HC Deb 30 July 1954 vol 531 cc941-68

3.20 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

The subject which I want to raise this afternoon is the decision of the Home Secretary not to renew the residence permit of Dr. Joseph Cort, the American doctor, who has been living here for three years. The burden of my argument is that the Home Secretary reached a wrong decision and reached it in a wrong way.

At the outset, I should like to declare my own interest in this matter, which is simply that Dr. Cort chose to write to me in April about this difficulty. Even after that I did not meet him for some months. I have only known him personally for some six weeks and I have tried, as a Member of this House, to help him. I am always very moved on these occasions when the House of Commons—although perhaps not very full of Members at the moment—turns its mind from great affairs like the one which we have been debating, the question of Malaya, to the personal difficulties of an individual, because this House would not deserve its reputation if it were not able to move from big things to what, to some people, might seem to be small ones.

I should like to say one other thing before I get into my argument. That is, that although, as I have said, I believe that the Home Secretary was totally wrong in the decision he reached, I have nothing but gratitude to him personally and to the Joint Under-Secretary, who is to reply to this debate today, for the personal courtesy which they have shown me throughout, and in going out of their way to offer me every facility to make the best case I could. I am grateful to them for that.

I will not detain the House with the facts of this case, which are well-known, but I should like briefly to trace the story of Dr. Cort's application and what has happened. Dr. Cort is an American. So far as one can make out from the best technical advice one gets, he is a very brilliant doctor. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that, and one does not have to look far to find it, because in 1948 he got a year's Fellowship at Cambridge to study there and subsequently a second Fellowship, and up to recently he has held a Lectureship at Birmingham University. In between his two visits to Cambridge, he went back to Yale to finish his medical training, and while he was there he joined the Communist Party.

I do not think that that needs additional comment from me, but I ask the House not to be too heavy-handed about someone who once, as an undergraduate, became a Communist. There are some Members of this House who have been members of the Communist Party in their time. I think that all that one can say about that is, that when we look at the story of Dr. Cort we find that all his difficulties, in my view, date from the period when he was a member of the Communist Party.

When Dr. Cort came to this country in 1951, he left the Communist Party. He went to Cambridge, and he has been working here ever since. I am sure that the Under-Secretary will correct me if I am wrong when I say that there is no suggestion that while Dr. Cort has been here he was engaged in any political activity, or that there is any other objection to him. I deduce this from the fact that no hint or suggestion has been made by anyone that that is not so, and I cannot believe that if that was the real reason behind the Home Secretary's decision he would not have conveyed it discreetly to some hon. Members on this side of the House who have taken the case up.

When Dr. Cort came to this country he started at Cambridge, and within three or four months he received a letter from the American Embassy telling him to hand in his passport and return to the United States. Dr. Cort wrote and asked, why? No reason was given him and he declined to fall in with those instructions. Shortly after that, a Congressional inquiry was made into Communism in American universities and Dr. Cort was frequently named, and his friends were closely questioned. As a result of that many of his friends lost their jobs and have been dispersed. Dr. Cort felt, and still feels, that were he to return to the United States he would suffer victimisation.

It was only after the United States Embassy had told him to return, without giving a reason, and only after the Congressional hearing that he received his call-up papers. I will come back to the simple question of whether this man is a "draft dodger," to use an American expression, but I think that it is worth noting that his call-up papers came long after other attempts had been made to get him back to the United States in December of last year.

As Dr. Cort failed to respond to the call-up papers he was summoned by the police in Birmingham to make a statement. As a result of that, the Home Office, hearing that he might lose his citizenship, decided that they could not renew his permit to remain in this country. I should like to make one point which is important if the House is to reach a fair decision about the motives of Dr. Cort. This is in connection with the publicity attached to this case.

I can say—and I believe that there is plenty of evidence to support it—that the last thing that Dr. Cort ever wanted was publicity for his case when he was making his application to be allowed to remain in this country. I have a letter from him which was addressed to Professor A. V. Hill, of London University, an ex-Member of this House and a member of the party opposite, in which he said that he wished to be allowed to remain here quietly to carry on his work without publicity to himself or the university of which he was a member—Birmingham University. The University wrote to the Home Secretary or to the Joint Under-Secretary asking whether they would not allow Dr. Cort to remain.

