HC Deb 27 June 1862 vol 167 cc1195-6

I have to apologize to my hon. Friend (Sir F. Goldsmid) for not having replied to his observations when he sat down; but I was waiting for another Question, from the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Freeland), which I now understand is, on account of the lateness of the hour, not to be put to me to-night. My hon. Friend drew the attention of the House to the case of two Jewish soldiers in the Russian service, who, according to his view, had been very unjustly punished for crimes of which they had not been guilty. I quite agree with the observation of my hon. Friend, that although it is not desirable that this House should, without some strong cause, offer opinions as to matters which pass in other countries, yet there are cases which fully justify such a course—cases like those which he has mentioned. As regards broad principles of government, by which large masses of men have their interests affected, it is easy to express an opinion; but when you come to scrutinize particular instances in which individuals have been brought before a judicial tribunal for an offence of which they were supposed to be guilty, and begin to discuss the value of the evidence and the justice of the sentence, this House, even in cases which occur in this country, feels a disinclination to pronounce a decision; because, whatever opinion we may entertain upon the general view of the matter, so much depends on the details of the evidence, which can only be judged accurately by the tribunal adjudicating upon the case, that it is exceedingly difficult for the House to be very satisfied that any opinion they may give will be right. With regard to this particular case, our Ambassador at St. Petersburg was instructed by ray noble Friend to make inquiries, in order to ascertain the history of the case. Of course, he could only institute those inquiries with great delicacy and forbearance; and he was informed that these persons, whether rightly or not I do not pretend to say, were subjected to the proper course of law in Russia, and condemned to the punishment which they afterwards underwent by competent legal authority. I do not stand up here to maintain that the legal arrangements of Russia, are not capable of improvement; I have no doubt that they are; but with regard to the treatment of Jews as a body, I am happy to say that the present Emperor has very much relaxed the severity to which they had been previously exposed; and I have no doubt that the enlightened mind of the Emperor of Russia—which appears to be directing itself to various improvements in his great and extensive empire—will, from being coupled with the goodness of his own disposition, lead him to go still further towards placing the Jews on a footing of equality with the other subjects of his realm.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Supply considered in Committee.

Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday next.