HC Deb 16 December 1919 vol 123 cc207-8

asked the Prime Minister whether. he can send urgent instructions to the hon. Member for South-East Leeds to demand, as a preliminary in the negotiations (which he stated were likely to be protracted for at least six weeks) for the exchange of prisoners with the Bolsheviks, that British prisoners be treated with some humanity; whether he is aware that naval prisoners captured at the attack on Bolshevik battleships have now been moved to Moscow, where the conditions are really terrible: cold (zero Centigrade inside, 10 degrees below outside), no blankets, no mattresses, nothing but ¾lb. black bread and hot tea without milk or sugar, and nothing but the clothes they have on; that they are all slightly wounded, and their wounds will not heal under these conditions; that the conditions under which they are suffering cannot be exaggerated, and if exchange is delayed it will be death to a large number; and that the exchange must be for all British in Russia, not only for military prisoners?

Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)

In reply to the hon. Member's question, I can assure him that the hon. Member for Leeds has already been instructed to take such steps as are practicable to ensure the welfare of the British prisoners in Russia As far as I am aware the naval prisoners to whom the hon. Member has referred are at the Androniev Monastery. In view, however, of the cold weather which has now set in, and the lack of heating and food (even though M. Litvinoff affirms that the rations of the prisoners are already superior to those of the Red Army), the conditions in which they live must be deplorable. M. Litvinoff states that before leaving Russia he visited the places where the prisoners live, and saw some of their representatives. They were all well in health, excepting in so far as some of the wounded needed special surgical attendance.


Will the right hon. Gentleman be able to make any statement about the Mission of the hon. Member for South-East Leeds before the Adjournment?


I cannot tell, but the answer I have given shows that the Government realise the terrible hardships of these men, and will certainly do everything in their power to put an end to them.


Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to state when the hon. Member for South-East Leeds will be back home again?


No. The negotiations are still proceeding.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the statements in the question are taken from a letter from one of the prisoners who himself, although, a military prisoner, presses for the exchange of all prisoners?


The hon. Member is making a statement. He is not entitled to do that.