I think it is important, if the House is to get a proper account of this story, to explain that in the early stages there was not a request for political asylum. In the early stages—and this is really the crux of the whole question—Dr. Cort was asking to be allowed to remain here because he wanted to continue his work. At any rate, that is the outline of the story, and I do not believe that anyone would say that these facts were not correct.

Before I get on to the issues which this case raises, I should like to deal with some points which arise out of the Home Office's handling of the case. I do not want to make too much of them, but I think that they are important and I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary would deal with them. In the first place, I was very concerned—and I think that many hon. Members were—at the fact that an alien resident in this country should be interrogated by the British police on behalf of a foreign government, without the Home Office and the Aliens Department knowing anything about it until afterwards.

This seems to me to be a very important principle. The Home Secretary does not deny that the Birmingham police interviewed Dr. Cort and that he himself only learned of it when the report was sent in from Birmingham. I think that the House would be rightly angry if aliens, although enjoying only the temporary protection of this country, were able to be got at by a foreign Government through the agency of our own police, particularly so as no one has suggested that Dr. Cort had been guilty of any offence which comes within the provisions of the extradition treaty. There is no suggestion of that. Although I can understand that if extradition proceedings are commenced the British police may feel that they ought to find out what they can for the sake of the foreign Government concerned, in this case that did not arise.

The second point, and it ties up closely with the question of interrogation by the Birmingham police, is that of the Home Secretary's answer to the House when he was asked to give a general statement on the decision. The Home Secretary, in a written answer to the House, used these words about that interview. He said that he had been asked … to explain why he had done so and what were his intentions with reference to his duties under the United States Selective Service Act, he had refused to make a statement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th June, 1954; Vol. 529, c. 49.] I suggest that that was a misleading statement by the Home Secretary.

I have in my hand the statement made by Dr. Cort. Admittedly, it was made at the second interview by the police, but it was delayed only because he felt that he ought to take legal advice before making a statement under those circumstances. I believe that the Home Secretary's error was a very unfortunate thing, and it has not helped us to reach a proper decision about the matter.

In the statement Dr. Cort said: I should like to make it clear that I am ready at any time to give the Home Office any information which it may desire for its own use and will co-operate to the best of my ability in any request of the British authorities. I am not saying that it was a particularly good statement, but I think that he did the right thing. When reaching this very important decision about his future, the Home Office made no attempt to interrogate him or to give him an opportunity to make a statement about his position, thereby depriving him of the only hearing open to an alien since no judicial proceedings could have arisen at any stage in the case. I regard that as an unfortunate example of the handling of the case by the Department.

Finally, and much more serious, there is the letter which I received from the Under-Secretary about the general handling of aliens' matters. Writing on 28th May, the Under-Secretary said: Except in the case of refugees whose homes are behind the Iron Curtain, the Home Secretary is not prepared to allow foreigners to settle here. That was a reference to those who had lost, or were about to lose, their own nationality. Although the Home Secretary said later that that was simply a statement of general view and was what usually happened, it seemed to those of us who read that letter that there was a clear division in the minds of the Home Office between refugees from Iron Curtain countries and those from other parts of the world. I cannot refrain from mentioning this handling of the case, although it does not bear on the immediate issue.

The first question that we must dispose of is the simple question of whether Dr. Cort is really somebody who has sought to live here only to avoid his military service obligations. Had I thought that was the case, I should never have taken the matter up; nor do I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who, in his time, has occupied the Home Secretary's position, would have taken up the case had he been of that opinion.

Dr. Cort registered in 1946 with his age group as an ordinary non-medical person, for he was not then a doctor. He had bad eyesight and a dangerous condition which made it also almost impossible for him to have certain injections, and also the remnants of infantile paralysis. In 1948, he had to register again, and by that time he had contracted tuberculosis. He had no attempt to evade either of those medical examinations, and the result was perfectly clear.

In 1951, before he came to Britain, Dr. Cort registered with the American authorities. I have seen his registration chit, which makes it clear that before he left he wanted to get all that side of his affairs cleared up. He subsequently provided the American authorities with his address in England to which call-up notices should be sent if that were necessary. That was not the action of a man who was going abroad to evade military service. I do not believe that the Home Secretary can himself believe that Dr. Cort was simply a "draft dodger."

