HC Deb 26 May 1871 vol 206 cc1327-8

I wish, Sir, to put a Question to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, of which I have given him private Notice. In The Times of this morning I read that in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives yesterday Baron D'Anethan, in replying to a question relating to the events now occurring in Paris, said— The Government is armed with sufficient powers to stop on the frontier the wretches who are the authors of the appalling horrors recently witnessed in Paris. The Government cannot consider as political refugees men who have thus sullied themselves with crime, and who must meet with the penalties which are their due. The Government will act with firmness. I wish to know what course Her Majesty's Government intend to take with regard to the authors of what cannot but be regarded by the civilized world as the greatest crime on record, if they should succeed in escaping from the city which they have fired and destroyed, and whether, in case of their coming to this country, they will be treated as political refugees, or be dealt with as ordinary criminals under the Extradition Acts?


My noble Friend, Sir, only gave me notice of his intention to ask this Question since I came into the House, and, as hon. Members can understand, it is one which it is extremely difficult to answer immediately and without great care and consideration. The House has always shown extreme jealousy in dealing with political offenders. During the last Session of Parliament, when the Extradition Laws were under consideration, a section was introduced into the Act which I think I had better read, in order to show hon. Members what powers the Government have to deal with the case of persons seeking refuge in this country— A fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offence in respect of which his surrender is demanded is one of a political character, or if he prove to the satisfaction of the Police Magistrate or the Court before whom he is brought on habeas corpus, or to the Secretary of State, that the requisition for his surrender has in fact been made with a view to try and punish him for an offence of a political character. Whatever may be the power of the Belgian Government, it is certain that this Government has no power to prevent any of these persons, if they succeed in escaping, from entering this country. When once here, however, charges may be made against them, and the question will arise whether the offences of which they may be accused would be of a political character, or whether they would fall under the category of ordinary crime.