§ [THIRD DAY'S DEBATE.]
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [14th February],"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.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ * THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Viscount CRANBORNE,) Rochester
I think perhaps the attitude of diffidence with which an Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs often addresses the House of Commons may probably be considerep to be not unnaturally increased upon the present occasion. There has been such a bright light thrown upon him during the last hour or two, and attention has been called in so prominent a degree to the extreme delicacy of his functions, that I feel that everything which I say on the present occasion will be watched by hon. Gentlemen with an extra amount of care, and that I ought to arrange my observations accordingly. Permit me to say in the first place that I very much regret, if I may say so with great respect, the discussion which has just come to an end; because foreign affairs ought to 370 be conducted, as far as possible, in a peaceful atmosphere, as far removed as may be from the polemical condition which has recently characterised the House; and I hope nothing I shall say will prolong that polemical condition of the atmosphere. May I also say, if the hon. Member for East Mayo will give me his attention for a moment, that I particularly regret that any observation of mine should have seemed to him in the least discourteous at an earlier period of our proceedings.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
The noble Lord is quite mistaken. I was very much obliged to him for his observations, for they enabled me to move my motion. I had no quarrel with the noble Lord; on the contrary, he gave me an opportunity of raising the question.
§ * VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I am sorry that I was brought into conflict with him. But I think the debate which has just closed may have this effect—for my part, I shall take the very greatest care, in the drawing of the answers to questions in this House, that they may be as full as they possibly can be consistently with the public interest, and I shall never forget, what I never have forgotten since I have been a Member of this House, the absolute right of the House of Commons to have all the information which it is in the power of a Minister to give.
When the House adjourned on Friday night I was venturing to call the attention of hon. Members to the fact that the commercial interests were really the principal interests of this country in China, but I said that in the crisis which has taken place there it might be necessary for the consideration of the punishment of the offenders in China to take precedence over all other questions. I may say, perhaps, to the hon. Member for East Mayo, now, that as far as we are concerned we should not consider suicide to be a proper alternative to the death penalty which we demand against these high-placed officials.
§ * VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
I will revert at once to the considerations of a commercial character, at any rate in the first place, in regard to the Chinese question. The hon. Member for Barnsley complained on Friday night of the great delay which had taken place. I fancy he extended it to all the operations in China, both to the drawing of the Note and the enforcement of the demands of the Powers. Undoubtedly, Sir, the delay has been very great. I do not think the most ardent admirer of the Concert would ever accuse it of lightning-like rapidity. Its operations are generally very deliberate, and the Chinese themselves have no reputation for any great rapidity of action. I notice that in a recent article so great an authority as Sir Robert Hart, speaking of the Chinese, tells us that we may look for their rehabilitation against Europe to a period removed from our own by one or two centuries. That is the kind of attitude of mind which the Chinese adopt in all their operations, and undoubtedly when the Concert have to deal with the Chinese they must expect very great delay. I do not think the sending of a special plenipotentiary to China would have hurried matters very-much. We have, very accomplished representatives there, as we have always had. I might appeal again to Sir Robert Hart's authority on the same matter. I do not believe that a mere change of personnel of the kind advocated by the hon. Gentleman opposite would have made any great difference. Certain progress has been made, though, as I have said, it is very slow. In the first place we have arrived at a complete understanding as to the joint Note. It is a long document involving thirteen or fourteen separate heads, all of which had to be a matter of diplomatic discussion and decision.
I need not trouble the House any more on the question of the punishment of the Chinese offenders of which I spoke on Friday night. We have other subjects touched on in the Note. In the first place there is the question of indemnities. On the question of indemnities our representative has been instructed to gather together the various claims which may be made against the Chinese Government and classify them. Now, 372 these claims may be divided into two classes. There are the claims of individuals and the national claims—the claims of the different Powers, against China. I would rather not say anything at this moment about the individual claims; but, with regard to the claims which the Powers have and especially the claim which England has against China, I am inclined to think there is a measure of agreement between His Majesty's Government and the hon. Gentleman opposite and those who agree with him. After all, we are the injured parties; not the Chinese. We have suffered great wrong in the outrages which have been executed against our fellow-subjects or our representatives, and it would be a very indifferent compensation for our injuries if we added to those injuries the great further injury of so crippling Chinese finance as to damage our own trade. The Government occupy that point of view just as much as the hon. Gentleman does, and in the consideration of the amount of indemnity which we shall claim against China that matter will be carefully borne in mind. The indemnities, in our opinion, are relatively unimportant compared to our trade interests. What have we done for trade? In the first place, we have gone a long way, although our task is still very far from being complete, to restore a measure of tranquillity in China. I neither suggest that we have gone the whole way which we may hope to go nor that in any case we can hope that for many years it shall be complete, for in many parts of China the condition of unrest is chronic. Still, a great deal may be done, and considerable steps have been taken in the, last few months towards a restoration of tranquillity. As hon. Gentlemen have said in this House and elsewhere, that is not sufficient. We do not look merely to restoring the old state of tranquillity, but if possible to improving on the present commercial system in China, so that it shall be advantageous to her and ourselves. I think the House will realise that the, subject of such reforms will necessarily lead to prolonged negotiations. There may be some reason, I am afraid, to complain of the long delay that may take place. The Government 373 of China is, as everyone knows, divided into great provinces, autonomous in character, with important officials called Viceroys at their head; and in any general scheme of commercial or fiscal reform there is no question that every one of these provincial administrations will have to be consulted, and that the time occupied must necessarily be, when we consider Chinese methods, very prolonged. I am afraid that the same reflection occurs when I turn from the general to the particular, and consider the kind of matters in which reform is specially called for.
Now, Sir, as everybody knows, as the hon. Gentleman himself told us on Friday night, the greatest region in which fiscal reform ought to take place is in respect of what is called the likin, or the interior customs of China. It is very widely extended. It employs an enormous number of officials in all parts of China—high officials, low officials of all sorts, all of whom have got vested interests of a very substantial kind in the institution of likin, which will therefore require great care and considerable time in its reform. It would be so even if it existed in this country; more so out there. That the evils connected with likin are very great I do not think anybody can doubt. I was struck the other day by some figures which showed that in the case of one particular province one levy, that is to say the passing of one barrier, taxed the goods to the extent of 18 per cent. ad valorem. There are often as much as two or more levies before the goods arrive at their destination. Of course, as the House will understand, I am putting an extreme case. It is a case I have on good authority, and I have no doubt it is a fact. The House will know, as a matter of treaty law, that this particular impost can be franchised by a payment of 2½ per cent. at the coast. I think I have given you some idea of how extremely divergent the actual practice is from that which English merchants have a treaty right to demand. The reasons, of course, are obvious—that the whole of the revenues by which the government of these provinces is carried on really depend on likin. The money which is paid in view of the duties at the coast does not reach the provincial 374 treasuries at all. Unless they impose likin they have no means of paying their public service or transacting the ordinary business of government. Add to that corruption; there is any amount, I need not say, of that article in China. The explanation is obvious.
I have said this much because I wanted the House to understand that His Majesty's Government are fully seised of both the importance and the difficulties of commercial reform in China, that they have the subject very prominently before their minds, and that they very carefully consider what ought to be done and what can be done. If I may say so, I want to make the House understand how immensely complicated the matter is, and what great delay one must necessarily expect before anything like reform, even to a moderate extent, can be carried out. The hon. Gentleman asked me about certain other matters. He asked me about the waterways. That matter is being considered, but I can say nothing more about it for the present. Then he spoke of removing the obstructions to navigation. There, I think, he made a very good, practical suggestion, a suggestion which the Government are carefully considering. And then there was something he said about the necessity of giving the Chinese Government the right to re-enter upon their railways, if that should seem to be necessary in their own interests. I believe, although it is not a matter which I have gone into very carefully, that in most of the railway agreements such a power is reserved to the Chinese Government.
I will just say a word or two about the very great difficulties in respect of one railway. I speak, of course, of the railway from Tien-tsin to Shan-hai-kwan. There is no doubt that the state of things which has existed with respect to that railway and the occurrences which have taken place there have given His Majesty's Government ground for very great anxiety. The railway was occupied by the Russians, so far as we are aware, without any authority to do so and in the course of their operations they undoubtedly did take into their charge a large amount of railway material at Niu-chwang belonging to a British 375 company, which, I think, there is no I question was not part of their own property. These things happened in respect of a railway which had been made by British capital, which had been worked by British skill, where, that is to say, our interests were of the most important and immediate character.
In considering what line we ought to take on this matter, three objects were before us—first of all, the restoration of the railway, which was important in every respect from a commercial point of view; secondly, the rights of our own countrymen; and, lastly, the great importance of maintaining the friendly alliance of the Great Powers of Europe with regard to the Chinese question. We thought it well to proceed not by way of polemical utterance, but by way of friendly representation to the Russian Government. I am glad to say that those representations have met with a large measure of success. In the first place, the Russian Government assured us, and assure us now, in the most categorical manner, that the occupation of the railway was purely a temporary occupation, dictated by the military considerations of the moment; and, in the second place, they promised to restore the railway material and have restored it. I am bound to say that in all our dealings in this matter with the Russian Government we have been received in a most friendly way, and we have no complaint whatever to make of the attitude of the Government of the Russian Emperor. Sometimes one cannot help regretting that the undoubtedly benevolent intentions of the Russian Government are not so rapidly carried out by their officers in distant provinces as we have some right to expect, but that their intentions in this matter are perfectly sound and thoroughly friendly to this country I, for one, do not doubt. Notwithstanding the great importance of the question involved, when once it is approached in that spirit by the two Governments, when it is explained in the most friendly terms that the occupation is only of a temporary character, even if in some respects we do not agree with the line the Russian Government have taken, nothing removes the controversy from the domain of purely friendly negotiation. Therefore, relying on these assurances, I think 376 the House may have its anxiety with regard to the railway to some extent relieved.
§ * MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.R.,Barnsley)
I would like to ask a question of the noble Lord. In speaking of the railway from Tien-tsin to Shan-hai-kwan, did he intend the House to understand that his observations also applied to the railway from Shan-hai-kwan to Niu-chwang? We have heard nothing of the determination of the Russian Government to hand over that railway either to the British or the Germans.
§ * VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
I assure the hon. Gentleman I am too much impressed with the importance and delicacy of the question with which I am dealing to make any mistake as to the names of the particular branches of the railway involved. As to the railway north of the Great Wall, we understand, on the same high assurances, that the occupation is merely of a temporary character. While assenting for the moment on military grounds to the present occupation, we have reserved our full political and financial rights.
I turn for a moment to speak of Manchuria. Rumours have reached us of proceedings of the Russians with respect to Manchuria. We made proper inquiry from our representative, and he assured us that any agreement which exists between Russia and China in respect to Manchuria is in the nature of a modus vivendi, consisting merely in the simultaneous presence of the Russian and Chinese forces in Manchuria, in order to prevent disturbances on their frontier. He assured us that the occupation of the railway is of a purely temporary character, and that, although a guarantee is expected by the Russian Government that upon their withdrawal the disturbances shall not break out again, yet that guarantee will not take the form of an acquisition of territory or of a virtual or actual protectorate in Manchuria. The hon. Member for St. Paneras asked me on Friday night a question in respect to Niu-chwang. A great deal has been said about Niu-chwang, which, as the House knows, is a treaty port; but I hope the House will abstain from language of exaggeration in regard 377 to that place. I told the House during a former sitting that Niu-chwang had been occupied by the Russians on the ground of military necessity; but I am able to say, upon very good authority, that since then, although Niu-chwang is nominally under Russian martial law, the Russians do not interfere, but people are allowed to settle their own differences if they like. As a matter of fact the private rights of the foreign community do not appear to have been interfered with to any extent. In respect to Niu-chwang we have received assurances at least equal to those which have been given us in respect to the province of South Manchuria. We understand the Russians are prepared to restore Niu-chwang at the end of their occupation precisely to its former condition. I do not think that after what I have been able to say to the House on the present occasion any Member will assert that the Government's diplomacy in this matter has not been active. On Friday night I said that it has not been aggressive. We have borne in mind the enormous importance of the British interests in China, and have not forgotten that it is our duty to make representations when we think those interests are in any degree threatened. I earnestly hope the House will recognise not only that the Government have been active, but that I have already taken to heart the lesson read to me an hour or two ago about the anxiety of the House of Commons for information, and that I have done my best to give information in some detail. In pursuit of our policy, which is neither aggressive nor ostentatious, we ask the support of the House of Commons, and beg them to rely on the fact that we shall neither lose sight of the importance of maintaining British interests nor of preserving the peace of the world.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I am sure the House has heard with satisfaction the very frank and able statement made by the noble Lord. I had not intended to trouble the House to-day; I should have been very glad to have left the discussion of this subject in the able hands of my hon. friend the Member for Barnsley, and I was very pleased to 378 hear from the noble Lord that on many points he agrees with the view of my hon. friend; but there is one point which has led me to desire to ask further explanation from the Government.
