Parliament is about to separate, and that at a time when the public mind has probably never been so filled with unrest, anxiety, and alarm. The outlook is serious, and the problems in South Africa, both of a political and racial character, are grave. I venture to lay before the House certain views which I do not think have yet been debated on the lines on which I propose to submit them, and I hope to do so, by the indulgence of the House, with perfect frankness and with as much brevity as I can command. The extreme moderation of the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary in the House of Commons on 8th December occasioned a feeling of hopefulness in the public mind. But the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the other night was so relentless in tone that I think the heart of every lover of peace throughout the country must have been made sick. Moreover, the proclamations of Lord Roberts, which, in my opinion, exasperated instead of pacifying the Boers, and the consequent failure of the peace negotiations, are both consistent with the attitude expressed in the speech of the Colonial Secretary. I will deal first with the proclamations though not, of course, with them in their entirety; but there are one or two points in regard to them which I think ought to be brought before the notice of the country. With reference to these proclamations, which, in my opinion, have prolonged instead of abbreviating the devastating struggle in South Africa, it is surely, to begin with, common ground, and of the highest importance, that no violence should be done under the hand of the official representative of this country to our best military traditions or to the practice of civilised nations. I have studied and restudied these proclamations, and I have come to the sorrowful conclusion that, besides not effecting their object, they did do violence both to our military traditions and to the practice of civilised nations. They are tainted absolutely with illegality. There are two instances that I desire to bring before the House. These two instances arose out of the first proclamation issued by Lord Roberts—that terrible proclamation of the 19th June, 1900, which, in my judgment, has done more than any other single document could have done to protract this unhappy quarrel in South Africa. The part of that proclamation to which I particularly desire the attention of the House is that which ordered the placing of the principal resi- dents of a district where a railway line or telegraph wire had been out, on the trains passing through that district. It says:—
I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that proclamation, issued under the authority of a civilised power. There has been no instance during the last half century of this practice known to international lawyers except one. I am citing from a leading authority on international law—Mr. Hall's work. The historical instance he gives is as follows:—"As a further precautionary measure the Military Director has been authorised to order that one or more residents selected by him from each district shall from time to time personally accompany the trains while passing through the district."
What says this authority on international law on the subject? He says:—"In 1870 the Germans ordered that, railways having been frequently damaged, the trains shall be accompanied by well known and respected persons inhabitating the town or other localities in the neighbourhood of the lines. These persons shall be placed upon the engine, so that it may be understood that in every accident caused by the hostility of the inhabitants their compatriots will be the first to suffer. The competent civil and military authorities, together with the railway companies and the etappen commandants, will organise a service of hostages to accompany the trains."
That is the language of an acknowledged authority with regard to the law of civilised nations. It is stronger than any language that I should have used on my own motion. This may have come to the view of Lord Roberts, or some strong and sensible legal advice may have been communicated to him, because in five weeks after that proclamation was issued, namely, on the 27th July, it was ordered to be withdrawn. That confirms the view of its essential illegality, but unhappily it must have done much to uproot in the minds of the people so treated the notion that we were determined to keep within the lines of civilised warfare. The thing had been done; how could we undo the powerful effect it had on the minds of the inhabitants so dealt with or so threatened? I will now refer to another thing which may be said to have moved the heart of civilised mankind, namely, the proclamation with regard to the burning and devastation of farms,—"the houses and farms in the vicinity." Observe the language of this same proclamation, which is not in accordance with the language used in this House on the 8th December by the Colonial Secretary. I grant that a more humane construction has been put upon it, but we must look at it as we find it. "The houses and farms in the vicinity where damage is done will be destroyed and the residents dealt with under martial law." What were the reasons for that destruction? Only one is given. The allegation might have been the complicity of the persons inhabiting these houses. The actual reason is the vicinity of the place to where the damage is done. The latter is the reason given, and, this being so, in my judgment a violation of the law pf civilised nations and the laws of war has been distinctly perpetrated. The only excuse according to international law for the destruction of property is when that property is at the time being used for belligerent purposes, direct or indirect. Now that was not the excuse, and not the order that was given. Officers and soldiers were not instructed by this proclamation to destroy property used for belligerent purposes. They were not instructed to destroy property defended by a hostile armed force, but they were instructed to destroy property on one ground and one ground only, namely, its vicinity to the