HC Deb 28 July 1879 vol 248 cc1403-5

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, If the Government have received any information as to the manner in which Russian subjects, on mere suspicion of political offences, are being driven by thousands into slaveryin Siberia; if they have been informed that 700 persons, mostly men and women of education, have been packed in the hold of a small ship bound for Saghalien, without light or sufficient food or air, that 250 of them died on board, and 150 were landed in a dying state; further, whether it is true that large bodies of Cossacks are being forcibly ejected from their houses and homes, and compelled to settle in Colonies from the mouth of the Usuri river to Vladevostock, for the purpose of establishing a chain of military posts against the Chinese; and, whether, since remonstrances were addressed by Her Majesty's Government to the Government of Naples against the treatment of Poerio and his colleagues in 1855, and to Russia, against her treatment of the Poles after the insurrection in 1861, to Turkey in 1876 against the action of Chefket Pasha and others in Bulgaria, these cases do not furnish precedents for remonstrating with Russia against such treatment of alleged political offenders?


In regard to the first Question of the hon. Member, I have to state that various accounts have reached the Foreign Office as to numerous arrests for political offences which have taken place within the last two months in various parts of Russia. Deportation has followed upon these arrests. I am not in a position officially to say what is the destination of the persons so arrested. With regard to the second Question, respecting the particular ship mentioned by the hon. Member, I have to state that accounts have reached the Foreign Office that this vessel was specially fitted for carrying prisoners from the Black Sea to Saghalien, and we are informed that the arrangements for carrying the prisoners were as humane as possible consistently with a proper guard being kept upon the prisoners on board the vessel. It has also been alleged that there were no political prisoners on board of her, but that her cargo consisted of between 600 and 700 convicted prisoners. The vessel passed through the Canal into the Red Sea some weeks ago. As to the next Question, relating to the Cossacks, I am not in a position either to affirm or to deny the facts. Then the hon. Member asks whether the cases he mentions do not furnish a precedent for a remonstrance on the part of Her Majesty's Government? All I can say in answer to that is that it is not the practice of Her Majesty's Government to interfere in cases of this kind unless they have good reason to suppose that the remonstrances which they make will be attended with beneficial or practical results.


Will the hon. Gentleman kindly say whether it is true that, on the arrival of the ship, 250 of these people were found to be dead and 150 were in a dying state?


We have not received any information of that kind; and if the hon. Member will look at the Question, he will see it was impossible for us to receive any information of that sort consistent with the facts, for the vessel only passed through the Red Sea three or four weeks ago, and, therefore, we have not heard of her landing any prisoners, or, indeed, of her touching at any place after she left Suez. We have heard of her in the Red Sea, where she was at anchor; but we have not heard that she touched at any place.