I desire to remind the House of the words used by the noble Lord on Friday last. There is a most critical question for this country, for the House of Commons, and for the Government, and that is to know what is our military position at this moment in China, and what is the military policy of the Government in that country. The noble Lord said, and I remarked his words with satisfaction, that—in pressing these punishments on the Chinese Government we had to be clear that we should not commit ourselves in such a way as to lose control over our own conduct. It was suggested, for example, that in order to enforce the wishes of Great Britain, or other members of the allied Powers, on the Chinese Government an expedition should be taken into the interior of China of a warlike character. That, I think, would have been a most disastrous policy.I think everyone will agree with the noble Lord that that would be a disastrous policy. Well, Sir, that was the position of the Government on Friday night; but this morning, within a few hours of that statement, another statement has come from China, which is enforced with all the authority of a leading article in The Times, founded on their correspondent's information. I am a little surprised that the noble Lord has made no allusion to that information, and has not told us whether it is well founded or not. This is the statement put forward, that—on the next day [that is, on Saturday] Count von Waldersee issued a general order to the troops under his command directing them to make ready to take the field, the idea being to make a march into the interior in the spring.Now it is of the deepest concern to this country to know whether that statement is true, and how far the British Government are committed to the policy indicated by such an order as that First of all, I ask, is that statement true? I would ask a second question—I will put a supplementary question—and that is, if that statement is true, has such an order as that been given without consultation with the British Government; and have the Government taken 379 any measures to ascertain the facts with reference to such an order, or will they oso? I wish also to ask whether they have intimated that they will be no parties and give no consent to a policy which the noble Lord has properly declared to be disastrous and objectionable.
There is another matter upon which I do not think we have ever had a proper statement in this House. What is our military position in China as regards the action of ourselves and other Powers? We know that Count von Waldersee has been accepted as General-in-Chief of the armies out there; but would a general order of the kind he has said to have issued apply to all the military forces in China or only to the troops of his own nationality? I want to know whether a general order of that kind would operate upon the British forces out there. And now I come to ask another question which lies at the root of the whole thing. Is it within the purview of the concert of Europe that one Power should make a military expedition into the interior of China without the co-operation and consent of the other Powers? That is a most critical question with reference to the whole future of China. I will not at present enter further into the discussion of this matter, because I am glad to know that His Majesty's Government are opposed to this policy: but I wish to have some assurance as to the situation in which we stand with reference to other Powers, and especially with reference to the action of a single Power without the co-operation of the others. These are most critical questions. We know how easily, without the desire, almost without the knowledge, of the Government we may be committed to some disastrous policy and to some more disastrous war. When you once begin a policy of this kind you may find yourselves embarked in another guerilla war, and in that guerilla war it will be well to remember that the population of China is more numerous even than that of the Boers. Therefore it is a matter of the most critical importance that the House of Commons and the country should have their eyes open to the dangers of the situation, and that before we go into our military Estimates, we should know 380 what is our military position in China. Quite apart from questions of policy, there is for us, at least, a ruling consideration: that we have exhausted our military power in South Africa.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Of course the hon. Member is always ready to go himself. But what did we hear from the Secretary of State for India to-night? He told us the numbers by which our forces in India have been depleted. The hon. Member is always in terror of Russia attacking India. What does he think of the statement of the Secretary for State? We know perfectly well that you have got almost to the very last man in this country and the colonies, and you cannot afford another guerilla war. That is the situation in which we stand, and we should proceed with prudence at least.
I was very glad to hear the language of the noble Lord as to the relations of this country with Russia. He did not pander to the desire to inflame the animosity of nations. He said the Government has dealt with this Chinese question in a spirit of friendly negotiation with Russia, and you may depend upon it that this question cannot be solved without the greatest disaster unless this country is acting in friendly and reasonable co-operation with Russia, who has so many thousand miles of frontier conterminous with China, where your fleet cannot be and her armies can. Therefore, no Government with any sense of reason, caution, or prudence will ever deal with the Chinese question except in the spirit which I am glad to hear from the noble Lord governs the relations between this country and Russia. What I am thinking of at present is the danger which may occur from a want of a thorough understanding of our military position in China, and how far it may be compromised by the action of any of the other Powers. Therefore I have ventured to ask for some further information from the Government as to what are the commitments and liabilities we may incur in consequence of our military situation in China
§ * VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
I shall, with the leave of the House, reply to the right hon. Gentleman. I have to say with regard to the question he has put that, so far as we are aware, there is no foreign Government wanting to make an expedition into the interior of China, and I need not say that if such were in contemplation, certainly our Commander would require the instructions of the Government before consenting to go. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will for give rue for saying that his speech illustrates the great difficulty of answering without notice a very large number of categorical questions.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The noble Lord will forgive me for saying that this is my only opportunity After to-day he will not be able to answer my question.
§ * VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
If the right hon. Gentleman will be so good as to revert to the much-abused method of putting questions on the Paper, I will endeavour to give a categorical reply to the several points that have been raised.
§ * MR. WYLIE (Dumbartonshire)
Having already spoken on this subject in December, I shall confine my few remarks within as narrow limits as possible. Let me associate myself with the remarks that have fallen from my right hon. friend the Member for West Monmouthshire, with respect to the speech of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Nothing could better illustrate the unassailable position the Government occupies in connection with the question of China than this debate and previous debates in the House of Commons. During the elections sweeping statements wore made by Liberal orators as to the weakness and futility of the Government's policy in China, and when the House met in December, the hon. Member for Barnsley brought forward a strong Amendment to the Address dealing with this question, but from a comparison of that Amendment with this which he has now brought before the House,† it is†The hon. Member for Barnsley had on the Paper notice of the following Amendment to the Address:—"And we humbly represent to your Majesty that it is essential that adequate382 clear to me that his criticisms are being gradually reduced to the vanishing point. In addition to having withdrawn his Amendment, he has gone the length of congratulating the Government on having been able to preserve the concert of the Powers and to settle the basis of negotiations for concluding peace with the Chinese Government, and I am of opinion that the more the hon. Member realises the vast difficulties connected with the Chinese problem, and the more he becomes acquainted with what the Government has actually done to preserve the rights and privileges of British subjects in China the more will he be inclined to diminish criticism and to increase congratulations. I noted with pleasure that the hon. Member had entirely deleted that clause in his former Amendment which urged that no demand should be made on the Chinese Government for the punishment of Chinese officials which could not be equally imposed in the case of a European Power; but I regret very much that in the course of his speech he should have stated that his sympathies were entirely with the Chinese, that the rising of the Chinese was a patriotic rising, and that it was hypocrisy on the part of western civilisation to make a demand for the decapitation of Chinese princes and generals. The hon. Member should remember that those men whom he seeks in some measure to protect have been guilty, consciously guilty, not only of themeasures should be taken for the safeguarding of the vast commercial and political interests of the British Empire in China, and that in connection with the settlement following the recent hostilities reparation should be sought in increased facilities for trade rather than by a money indemnity."—This Amendment he did not move, for the reason stated at the commencement of his speech on 15th February. The Amendment proposed by the hon. Member on 7th December, 1900, was as follows:—"And we humbly represent to your Majesty that it is essential that more adequate measures should be taken for the safeguarding of the vast commercial and political interests of the British Empire in China; and we further humbly submit that no demand should be made on the Chinese Government for the punishment of Chinese officials which would not be equally imposed in the case of a European Power, and also that reparation should be sought in increased facilities to trade rather than by a money indemnity."—For the discussion on this Amendment, see The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxxviii., page 303.383 most flagrant breaches of international rights, but of treacheries and atrocities which have been perpetrated on the Christian population, both European and native. Many Europeans, and some natives, put themselves under the special protection of some of these officials, never for one moment doubting that their respect for international rights and treaties would cause them to use their influence on the side of justice and humanity, instead of which they used their position for the purpose of inflicting severe tortures, and often a lingering death, upon those who had sought protection, and whom they were bound to protect. I think that this House will support the action which has been taken by the British Government and by the allied Powers in insisting that condign punishment should be inflicted upon those cruel, treacherous, and cowardly miscreants, not for revenge, but for the purpose of preventing a repetition of such atrocities, and for the purpose of securing the safety of the Christian population in China, whether European or native, for all time coming.
There is one other point, and only one, to which I wish to refer at the present time. When I spoke in December last, I sought to impress upon the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs that, in the settlement which is being made in China, it is of vital importance to arrange that all duties leviable on goods imported into China should be rigorously confined to the ports of entry, that they should there be levied under the superintendence of European officials, that they should be of sufficient amount to enable the Chinese Government properly to pay the officials, and to meet the purposes of administration, and that the likin, consisting of extortionate exactions which have been charged, and which have been the greatest hindrance to British commerce, should be absolutely and for ever abolished. I am very glad that the noble Lord the Under Secretary has shown us that the Government are fully aware of the importance of this question, and that they are taking every step to have such a measure included among the stipulations with the Chinese Government. In conclusion let me say that the mercantile community of this country especially feel much 384 satisfaction at the vigour and resolution with which the Government persevere in such well advised measures for the purpose of preserving the concert of the Bowers to secure peace in China, and of increasing all our commercial advantages in that country. I feel quite certain that the country will thoroughly acknowledge the good service which has been done to them in this important point.
§ MR. C. E. H. HOBHOUSE (Bristol, E.)
I think the House of Commons and the Under Secretary of State are to be congratulated upon the moderate tendency of the speech to which we listened before dinner. The speech marks a very great advance upon anything the country has been told up to the present by any Minister as to the policy of the Government in China.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ MR. C. E. H. HOBHOUSE (continuing)
The Under Secretary on Friday last said that the Opposition did not realise what was the avowed policy of the Government. That was not unnatural, because at that moment the Government had avowed no policy at all; the only policy with which we were acquainted was a policy of reticence and very great reluctance to have anything said about events in China, either in this House or in the country. But to-day the Under Secretary tells us, what we already knew, that there is an absolute right in the House of Commons to know all that was going on, and I am bound to say he did give us some information, which was certainly of a satisfactory kind. In the first place, he told us that the questions of indemnities, duties, the Shan-hai-kwan Railway, and Manchuria had obtained the lively interest of the Government. Not unnaturally, he tried to make out for the Government of which he is a member a position as strong as could be claimed for it; but I venture to say he took an unduly favourable estimate of the position of England in China at the present moment. The Chinese Government and people are peculiarly susceptible to what 385 may be called "prestige," and we have a means of getting to know the sort of estimation in which the Chinese Government and people hold this country and its Government just now. A proposal was made by the Chinese Government to send an envoy to offer their condolences to His Majesty upon the death of the late Queen. The envoy selected for this purpose was not a prince of the Imperial House; he was not even a person holding a distinguished position in the Chinese Government; he was what is called a Literary Chancellor—a position equal to that of a Viceroy. But the person deputed by the Chinese Government to offer to the German Emperor condolences for the murder of his envoy is not a Literary Chancellor—whatever that may be—but a prince of the highest rank. That is a very significant comment on the difference in the estimation in which the German Government and the British Government are held by the Chinese Government.
The Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in support of the policy of the Government, and as a proof of the vigour and spirit of that policy, told us that they had been fortunate enough to propose language which was acceptable to all persons concerned with regard to the proposals made by the various Powers concerned to China. But that language has never been divulged to us; we are ignorant of the terms of the proposals. All we were told was that it was a proposal embodied under thirteen or fourteen heads, and, therefore, a very lengthy document. I think we have a right to be told something more than that. Nine months have elapsed since these disturbances began, and all we know is that the proposals of the Government are voluminous. The Under Secretary took credit to himself for what he told the House, but I think that what he did not tell us was even more marked. With regard to the Shan-hai-kwan Railway, he told us that it was occupied by the Russians without authority. What does he mean by that? If this railway was occupied by the Russian forces without the authority of the general officer commanding them or without the authority of the Government which commands that general officer, surely it would not have been very difficult to induce the 386 Russian Government to withdraw their forces at once, and it need not have been necessary to obtain the sanction or the consent not merely of the Russian Government, but of the German Government, and, as was finally revealed to us a day or two ago, of the Japanese Government, to the restoration of our own property to our own Government. We are not told the exact terms upon which this railway is eventually to be handed back. We are told that one part has already been handed back, but with regard to the other part the Under Secretary did not like to commit himself. But he did tell us that the Russian Government had what he called "taken charge of the rolling stock of this railway." What does that mean? If it means that they have commandeered for their own permanent use the rolling stock of this British company and British undertaking, surely we have a right to ask that they shall replace that rolling stock, or, at all events, refund the money it will cost the railway to restore it. With regard to this railway, the Under Secretary told us that he had the definite assurance of the Russian Government. But it is not the first time that we have had equally definite—
§ * VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will excuse me. I am not sure that I made myself quite clear. Not only have we the definite assurance of the Russian Government that they would evacuate it, but they have already done so, and have handed it over to the German Government, who are about to hand it over to us.
§ MR. C. E. H. HOBHOUSE
That is a rather roundabout way of getting hold of property which belongs to yourself. I suppose that this process was gone through in order to save the face of the Russian Government. But what I want to know is whether the other part of the railway, and also the rolling stock, are going to be handed back to us as well. Has the Under Secretary got permission from the German Government and from the Japanese Government to get this property back also, or has this been made a sort of saving clause by which the Russian Government are to recoup themselves the cost of repairing the railway, which they 387 did with the property of the railway company itself? The Under Secretary failed to explain how it is that other nations can at the present moment protect their commercial undertakings and their industrial concerns with much greater promptitude than the English Government. It is in the recollection of the country that we stopped a mail steamer and examined its cargo in Delagoa Bay during the disturbances in South Africa. We at once got from the German Government a Note couched in very grave terms. And that Note was not delivered in secret, as most of the communications of our Government are, but it was made public to the world that the German Government would stand no nonsense when industrial concerns were at stake. But we allow a whole railway, costing something like 2½ millions, to be taken from us by another nation and to be retained for a very long time, and eventually we go through a very prolonged process to get back our own property. It may be very satisfactory to get it back eventually, but the methods I venture to characterise as extremely unsatisfactory. With regard to Manchuria, the Under Secretary tells us that he has a guarantee. I did not gather whether that was a written or a verbal guarantee.
§ MR. C. E. H. HOBHOUSE
Well, an assurance. Is it a written or a verbal assurance that the occupation of Manchuria is a modrs vivendi under which order is to be restored? In the course of restoring order I gather that a great number of the Chinese officials have, as the noble Lord phrased it, "disappeared."
§ * VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
No doubt it is my fault, but the hon. Gentleman is mixing up the question of Manchuria with some phrase which I dropped about Niu-chwang. As to Manchuria, we applied to our own representative at St. Petersburg, and it is on his information that I have made that statement to the House. As to Niu-chwang, I explained in detail that the state of things is not so serious as some hon. Gentlemen seem to imagine.
§ MR. C. E. H. HOBHOUSE
I am sorry if I misrepresented the noble Lord, but I want to insist upon my point. Is that assurance that this modus vivendi is not an actual or a virtual protectorate a written or a verbal assurance '? Has it been communicated to our Ambassador in St. Petersburg in writing or by word of mouth, because unless it has been communicated in writing there is great danger that at some future date there may be representations by the Russian Government that our Ambassador misunderstood the tenour of the communication, and that the protectorate which undoubtedly has been established in Manchuria is not be to merely temporary but permanent. It is significant to note in this respect that both the great French newspapers, who are not unfriendly judges of the conduct and attitude of the Russian Government, have spoken of the tenure of Manchuria as an actual and virtual occupation of the country, in direct contradistinction to the assurance which the noble Lord has been so happy to receive. In regard to Manchuria, the noble Lord said on Friday night that with reference to trade in that country there was no exclusion at the present moment. That is naturally the case, because foreign merchandise is brought into Manchuria from America or Europe oversea. That condition of things cannot long obtain, because at no distant date Manchuria will be joined to the Russian Empire by a continuous line of railway. As soon as the necessity no longer exists it will be no longer necessary to keep the door open which is now left ajar; the door may be slammed at any moment upon the not unnatural ground that it is no longer necessary. Therefore, when the noble Lord tells us that exclusion of foreign merchandise does not exist in Manchuria, that answer may be sufficient for to-day, but I venture to say that it is not adequate for to-morrow. It may be impossible for the noble Lord to answer the various points I have endeavoured to raise. I remember that the President of the Local Government Board when addressing his constituents some months ago told them that in reference to China they must not ask too much from the Government. I venture to say that 389 that is a very unsatisfactory answer, coming from a member of the Ministry, upon a question so important as this. We do not ask too much of the noble Lord and the Government, but we do ask that full consideration of the trade and interests, whether commercial or political, of this country shall be given by the Government, and we have some indication—and I venture to congratulate the noble Lord upon it—that these matters have not altogether slipped from his memory.
§ MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR (Essex, Romford)
I wish to address myself to the Report of the Commission upon the Army Medical Corps in South Africa. I think everyone will admit that that Report has not succeeded in satisfying the expectation of those who desired its appointment. No one desired that an unmeasured amount of blame should be cast upon the heads of the Army Medical Department, but it was intended that more impartial and non-departmental evidence should be thoroughly examined into. I think it will be admitted that there has not been a sufficient amount of entirely unbiased and disinterested inquiry into the subject. Official views have invariably been given greater weight to than non-official. The Commission seems to have followed the example set by many others, and its Report condemns and yet seeks for excuses, it blames and yet exculpates, it complains and yet praises. Reading between the lines, it seems as though the Commissioners were fully conscious that there had been a great deal of blundering and mismanagement, and yet they were most unwilling to fix the responsibility, and where in any case they felt obliged to do so, they proceed to find extenuating circumstances. Whichever way one looks at the Report, I think anyone will admit that a most lamentable state of affairs is palpably disclosed, and the whole consideration of the case seems to fall naturally under three headings: (1) the staff of the Royal Army Medical Corps, (2) their methods of management, and (3) the question of their position in time of war with respect to the difficulties of transport and responsibility. The provision of transport has been made in such a manner as to make the efficiency of 390 this department totally inadequate. I think it will be admitted that in the first place the personnel is woefully deficient, certainly in numbers, and it is to be feared, in many cases, in the special medical and surgical knowledge which is absolutely necessary for a staff of that kind which has to deal with large bodies of men employed in the field fighting against an enemy. Leaving aside the question of an increase of the employment of nurses—although it seems to be generally agreed that there was room for many more even at the base hospitals—there is no doubt that there were not enough surgeons employed. And what is the reason of this? I think the reason is to be found in the fact that the Royal Army Medical Corps is most unpopular amongst medical students as compared with the Navy, for in the Navy any number of surgeons can be obtained, whereas it is impossible to get enough to serve in the Army. Long before the war began it is a fact that the War Department went to all the schools of medical science in the country and begged for surgeons. There were then; more vacancies than applicants, competition was reduced to an absolute farce, and the Army Medical Department were compelled to take on anybody who could be induced to go out to South Africa. This state of things does not exist in the Navy, which is a most popular service with medical men, and therefore there must be something radically wrong.
I think that the only remedy that we can hope for is the appointment of a strong Committee, consisting of representatives from both sides of the House, which should at least contain one or two men from the younger members of the teaching staffs of our medical schools, and this committee should have full power to examine all these questions on oath. It should have the widest scope of inquiry, and be allowed to suggest practical remedies. A remedy is urgent, and should be found with as little delay as possible. There is no need to wait till the war is over. This Department was in a state of chaos before the war, and I think that its working during the last eighteen months has exposed its inefficiency to the whole world. I think everyone will admit that with- 391 out the help of the civil surgeons our position would have been perfectly hopeless. Here we have established at a moment's notice one of the very finest volunteer forces that the country could wish for. Why should it be done away with even at the end of the war? It is possible to establish a really efficient Army Medical Reserve.
I would suggest a plan on these lines: that young surgeons having no practice to go to immediately after passing their examinations might be induced, by paying them a certain amount per annum—say, for a year or eighteen months—to join a course of instruction which would fit them for the Army. Let them study military surgery and sanitation, and then join the Reserve. I would suggest that they be paid so much for the first five years, and that the country should have a call upon them for their services should occasion arise. They might be called upon to give a month every year for training for manœuvres for five years, and then be under an obligation to do service in some Volunteer medical corps, with liability to volunteer for home service for ten years. You would then have a body of men capable of fulfilling the duties which an ordinary medical training does not I give to the surgeon who is called upon at the present time to serve in the field. If this were done, we should get an efficient corps of medical men, in case of emergency, to fill the places of those civil surgeons who are now in South Africa, and whose training is not what it ought to be. Such officers would always possess the merit of being up to date in medical and sanitary science. It always has been and is now a great complaint among the members of the Royal Army Medical Corps that they can seldom get leave to go and study any new systems and processes at the great hospitals in times of peace. They are afforded no opportunity by which they can make themselves proficient. I think an arrangement could be made by which our troops at home could be treated in our hospitals in times of peace, and some of the senior medical officers might join the hospital staff. This, at any rate, would keep them up to their work, preserve the connection with their profession, and save a large amount of money to the 392 nation. One of the most necessary things we shall undoubtedly have to do in the future is to procure and attract a larger number of recruits for service in the Army. To accomplish this successfully you must provide proper treatment for those men in sickness and when wounded, and, unless more care is taken by a court of inquiry than has been taken by the one which has just reported, I am afraid it will militate against the enlistment of many soldiers who would have joined the Army if proper medical treatment was assured. Unless you provide for the alleviation of suffering at the same time, you cannot hope to enlist sympathy for the service which has so woefully broken down in its administration. The country does not blame the Government for its work in South Africa, but what it will demand in the future is that we should put the whole thing on a proper, sound basis; and unless we provide an efficient medical staff for our Army I am quite confident that the country will think that this Parliament has been lacking in its duty.
* MR. J. P. PARRELL (Longford, N.)
I desire to draw the attention of the House to what I consider the omissions in which there is practically no reference to the country which Gentlemen on these benches represent in this House. I certainly think that His Majesty's advisers did not do their duty towards their Sovereign in recommending that he should be asked to take the formal Oath which was administered to him at the opening of this session of Parliament. That Oath, I think, can be regarded in no other light by hon. Gentlemen on these benches than as an insult of a very gross character to the religion they profess. In fact, I think that even amongst supporters of His Majesty's Government who profess that religion it was a very great straining of their allegiance to ask them to stand by and hear the tenets which they hold as more sacred than any other in this world described in terms of opprobrium and reproach. I learn that the coronation ceremony of His Majesty is to be deferred for nearly a year, and I trust that better counsels will prevail between this and that event, and that we shall have this most reproachful declaration concerning on 393 religion eliminated from the coronation ceremony of the King of this country.
