HC Deb 08 July 1954 vol 529 cc2316-21
8. Captain Kerby

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what considerations led him to delay by one month Dr. Joseph Cort's departure from Britain; and on what date and at what hour this extended permit will expire.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Dr. Cort asked on 24th June far an extension of one month in order to enable him to complete his personal arrangements before leaving the country. He had been told as long ago as 24th March last that I was not prepared to grant a further extension of his stay in the United Kingdom, but it was suggested to me that his arrangements for leaving had not been completed, pending the consideration which I had been asked to give to representations made more recently on his behalf, and, in the circumstances, I agreed that his stay should be extended for a further month for the purpose stated, on the understanding that no further extension could be expected.

Dr. Cort's permitted stay will expire at midnight on 30th July.

Captain Kerby

While thanking my right hon. and learned Friend for making it public, may I ask whether he will now ensure that this alien leaves the United Kingdom on that date?

Hon. Members


Mr. Benn

Has the Home Secretary noticed that the university at which Dr. Cort has worked with such distinction has given him three months' salary? Does he not regard that as a very fine proof of confidence in the work and character of this man?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I do not think that that relates to the Question.

12. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, before the expiration of Dr. Cort's permit to stay in this country, he will, in conjunction with the authorities of the United States of America, take steps to ascertain whether, on medical grounds, Dr. Cort would be liable for service with United States forces.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

No, Sir.

Mr. Fletcher

Is not this really the acid test of the bona fides of Dr. Cort? Does not the Home Secretary really want to find a method of extricating himself from an unworthy position?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

On the general point, I really do not think that I can add to what I have said.

13. Mr. Benn

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in reaching his decision not to grant political asylum to Dr. Cort, he took into account the victimisation of Dr. Cort's student friends, following upon their interrogation by the congressional investigating committee.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I took fully into account the statements which Dr. Cort had made about his friends who had appeared before a Congressional Committee, but I could find nothing in these statements which would justify the conclusion that Dr. Cort's circumstances qualified him for political asylum.

Mr. Benn

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that three of Dr. Cort's friends who were with him at Yale University in the Communist Party were dismissed from their posts following Congressional hearings, and that Dr. Cort had withdrawn four offers of assistant professorships in famous universities after his name was mentioned and two other of his colleagues were inducted into the Army and instantly court-martialled for semi-political offences?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

As to the first two points, I was aware of them and I have had put to me a description of the third point. I have only qualified it because I am not sure that it was in exactly the same form as the hon. Member put it. I took those points into account.

Mr. Mikardo

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say why he has refused to see a deputation on this subject from the members of the trade union to which Dr. Cort belongs, led by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington), who is a member of that union?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I saw three deputations. I do not think a further one could have added anything more.

14. Mr. Benn

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many other cases there are on record, other than the case of Dr. Cort, of the United States Embassy having advised his Department of the risk of an American citizen losing his citizenship while a resident in Britain; and if he will give details.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

There is no record of any such case. The United States authorities do not advise my Department of cases in which a United States citizen here may lose his citizenship, and did not do so in the case of Dr. Cort until a specific inquiry on the point had been addressed to them.

Mr. Benn

Has not the right hon. and learned Gentleman admitted that this is a complete precedent and that it would be a very dangerous thing if the action of a foreign Government, by the operation of their own laws, were able to get the administrative extradition of one of their own nationals living in this country whom they could not get under the normal extradition convention?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

It was not a precedent. It would have been a precedent to have acted the other way. This does not amount to administrative extradition. As I have pointed out more than once, Dr. Cort can go to any country he wishes and need not return to the United States.

Mr. Bing

Does the precedent the right hon. and learned Gentleman has quoted refer to such persons as Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, whose passports are invalid since their States have ceased to exist?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I dealt with that point last week.

17. Dr. King

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what reply his Department made to the request of Mrs. Cort to be allowed to stay in this country.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Mrs. Cort has been informed that no objection will be raised to her staying in the United Kingdom until the end of this month, and that if she wishes to remain here longer she should apply setting out fully the reasons for which an extension is desired.