The real question is this. Dr. Cort happens to be a good doctor. He happens also—I know him slightly now—to be a very pleasant person. He wants to remain here; he is happy in this country. He is being sent away because the Home Secretary has used his undoubted discretion on the grounds that he is likely to lose his native citizenship. There is nothing against Dr. Cort. He has the support of the highest university authorities and of many others.

We then have to consider why he should be turned away. Last November, when the House was debating the question of aliens, as we do almost every year, the Under-Secretary of State, replying to the debate, laid down what is, I understand, Home Office practice in matters of this kind. The hon. Gentleman dealt with various sorts of visitors to Britain, described the position of a man who comes temporarily but later wishes to reside here permanently, and said: They come in for 12 months in the first instance, but if their work and behaviour is satisfactory they get a renewal as a matter of course. In the ordinary way, after four years' approved employment here the conditions are removed and they are able to stay under exactly the same conditions as any ordinary resident."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 562.] There are many hon. Members on this side of the House who are doubtful—quite frankly, I am—about this absolute discretion that is given to the Home Secretary, but we are satisfied year after year, when we raise this point, by the very reasonable statements, of the kind which I have read, in which the responsible Minister tells us how he exercises that discretion. It is because I believe that it should be exercised in that way that I think the present decision has been a wrong one.

The real issue between the Minister and myself is that Dr. Cort has asked for certain political factors to be taken into consideration. I deliberately do not use the phrase "political asylum" because that was not the phrase that was used in the first instance when application was made for Dr. Cart to remain. But Dr. Cort says—I think, rightly—that political factors, if there are any, should be taken into consideration.

What are those political factors? The first is the general state of American public opinion. I say this more than deliberately, because I do not want to refer specifically to the American Government in this case. Any hon. Member who, as I do, has an affection and regard for the United States, has watched with concern the development of intolerance in certain places over there in recent years. Most of us believe that in the end the good sense of the American people will put a stop to it. In fact, this very day, perhaps even at this very hour, Senator Flanders, in Washington, is moving a motion of censure on Senator McCarthy for behaviour that is as reprehensible to me as, no doubt, it is to the Under-Secretary of State.

We do not believe that that state of affairs will become permanent, but it is a real fact. There is plenty of evidence that a man who has been a Communist and who has not purged himself in the way that some professional ex-Communists have done is suffering. People lose jobs at universities. Dr. Cort had four jobs in the offing from universities, but they were all withdrawn when his name was mentioned. He has many friends who have lost their jobs. In general, he may feel that the atmosphere at home was by no means congenial to him—in fact, it is the very reverse; and this ought to be taken into account by the Home Secretary when exercising his undoubted discretion.

I am putting the case moderately, because the last thing I want to do is to make it an occasion for an attack on the United States of America. But we would be deceiving ourselves if we did not recognise that this is a real factor and should be taken into consideration.

There is a special case with regard to Dr. Cort which must be considered. There is strong evidence for saying that his was not a genuine call-up. That is to say, his health was known to be so bad that it was impossible for him to have any benefit or value to the United States or, indeed, any other Army. We know that he came over here having registered. We know that the American authorities tried to get him back earlier. I have a suspicion that it was to serve him with a subpoena for the Congressional hearings; and when all that is done, the call-up emerges.

We remember that some famous American gangsters have been got in "jug" in the end on the grounds of Income Tax evasion. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made a good point in asking the Home Secretary to look up the records of his Department to see what excuses have been put up by foreign Governments to get their own nationals extradited from this country. The Home Secretary does not recognise that there is a political factor here. I think he is wrong. He is, at any rate, entitled to his opinion, and as I have said his discretion is absolute.

But this creates many problems, because all a foreign Government now has to do is to introduce legislation or make use of existing legislation to enable it to cancel the nationality of its own nationals and get them back under this process. I believe this is dangerous precedent created by an atmosphere in the United States, which we all regret and which, I believe, the Home Secretary should have tried to avoid by handling the matter more sympathetically.

