told that this was the situation, that the campaign was ended, that there would be nothing before us but certain marauding bands which would be mischievous and troublesome, but might be easily dealt with, and that the time had arrived when the greater generals might come home, and the City of London Volunteers might come home, and the Household Cavalry, and all the illustrious personages who had been stuck about South Africa—while this was said in October, in November summonses were issued to bring Parliament together for the purpose of voting 16 millions sterling for the further prosecution of the war. We all remember the speech in which the Secretary for War introduced that Vote of 16 millions. Those who were of one way of thinking, including myself, said it was frank and manly; those of the other way of thinking said it was dismal, dispiriting, and discouraging. He attributed the error as to the ending of the war to the misjudgment of the generals on the spot. He said—Those on the spot thought the collapse of the Boer army would lead to the submission of the Boer leaders,So that the position of our hapless generals is this—and I think the House may extend some commiseration to them 86 —that whenever they accomplish successes those successes are to be legitimately employed for the purpose of swelling the support at the polls of the Administration; but when mistakes are made by the Administration at home those mistakes, and the reasons for them, are to be assigned to the blunders of the generals on the spot. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say we were now having to encounter only guerilla warfare. There, at least, is an estimate which we can bring to the test. Has anything ever occurred in history less like guerilla warfare than that which we have seen dining the last few months? When large forces, stated in our despatches to number five, or seven, or eight thousand men, well led and fully equipped, separated from each other by leagues and leagues of distance, have been all operating in obvious concert, is that to be called guerilla warfare? If this is indeed guerilla warfare, what a picture the right hon. Gentleman drew of it! We have not forgotten the 400,000 Frenchmen in Spain for five years losing in an ineffectual struggle more heavily than their countrymen did in the Moscow campaign, or the 227,000 Spaniards who, for three years in Cuba, ineffectually endeavoured to keep at bay 30,000 men, none of them useful as soldiers. Why, Sir, out of bitter comes forth sweet, and from the speech of the light hon. Gentle- man we have at least been able to derive this advantage: that the making of that speech by the Minister principally concerned has at last put an end, surely for ever, to the silly slander by which those of us who have endeavoured independently to criticise the war and the actions of the Government have been assailed again and again—namely, that by a casual word here and there, by our action in this case and that, we have given encouragement and inspiration to our enemies. If the Government were optimistic and triumphant in October and chastened and apologetic in December, how does their revised estimate bear investigation now? The right hon. Gentleman said he believed we were reaching a climax, and he said—Before this House meets in February I trust we may be able at all events to give a, much more satisfactory assurance than we are in a position to give now.So pleased was the Colonial Secretary with this view taken by his colleague that, if 87 I remember rightly, he did not exactly promise, but expressed a lively expectation that by the month of February he would be ready with his civil administration. Now these were not mere words or padding introduced into the Speech which ought not, perhaps, to be too closely examined, but this was the opinion deliberately expressed to the House of Commons with a view to inducing the House of Commons to grant the £16,000,000 he was asking for. Upon what special grounds did he entertain that hopeful view? What was the information on which he founded the expectation he expressed? It has certainly not been justified by the event. What we have seen since has been this the invasion of Cape Colony by large bands of men who have got to no very great distance from the capital itself—indeed, a considerable part of Cape Colony may be said to be in the occupation of these invading bands. They are certainly the dominating military force in the positions they hold. The occupation of the two belligerent States has practically been abandoned except so far as the railways, the larger towns, and certain fortified posts are concerned. The duties imposed upon our brave soldiers of all ranks and branches of the service in these circumstances have been wearing, harassing, and often most perilous. But they have been performed with a patience, courage, and constancy which excite our admiration and deserve our warmest gratitude. As to the generals, for my part, following these occurrences closely, as I try to do, I see no reason whatever to withhold the fullest confidence from our generals in the field, who appear to me to be perfectly qualified to take advantage of every chance of successful action which presents itself. But the area is vast, the country is difficult, the climate is trying, the line of communications is interminable. And here let me refer to the curious expression made use of in the King's Speech, where it says that the enemy's lines of communication are in our possession. I always thought our great difficulty was in defending our own lines of communication, and I was unaware that the Boers troubled themselves about lines of communication in a country in which they are everywhere at home. Disease, as we had every reason to anticipate, has wrought havoc among the ranks 88 of our countrymen. On the other hand, the enemy in the field is inured to the hardships of the life; he is well equipped, ubiquitous, knows the country, is at home in it, and evidently receives from the civil inhabitants, white and coloured, a great deal of assistance which is denied to us. These circumstances, Sir, present the most formidable difficulty before us at the present moment; but neither here nor in South Africa is there the slightest idea of flinching from it. The question agitating many minds among us is rather this—whether the Government at home adequately realise and are making adequate provision for it, and there is nothing to show that it is adequately realised. The second thing which agitates the minds of men is doubt whether the political conduct of the war, as apart from the purely military operations, has been such as to conduce to that early honourable settlement which it is the main desire of us all to secure. For a long time surely it has been evident that our forces on the spot were insufficient. Can it be that the last men in the country to wake up to that fact are precisely those who ought to have seen it first—namely, His Majesty's Government? Would they not have been better employed, when they were going about the country pushing their party interests among the constituencies, or were here talking to us of a finished campaign and mere guerilla warfare, if they had been training and preparing the reinforcements which were required? Was peace likely to be secured, nay, was justice being done to the efforts and sufferings of our gallant soldiers, by the course of fumbling and dribbling and drifting of which we have been for many weeks the spectators? Is it true— we shall, no doubt, be informed—that Lord Kitchener many weeks ago asked for larger reinforcements? Were those reinforcements at once given, and if not, why were they not? And yet it is only now, when Parliament was about to meet, that you set yourselves to scramble together a nondescript force of heterogeneous elements, derived from various sources, serving under various terms of service, and receiving most disproportionate terms of pay, and some of them, so far as I can see, already required and employed as police, but counted over again as reinforcements for the purpose of swelling 89 this apparent force of 30,000 men. After all, this new force is not likely to be in the field of action in a state of efficiency for two or three months, and by that time who can tell what heavy losses, at the present rate, may be inflicted on our army in South Africa by the bullet of the enemy or the still more formidable scourge of fever and disease? Let the Government understand this: that there is no reluctance on the part of the House and country to continue to support the despatch of such numbers of troops as shall suffice to clear the colony of invaders and restore the superiority of our arms, if indeed it has been at all invalidated; but that is not all that is required to be done. When this is accomplished, or evidently on the eve of accomplishment, then will be the moment, if it does not come sooner, for addressing to the peoples of the two States a declaration of such terms of settlement as, while securing for the Empire all that we have been contending for, may assuage their fears, save their dignity, restore their personal rights, and thus induce them to lay down their arms. Why was this not done long ago? If it had been done long ago how many lives, how much suffering, how much devastation, how much ruin to innocent persons would have been saved! Take, for instance, such an opportunity as the occupation of Pretoria. Surely the occupation of Pretoria was not an unexpected event? Why, then, was not the general who effected it fortified by the direct instructions of the Government at home authorising him to declare terms of settlement to the Government still in existence in the Transvaal? No; unconditional surrender was our first and last word. Then began that era of punitive burnings and confiscations which we cannot recall with pleasure, and which, so far as my observation has gone—and I have talked with many men who have been out in South Africa, as well as with many who have remained at home—are now universally regarded as having been a mischievous error in policy. I declared in December, and I repeat the declaration now, that I have never given credence to the stories of wanton cruelty on the part of British soldiers; but the whole proceedings were cruel, the whole method was cruel, and officers and men whose military duties 90 compelled them to give orders for and to execute those acts loathed the work they were engaged upon. We are still without information as to the extent of these punitive operations. I remember in December, in the middle of a speech, the Colonial Secretary said Lord Kitchener had been directed to furnish full particulars, and I trust that they will be furnished to the House of Commons, that we may know what really has been done. This policy of devastation appears to have been put an end to, to have been abandoned altogether, whether in consequence, of debates in this House or because of other reasons I cannot say, but the evil it did lives after it.
I am looking at these events at present from the point of view of our universal desire to bring the war to a conclusion upon terms consistent with success, with honour, and with prosperity and safety in the future, at as early a date as possible, so as to save suffering all round. Can anyone estimate how much the duration of the war has been extended by these so-called strong measures? And with regard to these strong measures let me say this—that I am not aware that any member of the Government has ever advocated them, or even strongly defended them, but they have been demanded and exulted in by leading organs of the press which support, and sometimes speak as if they inspired and directed, the policy of the Government. When you destroy the home of a brave and resolute enemy because he is your enemy, when you subject his family to privation and the risk of starvation, when you confiscate his property, what effect can this have but to drive him to desperation, to embitter his feeling of hostility, and, above all, to scare him away from the idea of a settlement?' If, on the other hand, it is your intention and desire—and I am satisfied it is the desire of the people of this country—to restore him to his old home, to enable him to resume his old life, to invest him with his old civil privileges, to preserve his peculiar and familiar laws and customs, to give him, for instance, the independence enjoyed by a citizen of one of the States of the Australian Commonwealth, and to recognise the dignity and sentiment of the community to which he belongs—if such is your intention and desire, then why, in Heaven's name, do 91 you not announce this openly? While, therefore, I approve and support the despatch of any reinforcements which may be required for military operations at the Cape, I would strongly urge, as a solvent even more effective than military force, that distinct proposals for terms of settlement should at the same time be made. I am not afraid of using the mailed fist, but let the hand that is not mailed hold out the olive branch.
I have been looking at the question hitherto only from the point of view of cessation of war and restoration of peace, but this is after all, although most important, a narrow and ephemeral object, and there is a wider, a greater object beyond. What is this principal and permanent object in all our South African policy whether in war or in peace? Here, again, I hope I may command the assent of hon. Gentlemen on the other side when I say it is to preserve and strengthen the British Imperial power in South Africa, and this not only for our own greater glory, but because we conscientiously and honestly believe it will be the best guarantee for good government and the prosperity and tranquillity of the country. That, surely, is the main end we ought always to look to and keep in view, and any act of policy in peaceor war which does not conduce to that end, stands in itself condemned. Now let mo carry hon. Members a little step further. This predominant British authority which we are all anxious to maintain, if it is to have any real life and value, must rest on the free will and assent of the people. We hear it glibly said, "Oh, when these troubles are over we shall, to deal with any slumbering discontent, at least maintain garrisons numbering 20,000, 30,000, or 40,000 men, and in that way we shall get over all our troubles," and men shrug their shoulders and shake their heads over the strain and tax this would bring on the resources of the country. But, Sir, such a solution is impossible; it is simply unthinkable. A predominance so upheld over men of European race would be no strength or glory to our Empire; it would be a weakness, a discredit, and a shame upon the very name of Briton. Federated States, if you like, free colonies if you like, but a dependency never With our instincts, our traditions, our pretensions, if we were to attempt to maintain our authority in South Africa 92 by force over men of European race we should be condemned throughout the world as a nation of hypocrites, and the best that our friends could say of us would be that we were so blinded by our prejudices that we did not realise the hypocrisy who practised. These are elementary truths. It has been the guiding principle of our wisest statesmen, upheld by the judgment of our acutest critics, that a fundamental condition of success in South Africa is the recognition of Dutch opinion, that race being in a clear and inevitably increasing majority. This has been the policy pursued not merely for the sake of convenience, not that we might have less trouble and to make things work more easily, but because it was a necessity of common sense. It was the policy of Sir G. Grey and of Sir Hercules Robinson, and approved by such ardent devotees of Imperial Britain as Mr. Fronde and Lord Randolph Churchill. If you are to hold South Africa you must win the confidence and goodwill of the Dutch community—not, of course, to the neglect of our own. You must secure the confidence and goodwill of the Dutch community, in which, of course, is included our own colonies as of even greater importance than the two belligerent States. Let there be no ascendency of one race over the other, but accept— for it must be accepted—this fundamental and vital fact, that the British authority, although supreme, must make itself agreeable and acceptable to Dutch feeling. That is all I ask the House to agree to; and if you cannot make it in this way agreeable, then it is time that the truth should be freely stated—that not all the wealth in your Treasury, not all the troops m your Army, not all the nerve and skill of your administrators and governors will serve to keep your South African Empire.
In view of these facts and doctrines, what judgment are we to pass on the events of the last six or eight weeks? All the considerations that I dealt with some time ago, on the narrower question of the duration of the war, come in with full force here again. Every exasperating act that has been committed, every week of unnecessary hostilities is a crime against conciliation, and therefore a crime against the ultimate maintenance of solid British authority. And if I appeal to the Govern- 93 ment and to the House of Commons to take such steps as can alone lead to a stable and peaceful future, I do so in the name of high Imperial policy, and in the name of the British supremacy which you yourselves wish to maintain. We shall be told that there are stupendous difficulties; no doubt, but statesmen are appointed to overcome difficulties, and not to be overcome by them. We shall be told there are no Governments to which to address yourselves. Whose fault is that? By your own rashness you have obliterated the Governments. We know that it was always a maxim of Prince Bismarck — no puling sentimentalist— that it was the first necessity always to maintain in being a Government by dealing with which you could conduct negotiations. But if you have no Government, you have generals. Sir Redvers Buller had no difficulty in finding means of communication with General Christian Botha—one of the most significant and interesting passages in the whole of the Blue-book recently issued. Sir Redvers Buller had an interview with him, which was of no effect because the door was slammed in their face. But no one can read the passage without seeing how ripe the ground was then for the seed of peace. The Colonial Secretary, in his speech in the month of December, which was received with relief and gratification by everyone, said that nothing would be wanting on the part of the Government to convey the humane and peaceful intentions of the Government. Now, this has been done effectually? What has happened is this: Lord Kitchener, no doubt under directions, called a meeting together of certain burghers and explained to them in a vague way the generally humane and reasonable intentions which he was directed to communicate. He founded these negotiations on a peculiar ground, because he said no doubt they had read the speech of Mr. Chamberlain in the House of Commons. Now, that rather confirms me in the belief that all this was done by instructions from home, because no one, I think, on the spot would have thought of attributing such knowledge to them in that manner.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN, ) Birmingham, W.
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that Lord Kitchener's speech was made without any instructions.
§ * SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I was going to remark that there were obviously two possibilities which were disregarded in making such a statement to these burghers. The one was that these unlettered and rude Boers had never heard of this speech, and it is just possible they may not have heard of the House of Commons, or even of Mr. Chamberlain. But there is another possibility, which is even more fatal—that they have heard of other speeches—that, instead of being too ill-informed, may have been too well-informed. They may have had in their minds the speech of the Prime Minister when he said that at the end of all these hostilities "no shred of independence" would be left to them, and the other speech in which the Prime Minister again said that it would be years,-and probably generations, before self-government could be given to them. Now, those speeches came from even higher authority; and when the condition of mind that would be created in them is merely subjected to the beneficent influence of the vague generalities of Lord Kitchener it is not wonderful that the result was not great. What happened upon that? Emissaries were sent to the camps of the Boers, those emissaries were detected, they were ill-treated, some of them were shot, an incident not without precedent in other nations and in other armies than that of the Boers. I have not a word to urge in extenuation, whoever committed it, of a gross piece of cruelty such as this. But, after all, was it a very well-advised step to have taken, and was it a very safe or a very hopeful enterprise to have sent men upon to an armed camp as emissaries to endeavour to detach the rank and file in it from their allegiance to their commander? No, I do not think these were methods from which good results could be obtained. Whatever was done should have been done openly. The difficulty of communicating with the people and getting their ear is no doubt partly due to the well-known obstinacy which is characteristic of their race, but it has been largely created by our own declarations allowing nothing 95 but unconditional surrender. Let it clearly appear that we are animated by a more generous and reasonable spirit, and the difficulty of communication will in a great measure disappear. In this, as in most other cases, where there is a will there is a way. There are many facts disclosed to us, by our daily observation, by the despatches that have at last been published, and by the Report of the Commission on the hospitals; there are many things on which much will be said, no doubt, and they will be keenly debated in this House. I suppose also that they will be the subject soon of that general public inquiry which the Government have explicitly promised into all the circumstances of the war. And I would ask by the way, in passing, whether the right hon. Gentleman can give us any information as to the time and mariner in which that inquiry will be conducted.
But, Sir, in my opinion, the conduct of generals, the efficiency of equipment, the provision of transport, the treatment of the sick and wounded, grave matters as they all of them are, fade at present into insignificance before that which is the question of the hour—namely, what shall be the temper and attitude of our Imperial Government towards the peoples of the two States against which we have been in arms, and towards their kinsfolk among our fellow-citizens in the colonies. Upon this, I solemnly say, in my firm belief the future fate of British South Africa depends. I trust that the Government will not hasty give an unfavourable answer to my appeal. I would implore them, and, indeed, I would implore the House, every part of it, to sink every motive of personal dignity and triumph, to forget the prejudices and interests of party, in dealing with this momentous issue. If this actual moment is inopportune, which it may be (for an outsider like myself not acquainted with the communications constantly received cannot judge) at least let nothing be said or done to prevent the very earliest opportunity being seized, and we need never be afraid that evil will come to our Empire, because we shall have listened to the dictates of prudence, generosity, and humanity.
In other quarters besides South Africa beyond our shores there are presented to us serious events for our consideration In the first place, there has been a success 96 ful war in Ashanti, and we all rejoice with His Majesty's Government upon that great achievement. One little criticism I will make. I am very willing to recognise, because I know his merit, the great services of Sir James Willcocks; but it is a rather extraordinary thing that he should be named personally by name in this way when, although we are fighting in so many different places, no other general is named. I can only assume that it is because the Ashanti War is ended, and the other is still not entirely terminated, that this distinction has been drawn. I join, we all join, in congratulating the King and the country on the happy inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth, and the Duke of Cornwall generously fulfils a patriotic duty in undertaking the mission which was entrusted to him. If we turn to China, we find nothing but anxiety and perplexity, and we wait with the deepest interest some explanation of the proceedings that are going on there. At present the British people are in this position—they know neither the policy that is being pursued nor the events that are occurring. There is a concert of the Powers which we are told is in the main successful. If that is so, it is most satisfactory. It seems to me that difficult as it must be under all circumstances to maintain the concert of the Great Powers, it is especially so with regard to China; for this reason: that the interests of the Powers are not only separated and sometimes conflicting, but they are not even interests similar or analogous. We may regard the Powers having relations in China as of three classes. There are those which have, or may be supposed to have, territorial ambitions. We do not number ourselves among them, though I suspect the world would include us; but in our own conscience and intention we ought not to be so included. Then there are those who, without having any definite territorial ambitions, are deeply interested in the development of commerce and the introduction of Western civilisation. That is where we come in, and therefore our object is to seek for guarantees for the safety of our traders and our missionaries in the prosecution of their separate duties. That is not the case with some of the other Great Powers, and especially with the greatest Power on the spot—namely, Russia, which, I ima- 97 gine, cares little or nothing for either trade or the propagation of religion, but which is a neighbour with a long conterminous frontier and seeks only to secure and advance that frontier, and to have a settled Government with which to deal. These three categories divide the Powers, and make it more than usually difficult to keep them in harmony. But I must express the hope that the Leader of the House or the noble Lord will be able to tell us that that has been successfully done. One point in connection with China greatly interests a vast number of people in this country, and causes them great concern. Some terrible stories have reached us as to the gross misconduct of the allied troops, ranging from murders and wholesale slaughter and robberies down to petty cruelties and petty meannesses. We have had no refutation given to these terrible stories. We are loth to believe them; we do not believe them; hut we have had no refutation given, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us and the country that refutation, because if these stories were true it would be an ineffaceable blot upon our age and on the name, in fact, not only of this country, but of Europe.
Then with regard to our domestic affairs, my first duty is to recognise gratefully on the part of the House, if I may be allowed to do so, His Majesty's perfectly loyal and correct observance of the established precedent in the relinquishment of the hereditary Crown possessions, and we may be sure that this House will be ready to make ample provision for maintaining the dignity of the Crown. As to legislation, there are only three subjects, apparently, to be certainly introduced. There is an addition to the Court of Appeal, to which I need not refer. There are certain proposals for increasing the efficiency of the military forces of the country; and that is a phrase which may mean anything or nothing, and I am obliged to leave it in its native vagueness. Then we are told that there is to be a measure for dealing with the law of education, and again there is the same charming vagueness. For myself, I am one who holds that we shall not fulfil the destiny of the nation, nor, indeed, shall we be able to maintain our position among the nations, until a new spirit is breathed not only into our system of edu- 98 cation—primary education, secondary education, University education, technical, general, literary, and scientific education —but what is more important, until a new spirit is breathed into the public sentiment regarding education. That being my feeling, I hope that this will be a large and sweeping measure, and the more drastic and progressive the changes it makes the more hearty support I shall give it. There are other measures mentioned. We sometimes hear of what are called innocent measures, and there is a day at the end of the session when there occurs what is called the massacre of the innocents; but these measures have not even reached the stage of being innocent. What astonishes us to find is that, even in this embryonic catalogue, there are no proofs of the legislative powers of the Government such as we should expect. We should have thought that there would have been some attempt, even in this hypothetical way, to fulfil their pledges. The Government method of dealing with great questions is to appoint Royal Commissions. When one Royal Commission has reported there is always forthcoming good reason for following it up by requiring another Commission; and when this process has gone on for some time very often we have seen a Select Committee of the House of Commons appointed to sweep up all the fragments of what all the Royal Commissions have left. So we have seen with old-age pensions, which began by being so simple that any Liberal Unionist agent could explain all about it. And so we have with regard to temperance. There is, indeed, a measure spoken of here—some small police measure—dealing with drunkenness in the street. But that is not what the people of the country are asking for. They wish for something which will have some influence in lessening the temptations which lead up to the evils of which they complain. Then we have had the Royal Commission on Rating and Local Taxation. We have had five years of inquiry there, and all that has been done has been to pick out of the subject two little points that were supposed to be beneficial to certain well-known classes of supporters of the Government. They have been dealt with, and all the rest has been left alone. Then we have been told, on the highest authority, that the housing ques- 99 tion is the question of the day. The Secretary for the Home Department scouted the idea of temperance, with licensing reform, being at all in the forefront. The real key to the situation, he said, was in the improvement of housing, and he is supported by the Prime Minister, who brings in another argument, perhaps even a stronger one. He argued that the Government should deal with housing because it would be the most popular thing with the classes resident in certain constituencies among whom the Government have the largest number of supporters. These are very good reasons, but there is not a word of housing in this programme. May I put in a word in my original, I may say my aboriginal, capacity as a Scotsman that there is not, from the beginning to the end of the Speech, the slightest mention of my native country? They say—inter arma silent leges, and that while you are engaged in a war you cannot legislate. But the Government are not all directing armies or instructing Governors. There is the President of the Board of Trade, the President of the Local Government Board, and there is the Home Secretary, free for legislative work, and we know how well the President of the Local Government Board, certainly, can carry a measure through the House; and as to the Home Secretary, he is still more accomplished, because we have seen him introduce and carry great measures, and we have seen also the dexterity with which he can drop them. The truth is the Government do not know what to do on these great questions. Why? Because they are in a dreadful dilemma. They have to please the powers of reaction and privilege, and yet they must satisfy popular sentiment and popular demands. They have trusted to the respite given to them by Royal Commissions, and they hoped that those Royal Commissions would find for them some way of reconciling these irreconcilable forces. They are now found out, and the country will judge from the barrenness of this programme, in addition to its former experience, that it is not from the gentlemen on that bench that the great reforms desired by the people are likely to be obtained.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
100 Mr. Speaker, before I deal with the right hon. Gentleman's lengthy, but not too lengthy, speech, may I join with him and the rest of the House in offering my congratulations to my two hon. friends on the manner in which they have carried out the difficult and delicate task entrusted to them. My two hon. friends have spoken on this occasion, which is the beginning of the first Parliament of the reign and the first year of the century. This occasion has suggested to them naturally and necessarily topics of the greatest general interest, and I think everybody will admit that they treated this great theme with tact, delicacy, and judgment.
The right hon. Gentleman began his speech to-night by a very amiably turned sarcasm at something which fell from my hon. friend the Member for Sevenoaks, who moved the Address, as regards his dexterity in explaining and apologising for what the right hon. Gentleman described as the beggarly poverty of our legislative programme; and as the right hon. Gentleman began his speech in that way, so I think it was the last proposition which engaged him before he resumed his speech. I do not think this attack comes very well from the right hon. Gentleman. He seems to take it that the business of a Government is to bring in a flaming scheme of domestic and progressive legislation, and that when a scheme is brought in all their duties in connection with it come to an end; for I well remember during the three years tenure of office by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends there never were Queen's Speeches richer in promises, and there never were sessions poorer in performance. [Opposition cries of "Oh, oh." I fear that statement does not meet with approval from hon. Gentlemen opposite but luckily this is a question not of opinion, but of fact. It is very easy to see how well justified was the classical phrase of "ploughing the sands" used by one of the Members of that Administration —how well justified that was with regard to their legislative performances. [Opposition cries of "House of Lords.'"] I am comparing promises of legislation with performances of legislation. I daresay it was the fault of the other House; possibly we may have talked too much. I am not discussing causes or excuses; I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will always find excuses. I am talking about 101 results; and I say that while no Government had richer promises in their Queen's Speeches, no Government, even by their own admission was less fortunate in bringing those promises to any certain fruition. If the right hon. Gentleman had to frame our King's Speeches for us, I have not the slightest doubt they would be very different from what they are. He wants, in addition to the important and not very small list of measures we have put down, an Education Bill, which, if I understand him rightly, is to sweep away the whole of our existing elementary system, the whole of our existing secondary system, the whole of our existing technical education, and the whole of our University education; and he wants, in addition to that, to have a Bill dealing with what is called the temperance question, which is to carry out, I presume, all the recommendations of the majority and all the recommendations of the minority of the Commission and to embody them in law. In addition to that, we are to have a great scheme dealing with the housing of the working classes. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman, who has framed Queen's Speeches, is, if he has again to frame them, going to frame them on that sketch model; but I seriously warn him that if he does he will raise a good many expectations that will be doomed to a very bitter disappointment; and when he tells us, among other things, that we ought to have brought in a great scheme of licensing reform, I remember his own efforts to 'bring in a great scheme of licensing reform, and I remember the result. I remember the amount of support they received in the House and the succeeding verdict of the country upon them. I do not know that the example is an encouraging one.
Then the right hon. Gentleman alluded, I think in very proper and becoming terms, to the subject of the Civil List, which is mentioned in His Majesty's Speech. The right hon. Gentleman assured us—and we hardly required his assurance—that this subject would not be treated by his friends in a party or controversial sense. There have been times when the consideration of the Sovereign's Civil List was embarrassed by many difficult political questions. No such political questions can, I believe, be raised on the present occasion. There have been times when 102 the discussion was rendered more difficult by the fact that the country was called upon not only to provide a Civil List for the future needs of the Crown, but to deal with debts contracted by the Sovereign before his accession. No such embarrassments will occur on the present occasion. There are no debts; and I feel certain that on both sides of the House we shall all be anxious to approach the consideration of this subject with an earnest desire to provide adequately for the needs of the Sovereign of this great Empire.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me two questions—I think only two—apart from the important subject he raised in connection with the war. The first question was as to any information we had with regard to the behaviour of our troops in China. The only troops for which I am called upon to answer on this or any other occasion are the troops under the command of British officers and who serve the Sovereign of these realms. I believe the conduct of those troops has been exemplary, and all the arrangements—as far as I know them—which have been made in regard to their transport, their provisioning, and their discipline reflect the very highest credit upon the Indian military organisation, upon the officers in command, and upon the troops themselves. Then the only other question the right hon. Gentleman asked was when the commission of inquiry into the war was to take place. I am afraid it is premature—I am sorry it should be—to discuss that question. We are occupied not in diminishing, but in increasing the amount of our forces in South Africa; and until we see our way more clearly to a termination of hostilities, I presume everybody would think it premature to appoint that commission of inquiry which has to discuss the conduct of the war.
I think I have dismissed all what I may call the subsidiary garnishings of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and I come to his central criticism, which dealt with a topic which undoubtedly is the one which most deeply occupies us at the present time—namely, the South African War. The right hon. Gentleman began his observations upon that subject by saying that the last thing he desired to do was to revive the old controversies which had been raised at the General Election.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The conduct of the election, I thought he said. At all events, if the right hon. Gentleman did begin with those good intentions, as I thought he had done, they soon, like other good intentions, were forgotten; and he plunged up to the very lips in the whole of that controversy which I have no objection to seeing revived, but which I should have thought now he might have regarded as belonging to past history. The right hon. Gentleman repeated over and over again that who had misled the country as to the conclusion of the war, that we had—I suppose he implied, though I do not know that he said it— deliberately gone to the country with a sort of false and doctored account of the position in South Africa, that we had, on the strength of that false and doctored account, got the suffrages of the electors by false pretences, and that we were now; profiting by the result. I do not believe there is the smallest foundation for that statement. It is perfectly true that in September last the Government thought, as I believe our military advisers thought, and as the country at large thought, that the main military operations had drawn very near their conclusion, and? the right hon. Gentleman seems to think who invented that story; but I would remind him that he was one of the very first persons to address the country after the dissolution was announced. I remember his address coming out in two or three columns of The Times at that period, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, in the very first sentence of that address occurs the following statement—And now, among other questions, men will ask themselves how far does this war, now happily so near its conclusion—
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
It only shows that you misled me. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I include myself in the country.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
How did I mislead him? His address was in the hands of an enraptured electorate long before mine. I never told him the war was coming to an end. It was he who told us before anybody else. I think he was almost the first to address the 104 country. Though the conclusion proves to be erroneous, I do not blame him, for I shared it, believing that the war, to use his own phrase, was then happily near its conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman was mistaken, and the Government was mistaken, and our military advisers, who had the best means of information, were mistaken also; and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman, or the Government, or anybody else, was much to blame for the mistake. You can prophesy with a certain amount of assurance with regard to great military operations directed against organised forces; but you cannot prophesy with the same assurance as to the course to be pursued against unorganised forces, against the guerilla attacks to which we are being now subjected; and there was no ground for believing at that time— I am not aware that there could have been any ground for believing—that the Boer forces, these guerilla forces under Generals De Wet and Botha, would take a course which, however embarrassing to us, is incomparably more destructive to the interests of their own fellow-countrymen than it can be to ourselves, and which is more detrimental and disastrous to the interests of which they should be the first guardians than any of the greater military operations of which I have been speaking. The prophecy we all made was a false one. It was a false prophecy because we did not foresee, and could not foresee, that these leaders would be so ill-advised in their own interests, and in the highest interests of their own people, as to pursue the course which they have pursued. I pass from the barren field of past controversy to the more insistent, pressing, and important question of the course which the Government are now taking in order to bring this war to a conclusion. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary in that part of his speech to minimise those efforts, to imply that we were suffering under great difficulties in carrying out the requirements of our generals, that we were lagging behind their demands, and that as a matter of fact it would be, I think he said, two or three months before the force that was now being organised could leave the shores of this country or take part in any military operation.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not remember that phrase falling from the right hon. Gentleman, but many of these troops have left already, others are actually leaving, and the estimate of two or three months of the right hon. Gentleman I believe to be most unduly pessimistic. We have not lagged behind the demands of our generals, and it may interest the House to know that during the months of December and January the military stores and equipment sent out from this country were in excess of those sent out during any preceding two months since the war commenced. My right hon. friend the Secretary for War will, if it is desired, give further details as to the arrangements made by the War Office during the last two months; but it may suffice for the present occasion if I assure the House that we have been pressing forward in every possible way the military reinforcements, and that we have exceeded rather than fallen short of the demands of Lord Kitchener.
