HL Deb 07 July 1902 vol 110 cc905-7

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government what arrangements have been made for the repatriation of the Boer prisoners, and whether it is intended to permit those Boer prisoners who decline to take the oath of allegiance to return to South Africa. Owing to the termination of the war, the interest in South Africa is wholly concentrated on the question of the re-establishment of order and the repatriation of the Boers in that country. This is in itself a very large question, and also a very difficult question, and it will require the exercise of much judgment and tact. I have experienced some difficulty in ascertaining what the numbers to be dealt with may be, but I read yesterday an article in which it was stated that, in addition to about 20,000 men who had surrendered to Lord Kitchener in consequence of the terms of peace, and 9,000 more whom he had captured, there are at the present time over 42,000 men in prison and in concentration camps, with whom the Government will have, of course, to deal. It is to be hoped, and I think there is some reason to hope, that most of the Boers will recognise the generosity with which they and their families have been treated, and will accept their new position as citizens of the Empire which is ruled by King Edward. At the same time, I am afraid that there are others who will not take the oath of allegiance, or conform to any other test, and who hope to return to their country to foment sedition. I am sure we shill all feel great pleasure in hearing any statement which the noble Earl the Under Secretary of State may have to make as to what arrangements have been made for the repatriation of the Boers. I hope also that he will be able to make plain to us that those prisoners who decline to take the oath of allegiance and fall in under the new government will not be allowed to return to South Africa.


A certain number of the prisoners interned at St. Helena and Ceylon are at present on their way back to South Africa. Of these, 480, who left St. Helena on June 26th, have already arrived at the Cape, and 400 from Ceylon were to have embarked, on the 5th of this month, in the "Templemore." All these are prisoners who have taken the oath of allegiance, and are well disposed towards the new condition of affairs. Arrangements will be made by the War Office, who have control of all the transports, for gradually repatriating the remaining prisoners of war in such numbers as Lord Milner is able to say there is room for. The numbers sent back must depend upon the transports which are available, and upon the means for their subsistence being secured, as had already been laid down in the terms of surrender. I may point out to the noble Lord that transports are urgently required for bringing back the troops from South Africa, and that is, perhaps, the first duty which rests upon the Government. It is not intended to allow any prisoners who decline duly to declare their acceptance of the position of subjects of the King to return to South Africa. But His Majesty's Government are quite ready to accept a formal declaration on the part of the prisoners in the terms of the declaration which has been made by the Boers who surrendered in South Africa, where there may be any objection to taking a formal oath.


I should like to ask whether any difference will be made between the foreigners who are prisoners and the burghers. I would suggest that a different course should be taken in their case, and I should like to know whether the noble Earl has any information to give the House on that point.


Certainly there will be a difference. Under the terms of peace, the burghers are entitled to be repatriated in South Africa, but the foreigners are not entitled to return there.