place where an outrage was committed, with which the inhabitants might be totally unconnected. That is doing the very thing against which every development of an International Code regulating the practices of war has protested. It is involving the innocent with the guilty, and does violence to a law acknowledged all over the civilised world. Why was that done? Why was property destroyed on account of its vicinity to certain outrages on the railway line? I think the reasons were disclosed in a certain fatal document issued by Lord Roberts. I wish to call the attention of the House to this, because I am dealing with the matter on legal grounds, and I am submitting to the House that the proclamations I am endeavouring to analyse violated not only military tradition, but the acknowledged law of civilised nations. Lord Roberts wrote to General Botha on September 2nd as follows:—"I need not tell you how repugnant these measures are to me." I believe him. Lord Roberts is not the man of whom anything else could be said. These measures were repugnant to him, as I hope they were to every British officer and every British soldier. Then Lord Roberts adds, "but I am obliged to resort to the same." Why? "By the evidently firm resolve on the part of yourself and the burghers to continue the war." I must refer to that reason as an extraordinary departure from the rules of civilised warfare. It simply means saying to the enemy, "You are more numerous than we expected, you are a foe more tenacious and more resolute, you are more difficult to defeat, and for that reason we shall employ against you measures which are repugnant to our better nature." I say that is a repudiation and condemnation of the policy adopted by these proclamations. Until this war we were in the vanguard of civilised nations with regard to the rides of warfare. The communication made by Sir John Ardagh on the occasion of The Hague Convention reflected the highest credit both on him and the country he represented. What did that Convention show? That we had the highest regard for the property of an invaded country, and that we were determined to protect private property. This is the law as laid down by The Hague Convention. "It is forbidden to attack or bombard undefended towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings." It may be said that the Transvaal was not a party to The Hague Convention, but in that respect The Hague Convention made no advance whatever on the rules which had been laid down by the Conference of Brussels and the Convention of Geneva. I am now going to cite to the House what is known as the Military Red-book, the Manual of Military Law, which is published every year by the Govern- ment. I have taken the edition of 1899 because this war started in that year. The following rules are contained in that excellent manual:—"This order was universally and justly reprobated on the ground that it violated the principle which denies to a belligerent any further power than that of keeping his hostage in confinement, and it is for Governments to consider whether it is worth while to retain a right which can only be made effective by means of an illegal brutality which existing opinion refuses to condone."
That is one of our own rules. Why has it been departed from? Then, again, the following general principle is laid down in the Manual of Military Law:—"As the object of war is confined to disabling the enemy, the infliction of any injuries-beyond that which is required to produce disability is needless cruelty."
By that test let this thing be tried. Is there any man who in his heart will not acknowledge that these proclamations have tended towards what it should be the rule of military policy to avoid, namely, the exasperation of the feelings of the people with whom we are contending? I hope the House will pardon me if I enter into detail on this matter. I do not know whether the House will agree with my conclusions or not, but I know it will not resent my citing our own acknowledged standards on a subject of so stupendous importance. The Military Red-book, to which I have referred, dealing with the property of the enemy, states—"The general principle is that in the mode of carrying on war no greater harm shall be done to the enemy than necessity requires for the purpose of bringing him to terms. This principle excludes gratuitous barbarities, and every description of cruelty and insult which serves only to exasperate the sufferings or to increase the hatred of the enemy, without weakening his strength or tending to procure his submission."
I maintain that I have made my point. These things have not tended to bring the war to an end. In the month of November two striking events occurred. One was that on the 16th there appeared an eloquent, touching, and powerful letter in The Times from the pen of the right hon. the Member for Montrose Burghs. The public mind was then roused to the gravity of the issue to an extent to which it had never formerly reached, although for months the process had been going on. I do not say for a moment that there was a causal connection between the publication of that letter and the despatch of Lord Roberts's, but two days later, on the 18th of November, there came a despatch from Lord Roberts in which he said there appeared to be some "misunderstanding" with reference to the burning of farms. That despatch is consolatory in one sense, but not in another. With whom was the misunderstanding? And what happened during the currency of this misunderstanding for five awful months? We know that the territory of the Republics was laid waste, and that the extent of the devastation is not even now known to the Secretary of State for War. Let me read the text of Lord Roberts's Order to his troops:—"The general principles of the customs of war applicable to the enemy's property are shortly these. The object of war is compensation for an injury. To attain this object it is lawful to take from the enemy everything, that conduces to his means of resistance, but it is unlawful to do his property any intentional injury which does not tend to bring the war to an end."
