§ * MR. URE (Linlithgowshire)
said that the House and the country were surprised to learn that the negotiations for peace between General Botha and Lord Kitchener had come to nothing, and that the much-looked-for cessation of hostilities had not been brought about. On the 22nd of February Lord Kitchener received a letter from General Botha intimating his desire to treat for peace, and that letter was written after consultation between General Botha and his fellow generals, on the distinct understanding that the question of the independence of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony lay outside the region of discussion. Later on a prolonged interview took place between General Botha and Lord Kitchener at Middelburg, and at that interview Lord Kitchener said that General Botha showed good feeling and seemed very anxious to bring about peace, ten different topics being discussed. On the 6th of March Lord Kitchener was in possession of the Government's proposals, and on the afternoon of the 7th of March the letter from the Government was sent by special messenger to General Botha. This was followed by nine days' silence. At the end of that time there came a most startling letter from the Boer general, in which he intimated to Lord Kitchener that, after what had passed between them he should refuse to recommend for consideration the terms offered by the British Government. General Botha did not say that these terms had been discussed and afterwards refused; he stated no objection of any kind to them, but simply refused to submit them for consideration. That seemed to indicate that something had passed between the two generals on the 28th of February which must have made it plain to Lord Kitchener that the proposals of the British Government could not possibly have been accepted. What that something was the Papers 96 did not disclose, and he thought it was the general feeling of the House that the time had come when the Government, without any detriment to the public service, might make a full and frank disclosure of all they knew on the subject.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that I have again and again said we have disclosed to the House all we know. There is nothing beyond what is in these Papers.
§ * MR. URE
said if that was the case he thought the right hon. Gentleman would agree that it was right they should turn to the proposals themselves in order that they might discover, if possible, where the mystery was. In turning to the proposals of the Government, he wished to say that he assumed that General Botha's desire for peace was honest and sincere. If his assumption was wrong, then there, was no mystery to reveal. It appeared to him that of the ten topics discussed on the 28th of February the treatment by His Majesty's Government of seven afforded no sort of ground or reason for the curt refusal on the part of General Botha even to entertain the proposals. His Majesty's Government offered the assurance that at the end of the war there would be no special war tax put upon the Boer farmers, and that assistance would be readily granted to those who were willing to take the Oath of allegiance to the King. No difficulty was raised about the return of the Boer prisoners from St. Helena and Ceylon. With regard to the Kaffir question, often burning and troublesome, all that General Botha seemed to be anxious about was that the Kaffirs should not have the franchise until representative government was conceded to the two colonies, and the British Government readily agreed to that. His Majesty's Government was prepared to grant complete amnesty for all bona fide acts of war, 97 and it was only in the case of colonials who desired to return to Natal or Cape Colony that the Government proposed that they should be relegated to the treason law of their own country. Lord Kitchener proposed that in the case of the colonials a recommendation should be made merely to disfranchise them; but he could not believe that an alteration of that kind was the rock on which these peace overtures were wrecked.
He turned now to the remaining three topics discussed, which he admitted stood in a wholly different position from those to which he had hitherto adverted. There was, in the first place, the question of liability for the debts of the two republics. That was a topic on which Lord Kitchener told them that General Botha laid special stress. Botha's point was intelligible enough. He said that if they were taking over the assets of the two republics, why should they not also take over their legal debts? He referred to the notes, amounting to something less than £1,000,000 sterling, issued by the Boers during the campaign. He would not argue the legal point, because this seemed to him to be a question of policy, and of policy only. The proposal seemed to have commended itself to Lord Kitchener, but His Majesty's Government characterised the seemingly modest proposal suggested in his Lordship's draft letter as highly dangerous. His Majesty's Government seemed to suggest that there might be some feeling engendered on the part of the loyalists if money was paid to those who had assisted and supplied the enemy. All he wished to say was that concessions of this kind, if freely granted, would only expose them to the charge of undue generosity, and would not afford a foothold for further agitation. When they came to examine this closely they would find that it was not a concession at all, but a thing which in the end would turn out to their own benefit. There was no element of peril in it, and that was the reason why Lord Kitchener and Sir Alfred Milner were ready to grant this concession as a ready means of settlement.
Then came, in the second place, the proposal to give assistance to the Boer farmers who had suffered loss during the course of the war. It was impossible to shut their eyes to the fact 98 that this was one of the most important topics discussed at the conference between Lord Kitchener and General Botha. But, though Lord Kitchener freely admitted that they should give some assistance, the Government said this proposal too was dangerous, and they made what, in his judgment, was a very vital and fatal change in the suggestions of the men on the spot, and one which, as he gathered, was deeply regretted by both Lord Kitchener and Sir Alfred Milner. They thought that the introduction of the words "by loan" would weaken the effect of the concession. The men on the spot entertained a strong objection to the introduction of those words. Lord Kitchener's reason for this was that in view of the suspicious nature of the Boers he thought this alteration would be regarded as an attempt to get the farmers into the clutches of the Government. Was there any hon. Member present who did not feel the force of that remark? The objection of the Government to this proposal seemed to be that they would he favouring enemies as against friends. He had every sympathy with the position of the loyalists, who, under very trying circumstances, had been true to the British connection, and they were entitled to every consideration and respect. He thought, however, that the House would be disposed to agree with the men on the spot, who were well able to judge of the circumstances under which they were negotiating. On the other hand, he should have thought that the interests of the loyalists were very safe in the hands of Sir Alfred Milner, because he did not think that the very worst enemy of that distinguished and capable public servant would suggest that he was at all likely to ride roughshod over the loyalists, or brush aside their feelings and sentiments.
He would now turn to the last topic discussed at the Middelburg Conference—he alluded to the question of the future government of the two colonies. The Conference took place on the express understanding that the question of independence was to remain outside the negotiations altogether, and the Conference took place after General Botha had communicated with his fellow generals. Let the House consider the contrast between the proposals 99 of Lord Kitchener, on the one hand, and those of the Government, on the other, in order to see if they could discover the real cause of the failure of the negotiations. Lord Kitchener proposed that as soon as the surrender was complete military law should come to an end and that civil administration should take its place. The Government, on the other hand, proposed that as soon as practicable military administration—not military law—should cease that civil government in the form of Crown Colony government should take its place. He observed that in the draft letter reference to Crown Colony government was studiously kept out. Crown Colony government had a somewhat evil reputation in South Africa, which was not confined exclusively to the men of the Dutch race, but it was largely shared by many of those who were loyal to the British connection. He quite appreciated the reason given by the Government that it might be necessary afterwards to maintain military law, but surely the Governor appointed would be entitled to claim that at his own discretion. He should have placed in the very front the proposal that military administration should cease, and not military law. But there is a still much more important proposal. Lord Kitchener proposed that the new Government should consist of a Governor and a nominated Executive, "with or without" an advisory elected Assembly. That phrase was a little vague, and wanted explanation, but he thought, at all events, it would open up a hope that—and he thought it would become a certainty—from the outset there would be an element of representative government, through which they would be able to ascertain the wishes and desires of those who were to be governed. That door was shut at once by the alteration proposed by His Majesty's Government—namely, that the new Government should consist of a Governor, assisted by a nominated Executive and by a nominated advisory council, consisting of officials and some non-officials, who should be nominated by the Crown. He thought that was a most unfortunate change, for it at once precluded all hope of the representative element being present. He saw no danger whatever in allowing 100 this elected element to remain. As soon as circumstances permitted free representative government should be eon-ceded to the two colonies, but what His Majesty's Government put forward was that as soon as circumstances permitted a representative element should be introduced, and ultimately free representative government probably would be conceded. Those changes were made by the Government in the interests of precision and exact phraseology. He was bound to say that he could not congratulate the Government upon the phraseology employed. Who knew what a "representative element" meant? and where in the English language could they fin a word more vague and shadowy than "ultimately"? In their recent debate upon the terms of settlement he found it was often said that the time had come to substitute the statesman for the soldier. When he read those proposals he was inclined to think that that statement ought to be reversed. He preferred very much the proposals of Lord Kitchener to those which had been framed by the Government. He could scarcely conceive that such changes would have been made in phraseology which had been carefully framed by Lord Kitchener unless the Government attached importance to the change.
He was sure that the House would welcome from the Government some further explanation in regard to the reasons for making such important changes in Lord Kitchener's despatch. It was said that General Botha entertained a strong objection to Sir Alfred Milner, but if that had been the cause; of the failure of the negotiations it was, inconceivable that it should not have found a place in the Papers laid before the House. He had failed to discover in the detailed statement of what had taken place at the Middelburg Conference the smallest hint or suggestion that there was anything in the personality of the High Commissioner to prevent the two generals from coming to terms. On the contrary, he found in every important particular in which the Government differed from Lord Kitchener Sir A. Milner was on the side of Lord Kitchener and against the Government. What was the reason why the statement was made by the right hon. the Colonial 101 Secretary on Saturday last?* He was wholly at a loss to comprehend what it could be. Since the ill-starred day of the publication of the Spion Kop despatches no more mischievous thing had been done by the Government than that statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He was told that the same plea would be put forward for making that statement as for the publication of the Spion Kop despatches—it was to feed the public appetite. But he thought they would all be in a chronic state of indigestion if that were the fare on which the Government proposed to nourish them.
He was desirous that there should be no mistake whatever in regard to his views in this matter. He saw in the early part of the telegram of 1st March sent by Lord Kitchener to the right hon. gentleman the Secretary of State for War that at the outset of the discussions General Botha expressed a doubt as to whether he could bring about peace without independence. If there were any truth in that, if that doubt were realised, he, for his part, regretfully admitted that the campaign must be fought to the bitter end. Lord Kitchener added that at the beginning of the conference General Botha strove hard for some sort of independence, and General Kitchener at once refused to discuss the subject, and instantly dropped it. Here Lord Kitchener was unquestionably right. A claim for complete independence he thoroughly understood although he disagreed with it; a claim for all the rights and privileges of a self-governing British colony he also comprehended, and thoroughly agreed with it; but a claim for some sort of independence, or a modified form of independence, for some stunted thing, some debased image of the genuine article, he could not comprehend. He did not believe there was any man in that House who was honestly anxious for a lasting and enduring peace in South Africa who could for a moment think of suggesting it. Why, to give the Boers a modified form of independence would be to give them a stone wherewith to break their own heads, and to lay up a store of disaffection. Current criticism admitted that it was* See Preceding volume, p. 991.102 here where was to be found the true secret of the failure of the negotiations. He could scarcely think so, because when General Botha entered into these negotiations he agreed—and that after consultation with his fellow-generals—to leave the question of independence outside; and he (the hon. Member) could not see why General Botha should have taken the extreme course of refusing absolutely to consider the proposals of the British Government merely because some modified form of independence was not offered. As to the proposals of the Government as a whole, he made no hostile attack on them. He had offered his criticism on the points which he thought were open to challenge; but that criticism had gone no further than the criticism of the civilian and the soldier on the spot who understood the circumstances under which they were negotiating. He would not utter a single word suggesting that the proposals as a whole were not fair and generous, or that would give His Majesty's Government any excuse for saying that Members on that side of the House were unreasonable persons; nor would he give the Government any excuse for receding from the position they had taken up, and falling back into the arms of the extremists, who would be only too ready to say to the Government, "You have already gone too far; your generosity has been unappreciated; never again." On the contrary, he would infinitely rather that the Government, if they did not adhere to their present position, should go to the length to which Lord Kitchener went. However, he did not suggest for a moment that they should reopen the negotiations. That was out of the question, after the curt refusal of General Botha even to consider the terms proposed. The overtures must come from the Boers; and if they did come he hoped that His Majesty's Government would stand firm in the position they had taken up, would go one short step further, and be prepared to agree to the terms which Lord Kitchener had suggested. He agreed with the statement in the papers, that never in the history of the world had such generous and fair terms been offered by the victors to the vanquished. [Cries 103 of "Oh, oh!" from the Irish Benches.] He defied any student of history to contradict that.
§ * MR. URE
said that, at all events, it was his opinion that the terms offered were fair and generous. They should, however, never forget that the case they had in hand was unique, and out of the common; for the belligerents in arms against us in the field were all men who might some day come to be subjects of His Majesty; the war-stricken country whose homesteads they were asked to restore was at present part of His Majesty's dominions; and the humble creditors whose claims we were asked to pay would, they hoped, soon pass under the benign sway of the British Crown. Under these circumstances they could afford to be generous. He thought the country might rest assured that the claims of the loyalists were perfectly safe when they had Sir A. Milnor to look after them; and the Government could afford, with Lord Kitchener at their back, to treat with the contempt they deserved the braggadocios who shouted that weakness and cowardice were the proper names for the lenity and magnanimity which the Government might display.