The real point about this, and the reason why I am interested in it is as I believe my hon. Friends are interested in it, is that it is a good liberal point This country has a wonderful tradition of freedom, and it is not something we have any right to expect but for which we have to fight from generation to generation. I believe that being liberal in this matter is also being realist because it is not only right but also draws attention to the firm basis of our form of Government—that if we treat people decently and give them a chance to change the Government if they like, extremist views will not develop. Experience has shown us to be right.

Obviously, security matters have to be considered, and I should be the last to say that security should not have precedence over this tradition. But there is no security risk in regard to Dr. Cort and none has been suggested. I believe that the House underrates the influence of this country if it believes that our liberal traditions are not respected and highly regarded in other parts of the world. It is because of this tradition that I believe this decision to be essentially a stupid one.

I come to my last word and I ask the pardon of the House for detaining it so long. I come to the outcome of this event because it is on the consequences that the Home Secretary will ultimately be judged. The month's extension given to Dr. Cort has come to an end. I have received a letter from him, and I propose to read an extract from it to the House. Dr. Cort says: Dear Mr. Benn, This is to tell you that Ruth and I are going to Czechoslovakia. We are very grateful to the Czech Government for granting us asylum and making it possible for us to carry on our medical work. We wish to say that we leave with feelings of warm gratitude to the British people who have treated us so hospitably and supported us so strongly in our efforts to remain in England. When I read that letter from someone I had come to know slightly during the last few months it emphasised the utter absurdity of the Home Secretary's decision, because to my mind here is a man whose only offence was that he was a Communist as an undergraduate. Yet the apparatus of two modern States is turned on him to hound him out and hound him behind the Iron Curtain.

Both these people wanted to work here and both wanted to settle here. They wanted to become naturalised. Because of the nature of their work they were never able to raise a family. They wanted to raise one, and they wanted to go back to their own country which they love, as any ordinary human being would love the land of his birth, and visit their own people when this tide of prejudice had abated.

I greatly regret this decision that they have taken to go to Czechoslovakia. But I cannot find it in my heart to criticise them for going there, because it is one place which is open to them—for all I know the only place—where they can carry on their work and where they can do the job which they are fitted to do. The irony of it is that Dr. Cort's father is a Russian by birth and that he left the Soviet Union as a result of the Revolution. He went to America for freedom, and his child is now being pushed back again by the hamhandedness, lack of imagination and meanness of the people of the Western world.

This is an unhappy story. It is not too late for the Government to change the decision and I hope that the Under-Secretary will not say "No"—because I am becoming rather tired of constantly hearing "No" on this issue. If the hon. Gentleman cannot say that the Government are changing their mind then he had better not allude to it at all. As I say, this is an unhappy story and to the extent to which this country and this Government are responsible for making it an unhappy one, it is one of which the whole House should be ashamed.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)

I want to associate myself with the arguments put forward so ably and eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). What my hon. Friend said in his closing remarks about the outcome of this case is completely new to me. It is the first time I have heard that Dr. Cort has decided that he can go only to Czechoslovakia.

I hope very much that when the Joint Under-Secretary replies to the debate he will not attempt to prove from that fact that, after all, Dr. Cort was a Communist all along, because of all the many unreal things which the Home Secretary has said in our proceedings in this House on this case, one that struck me as the most unreal was when he kept on insisting that he was not extraditing Dr. Cort to the United States because he could go where he liked.

To say that a man can go where he likes when one knows that his passport has been made invalid except for the United States, and when one sends him out of a British port knowing that there is probably no other country in the world that will accept him, is nothing short of hypocrisy. As I see it, the only reason why Dr. Cort can have decided to go to Czechslovakia, in view of all that has passed, is because there is nowhere else he can go except to the United States, where he is in fear of prison.

This is not the first time that on the last day before the Summer Recess I have been present in the House for a debate on the administration of the Aliens Order. On at least two previous occasions I sat where the Under-Secretary is sitting now, when I was Under-Secretary myself, and when my day-to-day work in the Home Office consisted largely of dealing with the doubtful and borderline cases under the Aliens Order, under the jurisdiction of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was Home Secretary.