Why was not that said at the beginning?—"As there appears to be some misunderstanding with reference to the burning of farms and the breaking of dams the Commander-in-Chief wishes the following to be the line on which the general officers commanding are to act. No farm is to be burned except for an act of treachery"—
Why was not that said at the beginning?—"or when troops have been fired on from premises"—
Why was not all this said at the beginning? Will any man in his senses say that that letter was not addressed to people who had misunderstood the Commander-in-Chief's orders, and had committed these acts which he, months after the events, was telling them were not within the scope of their duty? I decline to believe that the British soldier loves this work. It has been productive of untold misery, and I can use no language descriptive of it stronger than that employed by Lord Roberts himself in his despatch of 14th December: "They are ruinous to the country, and entail endless suffering on the burghers and their families." I agree that the results of the proclamations were ruinous, and entailed endless suffering on the burghers and their families. But why was the real intention of these proclamations only explained rive months after they were issued and when havoc and destruction had largely done their work? Will any man pretend that these instances—even single instances of ruinous destruction will not be imprinted on the mind and memory of the Dutch race as a whole? I say that these practices carried out under these orders, and for which these orders were the legal or quasi-legal authority, were contrary to the law of nations and the laws of war, as well as (what we recognise in our hearts) hateful in the sight of God and man. Mr. Speaker, do not let us think for a moment that we can appeal to history in declaring that the necessities of war recommend or justify these practices. They take us back to another scene. Their policy is the policy of Lord Cornwallis at the time when Washington was in the severest straits, and when he was struggling against a certain apathy which was creeping over the hearts of the American nation. What was it that made Washington's troops swell in numbers, and drew men from every State in America to his flag? It was this, that Lord Cornwallis pursued the policy of devastation and burning of homesteads to such a degree that Washington, whose forces were well-nigh decimated, found himself again in possession of a large army. It is so all over the world. Men of the same race will not be treated contrary to every rule that should prevail among civilised mankind without solidarity of feeling, conscience, and sympathy being quickly realised among the race as a whole. It is said that we want to extinguish a nationality. I fear that these practices have gone far to create a nationality. Then Lord Roberts was entirely mistaken—I agree that it was an honest mistake—as to the effect that was going to be produced by his proclamations. This matter has, in a certain sense, a sadly humorous aspect. I would point out to the House that in his proclamation to the Dutch population on 14th September Lord Roberts said—"or as punishment for breaking telegraph or railway lines, or when they have been used as bases of operation for raiding, and then only with the direct consent of the general officer commanding, which is to be given in writing. The mere fact of a burgher being absent on commando is on no account to be taken as a reason for the burning of his house."
Think of this permanent manner of occupation! Nine months after an attenuated line of communications had been made to Pretoria, and after these territories had been annexed on paper, we have the Boer forces a thousand miles to the south-east and seven hundred miles to the south, and the towns of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in unrest and alarm as to the people supposed to have been annexed months before. So much for the permanent manner of occupation. But this brings me to say that there is something far deeper under these proclamations, and that is the cardinal blunder with regard to the launching of them. An annexation which is not effective in fact is inoperative in law. Military occupation is the subject of many dicta in treatises on international law. I will refer first to that of Mr. Hall, and this is how he speaks of the matter—"If any former doubts remain in the minds of the burghers as to Her Britannic Majesty's intention they should be dispelled by the permanent manner in which the country is being occupied by Her Majesty's forces."
I now go to the Manual of Military Law, which deals with military occupation in brief but emphatic language thus—"Rights which are founded upon mere force reach their natural limit at the point where force ceases to be efficient. They disappear with it; they reappear with it; and in the interval they are non-existent. If, moreover, neither the legitimate Sovereign of a territory nor an invader holds a territory as against another by the actual presence of force, so that in this respect they are equal, the presumption must be that the authority of the legitimate owner continues to the exclusion of such rights as the invader acquires by force. As a matter of fact, except in a few cases which stand aside from the common instances of extension of the rights of occupation over a district, of which part only has been touched by the occupying troops, the enforcement of those rights through a time when no troops are within such distance as to exercise actual control, and still more the employment of inadequate forces, constitute a system of terrorism, not of annexation, grounded upon no principle, and only capable of being maintained because an occupying army does not scruple to threaten and to inflict penalties which no Government can impose upon its own subjects."