§ MR. STROYAN (Perthshire, W.)
said that if he asked the indulgence of the House for a brief space it was based on the fact that he had had a connection for more than twenty years with South Africa, and that fifteen of these years were spent in that country. He was a South African colonist, in the proper sense of the term, before gold was discovered on the Rand, and before Britons were termed Uitlanders in the land which owed everything to their energy and enterprise. Although he had not been connected actively in business with South Africa for some years past, he had still investments in that country, and was determined to hold these investments. He went further, and said that it was his intention that his children should do something towards the development of that most important portion of His Majesty's dominions. He felt that he 104 voiced the views of every loyal South African when he said that the terms offered by Lord Kitchener to General Botha were generous in the extreme. He felt he spoke for every loyal South African when he said that he was heartily glad that those generous terms were offered; for it showed to the world, and to the Boers themselves, the good feelings entertained towards them by the people of this country. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Boer and Briton must live together in the future and work side by side for the prosperity of their common country. He was convinced, however, that the Government had gone as far in the direction of generosity as it would be safe to go. To offer better terms would simply mean to risk being seriously misunderstood by friend and foe alike. The first essential of a permanent settlement was that the terms should, besides being generous to the vanquished, be just and fair to our own loyal colonists; and, above all, it was essential that the terms should be dignified and incapable of being misunderstood. He entirely agreed with His Majesty's Government in the substitution of the term "assistance by way of loan" for the more vague promise of assistance contained in Lord Kitchener's proposed letter. Statesmen, in matters like this, must come to the assistance of the great soldier. They must be precise, if they would avoid misunderstanding. The alteration was, in his opinion, absolutely necessary. No-amount of generosity would have satisfied the Boers or would have been accepted by them as an adequate fulfilment of that undertaking. They would have misunderstood it. Besides, free gifts of money would have been misrepresented, and would have been looked upon as the purchase-price of peace. Peace under such conditions we could not have, and peace under such conditions would not have been lasting. He had, personally, implicit confidence in Sir A. Milner. He had watched his career since that distinguished Statesman first became connected with South Africa. For the first time, however, he could not see eye to eye with him. He could not agree with him in his preference of Lord Kitchener's proposals to those cabled by His Majesty's Government. They were told that General Botha 105 objected to Sir A. Milner. He could quite believe that, and he thought the House would agree with him that that was quite natural. He fancied that the great majority of the enemies of this country in South Africa, whether they were open or secret enemies, objected to Sir A. Milner. He had no doubt that these men equally objected to Lord Kitchener, General French, and a number of others of the most successful of our generals, and, that being so, they fell back on the rebel cries of abuse. Sir Alfred Milner's ability and fitness for the difficult and trying position to which he had been appointed had been amply demonstrated and conclusively proved by the fact that every known rebel and disloyal subject throughout South Africa objected to him and desired his recall, whilst, on the other hand, he had the confidence of the loyalists and the British to an extent unprecedented in the case of any official in South Africa, and to stultify or diminish his influence there would be a blow to British prestige. The interests of British supremacy and the Empire itself made his presence in the country necessary for the time being at least. In any terms of peace we must be just to our friends as well as generous to our enemies. He implored the Government not to lay themselves open to the reproach, which at the conclusion of the last Boer war was made with a considerable amount of justice, that "loyalty in South Africa does not pay." The much-abused British in South Africa were, after all, the same people as ourselves—willing, perhaps, to undergo more hardships and exercise more self-denial than, happily, we were called upon to in an old country like England—and many of them had been under arms for the Empire. It had been suggested that these men might be vindictive; brave men wore never vindictive. They had given Great Britain troop after troop; they gave the Imperial Light Horse, that magnificent body of men who fought shoulder to shoulder with the Gordons and rode in the van to the relief of Mafeking. Those who systematically and indiscriminately endeavoured to belittle and besmirch such a community were no friends of that closer union which was binding the colonies to the mother country, of which we bad heard so much 106 in recent years—that closer union which had stood the British Empire in such good stead during the present crisis, and which we should have to preserve if Great Britain was to last.
§ MR. ROBSON (South Shields)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has devoted his time to uttering observations with which everyone will agree. I should like to draw attention to one point, which is indeed a matter of more general interest than the matter under discussion, but which will not, I hope, be overlooked, because it has great bearing upon it—that is, the policy of publishing despatches in which the local advisers of a Minister set forth their own views and opinions by way of assisting the Minister to form his judgment. I have little doubt that there are many cases where such a course might be convenient, but this particular case is one where it must be objectionable, and, I think, highly dangerous. I am not speaking of the negotiations between this country and the Boers; that is totally different to the matter of which I am now speaking. I am referring to the confidential difference of opinion between a Minister and his advisers. That is quite different to the information which the House is so eager to get. Knowing all that passes, the responsibility of the Colonial Secretary in a matter like this is something more than the average responsibility which Ministers are so fond of referring to. He is the actual person and the only person responsible for these negotiations, and the only person who ought to receive praise or blame, according to the view taken of them It is for him to answer, and I submit that he has no right—that a Minister has no right—to bring his confidential advisers within the range of parliamentary criticism at all. It is for him to deal with them and for Parliament to deal with him. But it is not only from the point of view of Ministerial responsibility that I invite attention to this matter; there are other points. It is impolitic to show to our enemies that there are differences of opinion between the Colonial Secretary and his advisers with regard to the terms of peace, especially when those terms had been rejected, and it is highly inexpedient that when this matter comes up again our enemies 107 should be able to speculate on the disposition of this or that adviser in their favour with respect to the terms. Whatever terms we present to them should carry with them the weight of absolutely undivided counsel. Now, I do not think that the terms we shall hereafter present to them will carry the weight of undivided counsels, but there are other objections more grave than that. My hon. friend has pointed out the difference between the terms suggested by Lord Kitchener and those suggested by Sir A. Milner. Lord Kitchener did not lay the same stress on political difficulties that Sir A. Milner felt. Sir Alfred Milner felt it his duty to point out that the Cape rebels in the Transvaal ought not to be treated better than the Cape rebels in the Cape; that was certainly a very reasonable suggestion, but was it right that Sir A. Milner's advice should be disclosed so that he has put upon him the opprobrium, such as it is; of attempting to exact worse terms than were suggested by the military authorities? That cannot fail to work against him in his ministerial authority. Was it wise to hold out to the Boers the fact that it is the military authority who is most eager to give them the best terms? Will not their suggestion be that it is not the Minister in England, or even his local adviser in South Africa, but the military authorities, who, recognising the difficulties of the campaign, are most anxious to offer the best terms? I am surprised that the Government should utter such things in the House.
Now I come to the terms themselves, and I frankly admit not only that the terms are generous, but that the alterations and additions made in the terms add to their clearness and precision and to their freedom from minute controversy afterwards, and on the whole they are sound and substantial improvements on the terms suggested. With regard to the alterations, I cannot understand them coming into controversy at all. The stipulation made by the Colonial Secretary that these terms should be made conditional on the cessation of hostilities was reasonable enough, because it would not do to bring back 18,000 or 20,000 men and still find yourself fighting a hostile community; that, in my opinion, was a most reasonable stipulation. My hon. friend, by way of 108 emphasising his objection to these terms, laid great stress on the substitution of the word "loan" for the word "gift," and I should have been disposed to agree with him if I had thought that the alteration of those words had caused the rejection of peace. It was the terms as a whole that were rejected. If Botha, instead of rejecting the terms, had said that the terms were acceptable so far, but that he would rather have the word "gift" inserted instead of "loan," I do not think anybody would have stood in the way. That alteration was not of such a degree of importance as to induce us to suppose that it caused the rejection of the terms. The principal point connected with these proposals and their rejection is the introduction of the representative element. The introduction of representative government in the Transvaal seems to have produced a good deal of confusion of thought among many persons. Some have suggested that representative government in its fullest sense ought to be conferred upon the Boers immediately after the cessation of hostilities. I do not know whether that view is put forward by anyone now. [SEVERAL HON. MEMBERS: Yes, it is.] Then it appears that there are still some persons who hold the extraordinary view that representative government should be conferred upon this half-depopulated country immediately on the cessation of the war, and there are certainly some other Members who go extremely near it. The substitute for it is that the country should have representative government on the restoration of order. Well, that is a more elastic formula, and I do not know whether I could not get my own suggestion under cover of it if stretched far enough. It is not by any means a safe formula. Surely hon. Members, on reflection, will see that in the interest of peace there must be a resettlement of the country before you can have anything like a fair system of representative government. The-thousands of legal inhabitants of the Transvaal, who have been expelled because they are of British race, must be resettled in the country before you can give representative government to the Boers. It is not enough to talk of the cessation of hostilities. It is not enough to talk of the restoration of order. The fact is that those who desire representative 109 government without the resettlement of the country ignore the fact which, I think, has been at the root of their mistaken attitude throughout this controversy. They ignore the fact that, although the Boers conquered the Transvaal, their conquest was not complete. It was subject to the right of people of British race to settle, and live and labour in that country. The British Empire had a proprietary right in the Transvaal at all times under the Convention. The Briton was in the Transvaal by the same right as the Boer, and now the Boer has (spelled him, although his race represented a large proportion—some people say a majority—of the population. Are you going to confer representative government before he has returned? [An HON. MEMBER: "Nobody wants it."] I am very glad to hear that, because some people have wanted it. I cannot help observing from my own experience of this controversy that very often, because some little fault is found with England, it is always held to absolve the Boer. I think we should look at both sides of the question, and I hold it to be an unreasonable demand, the Boer having expelled so great a proportion of the population, that he should expect or desire anything like full representative government until there has been a reasonable settlement of the country. Personally I should prefer that the Government should make an estimate—by no means an impossible thing to do—of the time in which that resettlement may reasonably be expected, and having fixed that period, then by declaration in this House—although I would not make it part of the terms of peace—announce the intention of His Majesty's Government to give full representative government at that period, if in their discretion they may think it right, provided, of course, that hostilities shall have ceased, and that the country shall have resumed its normal industrial conditions. It should be open to them, if that condition is not fulfilled, to extend the period, and equally open to them to curtail the period if they thought it advisable to do so. The fixing of a certain period would be a guide to them, and an aid to any Government holding power in England at the time. I dare say it will be said that that is practically what the Government are doing 110 now, and that it is the discretion they have under the existing terms of peace. That is quite true, but nobody can predict what the temper of the Government a few years hence may be, but I hope the people of this country will see to it that representative government is not delayed.
I have dwelt thus long upon the question of full representative government because the same reasons apply to, and have a direct bearing upon, the agreement in regard to the Advisory Council. No doubt an advisory council looks very tempting, but again you have to remember that your elective Advisory Council would represent only a small portion of the population. It would have this disadvantage. The Boers would, of course, first of all return to the country and be in a great majority, and this would be a source of possible danger and disturbance. We know perfectly well what would happen if their representative government were so full as to give them full legislative powers. We should undoubtedly have a repetition of the franchise and registration difficulties which we have already dealt with. Such a thing would be practically unconditional surrender to the Boers. An Advisory Council, while it would not have, so great an evil effect as that, would, nevertheless have an evil effect. If they sought to take advantage of their position by suggestions unfair to the still more or less absentee Uitlander population, they would be overruled by the executive authority. It is better to fix a provisional period, to let that provisional period be frankly stated, and not pretend it is anything else; and then, as soon as possible, to introduce the representative government which is shared by every white race under the British flag. We cannot; carry on our Imperial system as a great empire except upon the basis of local self-government. From their experience of the Cape Government the Boers know as well as we do that an essential part of our Imperial system is representative government in some form or other, and that, generally according to the distance from England, some extremely ample form is always granted, and the more they appreciate that fact the less difficulty we will have. I express satisfaction that His Majesty's Government are desirous of meeting the Boers on terms so fair. 111 There is, in my opinion, no reason to complain of the way in which they have treated the Boers or loyalists in regard to these negotiations.