I therefore think I can say that I understand, and, on the whole, am sympathetic to, all the difficulties which the Home Office inevitably finds in administering this difficult Order. On at least two occasions when I was Under-Secretary I defended the present system of administering that Order, in the sense that I defended the almost complete discretion which the Home Secretary has in the matter. Since I have been in Opposition, I have not joined with my hon. Friends, who, on more than one occasion, have suggested that the discretion of the Home Secretary ought to be restricted by means of regulations or by statute. It seems to me that the nature of these cases is such that any attempt to lay down general rules for the handling of cases which vary so widely could only result in a larger, rather than a smaller number of hard cases and injustices. Therefore, I speak as a defender of the complete discretion of the Home Secretary in this matter.

However, if Parliament gives the Home 'Secretary complete discretion, it follows that he cannot, when challenged on any case, hide behind the rules. It is true, of course, that he operates to rules. In the interests of good administration and reasonable uniformity as between one applicant and another, he operates to rules, but they are self-imposed and are not imposed on him by statute or by Parliament; they are rules imposed by himself for the guidance of his officials and advisers which he himself has not only the right but the duty to waive, or at least to stretch, in suitable cases.

I suppose that in the conditions we have had in the last 20 years, particularly in Europe, there can be few more harrowing human problems than the problem of when and under what conditions to grant a home to the many millions of people who, often through no fault of their own, have been uprooted from one country or another and are seeking to start a new life.

It has been the practice of successive administrations in the Home Office to show as much liberality to the individual who applies to this country as is consistent with the public interest. I believe that this decision which the Home Secretary has taken in the case of Dr. Cort was unnecessary in the public interest and that it was illiberal to the individual. Speaking for myself, I say that it shakes my confidence in the use made by the present Home Secretary of the wide discretion which he has been properly given.

In recent years, and certainly during the time when I was at the Home Office, questions of asylum from political persecution, questions of what to do with Stateless persons, arose almost exclusively in the case of Nazi, or fascist or communist régimes. I do not remember any case occurring when I was at the Home Office—though my recollection may be at fault—of Americans seeking hospitality in this country for political reasons.

The reason why that has occurred is because it is something new to have laws and practices followed in the United States which are so different from our traditions of political liberty in this country. That, I think, applies particularly to the provision of the McCarran Act which imposes as one penalty for certain types of offences deprivation of nationality, which is a more modern way of saying "outlawry," a penalty which I think I am right in saying, has been unknown to British criminal law for many generations past.

It is a real change that this should have happened in America and it is this sort of unforeseen and unforeseeable change which justifies the discretionary system. The lamentable thing is that the Home Secretary, who has the discretion, has failed to adapt himself to the new conditions and circumstances. The Home Secretary professes to think that, in fact, Dr. Cort has brought his troubles upon himself by disregarding the national service laws of his own country. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East has dealt with that, but I really cannot believe that the Home Secretary believes that to be the case.

I am not going to go through all the arguments. I mention only two things which are well known not only to the Home Secretary, but to everybody else in this country who has been interested in this case. Can one really believe that when this man's passport was demanded back by the United States authorities in 1951, in order that it should be made valid only for return to the United States, that that was part of the normal machinery for dealing with American citizens abroad who are required to report for medical examination? Of course not. This is essentially the type of provision which has been used in the case of people who are wanted on political grounds. People who have been losing their passports under the McCarran Act, or other similar provisions which may exist, have been losing them for political reasons and not as part of the machinery of national service law.

Secondly, what has happened to Dr. Cort's colleagues in America is common knowledge. By colleagues I mean those who have been brought before various committees and in connection with whose examination Dr. Cort's name has been mentioned. There was an impressive article in the Observer "recently, setting out the whole story. I hope that the Home Secretary will not say that he knows nothing about this and that none of these unpleasant things have been happening to Americans who, in the past, have been associated with Dr. Cort.

Like the rest of us, he must know that the real reason why the United States wanted Dr. Cort back was not in connection with national service and that the real reason why Dr. Cort is not willing to go is not that he is afraid of being examined and perhaps called up, for that is unlikely. The real reason is that he is afraid of victimisation, official and unofficial, victimisation on political grounds which would be quite unacceptable to British tradition and opinion.