Let the House apply these elementary rules to the South African case. What was it? It was the case of one slender line of communications to Pretoria, and the launching from Pretoria of a paper proclamation annexing a terri- tory as large as France, The Military Manual continues—"An invader is said to be in military occupation of so much of a country as is wholly abandoned by the forces of the enemy."
Now, that is what has been done. We have annexed where we cannot rule. We have occupied on paper where our forces were not on the spot; and there was far more reason, at certain junctures of the war, for the Boer generals annexing the entire Cape Colony on the same theory than there has been for our annexing the entire Transvaal. But what has been the effect? It has been rather remarkable. If you annex on paper, you must maintain these paper rights. The result has been that the occupants of the territory so nominally annexed got into an impossible condition—they became rebels on paper, and having turned foreign subjects into rebels, you have placed the entire population in such a position that they must be either rebels to one Power or traitors to the other. I submit, as a proposition both in law and in common sense, that that is a policy which cannot be maintained. It is the policy of this annexation—this premature and paper annexation, with all its corollary of trouble and entanglement—which I protest against as contrary to acknowledged law. It is this position to which you drove the population, of being between the upper and the nether millstone, of being rebels to one Power or traitors to another, that impelled every hesitating man or boy to take up arms, and aroused the active intervention and help of those of the Dutch race beyond the bounds of the Republics. The total misconception of the rights of our antagonists and our rights as combatants runs deeply into the question, it has much to do with the existing discontent in South Africa and with frustrating our latest efforts towards a settlement, and it may cost us—I wish to put it in as mild language as possible—the loss of one of the fairest portions of His Majesty's dominions. It is this total misapprehension of the relative positions of the two parties to this contest that appears to have even tainted the negotiations with Botha. On the subject of amnesty, just think of how we have miscon- ceived the situation! How different might have been our position if we had recognised that these people had a right in law, which we were bound and entitled to maintain to this hour, to be treated on equal terms as active combatants! Do not let us make a mistake here. We have had examples in America in regard to amnesty. Horn and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench talk as if we had had no experience in this country of the policy of amnesty. What happened in regard to Canada? We had a rebellion there, and a few of the leaders were transported to the Bermudas. The illegality of that was discovered, and those leaders were recalled, and practically one and all who had taken part in the rebellion were amnestied. Why should we make any distinction—why not give amnesty to all alike, whether loyalists or disloyalists? The fact is we have gone through all this before. We have had the same arguments. We have had the loyal English population in Canada declaiming against every effort to exercise a large and wise hearted forgiveness to those of the French race who had risen up in rebellion. And it was the same in regard to property. I am for amnesty all round; and I am in favour of rebuilding and complete restoration, and no higgling or huxtering about loans. If the early part of my observations are well-founded in law, observe the awful position in which we stand. In defiance of the laws of war and of the law of nations, certain property has been destroyed. Is it not our duty and interest to close up that claim and restore, with a generous hand, that which was illegally destroyed? To grant loans to rebuild what was destroyed by fire contrary to the laws of war and the laws of nations! How contemptible it looks. Let there be complete restoration! Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen need not be afraid in regard to any ill-feeling that may be caused by this complete restoration—this wiping out of the distinction between loyalists and rebels. Here is what Mr. Goldwin Smith says on the point in regard to the Canadian rebellion—"The occupation must be real, not nominal; a paper occupation is infinitely more objectionable in its character and effects than a paper blockade."
Just as now—"The passions of the Civil War for a moment revived when an Act was passed awarding compensation to those whose property had suffered in the repression of the rebellion."
Therefore, let us not be afraid of this; feeling of the English loyalists in South Africa. It is not a sign of despair at any point of these negotiations that they are hostile to any line of policy; it may, indeed, be a note of hope. Lord Elgin, calmly wise and well sustained at home, restored peace. That is what I want. I want peace restored in reference to a situation which is greater in extent and more fertile of possible disturbance than it ever was in the Canadian rebellion. I want peace restored on the lines which I have stated to the House, and which I think are recommended by a not inapt historical parallel. Then, in the situation of the moment, was there anything extreme asked for by Botha when he requested that there should be an advisory elective assembly to act alongside of the Executive Government? This demand was far within what was actually granted in the Canadian case. We had these same questions and these same troubles raised in Canada before Lord Durham went out and brought home that Report which has rendered his name illustrious in English history. Lord Durham said—"This the Tories took to be payment of rebels. They dropped their loyalty, as Tories are apt to do when Liberals are in power, stoned the Governor General, Lord Elgin, who had assented to the Bill, and burned the Parliament House at Montreal. But Lord Elgin, calmly wise, and well sustained at home, restored peace."
