« PreviousContinue »
1901.) Ladies' Committee for the Concentration Camps. [183 the British point of view, of the Anglo-German Agreement; but, on the other hand, to produce the impression that while King Edward's Ministers bad been unable to impose their own moderation in demands for compensation on the other Powers, they had succeeded in averting any sacrifice of British commercial interests in connection with the arrangements for the discharge of the indemnity. A few points remain to be brought together as bearing on the South African policy of his Majesty's Government so far as it was developed up to the end of the session of 1901. It has been seen that an important part was played in the divisions of the Liberal party by references to the concentration camps, and particularly to the light believed to be thrown on the management of them by Miss Hobhouse, after her visit to South Africa. That lady, whose courage and devotion no one ever questioned, however opinions might differ as to the dependence to be placed on her judgment, enumerated in her report to the Committee of the Distress Fund for South African Women and Children the following, as among the things tending to undermine the health and constitution of the women and children in some of the camps : lack of fuel, lack of beds and mattresses, lack of soap, a monotonous diet deficient in vegetables and unsuitable for children, bad water, overcrowding, want of warm clothes and blankets, and inadequate sanitary accommodation. She forwarded a series of recommendations to the Secretary for War, who clearly gave them prompt and earnest consideration. He replied to them in detail under date June 27, apparently not many days after they had been received, stating that in several cases attention had already been and would be given to the points raised by Miss Hobhouse, so far as military exigencies would allow. Whereas, however, Miss Hobhouse had recommended that free access should be given to a band of at least six accredited lady representatives of English philanthropic societies, to be responsible to the Government as well as their societies for the work of remedying defects of administration in the camps, Mr. Brodrick said that he thought it was “ desirable to work through local committees, and through persons sent out by the Government to act with them.” With that view it was announced in the House of Commons (July 22) that a committee of ladies would go to visit the concentration camps, consisting of Lady Knox, Mrs. Fawcett and Miss Lucy Deane (his Majesty's Inspector of Factories)—who had that day left England for the seat of war --and also Miss Scarlett and Dr. Jane Watherston (medical graduates of considerable practical experience, and both already in South Africa), and Miss Brereton, who had been in charge of the Yeomanry Hospital, the appointment of the two lastnamed ladies being contingent on their being able to quit their professional work. A few days later (July 26) Miss Hobhouse wrote to Mr. Brodrick urging that she also might be allowed to return to work in the camps, where she thought that her
experience and knowledge of the people, and to some extent of their language, would enable her to be a useful auxiliary to the committee he had appointed. The War Secretary, however, replying on the following day, expressed the inability of the Government to accept Miss Hobhouse's services, while declining, as they had done, those of other ladies connected with various philanthropic agencies, on the ground that they could not be regarded as entirely impartial in regard to the system adopted. He added that it was the more impossible for them to make an exception in Miss Hobhouse's case, “as her reports and speeches had been made the subject of so much controversy.' Of that fact there was no doubt, though it was matter for much regret that in several cases the authorities of halls in different parts of the country had felt obliged to refuse to allow meetings to be held to hear addresses from her, on the ground that disturbances were to be feared. At the same time it should be recorded that, on the invitation of the Victoria League-an organisation of influential ladies recently formed for promoting Imperial consolidation in various ways—a committee of wellknown ladies and gentlemen of both parties was formed for the provision of extra comforts and clothing to the inmates of the concentration camps. This movement was cordially welcomed by Mr. Brodrick, and he undertook that the Government would be responsible, through the local committees or ladies sent out to co-operate with them, for the distribution of any funds, "whether intended for the concentration camps or for loyal subjects of the Crown who had suffered through the war."