§ MR. ELLIOT (Durham)
I wish to say a few words on the general position in which we find ourselves—that is, on the precise terms proposed in the negotiations. We talk, and we have a right to talk, of being generous in this matter. After all, generosity is the best policy for ourselves. I don't know that we can spend too much time in praising ourselves. After a sanguinary tussle with a brave enemy we are still able to go into negotiations with moderate minds, with just intentions, with a desire, having regard to our own interests, to deal fairly and generously if we can with our enemy. There is talk about representative institutions and so forth, as to the when, the where, and the how, they shall be introduced: hut, after all, the main thing which lies at the bottom of all is this, that neither in one way nor another shall we be able to make peace and quiet in South Africa until there is some sort of drawing together between the two races. (Opposition cheers.) Hon. Gentlemen cheer, and will not go any further. If by advancing further we shall be repaid a hundredfold in the good temper with which we are met, then it is foolish to say, in a spirit of defiance, that nothing will induce us to advance beyond these terms. It is a consolation, I should imagine, to every one that, notwithstanding the figure which the warlike operations have cost the country, General Botha and Lord Kitchener can come together. They seem, as far as we can judge from the only account that has come before us, to have been able to talk together almost like good friends in regard to the common object they have in view. Surely if these men, who have been doing their best to take each other's lives by their forces, are able to meet in that way, it is not for us at home to take another course? We will be generous, if you will, in order that we may pull together the two races in South Africa. I wish to say one word upon a rather delicate subject—the subject of Sir Alfred Milner. I am perfectly certain, from my personal 112 acquaintance and friendship with him, that he has been actuated throughout by the highest principles and the desire to serve the truest and best interests of his country. It would be absurd to recall Sir Alfred Milner. We must look at both sides—the British on the one side and the Africander section on the other—and do our best to steer a medium course, because in that course alone all safety lies. Sir Alfred Milner has undergone great trials since he went out to South Africa. Does any man really suppose in his heart that as time goes on Sir Alfred Milner will be the best able to pull together the two jarring races? I doubt it. I think the time will come—and the Government must know it as well as other people—for everything to settle down, whatever may be the rights and wrongs of the question. When the time comes for everything to settle down it is inevitable that things will be laid to his charge, and he will be in a position, no matter how great his abilities or how good his intentions, where he will not be able to do full justice to a difficult situation. [Cries of "No."] I do not say one word against Sir Alfred Milner but I venture to say that these are words of common sense. People may remember, after all, that the man who has been responsible for conquest will not be the best man to elicit the loyal feelings and the fraternal sentiments. If I may say so, of those who are opposed to him. These are disagreeable words for an Englishman to have to use. We have not been accustomed, and I hope it will be a long time in future before the English House of Commons has to contemplate it, to the making of British subjects against their will. It is a disagreeable task we have undertaken. Since the war began I have felt this, and I have stated it again and again. Since the war began it became, in my judgment, our absolute duty to conquer these two Republics. I do not wish to go back on the old story on this occasion. We have before tried the system of independent Republics, and it broke down in disaster and disgrace. If we had set up the Republics again their functions would have been differently interpreted by the two sides. The Republics would have claimed all 113 the rights of independence in the neighbourhood of a British colony where a large portion of the population are in close relationship to the people of the Republics. I think it would not have been a wise or politic thing. I think the war put an end to that state of things, and we have to find a solution in another way. I must say that, when we talk of the generous terms we are offering, we should try to look a little to the other side of the question. We are offering to pay debts, to pay sums to those who have been spending money against us. We have been offering to build the farms of those who have recently been engaged in the war. But what are we getting from General Botha? He is giving away what is of supreme importance—he is giving up the cause for which throughout a year and a half he has fought with great courage and vigour. I say, beyond all dispute, he is giving up that cause for which thousands of his friends and relations have sacrificed their lives. If he gives in he has to sacrifice all that. I say he is bound to do it for his own well-being, and he will best consult, no doubt, the interests of his country if he does so give way, but do not let us say as Englishmen that he is not called upon to make a gigantic sacrifice. He is as brave a man as any in the world. Let us do what we can to make things easy for those against whom we fought. When we see the Government taking the line they are taking now—a moderate medium course between the two extremes—let us strengthen them in the task, which I am perfectly certain they will find one of extreme difficulty. My right hon. friend the Colonial Secretary, speaking last December, said he looked forward to an early conclusion of the war. I saw the comment two or three days afterwards, "What was the use of being generous to people who did not understand it—that sort of thing would be done again." We have to be fair to all parties. We have to remember our own loyalists who have fought so well. We have to remember the great objects before us, and look them fairly in the face. What can be the future of South Africa? Are we to succeed in pouring an a British population which will ultimatley 114 by its numbers reduce to insignificance the minority of Dutchmen? That, so far as I can see, is impossible. What is it that causes distant countries to fill up with Englishmen? A country that abounds with cheap labour is not the country to which Englishmen will flock. They will go in twos and threes to the extent of a few hundreds to make fortunes by speculating at Johannesburg, but they will not go in the only way in which great masses of the population can ever be got into a new country. They will not go to take the place of labourers. I hope what can be done will be done to induce Englishmen to go out and take farms in South Africa, but I do not expect much of that kind of thing to occur. Look the thing fairly and squarely in the face. If we cannot change the character of the country districts of South Africa from Dutch districts into British districts, what have we to do? There is only one thing to be done, and only one possibility by which South Africa can be retained in the Empire, and that is by gradually enabling a good spirit to grow up between the Dutch and the English. They will come together, and I hope we shall have the Government of Cape Colony largely composed of Dutchmen. Personally, I find it difficult to improve the policy of the Government as sketched out by the Colonial Secretary last December. The differences between Downing Street and Sir Alfred Milner and Lord Kitchener are very small. The way in which the Government are now acting deserves the support of Members on both sides of the House.
MR. BEYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
I entirely agree with my hon. friend who has just sat down in the view that this debate affords a proper opportunity for reviewing the general position in which we now stand, and I agree also with the desire that we should endeavour to recall to the House the brighter aspects of the question, and to induce it to look at the matter with that dispassionate temper which is so eminently absent from some quarters, especially in South Africa, and which is so extremely necessary at the present moment. We are all agreed that the Government took an onward step when 115 they allowed the peace negotiations to be entered into' and I think it is important to observe that not only Lord Kitchener but Sir Alfred Milner was persuaded that General Botha meant business. They thought General Botha was sincere in his wish for peace, and if you read Sir Alfred Milner's telegram you will see that Lord Kitchener was anxious to put the terms in the best way. He also thought there was a reasonable chance of peace being arranged. He thought the thing was within our grasp. Sir Alfred Milner was hopeful and Lord Kitchener was hopeful, and therefore, I trust the House will bear that in mind, because it is our justification in asking the House to look carefully at the difference between the terms Lord Kitchener stated in his interview and the terms which ultimately went to General Botha. There may have been many causes and forces at work which we do not know, which are not disclosed in these Papers, and which made the negotiations to be broken off; but we have to go on the basis of these Papers. General Botha and Lord Kitchener parted in the belief that peace was probable. A letter was received a few days afterwards in which General Botha says:—"You will not be surprised to hear that my answer is in the negative." What are the reasons for the use of the words "You will not be surprised"? One of two things must have happened—either Lord Kitchener heard from General Botha a great deal that we have not heard of, or else General Botha was so much struck by the difference between the terms Lord Kitchener had discussed and the terms received in the letter that he conceived a distrust of us altogether, and believed that the Government at home would not implement what Lord Kitchener had offered.
I do not think we should look upon this as a question of generosity at all. I wish that the term generosity had been left out of the discussion. We shall never agree as to what is generous to the enemy, but what we may all agree upon is—What is business? I wish to look at the matter entirely from the point of view of what is best for us to offer in order to get peace. I am sure that that is the point of view in which Lord Kitchener approached it. No one accuses Lord Kitchener of being a soft or sentimental 116 man. He thought it was for the interest of this country that the war should come to an end now, and that it should come to an end on the terms he offered, and which I have no doubt he believed would receive the support of the Government.
I want to trouble the House to go through these ten items. I think the Government were entitled to ask that the oath of allegiance should be taken, that they were entitled to insist upon the provision that all hostilities must cease if the terms took effect, and that they could not be answerable for the precise time when they would bring back the exiles. But there are three points in which there are substantial differences between the terms Lord Kitchener offered and the terms in the final letter. Lord Kitchener and General Botha appear to have come to an agreement upon that subject. The words Lord Kitchener reports are—Amnesty to all at end of war. We spoke of colonials who joined Republics, and lie seemed not adverse to their being disfranchised.There is no objection on Botha's part to the disfranchisement of the Cape rebels, and Lord Kitchener does not convey any suggestion whatever of anything except disfranchisement. Therefore General Botha goes back to his own people, having a right to believe, so far as Lord Kitchener's inclinations went, that the Cape rebels would be entitled to go home, subject to the penalty of disfranchisement and nothing more. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow in looking upon that as an unimportant factor. With a military force such as that to which Botha submitted the proposals, there is nothing to which more importance would be attached than the treatment of their brothers in arms. It is a point of honour with a soldier that his fellow-soldiers are well treated. I can therefore conceive nothing more likely to turn back their pacific desires than the fact that instead of the Cape rebels having nothing but disfranchisement to fear they would be subjected to the penalties; of the Cape law of treason when they returned to the colony. [Ministerial cheers.] I am not arguing whether it is right or wrong. Hon. Members do not seem to appreciate the point of the argument at all. The question is what the 117 Boers would think. It was a most natural thing that they should be struck by the contrast between the terms Lord Kitchener appeared to offer and the terms contained in the letter, and it was just a point with regard to which men feeling for their comrades would be inclined to stand out. Of course we shall be told that you would displease the loyalists at the Cape if you did not exact all the penalties for treason. I hope that we shall never in this House consider it any part of our business to satisfy the vindictive feelings of people at the Cape. All legitimate feelings on their part are entitled to consideration, but feelings of revenge are not. Such feelings are illegitimate, and are the very worst counsellors you can have. The so-called loyalists at the Cape—[Cries of "So-called!" "Oh, oh!" and "Withdraw."]
§ [The right hon. Gentleman essayed to continue his remarks, but was prevented by renewed cries of "Withdraw."]
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! If the right hon. Gentleman had exceeded the limits of Parliamentary debate I should have called him to order.
§ MR. BRYCE
I am going to tell hon. Members why I use that expression. There are a great many people at the Cape—Dutchmen very largely as well as Englishmen—who are entirely, thoroughly, and heartily loyal to the British Crown, but who are not the faction that I describe as the "so-called loyalists." That name is given by the persons who telegraph and write home, purporting to represent them, to the extreme faction at the Cape who arrogate to themselves exclusively the name of "loyalists." but who are not a bit more loyal than a large number who do not share these vindictive feelings, but have a far better sense of the real gravity of the position and of the remedies which ought to be applied. There is a faction—I hope it is only a small faction—which is not thinking of ending the war or of the welfare of the colonies, but which simply wishes, in the words of the Old Testament. "to see its desire upon its enemies," to see severely vindictive punishment inflicted upon Cape rebels of every kind. I again repeat that we ought not to be guided by those vindictive feelings: they are dangerous 118 to the future of the Cape; they are the worst possible advisers at a crisis of this kind, and I earnestly hope that no appeal to the feelings of that faction will be made to dissuade us from what should appear to be the interests of Cape Colony in the way of terms. If you look at the experience of history you will find that the policy of amnesty has generally been the best policy, that the violent men who have desired to indulge their own feelings of vengeance have been very bad counsellors, and that when they have been overruled peace and loyalty have been more quickly restored. In Canada, after the rebellion of 1840, some of the men who had been rebels were within two years not only loyal subjects, but Ministers of the Crown. Many of us remember the outcry which arose at first in the United States at the end of the Civil War for severe punishment upon the leading rebels. The people of the North had the good sense to resist those vindictive passions. There never was a war after which so few punishments were inflicted, or a case in which the policy of leniency was so conspicuously successful; and if the South is now, and has been for many years, as loyal a member of the American Republic as any part of the North, it is very largely because the passion of vengeance was repressed and a practical amnesty given.
I come now to the second point upon which there was a difference between Lord Kitchener's proposals and those which were conveyed by letter, namely, the question of aid to the farmers. That change was, as Sir Alfred Milner thought, a very important one, because it was not only a change calculated to arouse the suspicions of the Boers, but one which seemed to imply that help would be given in a very different spirit from that of a free gift. Whatever other question may arise with regard to the settlement of peace, surely the question of a small amount of money ought not to be allowed to destroy the good effect of the offer of terms. This war is costing us from £1,250,000 to £1,500,000 a week, and if we were able to shorten the war by a month it would be good policy to give not one but two millions to help the farmers to resume their position in the land. Even beyond that, when we are endeavouring to govern these countries 119 after peace has been restored it will surely be to your advantage to have a population with some hope, with some measure of prosperity, with something to lose, with what we call a stake in the country, rather than have an impoverished, half-starving, and miserable population, driven by its misery into discontent. Therefore any money which is given so as to be well applied to re-establish the people on the land, and to give them a chance of restoring prosperity to these devastated countries, will be money well invested for the future of the country and for our own security as governing that country.
Then, lastly, there is the discrepancy between the terms offered at the interview and the terms offered in the letter with regard to the future government of the country. At the interview Lord Kitchener suggested—that when hostilities ceased there should be Crown Colony administration, consisting of nominated executive, with elected Assembly to advise administration, to be followed after a period by representative government. He would have liked representative government at once, but seemed satisfied with above.I think it is not going too far to say that that is the most hopeful statement we have had. I should like myself, though we know that Lord Kitchener was forbidden to discuss the question, to know what proposal General Botha made with regard to modified independence. I have often said, and I say still, that it is quite possible it may turn out in the long run that some kind of modified independence, protection, will be a great deal easier for this country to work than a system of Crown Colony government. ["Oh, oh!"]. I may have some opportunity in years to come to ask hon. Members who say, "Oh, oh! "when they see what are the difficulties of other kinds of colonial government, whether they might not have preferred the modified independence. Lord Kitchener's proposal of an elected Assembly was a very important one. An elected Assembly to the Boers would mean what they call a Volksraad, a continuation to some extent of their old free constitution, an opportunity of meeting, of electing people, of expressing their views, and of bringing their collective opinion to bear upon the Executive Government. The hon. Member for 120 South Shields seemed to suppose that an Assembly of that kind would have no value. My hon. friend must have read history to little purpose if he thinks that such an Assembly, which furnishes a most valuable safety-valve for the expression of opinion, may not be a most valuable element in the government of a country. I rejoice to-day that Lord Kitchener should have found General Botha willing to see the value of such an institution, and to express himself satisfied with the proposal. When the final letter came that proposal was entirely changed. Instead of it we have only the suggestion that there should be Crown Colony government, consisting of a certain number of official Members, to whom a nominated unofficial element would be added. Strangely enough, Lord Kitchener does not appear to have adopted the suggestion from home of a nominated Legislative Council. I do not know that that made any difference, because clearly a nominated Legislative Council would be no satisfaction to the Boers, and I do not suppose that it had anything to do with their disappointment with the proposals they received. But I think the contrast between the elected Assembly which Lord Kitchener offered and the purely arbitrary and despotic system which the final letter conveyed must at once have struck the Boers as indicating the difference between the views the military man on the spot entertained and the proposals they had to expect from the Government at home. As we are obliged to seek in these discrepancies an explanation of the change in General Botha's attitude, I think we must attach great weight to the particular variation between these two proposals. Of course there are objections to the immediate granting of self-government. There are objections to every course you can suggest. In the position to which South Africa, has been reduced there is no course for the government of these Colonies to which grievous objection cannot be urged. What you have to do is to select the course open to the fewest objections and promising the fewest evils. I believe that the course of Crown Colony government, likely to be continued for a length of time, is of all the courses which have been suggested the very worst. It is said that what we are asking is the immediate and full 121 granting of representative and responsible government. We have never suggested that. We have admitted that, when the war comes to an end, you must necessarily have an intermediate period of provisional administration, whether military or civil. But there is all the difference between maintaining for a short time a provisional administration, and creating the whole apparatus of Crown Colony government, associated in the minds of the Boers with the days of Sir Owen Lanyon, and with the arbitrary government which prevails in our Crown colonies. "Oh, oh!"] Of course, it is arbitrary government. Perhaps hon. Gentlemen do not know what Crown Colony government is. It can be nothing else but arbitrary government. It cannot be said that the existence of nominated councils prevents the government being arbitrary, because the nominated members are bound to vote as they are directed by the Governor.