What hon. Gentlemen opposite are apparently contending for is the weakest form of government for distracted South Africa that could possibly be devised. I want the strongest. I want a trust in these people who are of an alien race. There was the same complexity in Canada, but under wise and free civil government the reconciliation of the two races was gradually accomplished. There is, far more than the mere question of flags, deep down this great root problem, how the Dutch and the English are to dwell in amity and concord in that portion of His Majesty's dominions. I want to see done in South Africa what was done in Canada. I want to have a full and free amnesty, and properties fully restored. I want Botha's elective assembly accepted, and that without delay. I cite In favour of all these things the precedent of Canada and the report of Lord Durham, which said that at the root of all such troubles is the question of the apparent impossibility of the fusion of the races. I plead, finally, for a different spirit in which we, approach these matters. I wish to see a lull in this outbreak of national passion and national pride and a better spirit, more in accord with our highest ideas, both as a military and as a civilised Power. The cost of it all is in one sense a side issue, yet it staggers the mind. The Boers have, it is said, 20,000 men in the field, at an expense to us of one and a quarter millions sterling per week. Think what that means. It means that we are paying £3,200 per annum to quell each single Boer soldier, man and boy. But whatever the war cost, if you desire its effects to be lasting or to be for good or healing, it is necessary that these two races should be able to dwell together. Here is a problem vaster, subtler, more enduring than a passing wager of battle or bout of arms. We may wave flags till we are tired; we may cheer our gallant soldiers until the lungs give way; but within the heart of our people one great uneasiness grows and deepens—an uneasiness lest we, having forsaken the ways of mercy, have lost the path of honour. Unconditional surrender or nothing: this is not statesmanship, this is not policy: its failure is writ large in these negotiations, and it will fail again. I plead for what in my mind and heart I believe to be a more excellent way—a present and a fuller clemency, and a future and enduring peace."The great objection to any Government of an absolute kind is, that it is palpably of a temporary nature; that there is no reason to believe that its influence during the few years that it would be permitted to last, would leave the people at all more fit to manage themselves; that, on the contrary, being a mere temporary institution, it would be deficient in that stability which is the great requisite of Government in times of disorder. There is every reason to believe that a professedly irresponsible Government would be the weakest that could be devised."
said he should not have intervened in this debate but that he found his sense of historical accuracy somewhat outraged by what he might call the superficial and superheated treatment that this subject had received from the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. The country had been given to understand that our conduct of operations in South Africa was unprecedented. The word "unprecedented" had a very comforting and conclusive sound to those who had not studied history, or to those who, like the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, knew the history, but preferred to regard it either in the light of an inconvenient witness or as a partisan ally. The hon. and learned Gentleman claimed that our conduct of the operations in South Africa had violated the laws of nations; he stated that they were tainted with illegality, and said they had aroused the horror of all civilised nations.
said that so far from these operations being unprecedented, they were sanctioned by the highest authorities on international law. The hon. and learned Gentleman had quoted the example of Germany, and cited the opinion of Mr. Hall, an authority, no doubt, but not a conclusive authority, on the conduct of Germany in placing hostages on trains going through hostile parts of the country. If the House would allow him, he would tell them briefly what Germany actually did—he was not concerned with defending such operations, but simply referred to them to show that the present operations in South Africa were by no means unprecedented.
You will find any amount of precedents in Ireland.
The Germans found in 1870–1 that the only way to preserve their lines of communications was by inflicting condign punishment upon the districts in which they were interfered with. That was shown by the instructions issued by the German generals. (The hon. Member then quoted passages from regulations and orders to show that the Germans adopted the same methods as had been made use of in South Africa.) The practice in the United States, he said, was the same. In order to deal with the lawless bands who made raids on small parties along the lines of communications, General Sheridan gave orders for the destruction of villages, the burning of barns and mills, and the seizure of stock.