I know that the Home Secretary has said that such disabilities as Dr. Cort might legitimately fear if he returns to the United States do not measure up to the conventional definition of persecution which has been adopted here in the past in connection with the granting of the right of asylum. The Home Secretary has pointed out that we have always required that the danger should be one to life or liberty. I am not disputing that that has been the standard which has been adopted, but the rules to which the Home Secretary works are self-imposed and nobody obliges him slavishly to follow such a definition.

In fact, the very strict definition, which I fully admit my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields and myself followed for the most part when we were in office, was largely imposed upon us by terrible post-war conditions in Europe which led to millions of people suffering some kind of political inconvenience, all of whom would have come here had the gates been open. However much we disliked it, it was the only way of avoiding an influx of aliens into this country which would have caused real political difficulty.

I was always aware that the strictness of this definition caused heart-breaking results in a number of individual cases and I was very reluctant to follow it, though follow it I did because of the enormous numbers involved. I have been told that there are a few thousands of Americans roaming round Europe, many in France, who are unwilling to go back to the United States because they are afraid of something or other. Some of them may be undesirable characters, others may be excellent people. In any case, those people are presumably safe where they are in other countries, and we are under no obligation whatsoever to admit to this country any Americans who have had their passports withdrawn or who have passports which are valid only for return to the United States.

There must be few indeed who are in the position of Dr. Cort in his particular relationship to the National Service Acts, the machinery of which has been used to get him back. Therefore, to have stretched the traditional definition in such a way as to cover the very real victimisation which Dr. Cort fears would be reasonable and quite free from dangers to this country and it would be a humane thing to do.

The Home Secretary recently talked a great deal about the principle of return-ability, the principle that we do not accept an alien here unless, on the face of it, it is possible to return him to his own country. The Home Secretary denied that he was introducing a form of extradition by the back door. I know that he would not admit an alien if he saw that he could not be returned to his own country in case of need. But here we have an alien who has been in the United Kingdom for three years now and, so far as the Home Secretary has ever told us, has been behaving perfectly properly and against whom no objection is made. Another factor is that he is living in this country with a wife who is also doing extremely useful work here, and is not subject to this disability in relation to the National Service Act. The Home Secretary would allow her to stay; that is the indication he gave.

Dr. Cort was returnable to the United States at the time when he arrived here, but his returnability was affected later, entirely by the action of a foreign Government and not by anything he had done in this country. There is no rule of practice or principle which compels the Home Secretary to make him go, whereas every consideration of humanity and, I should have thought, of public decency, suggests that he should be allowed to stay. I think that if the Home Secretary asserts the contrary he will be saying that he is prepared to introduce extradition by the back door when, in point of fact, he could not introduce it under the treaties. Although he has denied that it is a quite inescapable conclusion. He is extending extradition to the case of any country which may include among its penalties the penalty of loss of nationality. I think it is a lamentable thing to allow that to creep in.

Finally, I believe that the very closeness of our relationship with the United States and the fact that we are such friendly countries should have made the Home Secretary particularly anxious to prevent issues of this kind being publicly raised. Once he had taken this wrong decision it was inevitable that they should be raised. They had to be raised, for our self-respect, because it is right that we should examine the operation and administration of the Alien's Order, also because liberally-minded Americans should know that the Home Secretary's lamentable decision does not command the general support of the whole public of this country, and, lastly, as a warning to the Home Secretary that this is not the way we expect to see him exercise the very wide discretion Parliament has given to his predecessors, and so far to himself.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)

I wish to speak because the scene of these events has been largely the City of Birmingham, because I am one of the hon. Members representing Birmingham and because I want to express the opinion—widely held in the city, especially among the colleagues of these two people—that they have been unjustly and harshly treated and that their treatment certainly does not comply with the traditions of this country. Everybody will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) for raising the matter. It is true that it relates to the case of just one, or rather two individuals, but there are important principles involved, as my hon. Friend made clear.

Lest there should be any doubt about it, I would say that Dr. Cort has throughout insisted that the military call-up was not a genuine attempt to embody him into the American Army, and from that point of view was completely bogus, but was just an attempt to get him back to the United States. