HL Deb 22 February 1900 vol 79 cc770-2

My Lords, the question which I desire to put to the noble Marquess the Prime Minister namely, whether there exists any treaty with a foreign Power bearing on the ultimate settlement between Her Majesty's Government on the one hand and the Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics on the other relates to a matter which has excited some public interest. There is an uneasy feeling that when the end of the war comes and we all trust that the events of the last few days have brought the end appreciably nearer—the Government will not have altogether a free hand in dealing with the Boer Republics. There is a suspicion that some sort of treaty, or agreement, or understanding exists with Germany the effect of which will be to secure some measure of independence for the Boers. ft is to ascertain whether there is any justification for that suspicion that I have placed my question on the, Paper. There have been references made to the coming settlement by Ministers in their speeches. In his Guildhall speech on the 9th of November last the Prime Minister made a remark which was supposed to bear on the subject. The noble Marquess said, "We seek no territory."


I said a great deal more than that.


That is so, but the noble Marquess made use of the, expression, "We seek no territory." It is one thing not to seek territory. It is another thing not to hesitate if necessity should arise to acquire territory for our protection and for the security of our colonies. I venture to think that no settlement, in this case, will be satisfactory to this country or to the colonies, who have come loyally to our assistance, and especially to the loyalists of Natal and Cape Colony, which docs not provide for the absorption into the British Empire of the, Transvaal and Free State Republics. Mr. Chamberlain in a recent speech has also referred to the subject. He said that— Never again with our consent, while we have the power, shall the Boers be able to erect in the heart of South Africa a citadel whence proceed disaffection and race animosities; never again shall they be able to endanger the paramountcy of Great Britain; never again shall they be able to treat an Englishman as if he belonged to an inferior race."? That is a satisfying statement so far as it goes, but I have not much faith in the term "paramountcy." We have had paramountcy before, and it is because we have had paramountcy and not sovereignty the shadow and not the reality—that we are at war at the present moment. I think it would be more satisfactory if Mr. Chamberlain had been able to declare that the conduct of the Boer Republics had rendered them unworthy of independence, and that therefore, in our own interests, they would not be allowed to retain it. I do not ask the Government to make any premature statement as to what will happen at the end of the war. 1, for one, am perfectly confident that if the Government have a free hand they will deal justly with the Boers and also with full regard to British interests. But the question is, will the Government have a, free hand, or will they be hampered by some agreement, which we know nothing of, with Germany or some other Power '? If the answer to my question is in the negative it will set at rest a serious doubt entertained by the British public, by whom no foreign interference with the settlement which will ultimately have to come about between this Government and the Boer Republics will be tolerated.


My Lords, I understand we have incurred the censure of my noble friend because we have not announced in sufficiently uncompromising terms what we intend to do with the two Boer Republics at the end of the war. Does it not occur to my noble friend that it is a little premature to ask such a question? I am not going into that subject, nor shall I venture to attempt to gratify my noble friend's very natural curiosity. But with respect to the question he asks me, I have no diffi- culty in giving a very complete answer. We have no engagements with any Power whatever with respect to the course we shall take with regard to the Boer Republics, and no Power has ever asked us or suggested to its to enter into any such arrangement.