Nothing about farmhouses.
said he was not concerned with defending this policy. He merely wished to point out that these events were not unprecedented, but had occurred over and over again in the most recent history of the most civilised nations of the world. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite was entirely wrong in the inference which he drew from the fact that the rules of war laid down that "undefended houses should not be attacked." That simply meant that undefended houses should not be shelled or fired upon, which was a very different thing to destroying houses from which attacks had proceeded, after the inhabitants, especially the women and children, had been removed, so that no loss of life could result. That was a point which the hon. and learned Gentleman had overlooked. Of course the British soldier did not love this work, but in times of war, as in times of peace, we had sometimes to perform duties which were repugnant to our feelings, and it was not fair to infer that the British soldiers had been carrying out these matters with any other feelings than distaste. It had been said that this must bring ruin and desolation on many; and of course that was so, but war could not be carried on with kid gloves. No one regretted more than he the severe measures which had to be taken, but, as Lord Roberts had found it impossible to prevent these attacks on the lines of communications without having recourse to methods sanctioned by the highest authorities in war, the British soldier must pocket his feelings and carry on operations in the only way which would bring the war to an end. He would conclude by quoting one of the rules laid down for the government of the army of the United States in the field. He took the case of the United States because he believed it would be more agreeable to hon. Gentleman below the gangway opposite, who had many reasons to be grateful to that country. One of those rules declared that "the more vigorously war is pursued the better it is for humanity. Sharp wars are brief." All this outpouring of sentiment was doing nothing to hasten the end of the operations. We must work with a firm and unbending hand, so that both Dutch and English in South Africa might know that we meant business.
said whatever were the views of hon. Members on this grave and sad subject—and he was aware that some were very deep and bitter—he thought that the speech which had been made by the hon. Gentleman the member for Hawick Burghs would have a vast influence in bringing home to the people and the country the sad state of affairs. Having regard to the gravity of the position he desired only to dwell upon the last chapter of the history of the war—the negotiations entered into between Lord Kitchener and General Botha. He saw in those negotiations the same failure on the part of the Government to realise the importance of the question, and to grasp the patent facts. He thought the attitude which the Government had taken up was an impossible one, and that the terms which they thought General Botha would accept were based on a misconception. He was surprised that Lord Kitchener was left without guidance in such negotiations, and the result was that the country found itself in a more hopeless situation than would otherwise have been the case so far as peace was concerned than if no negotiations had taken place. It seemed to him that the Government were content to "muddle on." The gravest fact of the situation was that the opinions and knowledge of men upon the spot were disregarded. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary on a previous occasion finding fault with the men who were conducting the negotiations was to his mind most impolitic; whatever might be their faults, the House would be unanimous in condemning the language which had been used by the right hon. Gentleman. It was lamentable to find that the prevailing character of the negotiations was that the terms increased in severity according to the distance from the field of operations. The terms of Sir Alfred Milner and of Lord Kitchener, who knew the conditions and the country, were far more lenient than those offered by the right hon. Gentleman. It was most remarkable. Lord Kitchener, with a full knowledge of what was demanded, and the condition of the army, urged that the transition stage should be as short as possible, and that the Crown Colony system should be practically non-existent. And hon. Members must remember that Crown Colony government to the Boers meant the revival and renewal of traditions to which they were most opposed, and which carried to them most bitter memories. Lord Kitchener gave sound advice, yet instead of taking it the Colonial Secretary substituted only vague promises. As to compensation for the burning of farms, after the statement of the hon. and learned Member, it was most surprising that the Government could not see the necessity for giving full and generous compensation. He held in his hand the testimony of the hon. and gallant Member for South Glamorgan—who, unfortunately, was unable to be present on account of ill health—which, to his mind, conclusively showed that farm burning was carried on unnecessarily and with painful results. The hon. Member for South Glamorgan said—
The hon. Member belonged to the Government side of the House, and he would not speak in that way unless he felt it necessary to bring the position home to the country and the Government. The hon. and gallant Member added—"It is the burning of the homestead without cause that I protest about. It is this burning of farms and houses, and the turning of women and children out on the veldt that is doing so much mischief."