I turn from that to what is, after all, the most important part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech—a part of the speech which he delivered with great feeling and great earnestness, but which, nevertheless, left upon my mind an uneasy sensation that, behind the somewhat ambiguous phrases which he from time to time used, he was not absolutely at one with His Majesty's Government as to the end which we must never rest until we attain —the end, namely, of absolute supremacy, of absolute and complete conquest and control of all these territories. The right hon. Gentleman has again and again told the House that if we had taken a little more trouble to make the terms of peace known to the Boer leaders those leaders would long ago have come to some arrangement with us. The right hon. Gentleman, in support of that theory, has told us inaccurately, though unintentionally inaccurately, the story of Sir Redvers Buller's negotiations with General Botha. What happened between Sir Redvers Buller and General Botha I understand to be this—that General Botha suggested an armistice to discuss the question of peace. Sir Redvers Buller 106 granted the armistice, and then General Botha said he had himself no terms to propose. There was a suggestion made by Sir Redvers Buller to General Botha, which, of course, he could not conclude without consulting Lord Roberts. He consulted Lord Roberts, but before the answer came General Botha refused the terms. [An HON. MEMBER: That is not in the despatches.] I do not remember whether it is or not, but I am telling the House what I believe to be the true story of what occurred. General Botha re-fused the terms; the armistice came to an end, and I believe that one result of it was that General Botha got off with two guns that would otherwise probably have been captured. The leaders of the Boers know perfectly well that if they wore to lay down their arms they could do so at any moment with the certainty that their property and their persons would be respected, with the certainty that equal rights would be granted to the in habitants of the two colonies, and with the certainty that when it became possible autonomy, free institutions, would also be granted.
Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman over and over again made use of phrases, which I can only interpret as meaning that if he had control of the policy of the country at the present time he would go to those generals and say, "Lay down, your arms to-morrow, and the day after to-morrow you shall have the full, free, Parliamentary Constitution of an English colony." Is that the right hon. Gentleman's policy, or is it not? I listened, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, with, no desire to misinterpret him; but over and over again, when he came to the critical point of his recommendations, ambiguities of language crept in which compelled me, though not of a suspicious character, to imagine that his policy would be to promise instantly on the cessation of hostilities and the clearing of the country of British soldiers the establishment of full representative institutions on the model of New Zealand,. Australia, or the Cape. The right hon. Gentleman does not take the opportunity which, of course, he might of saying whether I misinterpret him. If I am not misinterpreting him, the sooner we know it and state it explicitly the better that the Government do not believe that that is 107 a possible or a safe policy. We believe it would be absolute insanity, while the effects of war are still visible to every eye and fresh in every recollection, while the memory of the hostilities between the two races is the dominant thought in every heart, to hand over to a community so constituted institutions beneficent indeed where they can be applied, but pernicious and fatal where they only lead to internecine conflict or to external war. If ever there was a country in which that policy could have been carried out, one would think effectively, and where there was every inducement to carry it out, it would have been in the Southern States of America at the termination of the Civil War. But even in America, with the huge dominating power of the North coercing and controlling the relatively small population of the South, even there, with the same race and with the same language, it was found absolutely impossible immediately to restore to the Southern provinces their full rights as free citizens of the great community. Let there be no suggestion or pretence that the leaders do not know the conditions which we are prepared to give. The right hon. Gentleman over and over again complained of the fact that we always said that "unconditional surrender" was the necessary preliminary to peace. It was unconditional surrender, not of the individual, but unconditional abandonment of the idea of an independent Government of the Transvaal or Orange Free State—unconditional as applied not to the individual, but to the institutions—and I do not think that that can be too clearly understood. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should have thought it desirable to assert of British generals, or even of a British Government, that it had favoured the policy of the burning of the farms of their enemies because they were their enemies— a most unhappy phrase which I hope fell from the right hon. Gentleman in a moment of in cautiousness, and to which he would not adhere in cold blood. There can be no grosser misrepresentation of anything that has occurred in the Transvaal. Never was it suggested, never could it be suggested that these men who were our enemies, fighting us honourably in open warfare, were, because they were our enemies, and for no other reason, 108 to have their property destroyed. That never was the policy of the Government; it never was the policy of Lord Roberts; it never was the policy of any single one of our military officers responsible in South Africa.
I do not know, Sir, that there is, any other point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech to which it is necessary for me to advert, and I do not wish, in dealing with this subject, to make any harsh criticism or commentary upon those Boer generals who are still carrying on a hopeless resistance in the field. They are men of courage, they are men of patriotism; and where courage and patriotism are concerned I am very loth to use language which could seem to condemn efforts for which, in a certain sense, everybody must feel sympathy. But when I hear of these men, approached by emissaries to discuss peace, treating those emissaries with the most brutal cruelty; when I hear of one man being flogged and of another man being shot, for no other reason than that they had pleaded for the country now suffering under all the horrors of warfare, then I say courage has degenerated into something very like recklessness, and patriotism is not unstained by brutality. But after all it is not my business—it would be an unpleasant business at the best—to criticise those who are in arms against us; but I feel that my criticism should be reserved for those who intentionally or carelessly, by hasty words or ill-considered phrases, or with deliberate intent, use language and defend a policy in this country which can have no effect in South Africa but to prolong this miserable war. If we are justified, as I think we are, on the highest grounds of humanity in condemning the conduct of the Boer generals, they, at all events, are risking their lives, sacrificing their ease, and incurring danger and hardship for the cause in which they believe. Those gentlemen who sit at home at ease in this country, who, either by their cheers or their speeches, do what they can to encourage and keep alive the dying embers of this struggle—what a responsibility rests upon them ! I remember that my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in his speech on December 7*—a speech* See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxxviii., page 248.109 which was received with general approval on both sides of the House—with regard to the making of peace, made a most conciliatory statement. That statement was immediately perverted in South Africa by the South African Press into a sign of flinching on the part of my right hon. friend and of the Government. His language was twisted into the language of weakness; and what was intended for conciliation, what was intended to bring the war to a more rapid end, was perverted by this misplaced ingenuity into an additional motive for continuing the struggle. I hope that every Gentleman in this House—and I include the right hon. Gentleman as, perhaps, one of those who have sinned against my canon—will be careful to say nothing that can be twisted in South Africa oven by the most ingenious controversialist into the suggestion that this country means to abandon the struggle in which it is engaged. We have put our hand to the plough and we will not withdraw it. Those who know South Africa, whether -as soldiers or politicians, and who form their expectations upon certain episodes in our past colonial policy and think that because in the general complication of Imperial affairs we may seem here and there to have gone back upon a declared policy, and who found upon that view the notion that the country is going to become sick of the war, disgusted with the war, anxious to bring the war on any terms to a conclusion—those men are sadly mistaken. Their mistake would matter nothing if it did not lead to the continuation of bloodshed. We could afford to smile at their ignorance of the true position of affairs had it not this disastrous practical effect upon the conduct of their soldiers and their statesmen. That they are mistaken I do not think a single man in this House doubts. This country will never withdraw from the task which it has set itself to accomplish. I have often been reproached, my colleagues have often been reproached, with indulging in prophecy. But I will indulge in no prophecy on the present occasion as to when this struggle will come to a conclusion; but it will be continued till it comes to the only possible conclusion consistent with our honour and our existence in South Africa; that I do declare; and I earnestly hope that no 110 party, no section of a party, no individual in this House—whatever view they take of the cause of the war or the conduct of the war—will allow any phrase to escape their lips which would give any stimulus to those who at so great a cost to their country and to themselves are continuing this hopeless struggle in South Africa.
MR. PHILIPPS (Pembrokeshire)
I am one of those hon. Members on this side of the House who believe that, whatever the merits of this quarrel may have been at the beginning, now it is begun we are bound to fight it out and see it through. Holding that view, as I do strongly, for my own part I would rather see in office in this country a Government of peace-at-any-price men than I would see a war entered upon and conducted with that want of preparation and forethought which the Government have displayed in this war. In the Speech which has been read to us to-day we have been told that measures have been taken to enable our troops to deal effectively with the forces opposing them. The right hon. Gentleman has just told us that during the last two or three months the Government have sent out even more stores and equipments than the generals on the spot have asked for. I will put this question to the right hon. Gentleman: Does that include horses?
I want to speak about horses to-night. A year ago, when this war began, admittedly we had not got enough horses in South Africa. The Government immediately sent out buyers all over the world, and they bought horses in great numbers in Hungary, the United States, and the Argentine. We now hear again that there are not enough horses in South Africa. And why is this? Have the horses all died? I can understand that in warlike operations there must be an immense waste of horseflesh, but it is the duty of the Government to keep that waste supplied. Nobody has ever said that the Boers are short of horses, or that they are not able to move about quickly. Why cannot our troops get about in the same way, and why can- 111 not we have horses as well as the Boers? We have had the greater part of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State in our hands for some time. At the beginning of the war, after the capture of Pretoria, undoubtedly in marching through the Orange Free State our generals must have had the same opportunities of getting horses as the Boers. We have had chances of getting horses in Cape Colony and Natal, and we have had the whole of Europe and America, North and South, and why is it that this country cannot get enough horses while the Boers can get plenty? I ask the Government whose fault is it? We are generally told that it is the fault of the nature of things or of the system, but if a Boer in the Transvaal can get a horse why cannot His Majesty's Government? I want to put three questions to the Secretary of State for War. I want him to tell us, first, how many horses have been bought in Great Britain and how many in other countries? Then I want him to tell me what has been he cost in the different countries, and I should like him specially to tell me what has been the price the Government have paid on the spot in the Argentine Republic. I have just come from that country, and I am in a position to know what the owners got for their horses. As those horses have not been a success in South Africa, I want to know what the official reports from the front are as to their behaviour, and how they stood the work. Those are the three questions which I should like answered.
In my humble opinion it is a great pity that at the beginning of the war there were not a great many more horses bought in Great Britain, and I will give my reasons. Horses of more than four years of age in Great Britain must be in some sort of condition. When they have been ridden, driven, or hunted, they must be in some sort of condition, and their muscles must have been developed. When the Government sent to buy horses in the Argentine they certainly got a horse with four legs, a head, and a tail, but for military purposes you want something more; you want condition, or, in other words, you want some muscle. If you go to the Argentine Republic and buy a horse off a ranch, that has never been worked, it cannot be fit for hard work for months to come. If you take such an animal on 112 a voyage of some weeks over the sea it must be in a miserable condition when it lands. What I believe the fault of the Government has been is that they have not had any store of horses in South Africa, and they have simply gone on buying horses from hand to mouth, and when they got these wretched animals on the spot they were sent to the front and were practically useless. That was not business, and it was nothing short of horse murder. It was simply killing horses which, if they had been purchased three months earlier, might have done good service to our forces in South Africa in the field. It may be said, if you bought these horses in England they could not have been in condition, and that they would have wanted a few weeks work before going to the front. It should be remembered that a horse once having had condition will get into condition again much more quickly than a horse bought off a ranch.
Now, Sir, I want to go into a second branch of this subject, and that is in regard to the way in which the purchases have been made. I do not feel at all satisfied that reasonable care has been taken in the buying of these horses. I am not going to mention any loose gossip, but amongst the people of this country there are endless tales going about of men who sold horses to the Government and who have got rich in doing it. I want to allude to the case of a gentleman who some six or eight months ago wanted to help the Government and the farmers in this country upon this question. He told all the farmers around that if they would send their horses to his stable he would only charge them something like £1 a week for their keep, and he would get the Government to send a buyer down and thus give the authorities a chance of getting good horses and the farmers a chance of selling them. What happened? An officer came down from the War Department, and he looked at six or eight horses. Out of that number he bought five or six, and never had the other horses out of the stable. A complaint was made to the Government. I know that the man who got the horses together is one of the best judges of horses in England. Somebody came down a second time from the Government and did the same thing. Six or eight were chosen, and the man 113 did not have the others out at all. Anybody who knows anything about the buying and selling of horses knows that this is a very suspicious matter, and it makes people ask questions as to the way in which the horses are bought. I wish to say a few words about the Argentine horses, because that is a thing upon which I have had exceptional opportunities of forming an opinion. A great many of the Argentine horses are rather small, with poor shoulders, and the great bulk of them would not be fit for military purposes. You could have got from the Argentine 10,000 or 15,000 extremely useful horses. I have heard in the Argentine of man after man—I know their names—who have made a great deal of money from selling horses to the Government, and I have seen thousands of horses admirably suited for military purposes; but I ask the Government, what is this precious system under which they have taken the bad horses and have never bought the good horses? I do not know whether it is the fault of the Government or of their buyers. If the Government told their buyers that they did not want horses out of condition, or old horses, or horses which had never done any work, then it was the fault of the buyers and the buyers ought to be changed. I believe that the Government could get dozens of men who are perhaps too old to serve their country in the field, but who would be very glad to go abroad and buy the horses wanted. From what I have seen of the results of the Government buying these horses, they have got the wrong men. It will no doubt be said that this was not the fault of the Government, but the fault of the system which they have inherited. I think the House is getting somewhat tired of hearing, when blame is cast on a system, the reply that the system is going to be changed. Ever since 1886 this Government, with the exception of three years, has been in office. If a man were put into a private buisness to manage it, and if at the end of twelve months it was found that the business was a fiasco, and that robbery was being carried on, or that it was being managed with extravagance, the manager and not the system would be blamed, and he would be dismissed. And yet the Government have been going on saying for twelve out of fifteen years that it is the fault of the 114 system, for which the Government is in no way responsible. I trust that the Government is not going to inquire into the system, but into the way it is being carried on. I speak as one who believes in prosecuting the war with vigour, but I am far from satisfied that any vigour is being shown by the Government, except in words or on election platforms. I should like to see vigour not in words only, but in actions. I hope that the House will set inquiry into the conduct of the war into motion at once; and I am sure that it will be found that investigation as to the circumstances under which horses are purchased abroad is most urgently needed.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
I should not venture to criticise the most gracious Speech from the Throne in the slightest degree if it were not for the fact that it is a Speech for which His Majesty's Government is alone and entirely responsible. There is evidence of that in to-day's paper, in the fact that the Duke of Devonshire waited on the King yesterday, and submitted for approval the Speech His Majesty has made to-day. There are in my opinion several very striking and grave omissions in the gracious Speech from the Throne, but before I deal with them I should like to make an observation with regard to the part which refers to the war in South Africa. In doing so, I should like to congratulate the Financial Secretary to the War Office upon his safe return from the seat of war, and upon the distinguished services he rendered in the course of the campaign. The mention of the services of the colonial forces in the King's Speech meets, I am quite certain, with a very ready echo in the heart of every individual in this country and one can only regret that Lord Strath-cona's corps, a force formed and raised at the expense entirely of the Canadian High Commissioner in this country, arrives in this country at a time when it will he difficult to show them all those outward expressions of the gratitude we feel for their services. I must, however, confess I am rather surprised that no mention is made in the King's Speech of the services, that have been rendered by the Reservists, the Militia, the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers; but I am content to believe that 115 the services of these men are recognised and included in the term "my troops," because all who belong to these forces only desire to be acknowledged as members of His Majesty's Army. But considering the call that has been made on the Reservists, a greater call than anybody could have anticipated, and the serious call made on the Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers, venture to think those services demand some special word of recognition by the Government. The services of the Volunteers have been somewhat remarkable. It is impossible to say how many members of the Volunteer force have gone to reinforce the field army in South. ! Africa; but taking all the sources of information, I do not think it can be put down at less than 10,000 or 20,000 men, which is a very large contribution indeed—a contribution which, except from motives of patriotism, the Volunteer's were not compelled to give.