I have only one word more to say about the causes of refusal. Those causes are very obscure. I cannot help thinking that Lord Kitchener might be able if he was asked to throw some light upon that remarkable expression in General Botha's letter—But, after the mutual exchange of views at our interview at Middelburg on 28th February last, it will certainly not surprise your Excellency to know that I do not feel disposed to recommend that the terms of the said letter should have the earnest consideration of my Government.It has been said that the fact that the Boers make no counter proposals shows that they are in a perfectly obstinate frame of mind. That may or may not be so, but at any rate it is clear that it would be extremely difficult for the men assembled at Middelburg under General Botha to have formulated any terms, and therefore I do not take so hopeless a view of their refusal to formulate counter proposals as might otherwise have been the case. If there had been a regular Government expressing itself through its Foreign Office you might have expected counter proposals, but where you have this large mixed group of people it is quite clear that it would be difficult or impossible to formulate such counter proposals. Therefore, I do not think we ought to despair of the future acceptance of terms 122 merely because no counter proposals were made on this occasion. As to the causes of refusal, I think possibly Lord Kitchener could throw some light, but I do not think we here can. The Colonial Secretary told us, to my great surprise, on Saturday that, according to Lord Kitchener's private telegram, General Botha objected to Sir Alfred Milner. That was a most extraordinary statement, and it was made, in the first place, without producing the telegram. It gave us a very partial view of General Botha's mind. There may be others to whom General Botha objects just as much, but in this obscurity and complete uncertainty as to the causes which are acting on General Botha's mind I do not feel inclined to discuss his objection to Sir Alfred Milner. I do not think we have any occasion to bring Sir Alfred Milner into this discussion at all, and I should not be led into doing so either by personal statements of the Colonial Secretary or by the indiscreet phrase which is attributed to him in certain quarters. We have to deal with the Government; they are responsible for the conduct of these negotiations and the future of the country under some government or another.
While I regret the failure of the recent negotiations, I earnestly hope the Government will resume communications when there is a chance of doing so, and whenever a fresh proposal comes from the Boers for negotiation. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, but not only then, but when this country has gained another clear military advantage I think it will be to our own interests to propose that negotiations should be resumed. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members seem to be under a strange delusion as to what our interests are. This is not a case in which whatever is given to the enemy is taken from ourselves. People seem to argue as if it was our interest to impose and exact a severe charge, as if every concession we made was so much taken from ourselves. ["No."] Well, a great deal of language has been used which seemed to imply that, and to suppose that the more severe the terms, the more they are to our advantage. That is not the case at all. On the contrary, I believe it is to our interest to offer liberal terms and to get rid of this war. Do hon. Members realise what the state of these countries is? Do they realise 123 the total devastation which prevails and which has reduced the two republics and parts of Cape Colony to a wilderness? Do they realise the total destruction of stock and farm buildings, the impoverishment of the people, the stoppage of all cultivation, the very serious risk of famine, and the possibility that before long we should have to feed a large starving population? In this state of things it is to our utmost possible interest that we should abridge the war if we can in any way do so, and do it upon terms which will make the fusion of the races easier. It is said that these are liberal terms to offer to the conquered. Who are the conquered? They are the people we desire to make good British subjects, whom we desire to be loyal, against whom we do not wish to be obliged to keep an enormous garrison at an enormous expense, and to whom even the Government express themselves as desirous of restoring free government at the earliest possible moment. If you want to make them loyal and contented subjects, the more liberal the terms the better it will be and the sooner that consummation will be realised. I therefore repeat once more that it ought to be our object, as it is our interest, to give the widest terms we can, and to settle this unhappy business on the basis, not of surrender, but of terms acceptable to the other side. I believe there are many on the Boer side who are animated by just the same vindictive feelings as those which prevail among a small section in Cape Colony; they do not desire that there should be a settlement, because, they want to be crushed, and they are afraid a section of their own fellow-countrymen will accept terms and endeavour to work them fairly and to become good British subjects. It should be our object to defeat that extreme section, to offer terms which will be acceptable, and bring about a settlement on the basis that a valiant enemy has been respected and an appeal made to the good feelings of these people to work out the terms upon which they have consented to come in and surrender, and to endeavour to let bygones be bygones, and to effect that fusion of the races upon which alone the prosperity and welfare of South Africa depend.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
We have listened to a very interesting debate, 124 interesting not merely because of the light thrown on the subject with which we are principally concerned, but also because of the light indirectly thrown upon the so-called unity of the Liberal party. We have had three speeches from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. In the first place, we had a speech from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Linlithgow, a speech upon the moderation of which I cannot say too much, a speech of which I have certainly no right to complain since, although he indulged in some general criticisms, the hon. and learned Gentleman approved, on the whole, of the Government policy. His idea seemed to be that we had done well, and he encouraged us to continue in our well-doing. It is true that the hon. and learned Member did discover out of the ten points discussed by Lord Kitchener and General Botha three upon which we had not been so liberal as he thought we might have been, and upon that difference he ranged himself on the side of the local administrators. Then he was followed by the hon. and learned Member for South Shields, and if I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Linlithgow for his recognition of the services of the Government, their moderation and magnanimity, still more am I gratified, and I may say flattered, by the compliments of the hon. and learned Member for South Shields. He could find nothing to criticise in the ten proposals, and found that in the differences between ourselves and Lord Kitchener we were strongly justified in the attitude we adopted. But then came the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen. [Cries of "No, Durham."] No; I am referring to the agreement to be found in speeches coming from the other side. I have nothing to say at present of the speech of my hon. friend the Member for Durham.
The third speech from the other side came from the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and he approached the question from a totally different point of view from that of the two hon. Gentlemen on his own side in his united party who preceded him. The right hon. Gentleman is still in favour of what he has called a modified independence, though I have never known 125 exactly what he meant, but I suppose he means that debased form of independence to which the hon. and learned Member for Linlithgow referred as a stone for the Boers to break their own heads with. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that Crown Colony government is the worst of all possible solutions. I do not know whether he attaches importance to the word "solution." If the hon. Gentleman means that Crown Colony government is not a permanent solution, it is only what we have said scores of times. I understand him to say that it is the worst possible device that could be adopted at the present time. If he takes that view, his two hon. friends take an exactly contrary view, because they support the proposals of the Government, which constitute one form of Crown Colony government. Then the right hon. Gentleman is of opinion that the negotiations which have been twice initiated, and have twice failed, should be resumed by the Government at the first possible opportunity. But that is not our intention. I only notice for the moment those differences between the hon. Member and his hon. friends, and I shall proceed to deal with the other details afterwards.
In the first place let me say something about the form in which these Papers have been produced. The right hon. Gentleman said that on Saturday last I made a surprising statement, and the hon. Gentleman behind him said we were introducing a precedent, to which he took exception, of allowing the expression of the views of our agents abroad to be introduced into parliamentary controversy. That rests upon two facts—in the first instance upon an answer I gave to a question on Saturday, and in the second place upon the terms of the despatches which are printed in the Paper presented. Now, take the last first. Does any hon. Gentleman on the other side suggest that we should have left out everything which expressed an opinion on the part either of Lord Kitchener or Sir Alfred Milner? If so there would be nothing to produce but the fact that Mrs. Botha had, at her husband's request, gone to see him, that Lord Kitchener allowed her to go, and the next thing would have been the letter that Lord Kitchener was instructed 126 to present to General Botha and the General's reply. Lord Kitchener's account of the interview with General Botha could not have been produced at all if we kept out all opinions on the part of Lord Kitchener. I do not agree with that doctrine at all. I do not think anyone would honestly believe that I am the man to shrink from any responsibility properly my due, and I make myself answerable for everything that is under my control, and for everyone as long as they remain in office. But, although that is the case, I had no idea whatever of throwing upon them responsibility even for their own actions when I have subsequently approved of them. I think the House and the country have a perfect light, when we are dealing with such authorities as Lord Kitchener and Sir Alfred Milner, to know anything that can be produced, without injury to the public interest, about their opinions. That is my answer.
With regard to the Papers as they stand, I say we have not produced this information in order to shift our responsibility in the slightest, but we have produced it in order to give the fullest information in our power to the House. Suppose we had kept this information back. Suppose we had taken this belated advice and left this information out. What would have been the language of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite? We should have been accused of attempting to mislead the people and keep them in the dark. When the other day I simply refused to present a Report which I had not seen myself, and in regard to which further inquiries were being made from Sir Alfred Milner, because its production would have been contrary to the public interest and would have damaged the policy it recommended, for three hours or more we were kept debating the scandalous conduct of the Colonial Secretary, who was accused of having some ulterior, wicked, and un-avowable motive for keeping back that Report. So much for the form of Papers.
Now I come to the statement I made on Saturday in answer to a question. I was asked by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe whether the Government had any other information besides what was contained in the Papers as to the attitude of General Botha. I was obliged to answer 127 in the affirmative and say, "Yes." Suppose I had had other information bearing on the attitude of General Botha and had refused to produce it, a week's discussion would not have been enough to exhaust the indignation of gentlemen opposite. Of course they would have suspected that the particular thing I kept back I kept back because it would have been dangerous to myself or the interests of the Government to produce it. The answer to the hon. Member for Rushcliffe was that General Botha had taken strong objection to Sir Alfred Milner's appointment as Governor of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. I do not suppose he has any personal objection to Sir Alfred Milner. He also objects to him in the capacity to which he has been appointed.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
At the interview which we published telegrams from Lord Kitchener describing. But I was obliged to confess, in answer to the hon. Member for Rushcliffe, that there was a private telegram which accompanied it, in which this additional information was given. I attach no importance to the statement at all, because I have no reason to believe that Sir Alfred Milner's appointment had any effect on the mind of General Botha in regard to these terms. For my own part I do not think he would allow a personal question of that kind to interfere with his acceptance of the terms.
Let me deal with the differences which it is said exist between the terms which Lord Kitchener appears to have discussed and the terms originally offered to the Boers. The right hon. Member for South Aberdeen, at the beginning of his speech, said this was a matter of business, and what he wanted the House to consider was how to get peace. I do not want to press this too far. But that is not the business of the House, and it is not the business upon which we are engaged. The business of the House is to get a peace which will be both honourable and lasting. This distinction is important. If you attach supreme importance 128 to peace by itself, of course you may be prepared to make concessions which would be quite wrong if you want the peace to be lasting and honourable. The right hon. Member for South Aberdeen referred to what he called the refusal to grant amnesty to rebels. What is the position? In the first place, who are these rebels? Who are these gentlemen for whom the right hon. Gentleman is willing to make such exceptional terms? They are, in the first place, those who had absolutely no grievance themselves—who have never pretended that they had any. They were subjects of Queen Victoria in a colony in which they and their compatriots ruled the roost, and had political predominance on the condition of extending equal civil rights to their British and other fellow-subjects. They had absolutely nothing to complain of themselves. It is said that they had a natural sentiment in favour of men of their own blood across the border. That may be, but that does not justify them in going into rebellion. If you like to find a sort of moral excuse for their action, that is all right, and well and good; but you cannot find a legal or a just and proper answer to the position of those who say that men who commit that offence must be punished in the interests of the rest of the community. You cannot afford to say once more that it pays better to be a rebel than a loyalist. The conduct of rebels in Cape Colony was, as a rule, worse than the conduct of the Boers; their treatment of their neighbours, their property, and persons was worse, speaking generally, than the treatment of the same people and things by the Boers themselves. And yet, Sir, according to the right hon. Gentleman, we ought to send them back, we ought to force them upon the colonies—because it is the colonies who have to deal with this matter—we ought to use our influence to impress upon the colonies the desirability and importance of sending these men back to the very places where there still remain the farms which they have burnt, the property which they have destroyed, and the people whom they have injured—we are to send them back there, without even putting them on their trial.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I cannot tell what Lord Kitchener had in his mind when he spoke of this "amnesty" in discussing the matter with General Botha. But Sir Alfred Milner, who knows a great deal more about the local political conditions, necessarily, by virtue of his position and his long residence in the country, was from the first opposed to it, and we were opposed to it. I cannot conceive anything more mischievous than this proposal, by whomsoever it was made—by Lord Kitchener, by Sir Alfred Milner, or by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—I say I cannot conceive anything more mischievous, more likely to lead to trouble in the future, than to lay down here, or in South Africa, that rebellion of the particular kind which we have under our consideration should go absolutely unscathed. The right hon. Gentleman said again and again, "Lord Kitchener's terms," "the terms that Lord Kitchener recommended." Where does he get that? He does not get it from these Papers. It is not in these Papers. It is not true to say, as the right hon. Gentleman has mistakenly said, that Lord Kitchener recommended an amnesty. He did not do anything of the kind. What he says in this Paper is this. General Botha asked him about an amnesty to all at the end of the war—We spoke of colonials who joined the Republics, and he seemed not adverse to their being disfranchised.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes. In accordance with that conversation which he had with General Botha he, in a private letter which he sent us, says:—His Majesty's Government is prepared at once to grant an amnesty in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony for all bona fide acts of war committed during the recent hostilities; as well as to move the Governments of Cape Colony and Natal to take similar action, but qualified by the disfranchisement of any British subjects implicated in the recent war.I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will perceive the distinction, 130 but that is not a recommendation—it is a suggestion, if you like, but it is not a recommendation. [Opposition laughter] It is a suggestion, but it is not a recommendation; and if hon. Gentlemen cannot see the difference between these two words I must recommend them to look at one of the dictionaries which I have seen advertised. But if the right hon. Gentleman will look at the account of the interview he will find what Lord Kitchener was doing. He was not, of course, prepared beforehand, but what he was doing in that conversation was stating on his own personal authority what he fancied the Government at home were willing to do. It was not what he recommended; it was what he understood. For instance, take the first one. He says—The nature of future government of the colonies asked about. He wanted more details than were given by Colonial Secretary, and I said that, subject to correction from home, I understood that when hostilities ceased military guard would be replaced by Crown Colony administration;and so on. And, therefore, I want to point out to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that I think they are altogether exaggerating any difference that exists between either Lord Kitchener or Sir Alfred Milner and ourselves. It is one thing for Lord Kitchener to say, "I understood so and so as being your views"; it is another thing to say that he differed from our views when he understood them in their fulness.
Let us see what these differences are. I have spoken about the question of amnesty to rebels; now I come to aid to farmers. What is the situation there? All that General Botha asked for was "assistance to farmers." All that we did was to define that "assistance." There was nothing to show in the question of General Botha that he meant that assistance to be by gift. But it was quite possible that he did mean that, and it became of importance, therefore, that we—unless we intended it should be by gift—should make it clear that it was to be by loan. In making it clear that it was to be by loan we did not, of course, preclude the possibility of there being certain cases of hardship in which a free gift might be made. Those cases would have to be dealt with at the time upon their merits, and no doubt could with perfect safety 131 be left in the hands of Sir Alfred Milner. But we did mean to say, as a principle, that we were not going to aid these men by free g ft. What an extraordinary proposal to make! We are, by actual gifts of money, to put back these men, whom we have been fighting, in their old position so that they should not suffer in any way by the fact that they have declared war upon us and have invaded His Majesty's possessions. I do not call that magnanimity; I call that folly. It is ail non-sense to make a proposal of that kind, and I should like to know how far the right hon. Gentleman proposes to go. I observed, as we have always observed in his speeches on this subject, that it is the Boers and the friends of the Boers in Cape Colony that he cares for. When he has to speak of the men who, to the extent now, I think, of something like 20,000, have risked their lives in His Majesty's service, when he has to speak of the men whose property has been serious y injured and, in some cases, destroyed, when he has to speak of the men who during the invasion of the Boers suffered every kind of insult and injury—then he calls them "these vindictive people, these so-called loyalists."
§ MR. BRYCE
After I had expressly explained that I applied that term to a small faction of extremists, and said that I believed the large majority of the British and an enormous number of the Dutch were perfectly loyal, I did not expect that the right hon. Gentleman would again try to misrepresent me.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I leave that to the House, who heard the right hon. Gentleman; and I say again that in no speech that the right hon. Gentleman has ever delivered upon this subject, in this House or out of it, has he ever done anything like justice, has he ever behaved fairly, towards the "so-called oyalists." Now, Sir, in dealing with this question of aid to farmers, he spoke is if only the Boers who have been in arms against us had been injured in this war. What of the loyalists.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
What of the loyalists whose farms have been 132 destroyed by the Boers? I am almost in doubt whether there are not quite as many farms that have been burnt by the Boers or more than there have been burnt by our troops. And what of the loyal British and the loyal Dutch who have been commandeered by the Boers, who have suffered in property or person? I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that to them also he would make this gift.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman says the case of the loyalists does not arise on the terms of peace. I say it does. That is where we differ. If he would think of the loyalists when he is talking of peace we should not be found so far apart. I say that that is the whole cause of the difference between us.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I quite understand that; and the right hon. Gentleman would perhaps do better if he were to wait until I have concluded my argument. The difference was between "loan" and "gift." In objecting to "gift," I say you have not only to deal with the Boers whose property has been destroyed in the course of military operations by our soldiers or in other ways, but you have got to deal with loyalists whose property has been destroyed, and the right hon. Gentleman agrees to that. As I have pointed out—and I am perfectly justified in doing so—he never mentioned them in his speech. Now I go a step further. You have agreed to compensation by the Government 133 to the loyalists who have suffered in regard to the burning of farms. What about the mines? Are you going to compensate the capitalists? [Opposition cries of "No."
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
That is an observation which is clearly impertinent, and which is absolutely without the shadow of a shade of foundation. Now, the House will see, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will see, what is the difference between a loan and a gift. The mines do not come to us for a loan; they are not likely to require that sort of assistance. But if once you lay it down as a principle that all the injury done by a war to your enemies is to be compensated by gift after the war, you cannot refuse to compensate by gift your friends, and I should like to see the bill that the House would have to pay in that case. Now I hope the right hon. Gentleman understands my argument. I say, then, that we believe, after carefully thinking over the matter, that, while, of course, there is perfect room left to deal with exceptional cases that may arise, it would be most dangerous to lay down as a principle that in every case gift, and not loan, should be the method by which the farmers should be assisted. I have a grievance, not against the right hon. Gentleman, but against those who take quite a different view, and who think that in the offer to put aside £1,000,000 in order to pay the debts incurred by the Transvaal Government we went a great deal too far. I admit that we went to the very extreme; but we have, I think, a justification for what we are doing. Not that there is any obligation upon us to compensate those who forced this war on us. Certainly we have no obligation whatever to them. What we do, if we do it at all, may be an act of grace to them, but ought to be an act of policy for us. It is solely as an act of policy that I recommend 134 that even by loan these men should be assisted. What I have felt for months past has been that when the hostilities came to an end our first object should be to restore the industries of the country—the great mining industry, of course, as it is from that industry that the greater part of the wealth of the country will always have to be derived, but the agricultural industry also, which must be developed by those who are in possession of the land—that is to say, by the Boer farmers who have been fighting against us. If they were to go back absolutely impecunious and unable to rebuild their homes and restock their farms, it might be years before the farming industry was restored; and I think it was in the interest of the Transvaal to make it part of our future policy that some assistance should be given to prevent such a contingency. I may say that long before this meeting with General Botha I had been in communication with Sir Alfred Milner on the subject. We entirely agreed on the matter, and that provision should be made, whenever the war is at an end, to deal with cases that may arise and to give such assistance as may be found desirable or necessary. The offer, which has not been contested at all to-night, actually to give £1,000,000 in order to pay the debts of the Transvaal is an offer which I feel to be an extremely dangerous one, or, at all events, one which requires to be carefully guarded. It is true that General Botha himself proposed that, in any case, such a grant should be limited to £1,000,000; but we have to take care, if we are to put money aside in that way, that it goes into the right pockets. We know that, in any country where it is stated publicly that there is £1,000,000 to be distributed, the claims have to be most carefully examined, and we should be perfectly justified in giving preference to the claims of loyalists. [Cries of "Oh!" from the Irish Benches.] Does somebody say "No"? I repeat that we should be justified in giving preference to the claims of loyalists. We should also have to take care that the debts are bona fide, and that we are not being asked to pay for goods which were not forcibly taken from their possessor, but willingly handed over as his contribution towards the progress of the war. Without being vindictive, it can hardly 135 be expected that we should actually reward our enemies.
The only other point to which exception has been taken in the terms is as to the future government of the Transvaal. There has never been any change in our policy in regard to that matter. What we offered, and stated from the first that we offered and what we state now, and we are not to be moved one jot from our conclusion in that matter—what we propose is a gradual progress towards self-government. We propose that as soon as possible the military administration shall be done away with. We propose that there be substituted for that administration an Executive Council, together with a nominated, or partly nominated, Legislative Council. That is the second step in the progress. Probably the next step would be to give an elective element in the Legislative Assembly, and the last step would be absolute self-government. In the first place, what is the alternative? Lord Kitchener in his letter proposed that the Executive Council should be "with or without an elective Assembly." I am sure the House will be unanimous that we could not have done a worse thing than to accept those terms, because what does "with or without" mean? If they mean "with" we ought to say so, and if they mean "without," we certainly would be accused of breach of faith afterwards for not giving some representative element; and, as we never intended to give this representative element at the very beginning, we were quite right to point this out and make it perfectly clear that in our view it would not be an elective Assembly. Mow any man who knows anything of the situation can make such a preposterous proposal as that, and that we should commence with an elective Assembly, I cannot for the life of me understand. What are the facts? Before you can elect an Assembly you have to decide what the franchise is to be, who the electors are to be, what the electoral districts are to be, what the members returned for these are to be, and a whole heap of questions, all of which are of the greatest importance, and which it would necessarily take some time to consider and decide. But that is not all. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen 136 actually is that we should elect this Assembly at a time when all the British element has been expelled and will be absent from their homes; and he recommends it to our acceptance because he says it would give them an elective Assembly something in the nature of the old Volksraad. Well, Sir, we have had some experience of the old Volksraad, in which the British were not represented. The idea that after all this war, after all this loss of life and treasure, we should begin with installing the old Volksraad without practically any British representation in it, seems to me one beyond which the force of unreason could not possibly further go.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman seems to have a singular incapacity for understanding what has been said. I have already pointed out to him that one section of the population would not be there. What is the good of everybody having a vote when half the population is away?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I am sorry to differ from the right hon. Gentleman, but if he will say now that when he says "immediately" he does not mean "immediately." and if he will go further and say what time he thinks it would be right to give before the Crown Colony government is abolished in favour of one in which there is to be an elective Assembly, then we can understand what it is we are arguing. He did use the words, "an elective Assembly," to be like the old Volksraad, and he did say that to set up a Crown Colony government would be the worst possible solution Therefore he 137 could only have meant that immediately after military administration we were to set up an elective Assembly. I cannot twist his language into any other meaning. To any proposal of that kind I take the most absolute exception. As to the terms of difference between us, let us see what Sir Alfred Milner says. Sir Alfred Milner says that the suggestions we have made are many of them improvements. He still would prefer the omission of the words "by loan." but the context shows that he is evidently of opinion that by inserting the words we may not absolutely preclude the possibility of a gift, which, as I have said, was not our intention. I do not believe that when Sir A. Milner knows what we propose he will differ from us on that point. As regards Lord Kitchener, I do not think it would be proper for us to ask him for his opinion on these proposals of His Majesty's Government; but I would point out that in the interview with Botha, what Lord Kitchener said, with every qualification as to its being only a personal impression, was what he believed to be the opinion of His Majesty's Government. It does not follow that when he knew what the opinion of His Majesty's Government was he would not be equally agreeable to those terms. I think there is only one other matter to which I need call attention, and that is a remark which fell from my hon. friend the Member for Durham. Practically, with the whole of his speech I absolutely agree. It was a very moderate statement of the case. We ourselves have disclaimed over and over again anything in the nature of a vindictive feeling with regard to our foes. That does not enter into our policy, and never has done. We want to make it absolutely certain that the issue for which the war was undertaken shall be favourable to us; we want to make it absolutely certain that there shall be no recurrence of the war; but when we have taken the steps that we think necessary for that purpose, there certainly will remain no feeling whatever of a desire to punish or to be revenged upon those against whom we have been in arms.
§ MR. ELLIOT
I hope it will be understood that I have brought no charge against the Government. My point was 138 that pressure might at some time be exercised by persons with more vindictive feelings than the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
So long as the present Government are in office I do not think it matters much what these imaginary or unknown vindictive persons may say or do. All I can say is that I do not know them. They do not appeal to me. Although I entirely agree with my hon. friend that he made no charge against the Government, unless he has some cause for uneasiness, or cause to believe that we shall be vindictive, unreasonable, and arbitrary, I do not understand why he gets up so often to impress those virtues upon us. A point in his speech to which I do take serious objection was that with regard to Sir Alfred Milner. He said his personal friendship for Sir Alfred Milner, which I know exists, would prevent him from under estimating the full importance of his services, or the great qualities of his character. But, in spite of Sir Alfred Milner's virtues, ability, and experience, my hon. friend went on to suggest that when the burden of the day is passed, a burden which has been entirely on Sir Alfred Milner's shoulders, then the credit of the settlement should devolve upon somebody else. This tribute to his friend, I must say, lacks something in the shape of generosity. I think I have dealt with all the points raised. I will only say in conclusion that I agree entirely with those who seek to impress upon us again and again the fact that after this war is over the two races must live together. That is a matter which is continuously present to us. But, as I have said before, the most important element in securing that good feeling between the two races is that we should be animated by mutual respect, and if we take any steps which would lead the Boers to suspect our firmness, resolution, and courage, and to believe that they are less than their own, the two races will never settle down in harmony, and I am convinced that the Boers would again attempt the policy which, I am happy to say, has failed on the present occasion.
§ MR. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
The right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary has been revelling to-night 139 in his favourite element. There are many topics in regard to social legislation on which he might have dilated, but all these yielded when he had the chance of discoursing on the divisions in the Liberal party. That topic owes a great deal to the right hon. Gentleman. If there is, as I believe there is, a division on this subject of the present situation in South Africa, the person who has most advertised it and brought it before the mind of the country is the right hon. Gentleman. To-night the right hon. Gentleman had his opportunity, and he has reviewed the speeches which have been made in the course of the present discussion; but so keen was he to dwell on the differences amongst Liberals that he forgot altogether the differences on the Unionist side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman omitted to the last, and then only briefly, to take notice of the admirable speech made by the hon. Member for the city of Durham. That hon. Gentleman, in a tone which was full of a desire to be fair, made a proposition which many of us think to be well deserving of consideration. The hon. Gentleman then passed to another topic, and spoke of the answer which had been given by the right hon. the Secretary for the Colonies on Saturday morning to the question put by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe. In that answer the right hon. Gentleman invited the House to believe that they were in possession of all the facts of the case, and that he had no information as to what Lord Kitchener had said to General Botha. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that what we were reproaching him with was for not having suppressed the facts within his knowledge. Is it necessary for anyone on this side of the House to say that our purpose was not to convey anything of the kind? But we have a good cause for complaint that on Saturday morning we learned for the first time that it was the personality of Sir A. Milner which had led to the failure of the negotiations. For my part, I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman should have given that answer without publishing the words of the telegram which contained such a grave suggestion, and which has caused so much confusion. 140 On the question of amnesty I think the right hon. Gentleman was well founded in his proposition that there were no serious differences between Lord Kitchener and General Botha. In the account of the interview between Lord Kitchener and General Botha, Sir A. Milner agreed with what Lord Kitchener had proposed, with the exception that, instead of the words "as well as to move the Governments of Cape Colony," etc., there should be read, "British subjects of Cape Colony or Natal, though they will not be compelled to return to those colonies, will if they do so be liable to be dealt with under the laws of those colonies specifically passed to meet the circumstances arising out of the present war, and which greatly mitigate the ordinary penalties of rebellion." I do not think that Sir A. Milner meant anything very different from what the right hon. Gentlemen meant. But the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary would have been well advised if he had acceded to the strong view expressed by Sir A. Milner in his despatch of 9th March, that the advances to the Boers should not be confined, in all cases, to advances by way of loan. I feel that there are strong grounds for what was urged by the hon. Member for Durham on this matter. I believe that the cheapest thing we can do will, in the end, be the most generous. I cannot believe that we can differentiate between the loyalists and those who have risen in rebellion. I do not believe that the advances should be in all cases by way of gift, but we should not be tied down in a hard and fast fashion to make the advances by way of loan.
My right hon. friend the Member for South Aberdeen said there had been a good deal of indiscreet praise of Sir A. Milner. I think there has been a good deal of indiscreet blame of Sir A. Milner. I believe that, whether rightly or wrongly, Sir A. Milner is actuated by the highest motives, and is the very last person to allow himself to be made the tool of any faction at the Cape, or to support any ascendency of Briton over Boer, any more than Boer over Briton. We have got to realise and bear in mind the peculiar difficulties of the position. I believe that not only in 141 Cape Colony and Natal, but in the two late Republics, the majority of the white inhabitants are not of British blood. If that be so, we have got to consider the point of view of the Afrikanders, and how we can conciliate the Boers as well as the people of British blood who take up a strong attitude on this matter. The business of His Majesty's Government is to hold the balance evenly between the two contending factions in South Africa, and to make it perfectly clear that there is to be no racial ascendency of Boer over Briton or Briton over Boer. The scale should be held at a perfect level, and it would be a mistake for the Government to lend themselves to any treatment which would differentiate the case of the loyalists from the case of the colonists who have thrown in their lot with the Boers. Therefore, on the question of amnesty, and on other matters, I feel myself in agreement with the course taken by Lord Kitchener and Sir A. Milner rather than with that adopted by His Majesty's Government.
I wish to say a word upon the question of what is called Crown Colony administration. I think that is a most unfortunate term to have introduced into the matter, for it covers two or three sorts of administration. Crown Colony administration has peculiar associations in South Africa. It is identified with the rule of Sir Owen Lanyon, which was a great failure. It is also associated with the government of some of the small islands tinder British dominion, where it means the management of things from Downing Street. From the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary and the despatches I understand that the Crown Colony administration proposed to be set up in South Africa is something of a very different character from government from Downing Street. What the Government proposes, as I understand it, is to govern these colonies from South Africa, the Government here, being responsible, but delegating authority to somebody on the spot, who should form his own judgment, and base and frame the policy of the Government upon the knowledge he has acquired on the spot, telling them what course they ought to adopt. That is a very different thing 142 from Crown Colony government in the ordinary sense, and if it is put into the hands of a fit and proper man I can conceive nothing better as forming the initiatory stage from which by subsequent stages we may proceed to popular representative government. In this connection the extensive experience and knowledge of Sir A. Milner cannot fail to count for much, and I should regret very much if we were deprived of the services of the one man strong enough to hold down the British faction as he has held down the Dutch; who would keep them in their places and allow neither to get the upper hand. The House should give the Government every chance, believing that the Government knew better than they the circumstances and facts which ought to determine what the transition stages between this so-called Crown Colony government and popular representation should be. I do not believe that Botha rejected these terms on any small matter or any difference between the despatches sent from here and the proposals made by Lord Kitchener. I do not believe he declined to entertain peace on a question connected with the personality of Sir A. Milner. Botha is a man who has fought a brave fight, and a man for whom I have a profound respect. He is placed in a difficult position, and I believe it will be discovered when all the facts are known that he could not control those with whom he was associated.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies made his speech an attack upon my right hon. friend the Member for South Aberdeen. I can assure the Secretary for the Colonies that my admiration for the Member f r South Aberdeen—and I think it is the feeling of many Members in this House—rises each time the right hon. Gentleman seizes upon his opportunity to attack him and sneer at him. The Secretary for the Colonies described his own speech pretty clearly when he said, speaking of the speech of the Member for South Aberdeen, "I cannot twist his language into any other meaning." The fact is, he spent half an hour trying to evolve meanings 143 which did not exist in my right hon. friend's speech.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The right, hon. Gentleman then fell back on his old device. He deplored the differences on this side of the House. I trust there always will be differences on the Liberal side of the House. They are an independent party acting together for specific objects, but they preserve their independence on various matters. If I recollect rightly the right hon. Gentleman himself was accustomed to act in a very independent manner. I remember something about the "Unauthorised Programme," and he would have found then that a great many persons did not agree with him. We have had as yet three gentlemen on this side of the House addressing it. These three gentlemen are, I take it, "Liberal Imperialists." We are not all Liberal Imperialists on this side; in fact, the Liberal Imperialists are very few in number, and we who are not Liberal Imperialists represent the majority of the Liberal party. I may say that those gentlemen are always looking over the hedge and supporting the Conservative party. These three gentlemen are all members of the legal profession, and they tried the matter in a nisi prius sort of way. They took small, nagging objections, and as I was listening to them I could not help thinking of what Burke once said—that a lawyer knows as little about great political subjects as a mouse understands about the parturition of an elephant.
I think it was the hon. Member for Linlithgow who went out of his way to say that the terms which were being offered to the Boers wore the most lenient and the most generous a victor has ever offered to his foe, and he challenged us to show the contrary. You cannot prove a negative. I would challenge the hon. Member, or any hon. Member of his way of thinking, perhaps, on the other side of the House, to tell me a case in which terms less lenient 144 were ever offered by a victor to the conquered. We burn their farms, depopulate the country, and deport a large number of them, and we then tell them that we are exceedingly lenient if we give them a small trifle as a loan, in order to help them to take back a few farms and build a few houses where their former homes were. We tell them that we are going to deprive them of their independence and their flag. If the French were to vanquish us, and if we were to be told, after being harried and having our houses all burned down, that we were to receive a little sum of money out of the French Treasury, and that we must thank God that we were going to have occasion to cease to be Englishmen to become Frenchmen, we would not consider the terms liberal. The terms we offer to the Boers are not liberal, and they are not lenient. I am one of those who have never concealed their opinions in regard to this war. I have always regarded it as a crime But we have to look at the facts as they are. The milk has been spilt, and the question for us is really what we should now best do in the interest of the Empire, and particularly of South Africa. Shall we continue this war? We know the death list published every week. We know what we are doing in South Africa, the misery and desolation we are producing there, and we know that it costs a somewhat large sum, £1,500,000 per week, or rather more, perhaps, to carry out this policy. For my part, I am not in favour of that. I do not regard that as a policy. I am not one of those who blame the Boers for resisting. I regard the Boers as brave men, and I would honour any man who resists no matter what force, when it is a question of the independence of his native land. I may regret that they do resist and do not submit to the inevitable. To say that we should regard them as base men whom we ought to despise because they are doing what we should do ourselves under similar circumstances is a preposterous doctrine.
Up to just recently the only "terms" we had offered to the Boers were to surrender at discretion. If they gave up their arms and put them selves entirely into our hands we were ready to receive them. 145 That was altered on the occasion of the recent negotiations. I respect Lord Kitchener for having taken the line he did in those negotiations. Lord Kitchener is a soldier, and I believe a somewhat rough soldier. He does not hesitate in doing his utmost in order to achieve victory. But I do think that of all the three gentlemen who seem to have the destinies of South Africa in their hands—the Secretary for the Colonies. Sir Alfred Milner, and Lord Kitchener—Lord Kitchener has shown himself far more of a statesman than either of the other two. If anybody looks into the Blue-book given to us he will see that Lord Kitchener himself invited General Botha to meet him. He sent the request through Mrs. Botha. What does the right hon. Gentleman say in answer to Lord Kitchener's letter that this had taken place? He says. "I am glad to hear that General Botha desires to treat." It was Lord Kitchener who desired to treat, and General Botha was willing to hear the terms we were willing to submit to him, and if he thought them desirable terms, then to accept them. General Botha seemed to me to be anxious to bring about peace, and so far as minor details, if I may so call them, are concerned, I do not think there would have been any insuperable difficulty if the matter had been left to General Botha and Lord Kitchener. But at once Sir Alfred Milner interfered. Sir Alfred Milner would not go so far as Lord Kitchener in the matter of the amnesty. I was rather amused when the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies was speaking at the absolute mess he got into in regard to the recommendation of Lord Kitchener. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that Lord Kitchener did not advise an amnesty, but it was shown to him that Lord Kitchener, in the letter he proposed to write to General Botha, had literally stated that one of the proposals that he, subject to the approval of this Government, would submit to General Botha was that there should be a full amnesty not only to the Transvaalers and the Orange Free Staters but also to the rebels from Cape Colony. All the limitation he made was that he was ready to accept their disfranchisement, and certainly that was not a matter of 146 serious importance. It was a matter that concerned the Cape Government itself. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies say? He said it was a suggestion and not a recommendation. I really do not know what he meant. I hardly like to make a suggestion or recommendation to a gentleman who is so very able a debater as the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but if I might venture to do so, it is to stick to his own views and arguments which he intends to use, and not be led astray from them by something the Secretary of State for War says to him. He got into a mess through the Secretary for War, who was sitting near him.
I shall not enter at any length into the question of the difference between "loan" and "gift." I do not think it is a matter of very great importance. But what is important is that Lord Kitchener did propose that there should be a gift. Sir Alfred Milner took his side, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies interfered and said it must be a loan. Sir Alfred Milner said this would weaken the effect on the Boers, and Lord Kitchener was even stronger in his view than Sir Alfred Milner. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies to-day showed how very right General Botha was to distrust the alteration made by the Secretary for the Colonies when he told us that the gift is to be limited to a certain sum, and that the loyalists would be considered first. If the loyalists are to be considered first, I should like to know what will remain for those in the Transvaal or Orange Free State who have taken the side of their respective countries.
The real difference, so far as I can see, that separates Sir Alfred Milner or the Secretary of State for the Colonies from General Botha and his friends is the position that these men will occupy after the war. When the Secretary of State for the Colonies gave his consent to the meeting with General Botha he wrote—"I have already made clear the policy we intend to pursue as to government." The right hon. Gentleman did make it perfectly clear. He told us in the House that the Boers would not be allowed one single shred of independence. What did he mean by that? I do not gather that the Boers are claiming to be outside 147 the area of the British Empire. I remember that Sir Wilfrid Laurier lately said Canada was an independent nation, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies echoed that sentiment. I would like to know what would be said in any one of the self-governing colonies if the Secretary for the Colonies were to declare that they did not possess one shred of independence. They would insist at once that they had independence. The question is not whether the Boers are to enter the area of the Empire, but what is to be the position they will occupy when they enter. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies even disputed the small amount of independence Lord Kitchener was prepared to grant to the Boers. Lord Kitchener says there will be a Crown Colony with an elective Assembly, followed by representative government. The Secretary for the Colonies says there will be a Crown Council, but the members will be nominated; he will then introduce the representative element, not representative government, and ultimately concede the privilege of self-government. We know perfectly well what "ultimately" means. We have heard of it from Lord Salisbury himself. I do not know whether the Secretary for the Colonies reads his speeches. Lord Salisbury said it might be generations before this self-government was granted to them. When talking about "ultimately" we must accept the view that it may be generations before we grant it. What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by the "privilege" of self-government? Self-government is not a privilege. It is a right, and I assert that every man so soon as he becomes a citizen of this Empire has that absolute right. It is not granted as a generous gift. He has a right to it precisely in the same way as we have a right to it in this country. It must be remembered when we talk of these generous terms what we are asking the Boers to do. We are calling on the Boers to surrender their national existence and flag, and yet when they were ready to accept this position and when they asked what their position would be in the Empire, practically the reply was that their position in the Empire, so far as political rights were concerned, would be little better than that of Kaffirs. So far as 148 ultimate self-government was concerned they were to put their faith in the Colonial Secretary. I do not put my faith in the Colonial Secretary, and I do not know why the Boers should do so. If they would take my advice it would be, "Put no faith in the Colonial Secretary." I would say also, "Put it all in black and white."
I regret that these negotiations have ended so unfortunately, but I am in no way surprised that they have done so. We have lost a great opportunity to end the war and settle South Africa in the only way it is possible to settle it. It is very probable, and I think it is certain, considering the disparity of the forces, that peace won with the sword will be of no advantage to us. A dependency will be created in which racial feuds will go on, the minority will be placed over the majority, and the rule of the minority maintained by a huge British garrison. Our aim ought to be to make South Africa a strength, not a weakness, to the Empire; to obtain the assent of the people of South Africa to their country becoming a portion of the Empire; and to make South Africa not a dependency ruled by a garrison, but a Free State like Canada or Australia, which, together with us, should form the British Empire. Hon. Members should look a little at the facts. In South Africa there is a Dutch majority which will be perfectly certain to increase every decade, for the reason that the Dutch people in South Africa are exceedingly prolific. In order to meet that, what does the Colonial Secretary propose to do? He sent out a Commission to discover whether South Africa was a fitting place for English colonists. Probably anybody on this side of the House could have told, him that a more God-forsaken place for English colonists did not exist. He even carried his idea so far that we were to endeavour to increase the population by a sort of competition between the Dutch and the mythical colonists and the mythical women in the procreation of their species. It must also be remembered that the Dutch are agriculturists, and agriculturists are always the backbone of a country. What are the English in Cape Colony? They are middlemen and speculators; they are men who go out there not with the intention of remaining, 149 but simply to make if possible a certain amount of money and then come back to England. South Africa never will be a place for English working men, owing to their inability to compete with the abundant mass of cheap labour in that part of the world. The Afrikander in Cape Colony has certain racial sympathies with the Afrikander in the Orange State and the Transvaal. That is not the least surprising. These Afrikanders were formerly loyal to the Crown; they objected to the war, and some even went so far as to join the Boers. We may regret that, but let us reverse the position. Suppose Cape Colony had been in the hands of Holland, that these two small States had been English, and that Holland had attacked them. Do you mean to say that Englishmen living in Cape Colony would not have taken sides with the English? We know perfectly well that they would. When we complain of these men we are acting contrary to every principle we have ever professed. Surely you must make allowances for the Dutchmen who, carried away by their racial sympathies, joined their countrymen in defending themselves against our attacks. They were aggravated into this course before the war. We all remember the famous speech of Sir Alfred Milner in which he attacked them—
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I beg your pardon, it was not a speech; it was a despatch, in which he spoke of the Uitlanders being "helots," and expressed views as to the Dutch in Cape Colony in a way which was exceedingly uncomplimentary to their loyalty. The Afrikanders really believe that the war is to a certain extent only an excuse to enable the minority to obtain a majority in the Cape Assembly by a jerrymandering of the constitution, and by the disfranchisement of a large number of Afrikanders. During the war they have seen martial law prevailing in their country, administered not by English generals and officers, but in many cases by their political opponents, who never lose an opportunity of taking advantage of them. The Transvaal is an exceedingly poor country with the 150 exception of the gold. The Transvaal farmers live in a poor, rude manner which Englishmen will not accept. There came the rush for gold, and then happened that which happens everywhere. A great cosmopolitan crew of adventurers arrived there. About 1850 I was in California and saw what happened there. You can rule these camps only by a species of lynch law. You have a vigilance committee, and I, the respectable Englishman standing before the House to-day, have sat on a jury and comdemned a man to be hung by lynch law. ["Oh, oh!"] What would those gentlemen who say, "Oh, oh!" have done? The man had shot somebody, he was a ruffian; the vigilance committee was the only authority existing; a jury was called, and I had to act as a juryman. My duty as a juryman was to say whether or not the man was guilty. If he was innocent I should have said he was innocent, but if the case was made out I said "Guilty," and the sentence was undoubtedly unpleasant to the gentleman himself. I only cite that to show the difficulty these farmers must have had to get any sort of law recognised among these cosmopolitan adventurers. I do not particularly admire the Boers; there is a great deal too much of the conservative element in them. They have their virtues, and their faults; but if you judge between the Afrikanders of South Africa and the Englishmen who go there, recognising fully that amongst the English there are many highly respectable men, I think the Boers are the better men. Certainly so far as we are concerned, if we want to maintain our rule in South Africa the Boers are the safest men to be on good terms with. We must also take into account the increase every year in the black races, and also the advance of civilisation. Mr. Merriman, in his petition to be heard at the bar of the House, has pointed out how necessary it is that we should do everything to abate this racial feud between Afrikanders and Englishmen, and that otherwise we should be faced with this great increase of the black races. But the English and Dutch together would probably be able to hold their own against them.
What are the Boers ready to do? As I read the correspondence they are ready to enter the area of the British Empire, but 151 only upon terms. Surely our problem is to find terms that are honourable to us, and to those brave men themselves, which will produce a state of things that will be of no danger to ourselves, but eventually lead to South Africa becoming one of the great commonwealths connected with the Empire, such as now exist in Canada and Australia. What are the terms I would suggest? First, a full and absolute amnesty. I cannot understand these arguments of vengeance or political supremacy. I am talking not of the question of justice, but of policy and expediency. Any country that has gone through a species of civil war—for that is what it comes to—if it is wise does not treat the conquered as conquered, but endeavours to make no distinction between the one side and the other. In Canada, in 1836, what happened in the Papineau Rebellion was that, although the six men who were already transported were for some reason excepted, the fullest amnesty was given to men who were unquestionably technically, and as matter of fact, rebels. Why we cannot follow in South Africa the policy which has been so successful in Canada I cannot understand. In regard to the Transvaal and the Orange State, I would make them, not in generations, but as soon as possible, self-governing colonies. What objection can you have to the Orange State becoming a self-governing colony? It has been regarded by all Englishmen who have written upon it as a model State, and was said to have the very best Government existing in South Africa. In the Transvaal I admit there is a difficulty. As soon as the Uitlanders came back the Dutch would be outvoted, and probably the Dutch would lose more than they gained. But that fact could be met in a very simple way. For the benefit of the Dutch themselves, and with their consent, separate the mining area, the Rand, from the Transvaal Colony, give the large area remaining, in which they would have a majority, to the Dutch, and you would be able to administer under a military Governor, if you like, the Rand. The absolute necessity of giving some sort of pecuniary aid to the Transvaalers would be easily met by giving them a reasonable rental for the district of which you deprive them. The 152 Colonial Secretary and others have always played upon the word "immediately." "Immediately" means not tomorrow, but as soon as possible. All we contend is that it would be undesirable to establish there a Crown Colony government, because it would mean a question of years before self-government could be instituted. Of course, it requires time. We, and I believe the Boers also, would be perfectly ready to agree that there should be a provisional government, let it be either military or civil. Personally I should prefer Lord Kitchener to Sir Alfred Milner. Let the provisional government be there simply to carry on affairs during the time we are arranging for the colony to be self-governing. As to Sir Alfred Milner, he really seems to me to be regarded as a sort of divine pro-consul, and if anybody ventures to say a word, not against his personal character or his intelligence in many walks of life, but against his being a fit man for South Africa at the present moment, hon. Members immediately say, "Oh, oh!" Sir Alfred Milner began as an Oxford don, and he became a valuable official in the Treasury. Both those circumstances are against him as a practical man in South African politics.
I am not questioning his Liberalism, although I do not see much of it in South Africa. What I do object to is the claim of infallibility. He is the very worst man you could find for putting an end to racial feuds. The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick at a Liberal Imperialist dinner, speaking of Sir Alfred Milner, said—It is impossible to send any other man in his place who would not have the position made untenable by the British section.Those words prove my case. This gentleman is considered by the English section to be such a partisan that they literally would confederate, or possibly rebel, in order to make untenable the position of any other man who might replace him. Surely we are not to be tied down in that way. The very fact that he is looked upon as a partisan of the one side is a sufficient reason why, if 153 we want to bring the war to an end, and to get the people to be friendly together, we should substitute for him some other man. There are a dozen men on the other side of the House who would do the thing more efficiently if they were sent than Sir Alfred Milner. ["No."] Hon. Gentlemen are really too modest. ["Name."] I will not name anybody here, as it might be personal to others; but a man like Lord Dufferin in the other House would do more towards bringing peace than any of the military operations of our soldiers. We are told again and again that the Boers must be conquered, because there is something peculiar in the Boer in that he will not accept any argument that is not knocked into his head by physical force. But the very gentlemen who tell us that are those who have been wrong right throughout the entire war. It is perfect non-sense for for us on this point to believe either Ministers or the miserable press that supports them. What are the Boers after all? They are farmers, and a farmer, as a rule, does not look far beyond his own nose or his own fields. The Boers lived far distant from one another, and they hardly recognised the Government at Pretoria. You may say that the Transvaal was a confederation of divers districts paying a certain allegiance to Pretoria, but each separate district was practically independent of the other, and I believe they carried their independence so far as to refuse on several occasions to pay any taxes that went to Pretoria. These simple-minded men met once a week or month in a little town and passed most of their time in singing hymns. These men are as honourable as we are, and, unless they are very different from farmers and agriculturists in every other part of the world, I cannot suppose that they would say: "We are not going to cultivate our fields or look after our own interests; we are going to rebel against the Government." They would be perfectly satisfied if you gave them that local autonomy which really they did possess under the Boer Government itself.
We are accused of being pro-Boers. I do not know what the term means, but, as far as I can understand, it applies to anyone who does not agree with the policy of the Government 154 in South Africa. Even admitting that the Government have a great deal of political wisdom, they have not a monopoly. We are so foolish as to think that a certain amount of political wisdom exists among the Liberal party. Let us agree that neither party has a monopoly of that element, and that one is not a wretch, a traitor, or a felon because he happens to disagree with the policy of the Government. We have the interests of the Empire as much at heart as hon. Gentlemen opposite, and it certainly required more courage while the war fever was raging for a Member of this House to risk his seat, his popularity, and his position in the country by going against the passion of the hour than to glide with the stream. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should not attack us and imply that we have acted dishonourably, because, believing honestly that this war was a mistake, we boldly stood up before our countrymen and said so. I am not influenced by the Rhodesian press, nor am I influenced at all by mere party considerations. If I were it would be in the interests of the Liberal party that I should allow the Government to continue to cook in their own juice. [An HON. MEMBER: "Stew."] Well, either "cook" or "stew," I will give you the choice. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite will admit that the war is not quite so popular now as it was in February last, and it will become more and more unpopular every day, and will end by ruining the Unionist party. It is an old dictum that the party which embarks upon a war in the end suffers by it, and if you go on with this war policy we shall have a majority of 150 at the next election. But I am not influenced by party considerations; I prefer my country to my party, and that is why I give to hon. Gentlemen opposite advice which is clearly not in the interests of the party of which I am a member. I want the war to cease, and I want it to cease in such a way that we shall not have a great disaffected dependency in South Africa. I want us to have a colony which will be a strength,' and not a weakness, to the Empire. This great and noble Empire was not built up in the fashion that hon. Gentlemen are trying to build it up now, and it will not be maintained in the way they are seeking 155 to maintain it. I do urge Ministers to act as statesmen instead of mere partisans. I urge them to emancipate themselves from the thraldom of the very worst elements in any party, of these Cape Town filibusters, of these cosmopolitan millionaires, of this Rhodesian press howling for blood and swaggering and boasting all over the world in a manner which renders them the laughing stock of all Europe.
Have hon. Gentlemen opposite read yesterday a telegram that was received from the South African correspondent of The Times? I think that was a very remarkable telegram. Explaining the situation, The Times correspondent said that we did not want another 30,000 men, but we wanted 50,000 men, and he seemed to think the war would last two years, and he thought we should make it clear to the Boers that, although it would last two years, we were prepared to go on for ten years. We are spending £1,500,000 per week upon this war, and I will leave it to hon. Members opposite to calculate how much we shall have spent at that rate at the end of ten years. Sir Wilfrid Laurier said this was the most unfortunate war we have ever been engaged in. I do not think anyone can look with approval or admiration at the mode in which we are carrying on this war. This system of depopulating the country, destroying the farms, and reducing the whole place to a desert, is un-English. When we remember that we ourselves hope to conquer these colonies and get them into our hands, it seems to me to be sheer madness to pursue such a policy if by any other means we can come to a practical arrangement with the Boers. I protest against the policy now being carried on, for I believe it is against our own interest, contrary to humanity, contrary to every principle which ought to actuate an enlightened Government, and contrary to that principle of independence of nations that we have hitherto professed.
§ MR. SEELY (Lincoln)
At this hour of the evening I will not detain the House at any length, more particularly as I understand there is another important subject which the House wishes to discuss before parting with the Appropriation Bill. I should like to say 156 just a word or two upon the question before the House. I should like to add my word to the general approval which I think has come from all sides of the House as to the liberal and generous terms which His Majesty's Government offered to the Boers a fortnight or three weeks ago. I agree with the hon. Member for Haddington when he says that he does not believe that the smal differences between the terms suggested by Lord Kitchener and the letter which was ultimately sent out by the Government had much effect upon the ultimate result and refusal of those terms by the Boers. I cannot help thinking myself that the subject we are to discus in a short period from now may have had more to do with this refusal than any small differences as to the terms of peace. I hope that when the Boers see, as they must see by now, that the troubles in the East which occurred on the 12th and 14th March, before they sent their reply, have now come to an end, they will somewhat regret the attitude they took up in the middle of this month.
I should like to press upon the Government two points in regard to these terms in case they should come up again. One is the question of the assistance to be given for the rebuilding of farms, as to whether it should be given by loan or in some other way. I quite understand the object of the Colonial Secretary in inserting the words "by loan," and I think all those who listened to his speech must agree that it was necessary to take some precaution of the nature he has pointed out. But I do hope the Government will interpret very liberally indeed those words, and let it be widely known that there are a considerable number of special and exceptional cases where the assistance could take the form of gifts. Undoubtedly many farms have been burned by mistake. I know of one case myself where the farm of a woman who had nursed our wounded was destroyed. [Cheers from the Irish benches.] Hon. Members opposite need not cheer me, for they are more responsible for this war and for the continuance of our troubles in South Africa than anybody else. [Nationalist interruptions.]
* MK. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has not used any unparliamentary expression, and he has a right to say that in his opinion a particular party is responsible for the war. Hon. Members must not interrupt in this way.
§ MR. SEELY
I thought that hon. Members opposite seemed to imply by their cheers that I was in sympathy with some of the speeches they had made on this subject. [An IRISH MEMBER: "Keep your sympathy."] I know of a case where a woman who had nursed our wounded, and had nursed them with great kindness and great devotion, and who had won the respect of every member of that company, had her farm afterwards burned, not by those men, but by another company of soldiers who knew nothing about this, and who destroyed the arm through some mistake. If that occurred in one case, similar things may have occurred in many other cases, and there must be many other instances where farms have been burned where, if there had been full time to consider the circumstances, they would have been spared. Therefore, I hope the Colonial Secretary will interpret these exceptions very liberally, and let it be known widely that he is willing to do so.
There is one other matter, although it is with very great diffidence that one speaks about it, because it is a very difficult question—I refer to the question of amnesty for the colonial rebels. I see the difficulty in giving an amnesty to men who are undoubtedly rebels and who have fought against us with no grievance of their own, but I do think that those Boers who are fighting in the regular forces under such commanders as General Botha should be treated differently, because it is difficult for them to lay down their arms without some very clear understanding as to what they will be liable to. I do hope that when His Majesty's Government reopen negotiations they will consider that point very carefully. I have merely mentioned these two topics, not with the intention of disapproving of what His Majesty's Government have done or of criticising their action, but simply as suggesting two points on which I think it is desirable that they should act with even greater generosity and liberality 158 than they have acted in the terms offered. I hope that the liberality and generosity which they have shown towards the Boers will have its reward in influencing them to soon put an end to this most disastrous, and, to them, this most ruinous war.
§ MR. THOMAS O'DONNELL (Kerry, W.)
I approach this question not as an Englishman, whose mind for the time being is filled with thoughts of satisfaction, but with feelings of regret for the blood of my countrymen which has been spilt, and regret for the loss of money and prestige which my country has suffered. The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench who so courageously expressed his honest views upon this question, was taken very severely to task for his words by the Colonial Secretary, who misinterpreted and twisted the meaning of those words. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Northampton, who spoke of the courage which it required to come to this House and express honest convictions about the war and afterwards share the fate which those convictions had so often brought. I admire the man who has the courage to speak out plainly and fearlessly at what I consider is a very critical moment in our history. I approach this question with absolutely no bias or partiality. Ireland owes nothing to the Boers. We are not connected with them by ties of kindred or of religion. We are of a different creed, and an entirely different race. We have no memories of past services rendered by them towards our country or its people to urge us on to immoderate zeal or unreasonable demands on their behalf, and therefore are we qualified to speak on the subject now before the House with impartial minds, with minds unclouded by prejudice, by self interest, or by any of the other baser feelings that naturally arise within the breasts of those intimately I concerned or directly engaged in the quarrel.
We Irishmen rise solely in the interests of justice and fair play. We have watched with horror and indignation the combat—if such it may be styled—which has now dragged on for over seventeen months. We expressed our disapproval of the causes which led to the 159 war at the beginning as unworthy of a great Empire, degrading to a Christian people, characteristic only of the looting ages, which we supposed had passed. From their position in this House Irishmen have time after time criticised severely, but with only too much truth and justice, the inhuman and barbarous manner in which you conducted this war, by which, ten against one, you still resort to the cruellest treatment of women and children—to the burning of homesteads, to exposure, hunger and forced exile to your camps—some of them dens of vice—in order that you might induce these people to piteously appeal to their fellow-countrymen to give up the struggle and volunteer a surrender which your might was unable to enforce. The Boers are of a different race and creed from the Irish, and as the latter owe nothing to them and are outside the quarrel, they are most competent to give an unprejudiced opinion upon it. You have a vast army, backed up by the richest treasury in the world and unlimited supplies, matched against 30,000 untrained farmers. Yet, in spite of such enormous odds on our side, you have to resort to methods which are not honourable, like the burning of farms and the throwing of women out on the veldt to starve and die. [A UNIONIST MEMBER: It is a falsehood.]
MR. BURKE (King's County, Tullamore)
asked whether it was in order for an hon. Member opposite to apply the word "falsehood" to what was said by a Member on the Opposition benches.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
If any hon. Member used that expression regarding anything said by the hon. Member who is addressing the House, he should withdraw it. [Nationalist cheers and cries of "Brook-field."]
§ MR. FLAVIN
I heard the hon. Member sitting on the front bench below the gangway use that expression. He said, "It is an impudent falsehood."
§ COLONEL BROOKFIELD (Sussex, Rye)
In deference to your ruling, Sir, I beg to withdraw the expression.
§ MR. THOMAS O'DONNELL
I repeat that women and children were thrown out on the veldt to die. All 160 these inhuman sights are ever present to the mind of the Boer, and surely they are not such as will tempt him to come in and willingly lay down his arms and trust himself to the care of the Government which caused all this trouble! We wish these inhuman and brutalising acts to cease. We Irishmen are for peace and for justice, and I think Englishmen on both sides of this House will admit that we ought to be ready and willing to sacrifice a great deal in order to bring about peace.
I will turn to the correspondence which has recently been issued. In that correspondence hon. Gentlemen will note that the one point insisted upon by General Botha was some sort of independence. One point insisted upon by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House is that we should refuse any form of independence. [Ministerial cheers.] I am sorry to hear hon. Gentlemen cheer that statement, but perhaps the time will come when charity and justice will demand this concession, and possibly they will then repent that they did not consider this question more carefully. It is useful to notice two very important changes in the attitude of the British Government, directly and solely attributable to Boer perseverance and success. The first is that it is the English who now first moved for peace, and the second is that they have come down considerably from the "unconditional surrender" attitude adopted on a previous occasion. These changes are important, and to thinking Englishmen ought to be instructive. Turning to the first telegram from Kitchener, he states that Botha agreed to discuss terms of peace on the express understanding that the independence of the Transvaal and the Orange Free Colony were not to be discussed. In a second telegram to Mr. Brodrick, Lord Kitchener, says "Botha showed very good feeling, and was anxious for peace; he tried very hard for some kind of independence." which of course was refused. It is certainly instructive, in reading the final revised telegram sent to Botha, to note the beautifully characteristic vagueness of its terms, all, of course with the object of being—quite precise, in order to avoid any charge of breach of faith afterwards." "Amnesty will be given for bona fide acts of war.161 The devil trying his case in his own court!—At the earliest practicable date military administration will give place to Crown Colony government.Then—As soon as circumstances permit a representative element will be introduced,and, as if dealing with men who have neither spirit nor manhood in them the telegram proceeds—Ultimately the privilege of self-government will be conceded.Is this the way to treat a brave people? Are these the prospects that will induce men who love liberty dearer than life, posterity dearer than self,** to come in and end this horrible and inhuman war? Is it any wonder, in the face of that telegram, that Botha, who was fighting for his home, his family, for freedom, for posterity, for his country, should have replied—It will certainly not surprise your Excellency to know that I do not feel disposed to recommend that the terms of your letter should have the earnest consideration of my Government?And now, when these bitter, inhuman sights are about to be ended, and prospects of peace appear on the horizon, we again appeal, for justice sake, on behalf of humanity, on behalf of the age which proclaims itself Christian, that you will listen to the voice of reason, and field to these brave men such terms as they can honourably accept—such terms as their unexampled bravery deserves. "Not unacquainted with sorrow, the sad we learn to befriend." We who have lived for years in slavery, whose country and people have been denied the blessings of free self-government for hundreds of years, can speak with authority, can speak from experience of the aimless existence, the living death endured by the human soul when its aspirations, its ideals, are checked by the cage of foreign government, by the loss of liberty; and therefore can we understand the apparent madness of the Boers in still continuing a hopeless contest, or rather what is termed a hopeless contest: for I deem it impossible that such heroic bravery, such dauntless perseverance in the cause of justice, in the fight for home and kindred, 162 should not, by God's aid, finally succeed. Have Englishmen no justice, no charity, no mercy in their breasts? Can they not look with unprejudiced eyes on the spectacle presented to the world in South Africa to-day? On one side you have, or rather you had seventeen months ago, 30,000 peasant farmers, with limited resources, with no means of supplying the places of those who fall in battle, giving their lives, dying to the last man, fighting against unheard-of odds, fighting with madness, with desperation, for the liberty and homes they love. You see the mother willingly send forth, never to be seen more, the husband and the sons she loves, with the old Roman words at parting. "Come back with your shield, or on it." On the other side—and I do not wish to say this in any offensive spirit—you have a trained and disciplined army of 300,000 men, with unlimited supplies of men, stores, arms, and ammunition to draw from, fighting, not for home, not for liberty, not for any great human cause, but rather for the basest of human motives—the acquisition of land whose gold made it too valuable to remain in the possession of a weak nation, the destruction of a race whose valour and patriotism wall resound through future ages as the one bright spot in the closing years of this commercial nineteenth century. Is this the way you intend to bring about peace? Have you brought peace to Ireland, where for hundreds of years the only treatment we have got has been government by coercion? You may exterminate us, you may crush us, but still we live and are prepared to fight for freedom and our homes. It was an English poet who wrote—Slaves cannot breathe in England: if their lungsReceive our air, that moment they are free; They touch our country, and their shackles fall.I would like hon. Gentlemen opposite to take these words to heart, and try to understand that they are not upholding that tradition. Has the God of justice, of charity, but of retribution, been superseded in your mighty Empire, flushed as it is with the pride of success, by the god of iniquity and unrighteousness? Beware lest you are now disregarding an opportunity of retrieving your lost fame. Bewrare lest in your endeavour 163 to crush out disaffection in South Africa by cold-blooded murder you are sowing the seeds of another Ireland 7,000 miles away from your shores. I would also ask Englishmen to remember that they have not yet conquered, and that perhaps in the exigencies of the situation they may soon find sufficient employment for their bellicose tendencies in other lands. Ah, even at this slate hour, when your thirst for blood has been satisfied, will you not refrain from crushing, by pure weight of numbers, the brave remnant who are prepared to die to the last man before they surrender; will you continue to murder—for such I call it—the men who, despite your opportunities, were infinitely superior to you in the arts of war, and who undoubtedly have been the means of bringing radical changes in your Army, and thus perhaps saving you from that destruction which would have followed had you in your arrogance engaged in a European war before this. Is the spirit of justice, of fair-play, of charity, dead within the breasts of Englishmen? Do they seriously glory in the murder—for such it must be called—goiing on in their name in South Africa to-day? Are all appeals, except those of the leaden bullet, to be disregarded? Now, even now, we appeal for magnanimity, for justice. We ask you to send the angel of peace to those brave men dying for honour, for liberty, and for home. Shall the words of the poet still continue to apply to you—Truth for ever on the scaffold, Wrong for ever on the throne,Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknownStandeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.