Full and ample compensation should be given for these things. The Colonial Secretary in his speech had stated his reasons for offering a loan instead of a gift. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the Boers had burned as many farms as the British. He considered that statement fantastic, and attached no credence whatever to it. He had not been able to discover any authenticated cases of farm burning on the part of the Boers. The right hon. Gentleman said that if we gave compensation to the farmers we must give compensation to the mines. Had the mines been destroyed? Were the owners of the mines destitute as the farmers were? With regard to the question of the loan, how were these unfortunate farmers to find security when their houses were burned and their stock taken away? Lord Kitchener and Sir Alfred Milner had seen the absolute necessity of giving compensation, and the Government in this matter might have been more generous. Looking at it as a mere matter of business, a fortnight's cost of the war would be more than sufficient to provide the necessary compensation, and such payment would do much to establish confidence between the two nations which had to live together. With regard to the amnesty, the negotiations showed something for which the Boers had always been distinguished—their attachment to each other. He thought it a very curious inauguration of the new regime we hoped for that we should haggle over terms. He must say for himself that he respected the Boers not only for fighting but for fighting to the death sooner than accept the terms offered to them. The Secretary for the Colonies had confessed that the spirit which animated the Government in their action was that they should not be thought weak. A strong Government could afford to disregard that. The right hon. Gentleman said we must be just to the loyalists? Who were these loyalists? The Secretary for War said that those who were not believers in Sir Alfred Milner were disloyal. The hon. Member thought that statement had done an enormous amount of harm in South Africa. It was sometimes said that we must not give in. We had reduced these petty Republics to the utmost destitution. We had taken everything away from the Boers, and they were absolutely homeless. Surely we could afford to be generous. We had robbed them of everything. [Cries of "No," and "Robbed them?"] He apologised, and withdrew the word, which escaped him, but we had taken everything away from them except their honour, and that would remain with them for ever. He would like to see the negotiations in different hands from those managing them at present. He believed that if Lord Salisbury and Lord Kitchener could treat directly with General Botha we should have a chance of securing peace more quickly. He could not agree with the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs that this war was an unmixed blessing. He looked upon it as one of the greatest disasters that had ever happened to this great country. If the Government were a little less positive, a little less "cocksure," to use a familiar expression, there might be a little more chance of a solution. He was surprised at the infatuation of the Government in refusing to receive suggestions from Messrs. Merriman and Saner. That refusal would have almost as disastrous an effect as the statement that there were only two classes in South Africa—those who believed in Sir Alfred Milner and those who did not. That was playing directly into the hands of the anti-British party in South Africa. The situation from the military point of view was very serious. It was sometimes thought that those who opposed the war actually did not care for military success. Bitterly opposed as he was to the war, if it was to go on he was anxious that we should hold our own. He wished to impress on the Government the gravity of the military situation. Of the 30,000 men sent out as reinforcements not more than 8,000 were trained. He should like to know what provision had been made by the Government for a constant stream of reinforcements, which was the very essence of the conduct of military affairs. If the Government were to continue this war, which he deeply deplored, the vigorous prosecution of it was more than ever necessary, but not by methods which Lord Roberts had to condemn and stop. The hon. Member did not think we would see peace in South Africa so long as Sir Alfred Milner was there. That was saying nothing against his personal character. What he suggested was that that gentleman should be removed to a higher post elsewhere, in order to relieve South Africa of his presence."It is not worthy of us, and at the first opportunity I shall raise my voice against it in another place."