On these benches we also feel a great disappointment as to the terms of His Majesty's Address to Parliament. I said at the beginning that my complaint was more in regard to what was omitted than for any promise given in that Speech. We have been promised a measure to facilitate the purchase of land in Ireland. I believe it is nearly fourteen years since this process of facilitating the purchase of land in Ireland was first instituted. I think the Ashbourne Act was passed about 1885, and other Acts have been since passed for the purpose of facilitating the transfer of land from the landlords to the tenants in Ireland. But in spite of all the machinery that you have set up for this purpose by Acts passed in this House, you have practically only touched the fringe of the settlement of the land question in Ireland. Out of 600,000 occupying tenants who hold land from landlords in Ireland—although these Land Acts have been fifteen years in operation—barely 50,000 have become owners of their own homesteads, and that has been done Tinder conditions as favourable as any which can be contemplated in the future in any Act or Bill of a, voluntary nature to be brought forward by this House. We are told now that the Government are to introduce a Bill of a voluntary nature which will leave things practically as they are, but which will, to some extent, facilitate the operations of the 40th section of the Act of 1896. Perhaps it is an act of supererogation to repeat from these benches that we wish His Majesty's Government to know once and for all that the only possible settlement of this question is to be attained not by tinkering at it with these voluntary measures or by introducing measures to smooth legal difficulties, but by passing a comprehensive and statesmanlike measure for compulsory laud purchase for the benefit of the people of Ireland. In a few days this House will be called upon to consider the operation of these Acts by an Amendment to the Address before the House. It is very little short of a farce upon the carrying out of the law when we remember the way in which the head Land Commission and the Sub-Commission 394 conduct the business of the country in Ireland. The head Land Commission consists of such refined gentlemen that they cannot condescend to visit towns like Longford where most of the business of the Commission lies, and they insist upon the unfortunate litigants, who have little money to spend, bringing up their witnesses and solicitors to Dublin for the purpose of having their cases tried. They shall hear more of this question in the immediate future.
My principal object in standing up this evening is to express the feeling of disappointment which I feel at the in action of the Government in regard to what may be called the social ills of Ireland. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland has been touring extensively in the west of Ireland, and I do hope that some good will come from the enlightenment which this travelling will confer upon him. I do think that the Government can do everything that is needful for the condition of Ireland, but they are sadly lacking in seizing the golden opportunity of once and for all settling the great and complex question of the land in Ireland. Neither landlord nor tenant is satisfied with the present state of things, and to no person in that country has the present tribunal given satisfaction. We in this House are called upon from time to time to vote large sums of money for the expenses of this Commission. We are called upon to find indirectly expenses which are kept up for the purpose of carrying on the work of this Commission. I must say that I think to a very large extent the money which has been poured out for that purpose has been wasted, and it is money which, if it had been capitalised and utilised for the direct transference of land instead of being used through these legal channels, would have been much more efficiently applied. There are a great number of gentlemen upon the Commission whose only qualification is that they have served their time in the rent office of some great landlord. It is expecting too much of the tenant farmers of Ireland to expect that they can have confidence in a Commission so constituted, or to expect that the training which these gentlemen 395 have received could otherwise than bias them in the interest of the landlords whom they formerly served.
I do not wish to occupy the time of the House at any great length, but before I sit down I desire to associate myself as fully as possible with the remarks of my colleagues sitting on these benches as regards the war in South Africa. I have heard speeches from the opposite side of the House commenting in anything but favourable terms upon the manner in which the war has been conducted. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has, in a mild way, deprecated the manner in which the medical staff, sent out to look after the wounded in this unfortunate war, have done their duty in attending to the sick and wounded. I confess that I have very little sympathy with Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, because what we find is that although they mildly deprecate these errors or mistakes, when it becomes a question of supporting the policy of the war they are invariably found in the Government lobby. This war question with us is one of pounds, shillings, and pence. We who represent the Irish people here have protested, so far as it lies in our power, against this war. From time to time, and on every possible occasion, we have raised our voices in solemn protest and warning against the war, but although our constitutional voice has been so expressed, the solid fact stares us in the face that every pound of extra taxation which you put on this kingdom will have to be borne in its proportion, and in its over proportion, by the already overtaxed people of Ireland. We have been complaining here session after session of your treatment of us in the matter of taxation. We have complained time after time fruitlessly that you are overtaxing us under ordinary conditions to the extent of -between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 per annum. When this war started we were told that it was to be over in two or three months, and I recollect that your first Vote was for £10,000,000, which was supposed to be ample for the purpose of concluding the war. Since then what have we seen? Since then the Secretary of State for War and other Ministers have come down here and Asked for millions in addition, and at 396 the end of last session you had drawn no less than £63,000,000 to carry on a war which you told this House would not cost more than £10,000,000. What is the state of things with which this country now finds itself face to face? Is it not a, fact that there are already preparations going on to bring before this House demands for the enormous sum of £70,000,000 to finish this war, and out of this enormous sum of £113,000,000 Ireland will be called upon to pay her proportion. Notwithstanding that Ireland has protested all along through her constitutional representatives against the war on grounds of humanity and justice, she will nevertheless be called upon and forced to pay to the extent of one-eleventh of that large sum. I say that as we find ourselves circumstanced at present, it is almost a farce to require the attendance of representatives from Ireland at the opening of Parliament, because you ignore our constitutional voice when it is raised, and you compel us to bear more than our just share of the burden which you have imposed upon us against our will. On grounds of humanity we have also opposed this war. I was reading in some of the Irish local papers letters from some of your own officers complaining of house-burning and of driving practically to utter starvation and destitution women and children in South Africa who were unable to resist your soldiery. You have, I think, some reason to find cause for pause in the present course to which you have set yourselves. This is a. huge and a mighty Empire. It is your boast that the sun never sets upon it. I daresay that if such things as newspapers were printed in the days of Julius Caesar and the Roman Emperors, they might have said that the great Roman Empire of their day was a great commercial Empire, and that it was utterly impossible that it could be overturned. But the more wealth accumulated, the more corrupt did its ruling classes become, and the more certain and terrible was the day of retribution which overtook it for the liberation of mankind. I say, as a humble Member of Parliament, that as this happened to the great Roman Empire, have a care that it does not also take place with the British Empire.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
I should like to support what has fallen from my hon. friend behind me in regard to one point. It is one satisfactory feature in connection with the debates in South Africa that no one seems to have got a good word for the Government. Whether they approve of or condemn the war, they are all agreed on this one point: that the Government have made every possible blunder they could make from any and every point of view. In every sort of case with a legitimate grievance to redress, with every demand for the extension of freedom in the Transvaal, the Government have so conducted the controversy as to have ranged against them every friend of freedom throughout the world, outside Great Britain. And when you come to the war itself, though they have the resources of the wealthiest Empire which the world has ever seen to draw upon, they have so directed their operations that their own soldiers have been half-starved, stricken by disease, and have died by thousands from the sheer lack of the simplest appliances. Who could say a good word for a Government responsible for such a terrible position of affairs?
But there is some difficulty for anyone, especially for one who takes the view which I do of the war, in criticising this Government. Whatever we may say is misconstrued. We are said to be encouraging the Boers. [Ministerial cheers.] I observe that that statement is accepted by hon. Members on the other side of the House. But let me ask, has anything been said by any Member on this side of the House which tends to encourage the Boers half as much as some of the things I have heard from Unionist Members, and which I have seen in the Unionist press? I suppose that the same canons of interpretation will be applied to the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Secretary for War as are applied to our speeches. Take, for instance, the pessimistic speech of the Prime Minister. We are told that the Boers read our speeches and conduct their campaigns accordingly; but if so, they also read the speeches of the Prime Minister, who has said to them: "Do not be disheartened; we have only been 398 sixteen months in trying to subdue you, whereas the Confederates in America held out for four years." Therefore, the Boers say, "Let us take heart of grace and go on; we are only just beginning." But the Secretary for War says, "I can go one better. It took the North four years, indeed, to conquer the Confederates, but what about Spain and the Cubans? The Cubans were half-castes, they had nothing like your equipment—you have the best equipped army imaginable—and they did not conduct their campaign half so skilfully as you. Yet with only 30,000 troops they held out for ten years against the Spaniards with 250,000 troops. So do not be discouraged." And what about the Unionist press? If anything appears in the Liberal press favourable to the Boers it is said "What a wild, traitorous press it is!" But take what I have seen in respectable, patriotic journals in London. They have within the past few weeks been pointing out, that our troops are war-worn, jaded, and with no fight left in them. Really it is time that high-minded patriots began to work up indignant fury against the violent pro-Boer utterances of the Prime Minister and the Secretary for War. And really I do not know what the Colonial Secretary is about. What has he been doing? He has fulminated against the Stop-the-War party, and yet he has talked about terms of peace and fair and generous treatment. Why, these are the shibboleths of pro-Boerism, as I understand it. We dare not refer to these without being told that we are encouraging the Boers. Why should the Colonial Secretary refer to them? He has played many parts in his time. He has joined every party. Is it possible that he is going to crown his career by once more returning to the pro-Boer party, of which he was the most shining and conspicuous ornament? Really this pro-Boerism which is developing on the other side is most lamentable: and it is ime we should eradicate it!
After all, which is the more likely to encourage the Boers, and to afford them an incentive to desperate fighting—the knowledge that there are men who are prepared to plead for their fair and generous treatment, or the knowledge conveyed to them by the Prime 399 Minister, the Secretary for War, and others, of what they are to expect if they surrender? What is it? "Not a shred of independence." More than that, "we are to be masters" and they are to be servants. [Ministerial cries of "No, no!"] Well, if one man is master, somebody must be servant. More than that, the Estimates provide for a vote by Parliament for placing 15,000 Imperial Yeoman as settlers on Boer farms. Is it likely to induce the Boers to come to terms? But after all we are delighted to see right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side beginning to discuss the possibility of terms—just what we have been urging for many months past. I think the opinion of the country is that whatever the blunder of going to war was, the still greater blunder was not to have offered terms when we captured Pretoria. Then a great opportunity was lost, possibly for ever. But what are the terms which are offered? There is no substantial difference, as I understand, between the two sides of the House as to what should constitute the ultimate terms of settlement. You say, "Give them the fullest measure of autonomy, of the right to govern their own affairs in their own country. "The right hon. the Colonial Secretary said," Yes, that is my view as well; but in the meantime I will set up a Crown colony." Of course, once you beat the Boers, once you capture the last commando, you can dictate your own terms. But the question now is, what can be done to curtail the war, to avert and to stop this terrible bloodshed and waste of treasure meantime. Does anyone believe that the Boors will lay down their arms merely in order to be governed from Downing Street, upon an indefinite promise, with no time fixed, that at some time or other, when the Government for the time being think fit to do so, they will restore self-government to the Boers? What is the guarantee that that promise is to be carried out? Let us have perfect, open plain speaking about the matter. This is altogether a question of trust and confidence; the Boers have to lay down their arms, trusting in the words of the statesman who in this House said there was nothing dishonourable in a man 400 breaking into his neighbour's territory upon the strength of a letter which he or his confederates forged. Nothing dishonourable in that! If there is nothing dishonourable in that there is nothing dishonourable in breaking a pledge given to the Boers. I do not believe that they will trust any statesman who has laid that down as his canon of honour. But there is more than that. We gave this pledge to the Boers before—in 1852, and certainly in 1877. Then we made a solemn promise to the Boers that if their territory was annexed we would restore to them self-government, but we broke that pledge. We asked them to take the same promise again, and to lay down their arms and submit to us. Besides, ignorant as the Boers may be, they probably have heard of other countries where we promised to restore to their inhabitants self-government after a due interregnum. They are not so ignorant not to know that Egypt is in Africa, in the same continent as their own country; and what has happened there? We entered Egypt and occupied that territory on the most solemn assurances given not only to the people of Egypt, but to Europe, that we would restore to it self-government. [An HON. MEMBER: Mr. Gladstone.] Mr. Gladstone! Who was a member of Mr. Gladstone's Ministry which gave that assurance? The same right hon. Gentleman who is offering the same pledge-now, and the same right hon. Gentleman who has since advocated that we should stick to Egypt and break our former pledge. How can you expect the Boers, remembering all that, to trust to a bare pledge? One thing is certain: not the statesman who is responsible for that pledge, nor any other Member of this House will say that the Boers have not some reason to be suspicious and to doubt when we ask them to lay down their arms with the only security that they must trust absolutely to British faith in regard to what may happen in the future.