But I wish to refer to one matter of current interest—the raising of drafts of Imperial Yeomanry for service in South Africa, and the drafts to reinforce the service companies of Volunteers. The Government and the Secretary of State for War have, I think, acted in a very wise manner in offering a far more liberal rate of pay with regard to the Yeomanry. A company sergeant-major gets 9s. 6d., and a quartermaster-sergeant, 8s. 6d.; but these rates are incomparably higher than those offered to the Volunteer drafts, who are offered only the pay of the Regular Army, with a natural consequence that a large number of the Volunteers have drifted into the Yeomanry. I make this no matter of complaint against the Yeomanry staff', because few men have done more for the country than the men who have raised the Imperial Yeomanry; but those who composed the Yeomanry in South Africa belonged to the Yeomanry cavalry in this country, and now only one in six of those in South Africa belong to the Yeomanry cavalry. I very much fear that some difficulty may occur owing to the varying rates of pay in the field force in South Africa, and that some dissatisfaction will arise. The Financial Secretary to the War Office being in his place, I should like to call his attention to the case of a civilian artificer, a civil farrier, who was engaged to assist in the shoeing of horses, and who wrote to me in effect—I am sorry I have 116 not his letter here, but I did not know I should have this opportunity of drawing attention to this case to-night—that he was engaged, with others, for the year at 2s. 6d. a day. The year is about to expire, and he has applied to remain out there at the same rate of pay as that which is to be given to the Yeomanry artificers, which I think is 7s. 6d. a day; but he has been told that his term has expired, and he must return to England and be relieved by those coming out from this country. If my hon. friend will allow me, I will send him the letter in question.
My hon. friend the Member for Pembroke, in his speech just now, referred to the supply of horses for South Africa. Now, I was for some time in a remount depot in Cape Colony, and anyone who has any conception of the immense demand for horses out there, would recognise the absolute impossibilty of allowing time for the horses to get hard in time for service. I do not think any department has done more difficult or thankless work than the remount department in Cape Colony. I wish I could say that the horses were all of the best, but not the least thing that proved detrimental to them was the change from the good feed of this country to the inferior feed out there. Anybody who knows anything about this matter, knows the extreme difficulty in buying horses for the cavalry, and those who saw the horses of the Hussars outside the House condemned them. Upwards of 70,000 horses have been shipped to South Africa, and I think, generally, they gave satisfaction. With regard to this the direction of the reform must be a very great difference in the power of the Government to obtain horses from the horse-owners of this country.
Now I must call attention to the Intelligence Department. I do urge a thorough reorganisation of that department at the earliest possible moment. Lord Wolseley complained that he was not kept fully informed, and we had statements the other day from the oldest general in the field complaining of the maps. Now the publication of the maps of a country with which we are likely to be at war at any time is the work of the Intelligence Department, but topographical work of this character is quite foreign to obtaining intelligence of foreign armies. There is one other thing I would urge on 117 the right hon. Gentleman—the reorganisation of the staff of the Army. There is not in this country anything like the general staff of the army in Berlin, which consists of about 120 members, whose duty it is to do everything possible to prepare the army for war. In the case of our general staff the work is mixed up with administrative duties, which prevents the staff doing its duty as a military staff.
Without dealing further with military matters, I am anxious to call attention to the extraordinary absence from the King's Speech of any reference to some of those serious social problems to which the Unionist party pledged themselves in 1895. I quite recognise what the First Lord of the Treasury said just now as to its being foolish to put in the Speech from the Throne a great amount of matter which has no chance of being dealt with, and which would only raise false expectations and lead to difficulties; but the character of those matters mentioned in the most gracious Speech from the Throne is so peculiar that the mover of the Address in reply described it as "proposals of legislation of not too ambitious a character" I need not read them. They are in the possession of every Member. Representing as I do an industrial constituency and a large number of working men, I am astonished that His Majesty's Government come before Parliament directly after a General Election and say nothing whatever upon trade and commercial matters. A great many hon. Members do not agree with the views I hold as regards commercial policy, but they will allow me to mention a matter of importance. My constituents at the present time are greatly troubled in their minds with regard to the threatened increase of the duties on the part of certain foreign Governments affecting the steel and iron industry of this country. Now, what has the President of the Board of Trade done at the Table of the House to-day? He has given notice of his intention to introduce a Bill. I at any rate thought it would be a notice having something to do with the trade and industry of the country; but what was it? Notice of a Bill for amending the law of literary copyright!. That may be a, matter of interest to a large number, but it is not a matter that concerns millions and millions of workers in this country. Remembering 118 the services of the colonial forces of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in South Africa last year, surely there never was a better time not only to have recognised that the colonies had given us their best blood and much of their treasure to assist us in the Boer War, but also to state the intention of His Majesty's Government in developing the trade and commercial intercourse between the mother country and her colonial possessions. It is perfectly evident to everyone that the great trade future lies within the British Empire. There is a feeling at the present time, not alone in Canada and Australia but among large masses of the people of this country, in favour of developing trade within the British Empire on mutually advantageous terms. I think that if this were done, threatened as we are with high and increased duties, and by trade restrictions of every sort, it would do something to give us markets within our own Empire. But there is not a word on this subject. I think the Colonial Secretary not long ago made a speech, which was reprinted by thousands and tens of thousands, in which he suggested that the aim of the Empire should be commercial peace. I have no desire to press unduly on His Majesty's Government, but these are matters that will not be delayed. If I may refer to a crucial instance, I. would mention the disaster in the West Indies on account of the sugar bounties in France, Austria, and elsewhere. There were rumours of an intention on the part of France to do away with these bounties. The Government said in December that they had no official knowledge of the matter. These are matters of grave importance to large masses of the people of this country.
It is not only with regard to commercial union, the increase of dirties by foreign Powers, and sugar bounties by which foreign Governments greatly prejudice the trade of the colonies, that the Government are entirely silent. They are silent upon many other matters of importance affecting the interests of the people of this country. There is the question of old age pensions. There is also a matter which can be and must be dealt with —one upon which the late President of the Local Government Board made an earnest speech recently at the Cutlers' Feast in Sheffield. He spoke of the absolute 119 necessity of an immediate measure for the better housing of the working classes. That is a matter of most pressing interest and importance in all large towns, and especially in the East End of London. Now if there is one subject on which His Majesty's Government have made repeated declarations it is as regards alien immigration. This is a matter of the utmost importance in connection with the housing of the working classes. It is surprising that upon this matter, in which the Sovereign has shown repeatedly his deep and great interest, no mention is made in the Speech from the Throne. Only yesterday, in addressing a deputation of the London County Council, His Majesty said—In the discharge of your onerous duties, which closely concern the welfare of millions of ray people, I am confident that you will not slacken in the efforts which you have made and are making for dealing satisfactorily with the many difficult questions which await your consideration, and especially with that of the proper housing of the working classes, which is one in which have always felt the deepest personal interest.That being so it is amazing that His Majesty's Government have not given any indication in the Speech from the Throne of their intention to deal with the matter. I hold in my hand a report which was made to the Toynbee Trustees. The Toynbee Institute, as many hon. Members know, is an institution which does incalculable good in the East End of London, and, seeing the pressing importance of this matter, they appointed a delegation to study the matter from an entirely impartial point of view. They appointed a young man of brilliant ability, Mr. Russell, who had no connection with London and no personal interest in the matter, and Mr. II. S. Lewis, a member of the Hebrew faith, as commissioners, in order to obtain the necessary information on the subject. Whatever I do in the course of this or other sessions, I wish to disclaim the slightest intention of importing into the discussion any vestige of religious feeling or prejudice. I have not the slightest feeling as to the Jews as Jews. In the last four years there was the enormous immigration of 200,000 persons, 50 per cent. of whom settled in the East End of London, and, seeing the enormous prejudice this brings to our population, I cannot but mention the 120 religion of: the people. I will ask your permission to read two extracts from the report made by Mr. Russell to the Toynbee Trustees—Streets that a few years ago were English and non-Jewish, have now a number of Jews; and the gradual process of the substitution of a Jewish family for a former occupant, is transforming the neighbourhood, whilst if a Jewish family remove, the key of the house will certainly be sold to a co-religionist.Mr. Lewis says quite independently—The foreigner has been an important factor in raising rents in many parts of East London, and his willingness to overcrowd is patently injurious to all his neighbours.Is it not extraordinary that with a state of affairs such as this, intimately connected with the active work of the Sovereign himself, and intimately connected with the welfare of the working classes, His Majesty's Government are completely silent on the point? On the Treasury Bench there is now a London representative, and I cannot understand how he does not insist on a matter so vital and important being dealt with. What did the Home Secretary, when President of the Board of Trade, state at that table on behalf of the Government of which he was then and is now a prominent member? He said—Not only individual Members, but the Government as a whole, are pledged to some legislation on the subject. We do not desire to depart one iota from the pledges we have given. We adhere to every pledge, and I hope at no distant time to propose in Parliament legislation in the direction desired.That is over four years ago, and three-sessions have passed and he does absolutely nothing on the subject. I am a loyal supporter of His Majesty's Government. In the recent General Election I made as many speeches on behalf of the Government in my own constituency and in other places as any supporter of the Government, but I cannot do otherwise than call attention to what I consider, and what I believe my constituents will consider, serious omissions from His Majesty's Speech. I admit that the session is likely to be a busy and interesting one, if not indeed historical, but I consider with regard to matters such as those to which I have called the attention of the Government that it is disappointing, it is almost heart-breaking, to see-nothing whatever done.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House is in almost as had a humour with His Majesty's Government as an Irish Member might be expected to be. It would be interesting for one to thoroughly understand what is the reason of the hon. Gentleman, who hitherto has been such a strong supporter of His Majesty's Government, for the attack he now makes upon them at this hour. The hon. Gentleman's attack no doubt will disturb to a considerable extent His Majesty's Government, and I, for one, after some considerable experience of the House, and having listened to similar attacks by hon. Members against the party to which they are supposed to belong, will not be surprised if His Majesty's Government have the wisdom and the grace for the future to call the hon. Member into their counsels. If they only do that there is no doubt that the next speech his Majesty delivers will be of a different character, and one wholly satisfactory to the House. The hon. Gentleman rather surprised me in the references he made to the East End of London. He delivered what appeared to me and what, I think, will appear to most people who read the speech, a rather embittered and envenomed attack upon the Jewish population.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
The hon. Gentleman certainly drew a strong contrast between the conditions existing where the Jewish immigrants live in London and the conditions existing where what he called the Christian or English population live. I know very little of East London, but of this much I am convinced: that the terms "Christian" and "English" are not by any means synonymous. I do not think the foreign population in the East End of London, many of whom support themselves by the hardest of toil and labour, make worse citizens than those roughs of the East End of whoso exploits we hear from time to time in the police courts. The hon. Member for Central Sheffield has found fault because of the neglect to make reference in the King's Speech to matters of social reform on 122 which he has dealt. He has pointedly referred to the complete absence of any reference whatever to old-age pensions. All I have got to say on that point is that as long as the hon. Member and the rank and file of the Conservative party allow themselves to be led and controlled by the Member for West Birmingham, let them not be surprised in the future, as in the past, at any inconsistency the Government may commit. Before the Colonial Secretary turned his attention to Imperial matters and the development of the Empire in Africa he was great on the question of old-age pensions. At the General Election in 1895 it was stated that one of the leading questions to be dealt with was old-age pensions. I was myself a member of a Committee appointed to inquire into the feasibility of granting old-age pensions, but the Committee came to the conclusion that the few millions per annum which the scheme would cost could not be afforded, and the Committee ceased to do any further work. The Committee made a Report, and the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary dropped the subject because the expense would be too great, and so we heard no more of old-age pensions. Very shortly afterwards the Government launched into a war which has cost up to the present time, apart from the enormous charge yet to be incurred, three or four times as much as would be necessary to establish in this country a satisfactory system of old-age pensions such as exists in many of the colonies of the Empire at the present time.
If the hon. Member found fault with the Government for the omission of these reforms from the Speech, what complaint might not be made by the Irish Members? In the first Speech of the King there is an almost entire absence of reference to the conditions existing in Ireland at the present time. We are told in the Speech that there will be a measure introduced to facilitate the voluntary purchase and sale of land in Ireland. It is a most extraordinary thing that the Governments of the last hundred years by some perverse fate have always been destined to be completely behind the times, and to offer to the Irish people not what they stand in need of, but something they do not require and which would be absolutely useless to them. At present, from north 123 to south and from east to west there is amongst Catholics and Protestants the most profound unanimity of feeling as to the absolute desirability of introducing a system of compulsory purchase and sale of land in Ireland. That is admitted everywhere, and yet the people are told that they will get a voluntary scheme of land purchase which is useless to them, and has been proved to be useless to them for the past ten years. In Ireland there is a lack of industry and enterprise, there are misery and starvation on every side, and we come here and do not receive a single word of hope or encouragement in the Speech delivered by His Majesty. Not one promise is made to our people, and we are expected to be loyal. Why, it is the old story: the Irish people are promised nothing: their miseries and needs and destitution are passed over in silence.
I did not intend to refer to these matters at all. I have been induced to do so by the speech of the hon. Member for Central Sheffield. I rose to say one or two words on the danger dealt with by the First Lord of the Treasury when he made reference to the war. What did the First Lord of the Treasury say? He warned hon. Members in this House and he warned people outside not to dare or to attempt to say one word of opposition to the proceedings now going on in South Africa, "because," he said, "if you protest or object to anything that occurs, it will be taken as an encouragement by the Boers to continue this hopeless war." I say that an argument of that kind coming from the First Lord is unworthy of his position, and it is an unfair argument to the House. What does it mean? It means that if Englishmen or Scotchmen, as well as Irishmen, who have their hearts filled with indignation when they read of the ruthless and cowardly persecution to which women and children have been subjected from one end of South Africa to another, when they read of the burning of the homesteads of people whose only crime was that they fought for their country, object to these things, they are to be told that they are encouraging the Boers in their resistance. It is these very things of which we complain—this house-burning, this wanton destruction of property, and this persecution of defenceless 124 women and children—which steel the hearts of the Boers and encourage them to fight; and if under these circumstances they do continue this war, I say you have to blame not any advice given in this country, but the barbarous and infamous proceedings which have been done—and done, as I believe, wrong fully—in the name of this country at the present time. The First Lord of the Treasury said it was impossible to prophesy as to what would occur in regard to such a war as is now raging in South Africa. My answer to that is that all that has taken place in South Africa—the cost of money, the spilling of blood, and the waste of material —was prophesied with absolute accuracy a year and a half ago. The terrible dangers that were confronting you were prophesied not only by Members of this House, but, I believe, if the despatches were published, it would be seen that Sir William Butler also prophesied them. It is my proudest boast, after eighteen years in this House, that I in a humble way amongst the Irish Members, having had some information as to the true state of affairs, when you asked for £13,000,000, warned you that the war would cost £100,000,000—you will find it in Hansard; when you said the war would be over in six months (you can refer to Hansard again), we warned you that it would probably take two years, and that the animosity and the bitter race hatred caused by the war would probably last as long as any man in this House will live. We are proud to be able to boast that, whoever may be responsible for the injustice, misery, and bloodshed of the war, the Irish Members spoke the truth, and in face of the terridle war fever then rampant in this country, they did their duty, and therefore have no share in the blood-guiltiness which undoubtedly rests upon the heads of those who supported this war some time ago. We sometimes hear of boycotting in Ireland, or of cases in which men have been unfairly excluded from public life; we are told that the Irish are ungenerous and intolerant; but where in the history of the country can you find a case of intolerance more glaring and outrageous, or of ingratitude blacker, than the case presented by the treatment of the late Members for Plymouth and Bodmin? They are men who for the best part of their lives served their country and 125 their people in this House—men who were opposed to the national claim of Ireland, and therefore have no particular claim upon my sympathy-honourable and upright men, men of ability, of single-minded purpose and genius; but where are they now? Their places are empty; they have been hunted from public life; they have been persecuted, derided, and ridiculed; and why? Simply because at a time when it was not popular to do so they had the courage and honour to stand up and endeavour to win the people of England from the policy which was leading them to this lamentable, miserable, unjust, and costly war. I feel convinced that so long as this impossible effort is continued to impose your will upon a reluctant people, so long will the struggle continue. Reference has been made to the mother country and the colonies. In the colonies there are large bodies of men who are willing to embark upon the duties which you require to be performed in South Africa if you pay them well enough; but I will believe in their devotion to this country and their sympathy with this war when I see the United Parliament of the Australian Commonwealth or the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada voting £1,000,000 towards the war expenses. But they will not vote £100,000 for that purpose, though there are a certain number of men who will fight for you on the terms upon which you are now enlisting the Yeomanry —five shillings a day and all found. It is a monstrous piece of injustice that the Fusiliers and the men from Scotland, England, and Ireland, who have behaved most bravely and suffered most severely, should get only a, shilling a day, while these others are getting five shillings to prove their devotion to the mother country. The whole proceedings in connection with the war are so repugnant and detestable to the feelings of the Irish people that it is no wonder we make this protest, and if I have seemed somewhat presumptuous in speaking thus early in the session, I feel that I am entitled to do so because I was one of the Members who eighteen months ago raised their voices in deprecation of the war, and in warning the people of this country of the inevitable results of the policy then adopted.
§ * SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
The hon. Gentleman 126 who has just spoken seemed very much-impressed with the injustice of the English electorate towards two gentlemen who-were distinguished Members of this House. I for one very much regret that the hon. Gentleman who represented Plymouth is no longer a Member of this House, and I hope he may soon return to take the interesting and instructive part he always occupied in our debates. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman the late Member for Bodmin,. I always thought, and still think, that if he returns—and I have no objection to his return—he ought to take his seat on the opposite benches rather than on this side of the House. But the hon. Gentleman based his charge of ingratitude on the fact that the English people-declined to return two gentlemen who actively opposed one of the most important policies of the party to which they belonged. Such a result is not an unusual occurrence, nor is it confined to England. The hon. Gentleman once-called himself a Parnellite, and I remember a certain amount of ingratitude on the part of the Irish nation towards Mr. Parnell and his faithful followers; quite as striking as that which has been referred to. But that is not a very important question. An important charge, however, was that of maltreatment and atrocity with regard to Boer women and children brought against British troops. Vague statements of that sort are very easily made, but I challenge the hon. Member to prove any of those cases.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
Perhaps; the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say, so far as I am concerned, exactly what I meant. If he means that I charged the-British troops with personal assaults or outrages upon women,. I have heard of such cases, but I am not prepared to substantiate them myself. The charge of brutality of which I spoke—and I do not blame the British troops; they but carried out their orders—was in connection with the Boer women and children being taken from their homes and herded in camps without sufficient food or accommodation, and being treated in every respect as prisoners.
* SIR E. ASHMEAD-BAETLETT
I am glad I referred to the charge, because we have obtained from the hon. Member a distinct disclaimer of the charges of personal outrage against women and children; and that is very important. What he means is that a certain number of the non-combatant Boer population have been taken from outlying farms and villages and placed in laagers, where they are well looked after by the British. The answer to that is that the greater number of those persons have been removed at their own desire, because they have been perpetually robbed by these Boer guerillas, or banditti, or whatever you like to call them: and I venture to say that nine-tenths of those people would be willing, if asked to do so, to sign a declaration of gratitude to the British officers for their protection.
Then I cannot but regret the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. It was, in my opinion, as mischievous a speech as could have been made by a Member of this House, especially by one holding so great a position as that held by the light hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman said he was most anxious to see an early end to this war, that it was our duty to bring the struggle to a speedy conclusion, and that the bulk of his supporters would not be backward in voting the necessary supplies with that object. But after making those premises, the right hon. Gentleman leads the world to believe that the Government have neglected, in their political treatment of the Boer population since the war began, some important steps which might have secured an earlier surrender of the Boer forces. He did not give any proof of that except a rather uncertain version of an interview between one of the generals Botha and Sir Redvers Buller; and the Government are certainly not responsible for the consequent action taken by the Commander-in-Chief, excepting in so far as they are generally responsible for the acts of all the generals; that is, they were not responsible in an inspiring and directing sense. The right hon. Gentleman would also lead the country to believe that the Government have it in their power now to go to the Boer belligerents and offer such and such terms. The right hon. Gentleman, if he has studied the course of the 128 war as closely as he appears to have done, must know that no such offer would have the slightest effect at the present stage. The only result would be to persuade the Boers that we were afraid of them, and to confirm them in the idea which has been unfortunately rooted in their minds ever since the disastrous and infamous surrender of 1881—that they are better men than we are, and that they have only to continue fighting in order to get all they want. I believe, with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the Boers in the field, though acting with reckless madness, are fighting courageously and well; and as they are experienced in guerilla warfare they may protract the contest for a few weeks or months, but ultimate success is impossible. Every month and week of delay adds to the loss of killed and wounded and increases the ruin which this course of procedure is inflicting upon the whole of the Transvaal and Orange River Colonies. Hon. Members who take the line adopted by hon. Gentlemen opposite are not real friends of the cause they profess to advocate. The most disastrous thing that could happen would be for the Boers, or any section of them, to think that there is any party or leader in this country who believes the Boers have the smallest chance of success. The right hon. Gentleman made another statement which I think is much to be deplored. He gave some colour to the idea that cruelty of a very serious kind had been inflicted by our troops in the burning of Boer houses. In the case of warlike operations extending over so vast a country, and under so many isolated commands, it is impossible to guarantee that there may not have been some few farmhouses destroyed unnecessarily; but the enormous proportion of these farms were destroyed not because they belonged to men who had been fighting against us, but because they afforded most dangerous points d'appui for the enemy in a treacherous kind of warfare. I have not heard a word said about the bombardment by the Boers of inhabited towns, such as Kimberley, and Mafeking, and Lady-smith, during this war. I am not going complain of that, but when Members complain of the burning of Boer farmhouses, they should remember the other side also.
129 The right hon. Gentleman made a third serious error in his speech. It is no doubt of the utmost importance that in the long run the Dutch element in South Africa should be conciliated and fairly treated; nobody in this House wishes any other course to be followed; but at this time the one thing to persuade the whole of South Africa is not that the Dutch have to be conciliated, but that British supremacy is to be established and maintained. That is the crucial fact in the whole situation; and once that is recognised, as it will be recognised before long, by the whole of the Boer population you will have the ground clear for a policy of just, kind, and even generous treatment. I should like to say one word with regard to the conduct of the war by the Government as distinguished from the references I have made to those who attack the policy of the Government. I should like to know if the Government have, at the earliest moment, followed the advice and satisfied the demands of those who are responsible for the military operations in South Africa. We heard about three weeks ago of 5 000 Yeomanry being sent out; we now hear of 10,000. Are these what Lord Kitchener has asked for, and are they being sent out as soon as he asked for them? We have a right to know that, and the Government cannot on the one side boast of the conduct of the war and of their determination to maintain British supremacy and to put an early end to the military operations, and at the same time withhold the reinforcements which those who are best able to judge of the necessities of the case demand. I do not say they have held them back but there is a rather suspicious interval between the assumption of the chief command by Lord Kitchener and the despatch of reinforcements, which we all know to be absolutely necessary. The hon. Member for Pembroke made a very interesting and practical speech on some of our military deficiencies, and he criticised the way in which our Army had been kept short of horses. I believe that three-fourths of our failures in South Africa have been due to the insufficient supply of horses In Cape Colony and in Natal there was, I believe, an enormous supply of the most useful horses which was for long never drawn upon, I do not know why; but certainly the Argentine horses were the worst 130 horses for the kind of work for which they were required. The right hon. Gentleman also derided the Secretary of State for speaking of the present operations as guerilla warfare. There never was an example more correctly described as guerilla warfare than that at present existing in South Africa. Guerilla warfare is warfare in which the enemy divide themselves into a great number of small bands, avoid combats in the open and in large numbers, take advantage of the mountainous or marshy country, and dash about inflicting all the damage they can upon their opponents without risking a general engagement. That is guerilla warfare pure and simple, and that is exactly what is being carried on in South Africa. I know of only one engagement during the past year which might be described as ordinary warfare, and that was the attack upon General Clements' force, the success of which seems to have been entirely due to the carelessness of certain officers in not entrenching the position at Nooitgedacht.
With regard to the campaign in China, the Leader of the Opposition very properly asked the Leader of the House whether it was true that great crimes in the way of massacres and outrage of every kind had been committed by the Allied forces in China. The First Lord rather parried that question, and said that our Indian troops had conducted themselves well. I believe it is true that no case of serious outrage has been proved against the troops which fought under British leadership in China; but that is not the case with regard to our allies, and the Government are very responsible for what has happened. Massacres and outrages of a most atrocious and almost unparalleled character have been inflicted upon the Chinese non-combatant population, because our Government committed the terrible mistake of going with what they called the Concert of Europe into a military expedition into China. Nothing could possibly have turned out worse. It is true that we rescued the legations, but we have gained no credit or advantage from the operations in China. Other Powers have gained, and we have lost and we have inflicted upon the Chirese a sense of Christian cruelty and bar barbarity which I do not think can be wiped out in the course of centuries. I think the 131 Government ought to make some expression of regret, at all events, if not of horror, at the deeds which have been committed upon harmless non-combatants in China by the forces of the Powers with whom they were acting, and I shall never lose an opportunity of making this protest, because I think that the wholesale massacres by the Russians in Manchuria, and by the contingents of several Powers in Chi-le, constitute one of the most deplorable, disgraceful events which occurred in the course of the last century.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
I think that in the last words of the hon. Member for the Ecclesall Division the House generally will be inclined to concur, but into his previous discussion as to the academic point of the meaning of the term "guerilla warfare" I shall not enter. I remember a distinguished German general, who was employed by another Power with the consent of his own Government, telling me—to give me an idea of the futility of the military methods pursued outside his own country—that a most distinguished staff student was once asked by him to compose a column and conduct it from one place to another upon the map, and to explain how he would do it, and the man began by asking whether it was a defensive or an offensive operation. I confess that it seems to me that we have to look at the essence of the war in which we are engaged and not to engage in discussions as to the particular meaning of words which may be employed. I desire to refer to the nature of the military operations in which we have been recently engaged. It appears to me to be a point peculiarly worthy of consideration on this occasion as compared with those which may be raised by Amendments which will be moved to-morrow, and on subsequent days of the debate. When we get the Army Estimates we shall discuss larger Army questions; but this, it seems to me, is the proper, necessary, and practically only opportunity for discussing those events which have occurred since we last met, and which we have our first opportunity of criticising here to-day.
What has happened since we were here 132 in December last? There has been an invasion of the remaining portion of Cape Colony, an invasion on a geographical scale which the country has perhaps hardly realised of our old colony of territory which has been completely British since 1806, and where the invaders have reached and occupied for a considerable period districts which were settled with British settlers in 1820. That has been described by Government speakers as a mere raid, and the invaders have been termed "raiders." Lord Kitchener has used that phrase. No reference whatever is made in the King's Speech to that invasion; the Speech refers only to the war as not yet entirely terminated, and states that the capitals of the enemy and the principal lines of communication are in our possession. The country will hardly realise from those words that Sir Alfred Milner has been making speeches at Cape Town to guards raised for the defence of the capital, in which he has stated that an attack upon the capital itself is by no means outside the realms of possibility. Also since we last met a great deal of information has been afforded with regard to the details of matters which have previously occurred in the war, and which have been subjects of discussion, but as to which no official information has been vouchsafed up to the present time. As an example of the knowledge which has come to us of late, and of the necessity for that larger inquiry of which we have been told—an inquiry which, however, I fear will come after all the interest has departed and the value of the lessons to be learnt from these occurrences has evaporated and passed away—I may take the long-ago case of what happened at Waterval Drift. We have lately had a Blue-book laid before the House, which I suppose embodies, in the opinion of the Government and the generals, a sufficient and final account of that business. There is no reference whatever either to the magnitude of the losses which we suffered on that occasion or to the consequences of that loss. According to one account there were taken at Waterval Drift 173, and according to another account 175 loaded store wagons, 3,000 trek oxen, and 1¼ million days rations for the Army. Will the House believe that not the slightest information has ever been given to us 133 officially as to the nature of that loss and its results on the position of the Army—results which may be imagined by those who have any acquaintance with military matters?
Then there is another matter. In reply to a question with regard to the necessity for inquiry, it was put forward, and assented to by the Under Secretary of State for War, that a reason for the inquiry was the bearing which such knowledge would have, not upon the satisfaction of idle curiosity, but upon the recruiting and training of the Army. That was a ground for the inquiry, and the ground upon which the inquiry was assented to. I suppose it has been found necessary—and if that is alleged I shall yield to that necessity—to profess officially that the conduct of battalions all through has been uniform—that is to say, that there has been little to choose between battalion and battalion in this war. But if we are to have knowledge upon which we can really discuss the recruiting and training of the Army, we must deal with that delicate question of the differences which the war has shown between battalion and battalion. It is, of course, a very delicate question, and if I turn to the account given in these dispatches of the attack on Long Hill in the course of the battle at Lombard's Kop, and when I remember letters in my possession from officers who were present in that engagement, and are mentioned for gallantry in the dispatches, but have since been killed; and when I read the account of that attack given by Sir George White and passed by Sir Redvers Buller, Lord Roberts, and the Government, and laid before this House as the complete and, except for anything we may probe afterwards, the final account of this engagement, I find it impossible to believe that there is any intention of giving us any information to distinguish the battalions. I hear a Member opposite suggesting that it is a difference in commanding officers. That may be alleged with regard to some of the operations, but I am certain that on this occasion that explanation cannot be given as a reason for the difference between the various infantry battalions engaged. As far as I am concerned, if that attitude is held to be necessary for the Army, I shall accept that view, and I shall not 134 press for information on these subjects which the Government deliberately think it contrary to the interests of the Army to give. But I note the fact that when we have frequently before discussed these matters in this House we have always been told that we were right in maintaining that for our knowledge of the recruiting and training of the Army it is necessary that these things should be gone into. We now find they have not been gone into in the dispatches; I believe they never will be, and I shall accept that if the Government say it is necessary.
What is really new since we last met? We have had a continued succession of those disasters on a small scale which marked the earlier stages of the war. Some have been officially brought before us in letters and telegrams; some have not been mentioned, but have become known through the casualty lists. There have been constantly repeated captures of convoys in every portion of the field of operations, and we have the event at Helvetia on 31st December, the second affair at Lindley, and on 30th January the affair at Modderfontein. There have been a succession of similar incidents in Cape Colony itself. What has been the position in Cape Colony since we separated? When we were first told that the raiders had crossed the Orange River we were also told that they were being pursued, and that there was every probability that they would be either headed back, stopped, or captured. That invasion went on, on the contrary, for six weeks. Two columns of invaders crossed the whole of Cape Colony from the one end to the other; one column marched 300 miles to the west coast, and another column marched 400 miles to the south coast. They were sitting for six weeks in the centre of the grain-growing districts of the colony, and I do not believe they will be driven out by the reinforcements now being dispatched; but I do not believe they would have been there for those six weeks if the reasonable preparations had been made in advance which any reasonable men would have made. I was asked just now to what districts I was referring when I said the invaders had come to districts settled by the British in 1820. The hon. Member who asked will find that Uniondale, in the district of Port Eliza- 135 beth, where the Boer raiders penetrated for 400 miles from the Orange State, 400 miles across territory indisputably British since 1806, is in a district settled by the British in 1820. Let us take what has occurred for a longer period, what has been continuing, and what was already the case when we were here in in December as regards a large portion of Cape Colony. Does the House realise—I am quite certain the country does not—what has been for months the position in the British Colony of the Cape, in Criqualand, and in Southern Bechuanaland? In Griqualand and in Southern Bechuanaland we hold only two or three spots here and there at distances averaging 80 or 90 miles apart. Every one of those spots as practically besieged; they can have food and ammunition sent them only by armed and guarded convoys. Those convoys have been captured over and over again, and those who are responsible are in this position: that they have the greatest difficulty in supplying food and ammunition, and they can only afford to employ the best mounted troops for the purpose; because otherwise the convoys are too slow or too large, and cannot be adequately guarded. These posts are constantly summoned to surrender, and some do surrender, and their relief is a matter of the greatest difficulty. The reason for naming this, and the importance of the matter, is that it points to the absolute necessity of having such troops as are sent to these sterile districts efficient in the highest possible degree. You require not only mounted men, but something more than merely men with horses; you require men, if you can get them, who are the equals of the Boers. It is difficult to get these men; it is a matter of time to get them. The Australians and the New Zealanders have given us the best material of that class, and it is a matter of time to get them; and what this House ought to ask is whether the Government acted upon the information they had, whether they acted as reasonable men upon the probabilities of the case, whether they did as they were asked and as they were told, and whether they did it promptly and at the earliest moment, and whether they began to train the men —who are worse than useless without being trained- for purposes of this kind. I want to ask whether the House is 136 really aware of the position of a large portion of the enormous territories of South Africa. Generals have to deal with districts in some cases 300 by 120 miles in extent; they have five or six garrisons dotted about; they have this small force of mounted troops; they have to be perpetually sending these small convoys with food and ammunition, and their men and horses are worn out beyond all belie. The train and the wear an tear upon them, as they themselves de-scribe it, is impossible for us to realise.
I wish to ask the Government these definite questions: When did Lord Kitchener first ask for reinforcements of mounted men; for what number did he ask; and did he merely say "mounted men"? Because every letter that I receive from South Africa, and everything that I read about the campaign, leads me to imagine— what we had arrived at for ourselves—that it is of the highest importance in these sterile districts not to have useful men only, but men of first-class efficiency; not men who can hardly sit a horse, who are wholly untrained, who have not their wits about them, and who are not of a very high physical standard. These men are worse than useless, and only cause an additional strain on our resources. They are the men who may surrender too easily, while others would hold on to the bitter end. Such men are in every way an encumbrance. I feel certain that if Lord Kitchener asked for this larger number of mounted men, he did not mean so many men and so many horses, but competent men capable of holding the field against the Boers. I cannot imagine what can be the use of untrained mounted men at the present time. Untrained infantry, I confess, may be of some use, for you have many officers of experience and old soldiers who could make them fit for service while holding garrisons. But I cannot conceive what the use of untrained mounted men can be. Only men of the highest possible standard of training can be of any utility at all. Now, when did the Government prepare for replacing the wounded and the stale men at present in South Africa? We know from the casualty list what the waste has been; we know from the admissions of the Government themselves, and from letters from the seat of war, what the wear and 137 tear and strain has been, and we know their admitted anxiety to relieve portions of the force in the field. But what we want to know is, to what extent and when they began to prepare and train these reinforcements? In the official despatches we have a certain source of information which we can use before this House, apart from private letters signed by the writers. We have also articles which have been written by officers of high distinction, with their names attached. We do not know whether these officers have written with the leave of the Adjutant General or not. I know that this leave has been asked for in some eases, and I believe that in some cases it has been given. But when an officer who has been on the Headquarters Staff, and, in two or three other cases, officers who have held high position, men mentioned in the despatches, write deliberately and calmly about the war, I think the House ought to pay a good deal of attention to what they say. A most distinguished officer on Sir Redvers Buller's Headquarters Staff thus writes: "We have been short of mounted men throughout the war." That is the mistake the Government have made. It means that we have been short of trained mounted men throughout the war. The House has a right to know what preparation the Government have made for filling up the gaps in the trained mounted men, and also for supplying the reinforcements required. I take it that Lord Kitchener means reinforcements, and the Government themselves admitted that in the statement they made in January last. Now, it is doubtful whether in this war we have been able to keep up to our own standard of high efficiency. Making every allowance for the character of the country, I doubt whether we have kept up to the records of the marching and horse-mastership of the Indian Mutiny. I doubt whether the cavalry standard has not been unduly low judged by our own standard, and certainly comparing it with the great French War, with Prussian and Austrian and other recent experience. If we are right in thinking, as I do, that the Government have been sending out recently, at haphazard, hasty reinforcements not confined to trained men, then I think the responsibility they have incurred, in face of the invasion of 138 Cape Colony, is very great indeed. What I want to know is what Lord Kitchener asked for, and what the Government did. On 15th January they announced, they were preparing 5,000 Yeomanry "to make good casualties," and, as we know, "to relieve some men now in the ranks." The Government run the risk in offering the high rate of pay alluded to on a previous occasion, of placing great difficulties in the way of recruiting the ordinary cavalry. On this question of the difference of standard, have the Government kept up the Yeomanry standard, so as to justify them in paying the high rate of pay they are now offering to the Yeomanry? Now, one fact which, I think, goes to show that there was, a decline in the standard when the Government decided to raise 5,000 more Yeomanry-was that the riding test was made less complete than it was formerly. In the case of the first Yeomanry sent out the riding test varied much: in some counties it was very high, in other counties it was; very far less high. But in the last case the Government themselves announced that the jump test for riding was abolished. I believe that was explained on the ground that jumping was not wanted in South Africa. But the jump test is the test that a man can really ride. There is; something more wanted than mere riding, or mere shooting in order to justify the high pay you are giving to those men you are sending out to South Africa. You must have not only good riding, but a high average of general intelligence and that horse-mastership which does not now prevail. And what about the jump from 5,000 to 30,000 which was suddenly announced on the night of 6th February? After the invasion of the southern part of Cape Colony had been going on for six months, suddenly the Government jumped from a demand for 5,000 to 30,000 mounted men. But they include in that 30,000 the original 5,000, the whole of the men for the police, so far as these have been raised, and all the Colonial forces for which credit had previously been taken, and also Mounted Infantry reliefs from home and a certain-number of cavalry—which I understood to mean "heavy cavalry." Now, we were told that the reason why the Household' Cavalry were brought home was that heavy cavalry were least fitted to perform 139 the work of mounted troops in South Africa. That may or may not be the case, but at all events the cavalry sent out now are heavy cavalry, or I suppose so, for they are the only cavalry we have to send. If that be so, and if the Army has really come to the end of its tether, if there is nothing left in the way of mounted men to send out, all the more need was there for the Government to foresee that state of things—that the invasion of the Cape Colony was not a mere raid; not to shut their eyes to the facts of the case, but to prepare months, not weeks ago for drafts and reinforcements of trained mounted men which, to my mind, there is no evidence they have yet prepared.
These are the only questions which I wish to ask to-night, because it appears to me that it is far more important to press them on this occasion than to indulge in a general discussion on Army reform. It is very doubtful whether such a discussion will be any more fruitful this session than it was the last, when it was postponed till the war should be at an end. It is now a question of, at the end of the war, recreating an army which will then have ceased to exist; because everyone knows that the position of our army in India is such that you have to set to work to recreate it. But that is not a matter which will be adequately dealt with this session. What we can do, however, is to press upon and force upon the Government, if the House of Commons does its duty, to give an answer to this question: How has the Government faced the emergency which has arisen since the invasion of Cape Colony began? I have spoken with a deep sense of responsibility in regard to every word I have said. One does not wish to quote or use the information which comes to one from those on whom the strain of this war is pressing very heavily at this time. Their judgment is not what it should be under present circumstances; but there has been given to me the opinion of the very highest military authority on this subject, whose name, of course, I cannot give to the House of Commons; and he says—I doubt much the value of the half-trained, hastily-thrown together units now being hurried out to South Africa.140 But I can quote a less great authority, and give his name, as to the mischief which occurred in an earlier portion of the campaign, when the system of the War Office was much less open to criticism than that now adopted. Major-General Mackinnon, who commanded the City of London Imperial Volunteers in South Africa, has published his views on the subject and he uses these words—soon after our arrival the mounted infantry went to the front…The sending of Volunteers straight into action is a proceeding which I hope will not be regarded as a precedent…They have not sufficient practice in the art of war to, enable them to take their place straight away in the first line…They cannot possibly be lit to do immediate duty alongside Regular troops.Major-General Mackinnon, in fact, blames the Government for having sent these mounted men straight into the field; and if the facts before me are true—if they are facts at all—far worse things are being risked or done now by despatching men who are not even Volunteers, but mere civilians and untrained recruits in many cases, out to South Africa, with the view of sending them at once into the field. To answer the appeal of Lord Kitchener for men to repel the invasion of Cape Colony by sending men whom he will not be able to use for two or three months is a merely illusory answer. The Government answer Lord Kitchener's request by sending men who are worse and less trained than the men mentioned by Major-General Mackinnon. The half-trained mounted men of the Imperial City Regiment sent straight into the field were at least Volunteers; I but the men you are now sending are hardly as well chosen as the first; and everyone in the House knows that money-is being spent in paying these men, who are but raw recruits, at the rate of officers, and that they are being enlisted in competition with the Regular Army, and that naturally the effect on the regular recruiting must be disastrous.
It is useless for us to engage in discussions on general matters of Army reform. This question must be dealt with at once; the others must wait. I do not think, moreover, that the present Minister of War is an ardent Army reformer. He may be a hard-working official in administrative work, but not the man which the occasion deserves or requires. I do not believe that we shall get from the present 141 Government, under his auspices, that root and branch reform of the Army which we most of us think necessary. But that can wait. The matter before us now is to deal with the invasion of the Cape Colony and of Griqualand and Bechuanaland and, whatever may be our opinions in other respects, all must agree that it is the first duty of the Government to deal with this considerable invasion, which has been going on for months in one portion of the Cape Colony, and for many weeks in another, and which they have made no adequate preparation to repel.
§ CAPTAIN MILDMAY (Devonshire, Totnes)
Amid the flow of eloquent testimony to the magnitude of the loss we have sustained by the death of our beloved Queen, silence on such a subject would seem most becoming in those who can add nothing to what has already been so well said; yet so ever present is our sense of grief, so completely does it fill our minds and for a time blot out all else, that it is not possible to refrain from at least faintly echoing the wail which has gone up from the whole nation. The nation rejoices in the belief that His Majesty the King inherits many of those qualities which conduced to make the reign of his mother memorable above all others; and that he may be given health and strength to discharge the difficult duties of his position, and long to reign over us, is our earnest prayer.
All absorbing as is our sense of the loss we have sustained, we must turn to other matters which claim our attention, and primarily to the fact that war still continues. There is one class of critics—not, I fear, a small class—who are little deserving of sympathy; I mean those who, as long as things go right, are full of loud-voiced confidence in the justice of their cause, only to become doubters and petulant critics in times of difficulty. Forgetful of the difficulty—I had almost said the impossibility—of tackling opposing forces which never wait, never make a stand, in a tract of country as big as Europe, every remote corner of which is known to them by heart—forces which, in face of any difficulty, can melt away only to reassemble at some predetermined spot whence looting operations can again be begun; 142 forgetful of the inherent difficulties of the South African situation—these petulant critics, with amusing assumption of self-confidence, abuse in no measured terms the War Office and the Headquarters Staff, and blame the Government that the war is not over.
It will be remembered that, in answer to complaints by the Opposition leaders of the disfranchising results of a dissolution in the autumn, it was pointed out by supporters of the Government that the absence of so many of their adherents at the front would tell heavily against them. The rejoinder was that so inept had been the management of the war by the Government that, to a man, those at the front would vote to expel them from office. Let hon. Members disabuse their minds of any such impression. Returning from South Africa, one reads a good many extraordinary accounts from the front which cause one to smile. Desperate efforts have been made to blame Lord Lansdowne, and, through Lord Lansdowne, to throw discredit on the Government, for hardships which even those who have undergone them have felt to be more or less inseparable from a state of war. Now, of course, there was great shortness of supplies from time to time, but I return from South Africa impressed with the marvellous work of those connected with this department. It must be remembered that the German military authorities said that the supply of so large an army in the field at such a distance from its base, over a single line of rails, was impossible. In apportioning our praise and blame, do not let us forget the valuable services of the Army Service Corps, who made this impossibility possible. There is another body of men who are in danger of being forgotten. I allude to the officials of the Cape railways. Without the most self-sacrificing devotion to duty on their part, the German prediction might well have been fulfilled. As I have said, I am not concerned to deny the shortness of food supplies at times. I have got good reason to know, for I served with General Rundle's division, concerning which a question was asked in the House. So short were we at one time that guardsmen used to come into our lines in the early morning and offer a shilling for a biscuit. But does the House suppose that on this account the men went about whining, howling, and abusing 143 the Government, as some would have us believe? No! they took the rough with the smooth as every good soldier ought to do, and every good soldier did do. They did not know whether the shortness was due to miscalculations of a supply officer, or to the inherent difficulty of the country in which we were operating; but, at any rate, it never crossed their minds to lay the blame on a parsimonious Government, mindful, as they were, of the masses of stores we had seen piled up in endless profusion at every part of our advance up the country.
We read in the papers of a great many gallant actions by individuals. Certain regiments have earned undying fame, but do not let us forget that the same spirit permeated every soldier of the Queen in South Africa, though to all was not given the same opportunity of showing it. There were some in South Africa whose work has not been much before the public, but who have contributed in no small degree to the success of our arms. I allude, amongst others, to those to whom was entrusted the duty of guarding the lines of communication. They had no chance of distinguishing themselves, in the sense that their doings did not appear in print. But, none the less, they had a very hard, a very anxious, and a very dangerous time of it. Then, I do not think that it is realised the extent to which the success of an army in the field depends upon efficient management at the base. On our arrival at Cape Town we saw immense quantities of stores piled up, mountains high, in all directions. These stores were being removed by mule teams and mule wagons, by tramways, trains, and traction engines, and it struck one how capable must be the master-mind to control all that, and to evolve order out of what looked like chaos. For whatever may be said, I shall always maintain that the management of this department was a model of orderly efficiency.
After all, the thing which above all others impressed itself on those who were at the front was the irreproachable behaviour of the rank and file. A great deal has been said about it in the press and by the Commander-in-Chief, but I doubt whether even now those at home realise of how high a quality was their courage. It was not merely a dashing courage—what the French call 144 élan—they had plenty of that and to spare; but it was rather a calm and deliberate courage, a courage which calculates the danger, keeps its head cool and goes doggedly through with the business on hand. That sort of courage is far rarer; but it prevailed amongst our troops to a degree that called for the admiration of all the foreign attachés. And then, with what uncomplaining patience was suffering endured—that was always being brought home to one. I remember one action in particular, at Biddulphsberg, in which two battalions of Guards suffered very severely in killed and wounded. To add to the horrors of the situation of the latter a veldt fire broke out from which, for them, there was no means of escape, and by which in many cases they were severely burned and scorched as they lay. Add to all this the fact that there was a severe frost that night—13 to 15 degrees I think it was—and that many of these wounded were not brought into the Field Hospital until 3 a.m., when so severe was the frost that the ice had frequently to be broken in the pails at the dressing tent! The House can realise what suffering this involved. The principal medical officer afterwards gave me a vivid description of the scene. Never, said he, had he seen intense suffering so nobly borne. The same patient endurance was characteristic of the whole Army in South Africa. It is impossible to speak too highly of the material of which the Yeomanry was composed. Not only was their behaviour exemplary in times of danger, but they could be trusted to discharge any duties confided to them with intelligence, all power of individual initiative not having been crushed out of them by drill-book methods. They were always cheerful, always ready to volunteer for any dangerous work, always anxious to ensure the safety of their officers at any risk to themselves. What wonder that one became deeply attached to such men. What wonder that on one's return one feels indignation at the culpable readiness of a certain section of this House to believe evil against those who are doing the nation's work in South Africa—the same section which approaches the consideration of any international question with the preconvic- 145 tion that their own country must be in the wrong. Do not they realise that by leaving no stone unturned to blacken the character of our soldiers they are doing all they possibly can to increase the bitterness between Boer and Briton and to make it more lasting? As to the publications of that precious Conciliation Committee, it would appear there is no anonymous nonsense which they are not prepared to swallow, so long as it is derogatory to the British soldier. Where do they get their tales from? Where do they hear of the scandalous treatment of women, and the gutting of the churches We never heard anything about it in South Africa, and I am glad to think that in the face of the deliberate declaration of Lord Roberts that never was the conduct of an Army in the field so exemplary, very little credence will be attached to them by the general public.
Then there was another charge against the Yeomanry and the Volunteers, to which the Member for Battersea gave circulation. To them, he said, the whole campaign was a picnic; they received exceptional treatment; they had not shares in the hardships of others, and, to use his own words, "this preferential treatment had created a profound feeling of dissatisfaction, amounting in some cases to positive jealousy." At the moment when that charge was made I. pointed out how baseless it was, and said that if there was one thing more than another of which the Yeoman was proud it was that he had been treated exactly in the same way as the Regulars. They performed the most menial duties, what I may call the most revolting duties of camp life, cheerfully, without grumbling; they were even happy in the doing of them. As far as food was concerned, they had the same rations as the Regulars, and very short they were at times. With them they were reduced to half-rations, and even quarter-rations. Our officers' mess had no tinned stores from home. We drew the same rations of meat and biscuit as the men. The House can now judge what justification there was for the assertion of the hon. Member for Battersea that the Yeomen "sheltered behind zerebas of Fortnum and Mason's delicacies and tinned food." In one respect the Yeomen were far 146 worse off than the Regulars, I means with regard to fresh supplies of clothing. These reached the Regulars, but never a chance did the Yeoman have of renewing his wardrobe. I have a vivid recollection of the appearance of my own men in the course of the operations which resulted in the capture of General Prinsloo's forces. Their tunics were hanging in rags, their bare legs showing through the rents of their breeches, and in some cases they wound their putties round their boots in a vain endeavour to keep sole and uppers together. I do not know what we should have done but for the kindness of General Clements' brigade major, who took pity on us and handed over to us some "British-warm" coats which had been sent up country for the Malta Mounted Infantry. Unfortunately, the Regulars had absorbed all his stock of boots, so that all, we could do was to replace such boots as would no longer hold together by some Boer lawn-tennis shoes made of canvas. But in spite of serious hardships—want of food, want of clothing, having only one blanket whereas the Regulars had two—a very serious deficiency in view of the great cold at nights —the Yeoman was always cheerful, always whistling as he turned out of his hoar-frosty blanket in the early morning before sunrise.
Now, in all seriousness, does not the Member for Battersea owe some sort of apology to these Yeomen, who, after all, have done their very best to do their work as good soldiers should? As a recompense for his thoughtless assertions, I do not wish him a more serious punishment than for a month to be subjected to such a diet of attenuated trek ox as we had to put up with. I do not think that after it he would be quite so—well, comfortable-looking as he was when last I saw him. I have denied that there was any jealousy between the Yeomanry and the Regulars, and cannot hon. Members understand that in face of such work as has to be done out there there is no room for petty jealousies of this kind? We have always heard a great deal of the tendency war has to make men hard, to brutalise them; but to my surprise, as was said by the seconder of the Address to the Crown, war would seem to have an exactly 147 opposite effect. It seemed to soften the men, to make them feel for others, to make them forgetful of self in their anxiety to help those around them. It is true that one saw sights out there upon which one could hardly bear to look at home, but they only seemed to fill the men with infinite pity and to increase what I can only call the feeling of brotherhood by which all at the front were animated. Having served with such men, the House will realise with what warmth one would wish to repudiate the aspersions which have been made upon them.
Amid the constant flow of criticism on all that goes on all he front, one finds some complaints of the severity of the methods by which the war has been waged, complaints which have been voiced by the so-called Conciliation Committee. It is, I think, universally admitted that nothing could have been more humane, I more gentle, than Lord Roberts's treatment of our opponents as we advanced up the Free State. Any he handed in their arms and gave in their submission were given passes to return to their farms, on taking the oath of neutrality. We were not allowed to take their horses; their property was respected, guards were even put over it. And urgent as was our need of remounts, the wisdom of such a conciliatory course then appeared to be plain. Unfortunately, experience has given us a clearer insight into the Boer character. We know something now of the importance attached by our opponents to the oath of neutrality. Everyone who has been brought into contact with the Boers, who has had frequent opportunity, as I have had, of conversing with Boer prisoners, will know—I say it advisedly— will know that, taking the generality of the Boers, there is no such word as honour in their vocabulary—honour. I mean, as we define it. To be successful by dishonourable means, to be cleverly dishonourable—to use their own word, to be "slim"—is to command their admiration. It would seem that they do not believe in any motive but that of self-interest. To be swayed by considerations of justice or mercy is, in their opinion, to show weakness, and that is why they never could understand our surrender of the Transvaal after Majuba in the 148 sense we intended. So far from looking upon our conduct as magnanimous and putting it down to our sense of justice, they were convinced that it was only-fear which dictated it, and it but added contempt to their previous dislike to us. So, in the present instance, after much conversation with Boer prisoners, I am convinced that, so far from conciliating them thereby, they have the greatest contempt for our humane treatment of them, and honestly attribute it to despicable weakness of character. As I have said, believing in the word of the Boers who surrendered, we allowed them their liberty and thereby enormously increased our difficulties. What has happened has been graphically described by one who was fighting with the Boers, and has published a book in Paris. He calls himself a subaltern of Villebois Mareuil. I translate his words—How is it possible to get at and crush adver-aries who continually decline to tight and who holt as soon as a blow is dealt at them? Are they too closely pressed? each goes off as he likes in a different direction, and the commando of 500 men which yesterday attacked a small convoy is to-day melted away before a column of 2,000 men sent to capture. If one of these men is too near the English lines, the first farm that he comes across offers him a refuge; his rifle is slipped under a plank, his horse put out to graze, the white flag floats over the house, and Her Majesty the Queen has no more inoffensive servant than our burgher for twenty-four hours. Then, if the English authority is still too near, an old gun is carried to it as a sign of submission and the oath of neutrality is taken. As soon as the English are gone, the good rifle is brought out, the horse is mounted and once more en route.This is remarkable testimony from one who has fought with the Boers, and it is corroborated by the fact that the Boers who have recently fallen into our hands have in some cases had no less than half-a-dozen passes upon their persons, involving an oath six times taken. There is no truer axiom in war than that "Stern methods are the most humane," as likely the sooner to put an end to such war. We now know that the Boer has no regard for the sanctity of an oath; and will anyone deny the justice of the steps which have been taken, steps necessarily involving hardship to many, to remove the impression that the neutrality pass issued to our conquered foe is to be used as a pass to the first com- 149 mando which comes along? We still have a heavy job in hand, requiring steadfast patience; but we shall not weary of the task, because, though the way is long, we know it to be the right way. I had the honour to sit in this House with Mr. John Bright for two Parliaments. Now there must be many sitting on this side who could not always see eye to eye with John Bright, but at any rate they will admit this of him: they will admit that when once he had made up his mind what was the right view of a question to take, when once he had satisfied himself of the righteousness of his view, he stuck to that view through thick and thin. That is what we intend to do. The overwhelming majority of the nation is satisfied of the justice of the course which we are pursuing, and Englishmen all the world over mean to see this thing through.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
I do not rise for the purpose of expressing any opposition to the Gentleman who has just sat down. I have no doubt he showed all that gallantry and spirit one would expect from him. We all know, also, and I quite agree with him, that we have heard comparatively few complaints. I think there has never been a war whose sufferings and hardships have been less redeemed by excitement. It has been a dull and dreary war, and it is all the more to the credit of the troops that they have borne the hardships in the way they have done. I do think that the hon. Member has chosen a very singular example to illustrate the case when he introduced the name of John Bright, because there is nothing for which we remember John Bright better, and honour him more, than the way in which, in a far smaller minority than that in which those who object to the war stand now, he stood up in defiance of unpopularity and abuse and protested against the war in the Crimea. Before 1 part with the hon. Member, I must express my regret that, after vindicating as he has well done the Yeomanry, he should have allowed himself to indulge in an attack on the Boers not only contrary to the evidence as we have it from people who know the Boers 150 thoroughly—Mr. Selous, and men who have lived with them for many years— but also contrary to the testimony of a number of distinguished British officers like General Porter, that the conduct of the Boers has been quite up to the average conduct of troops in time of war. I regret that the language of the hon. Gentleman did not do credit to the chivalrous spirit which ought to animate an opponent.
I rose because it seemed to me that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury required a few words of notice. This is an important occasion. Parliament meets in the middle of a war which has been prolonged beyond our expectations, and an opportunity is given for the Government to state their views, and if possible to cheer the country, and at any rate to tell the country what they think of the position in which the country finds itself. I must say that I never listened to a speech of the right hon. Gentleman with more disappointment. He appeared to me to have very little sense of the gravity of our present position. He threw no light on the present state of things, and indicated no policy for the future. He merely confined himself tattle barren phrases we have heard so often before, and did not give us any reason to believe that the Government realised the gravity of the position, nor, on the other hand, that he would take any steps to shorten the war by negotiation. The speech of my right hon. friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs was couched, I think everyone will admit, in a spirit of seriousness of thought, and it contained a great many points which were well worthy of consideration. The right hon. Gentleman did not try to answer these.
I can only say—it maybe my fault I failed to discover in the tu quoques of the right hon. Gentleman any serious arguments in reply to my right hon. friend. We were told nearly two years ago, before the war broke out, that every speech made here would be an 151 encouragement to the Boers to persevere in resisting the demands made by the Government, and we have been told ever since that every word said here in condemnation of the war or of the methods by which it is being conducted would be an encouragement to the enemy. There is not the slightest evidence that any word spoken here has ever had the slightest influence with the Boers. It is an idea of the right hon. Gentleman, which he continually throws out here for the purpose of silencing criticism. I submit that this House is not to be silenced in that way. It is our duty in the great council of the nation to say what we think about the state of things and the conduct of the war, and we cannot prevent what is said here from going abroad. But is that any reason why we should not tell the people what we believe to be right? The right hon. Gentleman cited a speech made by the Colonial Secretary, and he seemed to imply that the right hon. Gentleman ought not to have made that speech, because, forsooth, some paper in South Africa misrepresented him. Is that an argument to be addressed to the House of Commons? If that argument is to be used, much more might be said of the speech of the Secretary of State for War. That was a speech that might have given encouragement to the Boers to hold out longer against us. The position is a very grave one, and I cannot say that the light way the Government take it lightens our sense of the gravity. What confidence can we place in them for the future, seeing that all their past predictions have been wrong? They thought the Transvaal would submit'; they thought £10,000,000 would be sufficient for the war; they thought that the war would be over in three months: and even as late as last September they said the war was practically over. The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to shelter himself behind the statement that the same impression prevailed in other quarters. Does the right hon. Gentleman say that the Cabinet last September knew no more than the man in the street? Had he no information in September which was not shared by the whole country? ["No."] Then he ought to have had. It is a scandal that the Government should not possess better information. There were certain 152 facts which were pretty patent. The lines of communications were of enormous length, and the Government must have known how many men were required for them. They ought also to have known the rate at which the men and the horses-were wearing out, and they must have-known something about the plans of the Boers. From June last the Boers continued to say that even after the capitals were occupied the war was not at an end, but only beginning. It was thought that this was an empty brag, but we know now that the Boers had a plan, and in carrying that plan out they have made the second portion of the war more painful, more weary, and more exhausting than the first part.
It appears to me that we have nothing but a record of error to look back upon. Nothing more inconsistent was ever published by the generals of an invading army than the list of proclamations. The policy of farm-burning is now admitted to be a hideous blunder. It appears tome that the Government are simply drifting. They do not seem to realise; either the necessity of sending out proper reinforcements or the desirableness of bringing the war to an end. In the meantime there is a serious wastage of men and a piling up of debt going on. There are two policies open. One is to persevere in the demand for unconditional surrender. I confess I was not able to follow the subtleties of the right hon. Gentleman. People with arms in their hands are to throw down their arms. I think that was a most unwise policy. That is what unconditional surrender means.
§ MR. BRYCE
There are no two proclamations that agree. I defy you to state from the proclamations what the policy of the Government is. They may spend more money and send out more men. That may go on for a time, the length of which we cannot possibly foresee. I have no doubt that we shall wear out the Boers in the long run. But what will it come to? It will not be peace; it would bee merely, an intermission of war, 153 a suspension of hostilities. The Boer armies will in all probability not make any regular or formal surrender, but, like the rivers of their own country, will vanish into the ground. They will scatter into remote parts of their own territory, and some into the territories of Portugal and Germany. You will not have secured peace. You will have secured a temporary truce. That was one of the dangers of the situation, and that is why I think it was a fatal mistake to reject the proposals for negotiations which were made by the Republics last spring. The Government ought to have taken that opportunity to enter unto negotiations and to have announced a policy.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Unconditional surrender of the Governments— that is the point; it is not of individuals.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I would like to make the point clear. Lord Roberts, in his letter in answer to Sir Redvers Buller, explained clearly. He said that what he asked for was, as regards the Governments, unconditional surrender, and that he would require with regard to individual soldiers that they should be willing to lay down their arms, 'to take the oath of neutrality, and to go back to their farms, and their property would be respected. That was the idea of unconditional surrender, which meant the abandonment of the idea of separate political independence.
§ * THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE WAR OFFICE (Lord STANLEY,) Lancashire, Westhoughton
It is exactly in the same terms in which he sent it to the other generals in the field.
§ MR. BRYCE
If that is the case, I think it is very unfortunate that it does not appear in the despatches. I say that a demand for the unconditional surrender 154 of the Governments was asking the Governments to leave themselves absolutely to your mercy. The right hon. Gentleman says that what was meant was merely that they could not in future have any independence as Republics. That is a totally different thing. I perfectly understand it was open to His Majesty's Government to say, "We will not allow you to retain absolute independence." But if the Government intended to adopt a policy of that kind, and to offer terms which merely excluded the future independence of the two Republics, it was their duty to have made that dear, and to have thrown on the Republics the responsibility of rejecting their offer, which I submit had never been properly made. What the Government has done is, I think, to drive to despair an enemy whose bravery deserves greater respect. All their homes have been burnt, their sons and brothers have perished in the war, their wives and children have been scattered, and they have nothing left to live for except a desire for revenge and their passion for independence. You, have driven them to despair, and it is for you to try and bring them back from that state. Even if they are not capable —as I believe they are not— of ultimately resisting, they are nevertheless capable of inflicting great future injury upon us. You will prevail in the end, but you will prevail at a cost of a great further loss of valuable lives and a great further loss of money, and then when the Boers have disappeared into the ground they will reserve themselves with dogged patience until their turst comes some day. Meantime you have devastated the country, you have abenated the Dutch in Cape Colony, and you have the possbility before you of having to hold not only the two Republics, but also Cape Colony, with a garrison estimated at from 30,000 to 50,000 men, costing five millions a year.
That is the prospect before you if you persevere in your policy of unconditional surrender. I believe the only alternative to that policy is the policy of offering terms to the generals in the field against you. [HON. MEMBERS: What terms?] It is not for me to say what terms, but I will indicate what terms I believe to be good. However, my first point is that you should en- 155 deavour to get into negotiation with the generals in the field instead of adopting the plan of sending men who are called peace envoys, but who are, as I believe, and as far as I can make out, really emissaries intended to seduce the troops from their loyalty, and to draw away individual soldiers from these generals. If your pride will not allow you to open communication with the generals, and to state in the clearest possible way what terms you are prepared to offer, there is another plan which I and many-others think should be adopted. They are not the terms which the Government would give, nevertheless I will tell the House what they are. In matters of this kind one must not be afraid of being in a minority; we have the interests of the country to consider, and that ought to unlock all our lips. I have always said that it would be far safer if instead of annexing the two Republics we turned them into Protected States, strictly disarmed, deprived of all foreign relations, and rendered helpless for any kind of mischief, but not making them Crown colonies. I know that that is an idea that the Government will not entertain, and I will acknowledge also that I believe that it is an idea which the country does not desire.
§ MR. BRYCE
I really cannot enter into a discussion on every interruption across the floor of the House. But there is another plan much better than that proposed by the Government, and that is to endeavour, if we can, to secure to these States something like the freedom enjoyed in Canada and Australia, subject to the general supremacy of Great Britain, subject to the British flag, and to complete control by British officers in all matters in which contro is necessary. I believe, in other words, that what we ought to avoid is what are called Crown colonies. I believe that Crown colony government is about the worst thing that you can try, because the Boers have recollections of the way in which they were governed between 156 1877 and 1880. They remember Sir Owen Lanyon, and all that went on in those days, and they would be most unwilling to be put at the mercy of irresponsible officers in a Crown colony. Again, you would have under the Crown: colony system a maximum of friction with the British residents, and I venture i to believe that you would not hold these countries for five years without making such a government most unpopular with the British element. Natal has been mentioned, but Natal was then a small place growing up. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the ease of the military occupation of the Southern States of America, but there is some- thing more to be said about that. He cited it as an instance of the necessity of maintaining military government. The truth is that the maintenance of military government and the disranchisement of the whites in the Southern States was a very bad policy. It worked very ill, and produced a crop of hideous out- rages, and the best day that dawned for the Southern States was when the military forces of the United States were withdrawn in 1877. It was not the maintenance of military government but the withdrawal of it that made those States reconciled. I do not for a moment say that immediately the last arm is laid down you can establish self-government in these countries. I have never said that. Clearly the countries must be pacified, but you must also remember how Crown colony government is known to these people, and that, in the words of the Prime Minister, it may last for generations. Moreover, it will excite disgust and suspicion in the minds of the Dutch in South Africa. Therefore I do suggest to the Government that they should make a new departure and offer much better terms and a much better guarantee than has yet been offered to these people that they would be governed according to their own ideas. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "No" and "Never."]
§ MR. BRYCE
I do not follow these interruptions, but my own point of view 157 is that you must in some way or other convey to the inhabitants of these two Republics that you are not going to subject them to an indefinite continuance of autocratic government, but that you are prepared to promise them self-governing institutions in a very short time—institutions under which they may have all the freedom that is compatible with the prevention of future insurrection. The only limitation that I would put upon the measure of self-government to be given to them is that there should be no possibility of a future rising against the British Crown. I believe in that plan you will find a far better chance of peace in the future than in the policy of unconditional surrender. If you offer terms to these people that they can accept, you will have some chance at least that they will endeavour to work the new system, and that they will enter into it in a loyal spirit. If, on the other hand, you insist on the opposite policy, you will be only preparing for future trouble.
I do most earnestly wish that right hon. Gentlemen opposite would realise that whatever we say on this subject we are animated not by any desire to criticise them, but solely by a desire to avoid those evils we see in the future of South Africa. We do not wish to have these territories governed by force, or the people, hitherto free, ruled as by tyrants, and by the expenditure of immense sums annually in maintaining a garrison, with the danger of insurrection when we are in difficulty in any part of the world. We believe that it is only by a conciliatory policy that we have any chance of re-establishing permanent government in the two Republics, and, what is not less important, of recovering the good will of the people at the Cape. I believe that if we persist in the policy so far indicated we will be only increasing our difficulties and prolonging the period when our hands will be fettered and our power of action weakened in every other part of the world where there are British interests.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
I desire to associate myself with the expressions of sorrow which have been so freely expressed on the loss the country has sustained by the death of 158 our most gracious and loved Queen-Having said that, I must say that my satisfaction is, I believe, shared very generally throughout the House, and most certainly by Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House, at the speech delivered by my hon. and gallant friend the Member for the Totnes Division of Devon, who has played such a gallant and important part in the proceedings in South Africa. The House listened with the greatest satisfaction to that speech, as coming from a man who himself has been present throughout a great part of this war, who has shared in its hardships, and who has witnessed for himself the heroism of our gallant soldiers, and the House generally heard with the greatest satisfaction his indignant repudiation of the reflections cast upon them by some hon. Members in this House. I desire also to take this opportunity of saying how thoroughly and entirely I endorse the view expressed by my right hon. friend the Leader of the House with reference to our future policy and our future conduct in bringing this war to a conclusion. I do not desire to make any observations on that subject, but I trust that the difficulties of the past will be recognised by His Majesty's Government, and that ample and sufficient preparation, even in addition to that already made, if it be necessary, will be steadily pressed forward by the Government, with a view—whatever may be the difficulties of the case—of bringing this war to as rapid a conclusion as may be.
And now, with the permission of the House, I pass from these observations in order to refer to a subject which has not yet been mentioned in the speeches delivered this evening. It was with disappointment and regret I saw that neither in the gracious Speech from the Throne nor in the utterances of Ministers themselves was there the slightest indication of any intention whatever on the part of His Majesty's Government to take action with reference to a subject which is undoubtedly of the utmost importance at the present time. I refer to the startling and serious epidemic at Manchester and other parts of the country by which so many of His Majesty's subjects have suffered most grievous sickness and a good many of them 159 have been killed, and which has spread such consternation and alarm throughout the country. It is estimated by the Manchester Sanitary Committee themselves that during the last six months in Manchester the deaths which have resulted from this epidemic have been little less than 100, and, although we have no definite figures submitted to us, I have no doubt that at least some four thousand to five thousand people have been affected by this epidemic. No one can deny that this is a very grave and very startling state of affairs, and that it deserves the attention of the Government; and the Government cannot be surprised if, on my part and on the part of other hon. Members, and also on the part of a large section of the public, there will be great disappointment and great regret that up to the present, apparently, so far as future action is concerned, there is no intention of legislating with regard to this matter. His Majesty's Government appear to have ignored it. We know from our experience in this House that the Government have often found it convenient and sometimes urgently necessary to take action with regard to questions which have not been mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. My object to-night is to press on the Government not only the importance, but, in my humble judgment, the extreme urgency of this question—a question which undoubtedly affects very closely the lives and health of a great portion of the community. I desire also, if I can by any means succeed in doing so, to elicit from the Government some definite assurance that during the present session they will introduce, and do their utmost to carry, such a measure or measures as may be needed in reference to this question, and which will have the effect of preventing a possibility of danger or even apprehension of danger in the future. I am perfectly well aware that His Majesty's Government have appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into this question, and to inquire also into a great many other questions. First of all, the Commission is appointed to ascertain the amount of sickness and death attributable to poisoning by arsenic during this epidemic. It is further to find out whether such sickness and death was due to arsenic in beer, 160 or in other articles of food and drink. Then it is to inquire through what ingredients and by what way arsenic was conveyed, and also in what way such ingredients became arsenicated. What I am about to submit to the House is that with regard to all these points of inquiry, so far as poisoning by arsenic in beer at Manchester and elsewhere is concerned, inquiry by a Royal Commission is altogether belated. I may be told—I daresay in the course of this debate I shall be told—that it is wholly unusual for any Government to introduce legislation with reference to a subject regarding which a Royal Commission has been appointed, before that Commission has made its report. I frankly admit it is, or so it would be, with reference to any ordinary subject regarding which a Royal Commission had been appointed. But my reply to that statement is, that this is not an ordinary case; that the Commission, is not appointed ad rem; and that so far as this particular epidemic is concerned, I shall be able to show to the House that this inquiry is altogether belated. The Commission is also appointed to inquire as to whether we are subject to danger from arsenic in the foods we daily consume, and this inquiry is to extend over England and Wales, and is to embrace every article of food and drink consumed by man. We can easily understand that that is a very wide and extensive and difficult task which has been entrusted to the Royal Commission, and that a great deal of time will be required for its due fulfilment. For myself, I would say that if the Government really consider that such an inquiry is necessary, by all means let it be made. They have information not in our possession at the present time, and I have no word of complaint as to the scope of the inquiry on that ground. But as regards the epidemic in Manchester, by which so many people have met their deaths, and very many more have suffered illness, I affirm that the facts are ascertained, that the, case has been proved, and that what we want now is not further inquiry, but a measure for making such a state of affairs impossible in the future
Perhaps the House will allow me to show them the ground on which I make these assertions. I shall point 161 to the testimony which is to be found in four different quarters in support of the statements which I have made, and I believe that the House will agree with me that that testimony is more than ample. In the first place, as soon as there was any reason to believe that the epidemic was due to poisoning by arsenic in beer, the Manchester Brewers' Association appointed a committee of experts to inquire into the whole question. The Manchester Brewers' Association are of course very deeply interested, and it would be greatly to their satisfaction and greatly to their interest if they had been able to show by the examination they had instituted that the idea that arsenic in beer was the cause of the epidemic was all nonsense, instead of that they were obliged to admit 162 in their report—where it was frankly stated—that it was clearly established that the arsenic found in deleterious quantities in beer was solely due to the sugar used in its manufacture and supplied by a particular firm; and secondly, that the arsenic in the sugar was derived from the sulphuric acid used in its preparation—
§ It being midnight, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.
§ Adjourned at one minute after Twelve of the clock.