While the Government thus evinced a genuine desire to mitigate as far as possible the hardships of non-combatants, there was a perceptible hardening in their tone towards those continuing to participate in the obstinate guerilla warfare, stained in some cases by cruelty and crime, which was still desolating great tracts of South Africa, and preventing the general resumption of industry. In Committee of Supply (Aug. 2) Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman asked the Colonial Secretary for information as to the situation in South Africa, and in doing so took occasion to express the fear that by devastation, the destruction of farm-houses, and the concentration camps great racial hatred was being fostered. Having touched in an anxious tone on the administration of martial law in the Cape Colony and the suspension of the Constitution there, he expressed the hope that terms would be offered to our brave foes of so generous a kind as to overcome their objection to coming within the Empire.
Mr. Chamberlain, in reply, commented with considerable bitterness on Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's want of interest in the misconduct of our opponents, reminded him that the policy of farm burning had been abandoned, and said that there was no longer anything approaching a wholesale destruction of houses. He justified the policy of concentration
1901.) Mr. Chamberlain on the South African Situation. (185 camps on the ground that it would be inhuman to leave the women and children on the desert veldt, and maintained that, lamentable as the mortality had been in some of the camps, it would have been still greater if they had not been established. There had been no complaint from the Cape Government as to the administration of martial law, and if, as was alleged, criminals were sometimes convicted on Kaffir evidence he saw no reason for interfering. Accused persons had the benefit of legal advice when it could be obtained. As to the Cape Constitution there would be no real breach of it, unless the Parliament of the Colony was not called together in October. The war was now entering upon a stage of brigandage and outrage. For the past four months there had been an average monthly depletion of 2,000 among the Boers, and the number in the field was now undoubtedly small. Lord Kitchener's blockhouse policy was succeeding so well that he believed it would be possible to send home a considerable number of men in September. Severe measures would have to be adopted in the protected districts, for we could not allow the re-establishment of industry and the work of conciliation to be indefinitely postponed. The bulk of the people would be ready to settle down after the war, and we must show that we were able to protect them. The contention that the negotiations between Lord Kitchener and Botha had broken down by reason of the alterations made from home in the former's terms was futile in view of the subsequently revealed fact that Botha and De Wet were not prepared to accept any terms short of complete independence. The Boers would look upon any fresh opening of negotiations on our part as weakness, but when the settlement came this country might be trusted not to be vindictive. With regard to Kruitzinger's avowed determination to shoot down all Kaffirs in our employ, whether armed or unarmed, the Government had telegraphed to Lord Kitchener that such acts as the Boer commander threatened, or as the killing of the wounded, being contrary to the usages of civilised warfare, all persons charged with having committed or authorised them were to be tried by court-martial, and, if found guilty, to suffer the penalty of death. Mr. Chamberlain said, in conclusion, that he was not discouraged by the state of the war, and did not believe that irreconcilable hatred would remain when it was over.
Sir E. Grey deprecated the tone of Mr. Chamberlain's rejoinder to Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, but gave a general support to the substance of his declarations. Again, on the second reading of the Appropriation Bill (Aug. 15), when Sir W. Harcourt challenged Lord Kitchener's proclamation of August 6, of which an account will be found in the African chapter of this volume, and questioned whether we had a right to deprive the Boers in the field of their belligerent rights, and Mr. Bryce condemned it as an outburst of anger and a futility, Mr. Asquith declined to
affirm that the proclamation was contrary to the usages of war. Its policy was a different question, and he was sceptical as to its inducing any large number of Boers to surrender. Still he accepted it as a step which might possibly accelerate the end of the conflict. Incidentally he expressed a hope that the Government intended to maintain an efficient force in South Africa till the war was over. To this Mr. Balfour replied that the Government hoped to be able to recall some of the troops before long, but not a man or a horse would be withdrawn till the military situation justified it. Thus was the division between the two schools of Liberalism maintained before the country in the closing days of the session.