There is another reason why, at the present moment, it is exceedingly difficult to arrange peace with the Boers. The conduct of the war during the past six or nine months has exasperated them beyond measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!" and Ministerial laughter.] 401 Hon. Members see nothing except what is matter for merriment in the burning of Boer homes and the turning of women and children into the wilderness! As long as that spirit remains I despair of any terms being made with the Boers. Some doubt has been cast on the statements made in regard to the burning of farms. The noble Lord who represents the War Office stated last week that the farm-burning had taken place as a punishment for treachery. There is no one here who is going to criticise that action if treachery is proved against the occupants of these farms. It may or may not be condign punishment; that is a matter which must be dealt with on the spot. At any rate, I am not going to challenge the burning of the houses of men guilty of such treachery; but I do criticise and censure the conduct of men who, for the treachery of others, burn the homes over their heads of people who are perfectly innocent. I am not going to quote anonymous letters. The first quotation I shall make will be from a proclamation by Lord Roberts himself, and if Lord Roberts has been misjudged, he himself has been to blame. We have been told that farms have only been burned in clear cases of treachery proved against the inhabitants. Proclamation No. 20 sets forth—Should any damage be done to any lines of railway or public works"—amongst other things that will happen will be this—"the houses and farms in the vicinity of the place where the damage is done will be destroyed, and the residents"—not those guilty of treachery—"in the neighbourhood dealt with under martial law.Do hon. Members opposite approve of that? I will say to the credit of the noble Lord who spoke for the War Office that he did not. He has been to the front. He has seen what the horrors of war are, and he does not want to extend them. But I will prove from quotations from perfectly untainted sources that these farm-burning operations have been very extensive. This is what the Standard correspondent at Pretoria says, writing in November last—Half of the Transvaal and of the Orange River Colony is desolated with fire and sword. The farms are tenantless, and few crops will possibly be reaped this season. By the time resistance is finally stamped down—perhaps not by the end of February at the earliest— 402 the farming districts throughout the two States will, in all probability, be laid waste. This will mean famine and ruin to the Boers. They must see this, but they do not appear to care.Another quotation I will give is from a Birmingham paper, and I need hardly say that this information must be unchallenged by the supporters of the Colonial Secretary—The charred and blackened country [this is a description of the country east of Bloemfontein] devastated by the red ruin of war has not a crumb for man, or blade of grass for cattle.But let me give the authority of an hon. and gallant Member of this House who has been to the front, and who has fought in fifteen engagements—I mean the hon. and gallant Member for the Welsh constituency of South Glamorgan, and sits on the other side of the House. He says that he thought—the burning of the farms had been a fatal mistake. I believe but for these acts long ago we should have had the Boers surrendering. This burning and destroying is the gravest evil, and now the Boers who would have come in hate us as they never did before.Then somebody suggested to him that it was done to punish treachery, but what is the answer given by the hon. Member for South Glamorgan? He says he does not object to the burning of farms under those conditions—certainly not. Where any farm is used as a fort it should be destroyed, but not otherwise. It is the burning of homesteads without cause to which he objects. Then he goes on and gives a rather pretty description of one of the houses partially burned. He went into the house, and on the wall saw a portrait of the Princess of Wales and the Queen. The old Boer to whom the house belonged took the portrait down, and said, "I thought she was a good woman; but if these are the things that are done in her name she is not," and he threw the portrait down and trampled on it. What the hon. Member for South Glamorgan describes are cases of farms being burnt, not for treachery, but without cause, simply carrying out Lord Roberts's proclamation. Another item of interest is that Lord Roberts sent a letter to the Commander-in-Chief of the Boer forces. What does he say in that 403 Letter? And I should also like to ask why it is that these letters are kept from the House of Commons? Why is information of this character withheld? I can understand information being withheld which by being published might act detrimentally to our troops in South Africa; but this information is in the hands of the Boers, and, therefore, cannot be detrimental to us. This is one of the many pieces of evidence that the House of Commons is treated disdainfully by the present responsible Ministers of the Crown. We had one instance of that to-day, and we had another instance last night. We vote the money, and, with all due deference, that is the only branch which represents the people in this country; and when we vote the money it is only right that we should know what is going to be done with it.
In the letter which Lord Roberts wrote to Commandant Botha, he complains that the railway has been cut—a peculiar complaint when we consider that the commander of the Boer forces is quite within his right to do everything in his power to embarrass the enemy opposed to him in the field. Lord Roberts says it is very wrong, and he is not going to allow it to go on any longer—that he is going to put a stop to it. But how is he going to do that? Not by capturing the men, but by burning every house within a radius of ten miles. [Cries of "No!"] What is the use of hon. Members saying "No," when I am quoting from the letter of Lord Roberts? Within a radius of ten miles all houses are to be destroyed, because a Boer commander comes and blows up a culvert! [Government cheers.] I have read that this war was brutalising our people; I do not want better evidence of that fact than those cheers. I will just quote another letter, and I shall be curious to see whether hon. Members opposite cheer that. It is written by an officer in the Canadian force, Lieutenant Morrison, of Ottawa (who was mentioned in despatches for gallant conduct), of the march of General Smith-Dorrien's force through a part of the Transvaal. Lieutenant Morrison said it was like the old-time forays in the Highlands of Scotland two centuries ago. He says—The country is very like Scotland, and we move from -valley to valley, lifting cattle and 404 sheep, burning and looting, and turning out women and children to weep in despair beside the ruin of their once beautiful homesteads. It was the first touch of Kitchener's iron hand, a terrible thing to witness, and I do not know that I want to see another trip of the sort.Really brave men are revolted by this. Hon. Members do not cheer that—they are disgusted and shocked. But this is not all. He goes on to say how they burnt a track six miles wide right down to the village of Dilston. Not a word of this in despatches. Then, after a description of some of these houses, he comes to the sacking of Dilston, and he tells how it was burnt.
I really do not know why one should read this. It is a horrible account, and makes one ashamed that one's own countrymen could be guilty of such an action. It is war not against men, but against women and children. In that letter he describes fully the destruction of this town. I appeal to the humanity of hon. Members opposite—and I am sure they have it—do they approve of this? I am glad that at last they are silent, for the credit of the House of Commons. But there has been more burning of villages—not of isolated farms, but whole villages. They did not confine their burning to the neighbourhood of the railway, but ravaged the whole of the country. What happened to the town of Bothaville? There was a leading article in The Times, of which I can give the date, and which I can quote if necessary. In that article there is a, summary of the news of the day, which states that General Hunter marched from Bothaville to the railway, burning the farms on the way. Bothaville, the town, was burnt. The only reason why it was burnt, according to the telegrams, was because it was a storehouse for the Boers. The village of Ventersburg was also burnt for the same reason. In this connection I think the name of General Bruce Hamilton ought to be immortalised. After the burning of that village this general posted up the following proclamation—NOTICE.—The town of Ventersburg has been cleared of supplies, and partly burnt, and the, farms in the vicinity destroyed on account of the frequent attacks on the railway in the neighbourhood.[Ministerial cheers.] Yes, but you cannot take both grounds: you cannot say 405 it was because of the treachery of those who occupied the farms, and also that it was because the railway was cut in the neighbourhood. [Ministerial cries of "Why not?"] I do not want to be drawn from the real point—The Boer women and children who are left behind—the supplies having been cleared out—should apply to the Boer commandants for food, who will supply them unless they wish to see them starve. No supplies will be sent from the railway to the town.This meant that the Boer women and children were to starve, or were to remain there as a bait for the Boer commandoes, that we might capture them.
All that I can say is that this man is a brute, and a disgrace to the uniform he wears. Then there is a telegram that has come from the front, which has passed the censor, and which, therefore, must be correct. It came from Pretoria and said that the systematic gathering in of all Boer families and their stock in the outlying district was proceeding regularly and vigorously. At convenient centres Boer refugees, voluntary and other, were kept and fed. All those who surrendered voluntarily were given full rations. All the families whose husbands were on commando were put on a reduced scale. It would be increased to the full allowance if the husbands surrendered. That is what the telegram said, and hon. Members who cheer that would cheer anything. It means that unless the fathers came in their children would be half-starved. It means that the remnant of the Boer army who are sacrificing everything for their idea of independence are to be tortured by the spectacle of their starving children into betraying their cause.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. BRODRICK,) Surrey, Guildford
Will the hon. Gentleman kindly quote his authority for these statements he gives us?
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I will, certainly. It is a perfectly fair question. The telegram comes from Reuter's Agency, Pretoria, 15th January, and appears in The Times of 18th January.
§ MR. BRODRICK
The hon. Gentleman is trying to establish a charge for which he has not a particle of evidence.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
You challenge me to give my evidence. The whole of my evidence comes from Pretoria in a telegram from Pretoria; and no telegram can come from Pretoria that is objected to by the military censor there. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that a telegram which has the stamp of the military censor upon it is not a particle of evidence? [At this point Mr. CHAMBERLAIN walked out of the House.] [A VOICE: "There he goes!"and cries from the Irish benches of "Come back!"] The author of this is ashamed of his misdeeds.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I am not at all surprised; but repentance has come rather late in his case, after all this mischief has been done. [Ministerial cries of "Order!"] If I am out of order there is an authority to call me to order, and if I have in any way transgressed I shall be only too willing to withdraw. It is difficult within the bounds of Parliamentary propriety to describe what one thinks about all this infamy which is perpetrated in the name of Great Britain in Africa. That is really what keeps us from coming to terms. We are in a. worse situation in South Africa than we were in twelve months ago. Not a third of the men we sent out to South Africa are now in the line of battle. There have been 55,000 casualties, 30,000 men are in hospital, and what do the papers say about the rest? Thoroughly jaded, worn, broken. Those are not my words, but those of correspondents writing from the front to Unionist papers. All the causes of death amongst our men which are classed by the law as the acts of God are increasing in intensity. It will be within the memory of many hon. Members that the right hon. Gentleman in the first war session appealed to the God of Battles. He has got his answer. It is not the one he anticipated, but it is sufficiently terrible in all conscience to make hon. Members pause and reflect 407 whether they dare go on with this business.
§ * ME. WINSTON CHURCHILL (Oldham)
I understood that the hon. Member to whose speech the House has just listened, had intended to move an Amendment to the Address. The text of the Amendment, which had appeared in the papers, was singularly mild and moderate in tone; but mild and moderate as it was, neither the hon. Member nor his political friends had cared to expose it to criticism or to challenge a division upon it, and, indeed, when we compare the moderation of the Amendment with the very bitter speech which the hon. Member has just delivered, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the moderation of the Amendment was the moderation of the hon. Member's political friends and leaders, and that the bitterness of his speech is all his own. It has been suggested to me that it might perhaps have been better, upon the whole, if the hon. Member, instead of making his speech without moving his Amendment, had moved his Amendment without making his speech. I would not complain of any remarks of the hon. Member were I called upon to do so. In my opinion, based upon the experience of the most famous men whose names have adorned the records of the House, no national emergency short, let us say, of the actual invasion of this country itself ought in any way to restrict or prevent the entire freedom of Parliamentary discussion. Moreover, I do not believe that the Boers would attach particular importance to the utterances of the hon. Member. No people in the world received so much verbal sympathy and so little practical support as the Boers. If I were a Boer fighting in the field—and if I were a Boer I hope I should be fighting in the field—I would not allow myself to be taken in by any message of sympathy, not even if it were signed by a hundred hon. Members. The hon. Member dwelt at great length upon the question of farm burning. I do not propose to discuss the ethics of farm burning now; but hon. Members should, I think, cast their eyes back to the fact that no considerations of humanity prevented the German army from throwing its shells into dwelling houses in Paris, and starving 408 the inhabitants of that great city to the extent that they had to live upon rats and like atrocious foods in order to compel the garrison to surrender. I venture to think His Majesty's Government would not have been justified in restricting their commanders in the field from any methods of warfare which are justified by precedents set by European and American generals during the last fifty or sixty years. I do not agree very fully with the charges of treachery on the one side and barbarity on the other. From what I saw of the war—and I sometimes saw something of it—I believe that as compared with other wars, especially those in which a civil population took part, this war in South Africa has been on the whole carried on with unusual humanity and generosity. The hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has drawn attention to the case of one general officer, and although I deprecate debates upon the characters of individual general officers who are serving the country at this moment, because I know personally General Bruce Hamilton, whom the hon. Member with admirable feeling described as General Brute Hamilton, I feel unable to address the House without offering my humble testimony to the fact that in all His Majesty's Army there are few men with better feeling, more kindness of heart, or with higher courage than General Bruce Hamilton.
There is a point of difference which has been raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition upon the question of the policy to be pursued in South Africa after this war has been brought to a conclusion. So far as I have been able to make out the difference between the Government and the Opposition on this question is that whereas His Majesty's Government propose that when hostilities are brought to a conclusion there shall be an interval of civil government before full representative rights are extended to the peoples of these countries, on the other hand the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition believes that these representative institutions will be more quickly obtained if the military government be prolonged as a temporary measure and no interval of civil government be interposed. I hope I am not misinterpreting 409 the right hon. Gentleman in any way. If I am, I trust he will not hesitate to correct me, because I should be very sorry in any way to misstate his views. If that is the situation, I will respectfully ask the House to allow me to examine these alternative propositions. I do not wish myself to lay down the law, or thrust my views upon hon. Members. I have travelled a good deal about South Africa during the last ten months under varying circumstances, and I should like to lay before the House some of the considerations which have been very forcibly borne in upon me during that period.
In the first place I would like to look back to the original cause for which we went to war. We went to war—I mean of course we were gone to war with—in connection with the extension of the franchise. We began negotiations with the Boers in order to extend the franchise to the people of the Transvaal. When I say the people of the Transvaal, I mean the whole people of the Transvaal, and not necessarily those who arrived there first. At that time there were nearly two and a-half times as many British and non-Dutch as there were Boers, but during the few weeks before the outbreak of the war every train was crowded with British subjects who were endeavouring to escape from the approaching conflict, and so it was that the Uitlanders were scattered all over the world. It seems to me that when the war is over we ought not to forget the original object with which we undertook the negotiations which led to the war. If I may lay down anything I would-ask the House to establish the principle that they ought not to extend any representative institutions to the people of the Transvaal until such time as the population has regained its ordinary level. What could be more dangerous, ridiculous or futile, than to throw the responsible government of a ruined country on that remnant of the population, that particular section of the population, which is actively hostile to the fundamental institutions of the State? I think there ought to be no doubt and no difference of opinion on the point that between the firing of the last shot and the casting of the first vote there must be an appreciable interval that must be filled by a government of some kind or another.
410 I invite the House to consider which form of government—civil government or military government—is most likely to be conducive to the restoration or the banished prosperity of the country and most likely to encourage the return of the population now scattered far and wide. I understand that there are hon. Members who are in hopes that representative institutions may directly follow military government, but I think they cannot realise thoroughly how very irksome such military government is. I have the greatest respect for British officers, and when I hear them attacked, as some hon. Members have done in their speeches, it makes me very sorry, and very angry too. Although I regard British officers in the field of war, and in dealing with native races, as the best officers in the world, I do not believe that either their training or their habits of thought qualify them to exercise arbitrary authority over civil populations of European race. I have often myself been very much ashamed to see respectable old Boer farmers—the Boer is a curious combination of the squire and the peasant, and under the rough coat of the farmer there are very often to be found the instincts of the squire—I have been ashamed to see such men ordered about peremptorily by young subaltern officers, as if they were private soldiers. I do not hesitate to say that as long as you have anything like direct military government there will be no revival of trade, no return of the Uitlander population, no influx of immigrants from other parts of the world—nothing but despair and discontent on the part of the Boer popuation, and growing resentment on the part of our own British settlers. If there was a system of civil government on the other hand, which I think we have an absolute moral right to establish if only from the fact that this country through the Imperial Exchequer will have to provide the money—if you had a civil government under such an administrator as Sir Alfred Milner—[Cries of "Hear, hear," and "Oh"]—it is not for me to eulogise that distinguished administrator, I am sure he enjoys the confidence of the whole of the Conservative party, and there are a great many Members on the other side of the House 411 who do not find it convenient in their own minds to disregard Sir Alfred Milner's deliberate opinion on South African affairs. As soon as it is known that there is in the Transvaal a government under which property and liberty are secure, so soon as it is known that in these countries one can live freely and safely, there would be a rush of immigrants from all parts of the world to develop the country and to profit by the great revival of trade which usually follows war of all kinds. If I may judge by my own experience there are many Members of this House who have received letters from their constituents asking whether it was advisable to go out to South Africa. When this policy of immigration is well advanced we shall again have the great majority of the people of the Transvaal firmly attached and devoted to the Imperial connection, and when you can extend representative institutions to them you will find them reposing securely upon the broad basis of the consent of the governed, while the rights of the minority will be effectively protected and preserved by the tactful and judicious intervention of the Imperial authority. May I say that it was this prospect of a loyal and Anglicised Transvaal turning of the scale in our favour in South Africa, which must have been the original "good hope" from which the Cape has taken its name.
It is not for me to criticise the proposals which come from such a distinguished authority as the Leader of the Opposition, but I find it impossible not to say that in comparing these two alternative plans one with the other I must proclaim my strong preference for the course His Majesty's Government propose to adopt. I pass now from the question of the ultimate settlement of the two late Republics to the immediate necessities of the situation. What ought to be the present policy of the Government? I take it that there is a pretty general consensus of opinion in this House that it ought to be to make it easy and honourable for the Boers to surrender, and painful and perilous for them to continue in the field. Let the Government proceed on both those lines concurrently and at full speed. I sympathise very heartily with my hon. friend 412 the senior Member for Oldham, who, in a speech delivered last year, showed great anxiety that everything should be done to make the Boers understand exactly what terms were offered to them, and I earnestly hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary will leave nothing undone to bring home to those brave and unhappy men who are fighting in the field that whenever they are prepared to recognise that their small independence must be merged in the larger liberties of the British Empire, there will be a full guarantee for the security of their property and religion, an assurance of equal rights, a promise of representative institutions, and last of all, but not least of all, what the British Army would most readily accord to a brave and enduring foe—all the honours of war. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not allow himself to be discouraged by any rebuffs which his envoys may meet with, but will persevere in endeavouring to bring before these people the conditions on which at any moment they may obtain peace and the friendship of Great Britain. Of course, we can only promise, and it rests with the Boers whether they will accept our conditions. They may refuse the generous terms offered them, and stand or fall by their old cry, "Death or independence!"[Nationalist cheers.] I do not see anything to rejoice at in that prospect, because if it be so, the war will enter upon a very sad and gloomy phase. If the Boers remain deaf to the voice of reason, and blind to the hand of friendship, if they refuse all overtures and disdain all terms, then, while we cannot help admiring their determination and endurance, we can only hope that our own race, in the pursuit of what they feel to be a righteous cause, will show determination as strong and endurance as lasting. It is wonderful that hon. Members who form the Irish party should find it in their hearts to speak and act as they do in regard to a war in which so much has been accomplished by the courage, the sacrifices, and, above all, by the military capacity of Irishmen. There is a practical reason, which I trust hon. Members will not think it presumptuous in me to bring to their notice, is that they would be well advised cordially 413 to co-operate with His Majesty's Government in bringing the war to a speedy conclusion, because they must know that no Irish question or agitation can possibly take any hold on the imagination of the people of Great Britain so long as all our thoughts are with the soldiers who are fighting in South Africa.
What are the military measures we ought to take? I have no doubt that other opportunities will be presented to the House to discuss them, but so far as I have been able to understand the whispers I have heard in the air there are, on the whole, considerable signs of possible improvement in the South African situation. There are appearances that the Boers are weakening, and that the desperate and feverish efforts they have made so long cannot be indefinitely sustained. If that be so, now is the time for the Government and the Army to redouble their efforts. It is incumbent on Members like myself, who represent large working class constituencies, to bring home to the Government the fact that the country does not want to count the cost of the war until it is won. I think we all rejoiced to see the announcement in the papers that 30,000 more mounted men were being despatched to South Africa. I cannot help noticing with intense satisfaction that, not content with sending large numbers of men, the Secretary of State for War has found some excellent Indian officers, prominent among whom is Sir Bindon Blood, who will go out to South Africa and bring their knowledge of guerilla warfare on the Indian frontier to bear on the peculiar kind of warfare—I will not call it guerilla warfare—now going on in South Africa. I shall always indulge the hope that, great as these preparations are, they will not be all, and that some fine afternoon the Secretary of State for War will come down to the House with a brand-new scheme, not only for sending all the reinforcements necessary for keeping the Army up to a fixed standard of 250,000 men, in spite of the losses by battle and disease, but also for increasing it by a regular monthly quota of 2,000 or 3,000 men, so that the Boers will be compelled, with ever-diminishing resources, to make head against ever.
414 increasing difficulties, and will not only be exposed to the beating of the waves, but to the force of the rising tide.
Some hon. Members have seen fit, either in this place or elsewhere, to stigmatise this war as a war of greed. I regret that I feel bound to repudiate that pleasant suggestion. If there were persons who rejoiced in this war, and went out with hopes of excitement or the lust of conflict, they have had enough and more than enough to-day. If, as the hon. Member for Northampton has several times suggested, certain capitalists spent money in bringing on this war in the hope that it would increase the value of their mining properties, they know now that they made an uncommonly bad bargain. With the mass of the nation, with the whole people of the country, this war from beginning to end has only been a war of duty. They believe, and they have shown in the most remarkable manner that they believe, that His Majesty's Government and the Colonial Secretary have throughout been actuated by the same high and patriotic motives. They know that no other inspiration could sustain and animate the Regulars and Volunteers, who through all these hard months have had to bear the brunt of the public contention. They may indeed have to regret, as I myself have, the loss of a great many good friends in the war. We cannot help feeling sorry for many of the incidents of the war, but for all that I do not find it possible on reflection to accuse the general policy which led to the war, we have no cause to be ashamed of anything that has passed during the war, nor have we any right to be doleful or lugubrious. I think if any hon. Members are feeling unhappy about the state of affairs in South Africa I would recommend them a receipt from which I myself derived much exhilaration. Let them look to the other great dependencies and colonies of the British Empire and see what the effect of the war has been therel Whatever we may have lost in doubtfu. friends in Cape Colony we have gained ten times, or perhaps twenty times, over in Canada and Australia, where the people—down to the humblest farmer in the most distant provinces—have by their effective participation in the conflict been able to realise, as they never 415 could realise before, that they belong to the Empire, and that the Empire belongs to them. I cannot sit down without saying how very grateful I am for the kindness and patience with which the House has heard me, and which have been extended to me, I well know, not on my own account, but because of a certain splendid memory which many hon. Members still preserve.
§ SIR EGBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
I am sure the House is glad to recognise that the hon. Member who has just sat down possesses the same courage which so distinguished Lord Randolph Churchill dining his short and brilliant career in this House. I have listened with very great pleasure to the hon. Gentleman. There was much in what he said that I disagreed with, but I think the tone was different from what we some-times hear with reference to this most deplorable conflict. It has been a deplorable tragedy, for which this country is most bitterly suffering, and unless we can find some honourable means of putting an end to this sanguinary conflict, on terms consistent with the peace and welfare of this country. I am afraid that the sacrifices we have hitherto undergone will prove to be less than those we have still to undergo.
The hon. Gentleman said the Government should do all they can to make it easy for the Boers to surrender on fair and honourable terms. That is the feeling which I myself entertain, but I cannot help regretting that on more than one occasion those of us who have expressed that feeling from these benches received hard language from Gentlemen with whom the hon. Member is associated. There have been two stages in this war. The first stage ended with the capture of Bloemfontein and Pretoria. I believe that if at that time fair and honourable terms, consistent with the declared intention of the Government to maintain the British authority in these dominions, had been offered, the war would have ended almost after the capture of Bloemfontein. The Government made a demand for unconditional surrender, and the farm-burnings and other devastations were not, I believe, intended for the purpose, of cruelty, but have been undertaken through a mis- 416 taken military policy which I cannot help thinking has tended only to the exasperation of the inhabitants. From that time thousands more lives have been sacrificed, millions of money have been spent, Cape Colony is now largely under martial law, and we appear to be at this moment not so close to the end of the war as we were in June.
