HL Deb 08 March 1900 vol 80 cc347-50

I rise to ask the Secretary of State for War if he can give any assurance that the Boer prisoners, now amounting to several thousands, will not be interned in places in proximity to the Dutch districts of the Cape Colony, or in any considerable numbers in the Cape peninsula. The question of which I have given notice is due to a considerable anxiety which I believe has been felt in this country as well as in South Africa with regard to the places where it is proposed to place the large number of Boer military prisoners who are now in Cape Town. The unrest which unfortunately exists in the Dutch districts in the southern portion of South Africa renders it a matter of very grave importance that these prisoners should not be interned in any near proximity to those provinces, or in those districts themselves. I am quite aware that there is great difficulty in finding proper and suitable places where they can be placed. There are, however, certain places on the east coast, as well as beyond the great naval station at Simons Bay, where there is a promontory on which some 3,000 to 4,000 men could be interned with the greatest ease and kept safely, without any chance of escape, by a very small force. I understand, however, that it has been suggested that some of the prisoners should be sent to St. Helena. I dare say there may be an advantage in sending some of them to that island, but I question very much whether the large number of prisoners, who now amount to between 6,000 and 7,000, could be located with any great advantage in that country. We must bear in mind that the majority of the Boers have never seen the sea, and they would regard being sent to St. Helena as a greater punishment inflicted on their prisoners than is meted out by the Transvaal Government to our prisoners at present in Pretoria. If, however, Her Majesty's Government have consulted Sir Alfred Milner on the question, and if he approves of the place where the prisoners are to be located, then I am quite satisfied that whatever decision may have been arrived at is the best both from political and military considerations. I have referred to the unrest which is at present unhappily on the increase in the Dutch districts in the southern part of the colony as well as in the northern portion, near Barkly West. I do not know whether your Lordships have observed that as success has followed our arms the agitation in these districts has increased. At least such is the information I have received by telegram and by letter. What is the cause of that increase of unrest? No doubt it arose from the fact that in the early part of the war the tenacity of the Boers encouraged the Dutch population in the colony to believe that Her Majesty's Government would at last be forced to come to some understanding with the two Republics, based on a guarantee of their independence; but since the successes which have followed Lord Roberts's advance into the Free State, they must feel that all possibility of preventing the ultimate occupation, and I believe the occupation within a comparatively short period of Pretoria is at an end, and they must have observed that the general feeling in this country is such that we shall never allow a state of affairs to arise after the termination of the war such as existed prior to it. Their only course, therefore, is to agitate to the utmost to endeavour to make the Government believe that annexation would create trouble and rising in all parts of Cape Colony. Their agitation has also, I fancy, the object of encouraging that small minority in this country who believe that no interference should take place with the independence of the two Republics. But, my Lords, I am satisfied of one thing, and I am satisfied because I think I have a very fair knowledge of the Dutch character, that when Her Majesty's Government are able to declare positively what the future of the two Republics is to be—and I do not think any noble Lord can doubt what that decision will ultimately be—and if at the same time a statement is made based upon the same principles as those which were embodied in Lord Roberts's Proclamation to the Free Staters, all opposition will cease, as well as the agitation got up amongst the Dutch of the Cape Colony with the view of alarming, if possible, the Government as to what would result from that annexation. When they know for certain what the intentions of the Government are I believe that agitation will cease, and that in a very short time after the conquest of the two Republics is completed the burghers in both Republics will be found accepting the rule of Great Britain, and will prove to be as loyal as any citizens of Her Majesty's colonies, and as loyal as the French Canadians have proved themselves to be. I rejoiced to see the other day that the latter formed a company of the Canadian force which assisted Lord Roberts in his recent expedition. I trust it will not be long before Her Majesty's Government will be able to make a clear statement as to what the future of the two Republics is to be. I now beg to ask the question standing on the Paper in my name.


My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will acquit me of disrespect if I do not follow him through the very interesting statement he has just made to the House. My business is to answer his question. His question is whether I am able to give him an assurance that the Boer prisoners will not be interned in places in proximity to the Dutch districts of the Cape Colony, or in any considerable numbers in the Cape Peninsula. I am able to give him the assurance for which he asks.