Happily, it should be said, there was no equally extensive division in the Opposition with regard to the grant of 100,0001. by which the Government proposed that it should be made possible for Lord Roberts to support the earldom to which he had been raised in recognition of his South African services. The necessary resolution was moved (July 31) by Mr. Balfour in the House of Commons, in Committee of Supply, in a speech in which he sketched with much spirit and eloquence the conspicuous transformation achieved by Lord Roberts in the military situation which he found existing in South Africa when he went out there, in the darkest hour of the campaign, and under the shadow of a deep personal bereavement. The motion was cordially seconded by Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman. It was, no doubt, opposed by several Radical Members—Messrs. H. J. Wilson (Holmfirth, W.R., Yorks), Labouchere (Northampton), Caine (Camborne, Cornwall), Bryn Roberts (Eifion, Carnarvonshire), and by Mr. Keir Hardie, the Labour Member for Merthyr Tydvil, as well as by Mr. Dillon (Mayo, E.), who charged Lord Roberts with inhumanity, and by other Nationalists. Mr. E. Robertson (Dundee) also, from the front Opposition bench, objected to the motion for the grant as premature, in being brought forward before the promised inquiry into the whole conduct of the war. Mr. Haldane (Haddingtonshire) naturally supported the grant, and so likewise, speaking as a Radical, did Mr. Strachey (Somerset, E.), these two speakers condemning the Irish accusations against the Field-Marshal; and the resolution was carried by 281 against only 73.
The very important question of the native policy to be pursued in the new Colonies was raised in Committee of Supply (Aug. 6). On the heavy vote of 6,500,0001. in aid of the administration of the Transvaal and Orange Colonies, Sir W. Harcourt (Monmouthshire, W.), while admitting that the Colonial Secretary had done something to mitigate the cruelty of the Pass Laws, regretted that he had not seen his way to abolish them. Those laws he believed to have been really forced on the Boer Government by the mining interest—an opinion which was strongly challenged by Mr. Lyttelton (Warwick), who had lately been thoroughly inquiring on the spot into this and cognate
1901.] Native Labour Laws, and Sufferings of Loyalists. [187 questions, as chairman of the Transvaal Concessions Commission. Sir Charles Dilke (Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire) insisted that the whole of the legislation against "colour" should be swept away.
In his reply Mr. Chamberlain agreed that the laws of the Transvaal with respect to native labour would have to be thoroughly revised, but held that they could not all be abrogated in a day—any more than could the Egyptian corvée. The magistrates had already discretion to impose very lenient punishments under the Pass Law of 1899, and the Native Commissioner, Sir Godfrey Lagden-a man who by his personal influence with the Basutos had restrained them from taking part in the war—was not likely to allow any cruelty. As for the Attorney-General, Mr. Solomon, he came of a family who had been stigmatised as negrophilists. Mr. Chamberlain gave a strong assurance that, while the subject required delicate handling, the Government were determined to secure a just and humane system of administration in regard to the natives.
In the same speech the Colonial Secretary, replying to Mr. Bartley (Islington, N.), recognised with emphasis the special claims of suffering loyalists in South Africa on the Government, but entirely denied that he or Lord Milner had in any way ignored them. Now that the large funds collected by public beneficence for the refugees in Cape Colony from the Transvaal were nearly exhausted the Government recognised their responsibility to supply whatever was necessary. Quite recently he had offered money by telegraph to the committee at Cape Town, but for the present it was declined.
On another question of wide Imperial interest, for the discussion of which a conference with representatives of the self-governing Colonies had been held at the Colonial Office, Mr. Chamberlain informed Mr. Bryce (Aug. 6) that it appeared that the great majority of the delegates were opposed to any drastic changes in the present Court of Appeal. Accordingly his Majesty's Government did not propose to suggest any
such changes; but in accordance with the resolutions passed at the conference they would ask the various Governments concerned to suggest such alterations of procedure as might appear to them advisable.
Two or three other subjects of Imperial concern were under consideration during the last few days of the session. One was the Pacific Cable. Following a resolution passed in committee of the whole House (July 30) authorising the issue of 2,000,0001. out of the Consolidated Fund for the purpose of constructing and working a telegraph cable from Vancouver to New Zealand and to Queensland, a bill was introduced and conducted through the Commons by Mr. Austen Chamberlain (Worcestershire, E.), Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Its object was to carry out an arrangement entered into with the Colonies, in virtue of which, the money being raised in the first instance on Im