Dr. King

Is not the distressing position of Mrs. Cort just an example of the human issues involved in granting political asylum? As this is not a political but a human question, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider the whole issue?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I cannot reconsider the whole issue, but I shall be willing to look into this part of it, as I have said.

19. Mr. Hale

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what date it first became known to the Home Office that Dr. Joseph Cort had been interviewed by the British police, at the request of the American authorities, and had refused to make a statement; when, and where, this interview took place; when it became known to the Home Office that a second interview had taken place and that a full statement had been made by Dr. Cort; when, and where, this interview took place; and when a full copy of that statement was first received at the Home Office.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

A report from the Chief Constable of Birmingham dated 16th December, 1953, was received by the Home Office on 18th December. This covered two interviews with Dr. Cart at the Birmingham Police Headquarters, the first on 10th December and the second on 15th December, and enclosed a copy of a statement made by Dr. Cort on the second occasion.

Mr. Hale

In those circumstances, is it not very deplorable that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have stated, in answer to a Written Question on 24th June: In December, 1953, it became known to the Home Office that Dr. Cort…had refused to make a statement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th June, 1954; Vol. 529, c. 49.] Is not that statement so near to a complete falsehood as to be utterly indistinguishable from it?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I do not agree with the hon. Member, and I am sorry that he should take that view. When Dr. Cort saw the Birmingham police for the second time he said he denied as nonsense the allegation, which he said was implicit in the communication made to him by the Birmingham police, that he did not wish to make a more detailed statement to the American authorities through the British police and that he was ready at any time to give the Home Office any information it might desire for its own use.

It is clear that this was a refusal to answer the questions addressed to him by the American authorities, and in that way he was putting himself in the position of refusing to comply with the requirements of the United States Selective Service Act. It has, therefore, been his conduct which has created this position.

Mr. Ede

Would it not have been fairer and have given the House full information if, after the line in the Written Answer which said that Dr. Cort had refused to make a statement the right hon. and learned Gentleman had subsequently added, "he did make a statement which is in my possession"?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

If the right hon. Member takes that view, it is, of course, worthy of consideration, but I thought that my answer to the Question dealt with the whole situation. After that, I had several opportunities, of which I availed myself, of hearing the fullest accounts of what had happened, and I did so.

Dr. Summerskill

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the education authorities of this country have allowed Mrs. Cort to obtain a British medical qualification here, and has not that served to allay some of the suspicions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in this matter?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I have said this afternoon that the position of Mrs. Cort is quite different because, so far as I know, there is no question of there being any danger of her losing her nationality or returnability and I am quite prepared to consider her position.

27. Mr. Benn

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why he never communicated with Dr. Joseph Cort to obtain a statement from him about his relations with the United States authorities before deciding not to renew his permit to remain in Britain; and why no action was taken on this after Dr. Cort, in a signed statement to the Birmingham criminal investigation department, had expressed his readiness to do so.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The answer to the first part of the Question is that there was no reason to suppose that any statement by Dr. Cort on the subject could affect the decision.

In his statement to the Birmingham police Dr. Cort offered to supply information to the Home Office for its own use, but since the Home Office was not involved in the procedure by which inquiries were made of Dr. Cort on behalf of the American authorities it did not require any statement from him.

Mr. Benn

In view of the fact that Dr. Cort, although being, in effect, extradited, is denied any sort of hearing in this country, would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman have thought it a little fairer, before exercising his undoubted discretion, to have consulted Dr. Cort, either personally or by correspondence, about his side of the case?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I must protest against the use of the word "extradited." After all, Dr. Cort issued a long statement of his own and representatives of Dr. Cort put all the points that could be made for him, and I considered them very carefully.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

While congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on his handling of this matter, may I ask him whether he would not confirm that the opinions expressed in the House on the case of Dr. Cort, taken in conjunction with the close association of this country and the United States, and the wide reporting in that country of our Parliamentary proceedings, constitute the best and fairest assurance we can give that if Dr. Cort does return to the United States he will be justly and fairly treated?

Mr. K. Robinson

Does not the Home Secretary now appreciate that by his unfortunate decision he has delivered a shattering blow at this country's tradition of political asylum and his own reputation for fair dealing? Will he not now take this last opportunity of reconsidering his decision?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

No, Sir.