The hon. Member who has just sat down has not added anything to what has been previously said in discussions of this subject; and, if it were possible to allow his remarks, and also those of the hon. and learned Member who introduced the subject, to go unchallenged. I should not trouble the House this afternoon; but I feel bound to say that it is necessary for the Government to dissociate themselves, on behalf of the great majority of the House of Commons, from the views which have been expressed—views which, of course, will be telegraphed out to South Africa as if they were the views of the House of Commons. We are absolutely opposed, and I believe the great majority of the House and the country are opposed, to a good many of the expressions used this afternoon. I do not refer to those extreme suggestions with which the hon. Gentleman concluded his speech, for the removal of Sir Alfred Milner from South Africa, the general surrender on every point in dispute during the negotiations, backed by the profession that he was going to show his loyalty and patriotism by wishing our troops every success in the field, while asserting that the latest reinforcements sent out were unworthy to represent this country in the field. But I should like to point out that the eloquent and earnest address of the hon. and learned Member for the Border Burghs, and the opinions which he expressed, and which have been backed up by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen, were absolutely contrary to the expressions used the other day by two Members on his own side of the House, both of whom told the country that the terms offered to the Boers were "generous in the extreme." Those were the words of the hon. and learned Member for Linlithgow and of the hon. and learned Member for South Shields. According to the report,
I defy any student of history also. He was backed up by the hon. Member for South Shields, who said, in entire contradistinction to the speeches made this evening, that it was unreasonable for the Boers to expect anything like full representative government until there has been a settlement of the country. That opinion absolutely sets at naught the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for the Border Burghs, that we should go by the precedent of Canada in this matter. It may be true that Lord Durham was in favour of granting representative Government to Canada, but he was not dealing with a country of which a great majority of the loyal population, and a very great majority of the whole of the inhabitants, had been expelled by the force of war. When the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes that the Boer leaders should be brought back and reinstated in a Legislative Assembly, in which there should be an unquestioned majority of those who brought about the war, I can only say, in reply, that such a policy would make this country simply ridiculous in the eyes of the world."The hon. Member for Linlithgow said that he agreed with the previous speaker that never had such generous terms been offered by the victors to the vanquished, and he defied any student of history to contradict him."
I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. That is not what I suggested. I suggested that Commandant Botha's offer should have been accepted—namely, that there should be an elective advisory body to act along with the nominated Executive. I suggested that that was the offer which should have been accepted.
The hon. and learned Member spoke of "an elective Assembly without delay." That was his expression, and that expression will go out to South Africa and be understood as representing the views of those with whom he acts. I do not labour the point. I do no more than point out the absolute absurdity of such a suggestion. In the same way, when the hon. Member suggests that there should be a free amnesty, I think the hon. Member will look in vain in history to find a parallel for what has taken place as regards the rebels in the Cape Colony. Having no grievance whatever of their own, having the full rights of constitutional government, and even a majority in their Legislature in that colony, they proceeded across the border, and, for whatever reason, threw themselves into alliance with the Boers of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and levied war on Her Majesty. The Government have to consider the feelings of the loyalists in South Africa. We must see that we do not alienate the feelings of those loyalists who have supported us in this struggle, and what we must avoid, on the other hand, is to encourage those who might mistake concessions for weakness, and who, in consequence of such a mistake, would be inclined to a renewal of the struggle at the earliest opportunity. Now, let me say one word on the constitutional point the hon. and learned Member raised. He spoke about annexation, but the hon. and learned Member has absolutely, if I may say so, misled the House by his argument. What did we attempt to do in regard to the Boers which we might not have done under annexation? Not only have we not treated them as rebels and traitors, but they have been allowed to go on parole to their homes after annexation, and only when that parole was broken on countless occasions did it become necessary to deport them, which is the process now adopted. It has been thought by hon. Gentlemen opposite desirable to renew the discussion which has been dealt with on several previous occasions. I believe that the Government have given the strongest pledges of the sincerity of their desire for peace by the terms which they entrusted Lord Kitchener to deliver in his final letter. The hon. and learned Member, in the course of an eloquent peroration, said he was afraid we might have lost honour in this business. I do not think it would tend to our honour as a nation to carry out the terms of peace to which he pinned his faith. I do not believe, when peace had been attained, this House would consider it redounded to our honour or credit that we had deserted our friends and those who stood by us. I do not believe in handing back the Transvaal to a body of men who would be in an uncontrolled majority, and who, therefore, would be brought into direct conflict with this country. I do not think that that would be a honourable, wise, or statesmanlike solution of the difficulty. We are earnestly desirous of peace, but it must be a peace on terms which we can recommend to the people of this country. Of course, if we had admitted from the very first that every contention of the Boer Republics was good, no war would have taken place. But the House knows what the history has been, and I can only say that the speeches made to-night have been at variance with past speeches on the other side of the House, and they are, I believe, at variance with the sentiments of the country as to the conduct of the negotiations. For that reason they cannot possibly influence the Government in the work which we have in hand, but we must dissociate ourselves from them. We have full confidence in Sir A. Milner. We intend, with every desire to leave open the path for negotiations when the time comes, or when it pleases the Boer leaders to come to us, at the same time to make it clear that we shall carry the war through by every means in our power. For that reason we have sent out fresh troops; and I cannot but hope that the war may yet, despite all that has taken place, be brought to a speedy and honourable conclusion.