The question I wish to put to the House is this, is it not possible even now, by temperate counsels, to do something to abridge this horrible conflict? As the hon Gentleman said, the Boers have every inducement that men can have to make terms of peace, provided those terms are fair and honourable towards themselves. Their country has been largely ruined, and something like 60,000 of their women and children are in British custody. Is it not possible for the Government, without any loss of dignity, to do what the hon. Gentleman himself suggested, to communicate terms to the Boers such as men who are admittedly brave men, and who have carried out the war, as the hon. Gentleman said, in a spirit of generosity as well as of courage, might be entitled to accept after fighting against overwhelming odds? The object of the Government, as I understand it. is to include these two States in the British dominions, to give the best security for permanent peace, and, when that is achieved, to close the war as soon as possible. I imagine from all their speeches that those are the objects the Government have at heart.
Now, Sir, what are the methods—the only methods—which the Government declare they are prepared to adopt? They say that there must be unconditional surrender of the Boer Governments. In addition to that this other point has been mentioned, that there will be safety for the person and property of the Boers in the field. There never was a civilised war that ended by confiscation of property or by putting to death men simply because they were still in the field. The Government have said also that they will maintain the customs and laws of the country.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN, ) Birmingham, W.
We have not said that.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I daresay the hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken. Certainly, as far as possible, they will be; but I should not like the Government to be supposed to be committed to maintain the laws of the Transvaal exactly as they wore before the war. It would be absurd.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
I did not mean that. I was referring to the language used, I think, by Lord Kitchener last December—"substantially to maintain the laws and customs of the country." Of course, no one would think of substituting the English common law for he Roman-Dutch law. What is intended, I imagine, is to leave the customs and laws, as much as may be consistently with an alteration of Government, the same as hitherto. Then the Government said that self-government would be extended at some date hereafter, but no date can be even approximately fixed. The right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary in December last spoke of it as a comparatively early expectation. At the same time the Prime Minister said it might not take place for generations. I ask the House of Commons to consider what these terms really moan to the Boers now in the field. The farms of these men have been ruined, their country is, in parts, almost a desert, and all their stock is gone. In many cases these farms are mortgaged. The interest cannot have been paid in consequence of the war, and there is no prospect of it being paid within the next two or three or four years. If these men lay down their arms, they will find that their mortgagees will be entitled to foreclose upon them, and they can be deprived of their property without having time or opportunity of restoring their own rights, so that, instead of being masters, or farmers, or squires, as the hon. Gentleman opposite called them, they will either have to find some 418 new source of occupation or become labourers so far as white men are labourers in that district. There is another point which especially appeals to men of honour and of spirit. These Boers have fighting in their ranks a certain number of Colonial British subjects, and they have, from the commencement, always made it a point of honour that, if they surrendered, favourable or fair terms should be extended to their comrades in arms. Whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite or I may think of the conduct of those who have been British subjects, and have enjoyed full self-government, joining the enemies of their country, we cannot expect the Boers to take the same view of it.
Are all these consequences necessary for the honour of this country, or is it reasonable to expect, if the Boers have no assurance that they will be saved from consequences of that character, that they will come in and surrender? If you insist upon their becoming British subjects, there is no honour that forbids you saving them from ruin—and ruin it is which stares them in the face, or which they imagine stares them in the face, unless some such assurances are: given.
Is it necessary, from the point of view of security, that we should refuse any terms except those the Government have laid down? Suppose, as I think will probably be the case, the commandoes now in the field are, before long, dispersed and driven north. They will then become, unless you can get them to consent to British dominion, turbulent and desperate; men—the same kind of men as those who fought in Cuba and Bosnia, and other parts of the world too familiar for me to refer to. You are, at this moment, compiling for them a calendar of heroes and, as they think, of martyrs, and we all know how "martyrdom is the seed of the Church." If you drive these men to desperation by refusing them reasonable and fair terms, our children will feel the consequences, even if we do not feel them ourselves. I say that true honour and true security, so far as that is attainable in present circumstances, lies in giving these men something to hope for and something to live for. I say offer them an amnesty-a free and a full amnesty. Offer them assistance to repair their 419 faring. The cost of two weeks war would go a long way to effect this. (Jive them an undertaking that you will protect them from the gombeenman. Promise them local self-government. For my part, I do not deny that I should like more, but at all events promise them local self-government. It is asked, Would they accept it; would not such an offer be considered a sign of weakness? I can, of course, give no security that they will accept it; but this I will say, that these arguments were the arguments which lost us the American colonies. But, whether accepted or not, these methods would, at all events, go far to fix the loyalty of our white subjects in Cape Colony of Dutch blood, who are as much entitled to our consideration as our fellow-subjects of English blood. They have been in a difficult position, as everyone must feel, throughout this war. They are men who have ties of kindred all over the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and have the sympathies of race which we all share amongst ourselves. And if His Majesty's Government refuse everything except the bare terms of unconditional surrender—for I do not regard the accessories which I have mentioned as being anything of importance—you will go some way towards alienating the feelings of the Dutch at the Cape who are disposed to be loyal. It is of supreme importance that we should not, if we can help it, encourage the racial feeling that exists already, as we all know, in Cape Colony. We have practically suspended the constitution of (Jape Colony as a temporary measure during the war, but if we contrive to alienate permanently the Dutch population in Capo Colony we shall be confronted with a problem which has never yet been faced by this country—namely, how to deal with a self-governing colony under the British Crown in which the majority of the population are ill-disposed towards the British connection. This country 420 has already made enormous sacrifices. We do not know how much this war will cost in money; but to my mind money is the smallest part. We have sacrificed many brave men—many have lost their lives, more have been mutilated and their lives made miserable—and we have sacrificed the friendship of almost all the European Powers. I do not suppose anyone who watches foreign affairs will dispute that.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the Governments he may be accurate. I am referring to the population, which is bitterly hostile to us in consequence of this unhappy war. We have lost all that; and, though the country is perfectly prepared to make sacrifices for what is necessary, His Majesty's Government have no right to call for sacrifices from this country unless they are prepared to make peace as easy as possible for those who are our enemies in the field. The greatest master of human nature that ever lived left behind him, among many other priceless legacies, this sentence—When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.It is with a profound conviction of that truth that I appeal to the Government, although I fear it is hopeless for anyone sitting on this side of the House to do so, that while they are calling on our countrymen for these renewed sacrifices they should at least do all they can for the purpose of bringing this disastrous and lamentable war to an honourable conclusion, and that they cannot do without offering easy and honourable and fair terms to the enemy, whose, gallantry in the field has been attested by more than one Unionist speaker in this House.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not know why the hon. and learned Gentleman should have concluded his very moderate speech to the House by assuming that his appeal would meet with no approval, gain no satisfaction, from this side of the House. The object, as stated by him, is an object which we, equally with him, have in view. We desire to bring this war to an honourable conclusion; we are determined to avoid no steps which will conduce to that result. It is possible we may differ as to the methods; but certainly he docs not appeal to deaf ears when he speaks only of the principles on which our policy should be based.
The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman is the only speech delivered in the course of this debate which has called for any remark from my self. That speech is addressed, no doubt, to the policy of the Government. The hon. Gentleman adjures us to pursue a particular policy with regard to the future settlement after the war. But other speakers have devoted themselves chiefly to other points—points generally of military administration, which my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War will, no doubt, have an opportunity of replying to in the course of this debate. And let me remark, in passing, the strange case of the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. The hon. Member had on the Paper for some time an Amendment* which raised a most important issue—an issue of policy, not of administration—which suggests that the time has arrived when we should give* The following is the Amendment placed on the Paper by Mr. Lloyd-George:—"Humbly to represent to Your Majesty that, in the interests of the future peace of South Africa, the time has arrived when it should be made known to all resisting Your Majesty's forces that on the cessation of hostilities Your Majesty will be pleased, subject to the overlordship of the British Crown, to grant the security of equal rights to all the white inhabitants and protection and justice to the Native population, and to establish full local autonomy within the several areas of South Africa.422 assurances to those who are now resisting His Majesty's forces that at the cessation of hostilities we will not only grant security of equal rights to all the white inhabitants and protection and justice to the natives—a policy which we have already promised—but that we should establish full local autonomy within the several areas of South Africa. That is the gist of the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Carnarvon Boroughs; and the House has listened to a speech of invective from beginning to end of about an hour's duration, in which the hon. Member has never referred to his own Amendment. He has not moved his Amendment; he has devoted himself to prolonged abuse of British officers, British policy, British Ministers; and all this invective against British subjects, and all this praise of the enemies of Great Britain has been cheered enthusiastically by the Opposition. I shall return to this Amendment presently; but meanwhile I must correct an impression that prevails in the mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman, who seems to think that there was a period in the course of this war, when the troops reached Pretoria, when it might have been possible by the offer of terms to put an end to the war. I cannot conceive what effort of the imagination has led him to that belief. It is absolutely contradicted by all the information in our possession. I believe that there is not the slightest foundation for it. At that time, or shortly after that time, it is quite true that there was an interview between Commandant Botha, who represented only a portion of the forces of the Republics, and Sir Redvers Buller; but the hon. and learned Gentleman does not appear to be aware that in the course of that interview Commandant Botha said distinctly that he would not listen to any term of peace which did not grant the full independence of the Republics.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
If the hon. and learned Gentleman knows what was in Sir Redvers Buller's mind, he has the advantage of me.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I think it is a perfectly unjustifiable inference. I believe that there is not the slightest foundation for the theory that peace could have been had, after the capture of Pretoria, for anything less than the surrender on our part of all the objects of the war.
Then the hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that this splendid opportunity was lost by the statement of Lord Roberts that we required an unconditional surrender on the part of the Government. I have already explained that that statement of Lord Roberts referred to the demand for independence which, from the moment the war was declared, was a demand which we absolutely refused to consider again. It did not, of course, refer to the condition of individual members of the forces in opposition to us, and that that was quite clear to them is perfectly evident to anyone who will read the account of the interview; but in that interview Sir Redvers Buller stated to Botha that all members of the force would be permitted to retire with their small arms—not their guns—to their farms, and would he unmolested in the pursuit of their ordinary vocations.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
And the officers, certainly. As I have said, the only points in this debate with which I am qualified to deal are what may be 424 described as questions affecting the political side of the war, and of the settlement which we hope will some day be reached. Let me say that I have nothing to add to what I said on 2nd December in the House. It was endeavoured then to represent what I said as something new; that a new spirit prevailed; and in that way a sort of an attempt was made to represent the Government as vacillating and changing in its policy. There was absolutely no foundation for that. The truth was that what I said on 2nd December was only some amplification and explanation of what I had said in August of the same year. The policy of the Government has never varied. Before the invasion of British territory, we were ready to accept the most moderate concessions. We were ready to accept a franchise which, even under the most favourable circumstances, could not have operated with any effect for a good number of years. We were willing to accept any condition which gave us the hope of improvement in the position of the British subjects whose interests we were defending, provided that we could avoid this war. But the moment invasion took place, and the first shot was fired by the Boers, that moment we declared our policy that not one shred of the independence which the Boers had abused should ever again be conceded to them.
That was the policy stated by the Prime Minister in his answer to the representations which were made to him by the Presidents of the two Republics. That was the policy, is the policy, and will be the policy of His Majesty's Government to the end. Let there be no mistake about that. It is no use arguing with us on the subject of independence. That, as far as we are concerned, is a closed question. Raise it, if you like to raise it, not in speeches, but by Amendments. We are quite ready. We challenged you at the last election. You have never ceased to complain of the 425 challenge. We challenge you in the House of Commons. Bring forward your views. If you believe the annexation we have announced ought to be repudiated; if you think, with the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken, that we ought to restore the independence of these two Republics, in any form, it is for you to say so in a definite Amendment. It is for you to put the issue before the House of Commons and the country, and we are perfectly prepared to meet you. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we are all united—which I am afraid we are not—assuming we are all agreed that annexation cannot be undone, then the policy of the Government is and has been to establish equality between the two races from the moment of the annexation, so far as our power extends, and protection and justice for the native population, and to grant the fuller liberties involved in our definition of self-government as soon as that can be safely conceded. But I cannot conceal from myself that the Opposition must take a certain amount of responsibility for those of its members, a considerable number, who are in favour of retracing our steps, once more making a Majuba Convention, and restoring these colonies to the Boers. It is a remarkable thing that we have had six speakers in this debate on the South African question, and every speaker has been opposed to annexation. Where are the members of the Opposition in favour of annexation? We heard a great deal about them at the time of the General Election. It was thought to be a most ungenerous thing to say that a vote gained by the Opposition was a vote gained by the Boers. We have had six pro-Boers speaking in this debate, and have not had a single Liberal Imperialist.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
The right hon. Gentleman has no right to call Gentlemen 426 in this House pro-Boers. We are just as much lovers of our country as he is.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
No, indeed! Directly the hon. and learned Gentleman says the term is offensive I willingly withdraw it. Now, will he give me another one? Will he tell me what word he suggests as describing a Member of the House who thinks the Boers have been right from beginning to end, and who thinks the British Government and, of course, the country, have been wrong, who believes every scandalous libel against the honour of British soldiers and British officers, who repudiates with scorn every accusation against Boer generals or Boer statesmen?
§ SIR ROBERT REID
The right hon. Gentleman makes charges against Members of this House. When have I made accusations against the honour of British soldiers?
§ SIR ROBERT REID
In the heat of his argument will the right hon, Gentleman be good enough to remember that Gentlemen on this side of the House do not like being insulted in general language. If he has any observations to make about my conduct I will listen. If I am wrong I will withdraw. But I will require him to prove them.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
There is no occasion to offer any proof beyond 427 speeches made in this House during the present session and the preceding session. As I have said, the point of difference between the two sides of the House must not be taken as the question of annexation. What is the point of difference? I would wish—I say it most sincerely—it were possible we were unanimous. Who can doubt for a moment that if the House were unanimous in regard to the war, the hands of the Executive—not a party Government, but the Executive —of the nation would be enormously strengthened? A great deal is said about the effect of what goes on in this House on the war and feeling in South Africa. Of course it has an effect. I do not give that as a reason why hon. Gentlemen should repress their sentiments if they feel bound to relieve their consciences by denouncing their own countrymen. That is their responsibility. It is not for me to judge them. But they must always bear in mind what the effect is. They cannot deny that. They cannot deny that the effect of a divided House, and men of reputation and standing in this country holding such language as has been held by the Leader of the opposition and others, must be encouraging to the Boers in the field. Therefore, I say, I wish most heartily and sincerely that it were possible, even at this stage, to come to a general agreement. But if we cannot do that, the next best thing is to have a definite issue. Then, at all events, if we cannot see the country is unanimous, we can see, perhaps, in what proportion it is divided.
But. Sir, a definite issue is just the thing the Opposition appears at this moment most anxious to avoid. What is the issue, if it is not the question of annexation? Three of the speakers in this debate, one of the Members for Aberdeen, the senior Member for Northampton—[An HON. MEMBER: The junior Member]—Oh, I beg pardon—the junior Member for Northampton, are certainly 428 among those on the other side of the House who are opposed to annexation. The right hon. Member for South Aberdeen told us —he put it forward, I think rather as a counsel of perfection—that his own opinion was in favour of destroying their independence and treating them as protected States. I do not feel called upon to bring that to an issue, for it may fairly be said that it is a personal opinion not held by any large portion of the Opposition. But that is not the ease with regard to the curious evanescent Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. The Leader of the Opposition made a speech on the first night of this debate, and what was the effect of that speech? We were to offer terms to the enemy. And what terms? Immediate concession of self-government. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, no!"] Yes, it was indeed. I will examine it a little more closely. He criticised the Government, he attacked the Government, he insinuated that the Government were not doing everything they could to lay proper terms before the Boer commanders, but unless it is a question of immediately giving self-government there is no question between us. The Boers know perfectly well, they have been told again and again, directly and indirectly, and it has been repeatedly stated in this House, that at the earliest possible moment they will be granted self-government. There is no question between us if that is all the right hon. Gentleman meant. But no, he intended a great deal more, because I remember perfectly well his preaching to the country before the House met that there should be no interval between military administration and self-government. We say there must be an intermediate period when civil government will be established, but not full self-government.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I thought you said 429 Crown colony government. That is what I object to.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Either the right hon. Gentleman does not know what Grown colony government is or else he is quibbling about words. Will he be satisfied if I call it a civil government, with Ministers and a Governor appointed by His Majesty and a council to advise him? That is civil government, and it has this about it—that the Imperial Government has control in the last resort. That is what we mean. The issue between the two sides was clearly put by the hon. Member for Carnarvon, and that is what sets the Front Bench opposite into fits. That is a clear issue, and that is what they want to avoid. I should have liked to see the scene when the Leader of the Opposition went to the hon. Member for Carnarvon and said, "Oh, for Heaven's sake, do not let the cat out of the bag. Do not put a definite issue; who shall be beaten. Let us talk as much as we like, accuse the Government of anything you like; let us suggest everything, but do not bring matters to the test of a division in the House of Commons." I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to say if I have misrepresented the view of himself and others on the Front Bench opposite. The view is not put in definite form, but it is desirable that it should be put into definite form, otherwise we are liable to misunderstanding. In my opinion, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Carnarvon puts into terms in which it could be dealt with by the House everything that the right hon. Gentleman appeared to accept in the course of his speech, not, however, daring to challenge a vote thereon.
Now let us sec what this issue means—let us treat it seriously. We are to propose an armistice to the leaders of the Boers, who made war upon us and whom we have defeated. Very well. Having done that, we are to say, im- 430 mediately on the cessation of hostilities you are to be given self-government on the model of the Australian State. I think the right hon. Gentleman said that, and I say a more inept, more childish, more ridiculous and more impracticable proposal was never made. What docs the proposal amount to? After all the sacrifices in this war, we are to place in the hands of the Dutch population of the Transvaal from which the English population has already been expelled the power of stultifying everything we have done, and enable them under a constitution granted by us to frustrate every object for which the war was undertaken. And why is this proposal made to us? If we were willing once more to enter upon this sort of transaction with the Boers, a, transaction which failed so lamentably on a previous occasion, we shall not be able to say again, as we said then many of us, as we believed then, that it was a magnanimous policy and that it would be accepted as such. There is no magnanimity in the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. It is a proposal dictated by his fears. What did be tell us? He told us he was aghast at the present military situation and aghast at the consequences that might follow after the conclusion of the war, and it is upon the ground that our position is an impossible one that, after all these sacrifices we are to betray those who have trusted us, to betray the country which has given, us its support, to betray the colonies who have come to our assistance—that we are to do all this, and admit that we, this great Empire, must, in view of the dangerous position in which we find ourselves, surrender everything for which we have been fighting. To whom are we to make these proposals? There are five leaders in the field at the present moment. Are we to make them to all of them? And if one agrees and the others disagree, or four agree and one disagrees, what are we to do then? 431 The right hon. Gentleman accused us the, other day—he used some strong language, because, as he said, we had obliterated the regular Government when we annexed these States. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman suggests that we ought to have stopped at Bloemfontein or Pretoria, while the regular Government was reforming. At Pretoria we annexed the Transvaal; from that time there was no regular Government, and could not be. We are only dealing now with the leaders of separate bands in the field, and the terms we have to make are the terms, the conditions, which may be offered to them and to those they lead.
Then there is another-point. The right hon. Gentleman, followed by the hon. and learned Gentleman to-night says that we are in face of a position which is almost an impossible position. The right hon. Gentleman said that there must be: that it is inevitable that there should be, a majority of Dutchmen in South Africa. In the first place, I protest against the use of the word. It is not a question of Dutch. That is an attempt to recognise these so-called racial hostilities. It is a question of loyalist and disloyalist; it is a question of loyalist and rebel, and for my part I am very glad to believe that a very large proportion, I believe the majority, of the Dutch may be reckoned among the loyalist population. From those, therefore, we have nothing whatever to fear, and even if it were true that there would be a, racial majority of Dutch in South Africa, so long as the majority of the Dutch or a large proportion of the Dutch are loyal to the; British Grown we should have no ground whatever for being alarmed. But, alter all, I do not believe that there will be a majority, and I am not by any means certain that there was a majority before the war. Returns are so imperfect that it is impossible to speak with absolute certainty. But if the riches of the Transvaal are anything like what 432 has been generally suggested, what has been accepted by the other side whenever we talk about the power of taxing them, if the resources of the, country are anything like what is, I believe, universally conceded, then with the development of the country which will follow the conclusion of the war, I believe that the proportion of the subjects of British birth and origin will be very largely in excess of those of any other nationality.
My hon. friend the Member for Oldham, in his very admirable speech, a speech which I am sure that those who were friends and intimates of his father will have welcomed with the utmost satisfaction in the hope that we may see the father repeated in the son—my hon. friend in that speech called attention to a practical matter which appears to have escaped the attention altogether of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. That is, that at the present time, owing to the action of the Boers, who, if we are to use the language of the Member for Carnarvon, I should have to say with great brutality expelled Englishmen, English women, English children, sent them away in uncovered trucks and submitted them to every insult and outrage—if we are to take no account of them, then the franchise and the control of the country if given to the Boers would be given to a party which by its own misdeeds in this matter misrepresents its former population, two-thirds at least of which were of a different opinion. Surely it is only reasonable to suppose, before we grant full government, that the country must be restored to something like its normal condition, and that its old inhabitants, those who contributed to its prosperity, and on whose energy and enterprise its future depends, should have returned to their homes and should be able to take part in the political future of the country. If that is the issue which the 433 hon. Member for Carnarvon puts down on the Paper, but which he refuses to carry to a vote—if that is the issue between us—all I can say is that we refuse to have anything to do with the policy suggested. We are quite ready to establish the civil government of which I have spoken, we are ready to maintain equality, we are ready to secure justice to all the inhabitants of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, but we are not prepared to put into their hands the whole control of the administration and civil government until we know it will be safe to do so.
It is said that our views have not been communicated to the leaders of the Boers, and that a proclamation which I promised I would endeavour to have circulated has not yet been so distributed. I wish to say that, so far as the leaders are concerned, I am convinced they know perfectly well what terms we are willing to offer. There is no excuse on their part. It is possible that many of their followers, being ignorant people—when they come to us as prisoners we find they have been deceived as to what is going on—do not know the terms we are willing to offer. We have by various means endeavoured to get to the rank and file a knowledge of the terms which are being offered, and we know what the result has been. The emissaries who have been sent —emissaries not sent by us, but permitted by us to go, who volunteered themselves in what they believed to be the interests of their countrymen, to make these representations—these emissaries have been apparently, as far as our information goes, brutally ill-used, tortured before execution, shot as spies after having been flogged. And that action on the part of the Boers finds defenders among those Members of the House who cannot find invective too strong in which to attack British soldiers and British officers. All I can say is that, as far as I am concerned, I have been in constant com- 434 munication with Sir Alfred Milner, and through him Lord Kitchener, as to the possibility of any additional communication being made to these forces. The present moment would seem to be hardly suitable for such a purpose, but I ask them to keep me informed as to any possible opportunity for further representations.
In view of the hour I cannot attempt to say more. I will only say, in conclusion, that we are not discussing to-night, although several Gentlemen have tried to introduce the point, the original justice of the war. I cannot understand how any person who approaches this matter with an unprejudiced mind can fail to see, in view of all the information which is now in our possession, that this struggle bad to come. The real issue behind all the negotiations, behind everything else, was the determination of the Boers to secure supremacy in South Africa; and all their preparations were made for it. That if we had allowed matters to go much further our difficulties would have enormously increased is certainly my conscientious conviction. I am also convinced that, now that we are in the war, in spite of the fact, which we regretfully acknowledge, that the sacrifices which have been called for are greater than we expected, and that the war has lasted longer than anyone anticipated, the country is of the same mind in which it has always been—that it will grudge no sacrifice which is necessary to carry the war to a successful conclusion, and that it will forgive no Government and no party which attempts to stultify the objects with which the war has been undertaken.
§ Debate adjourned till to-morrow.
§ House adjourned at Twelve of the clock.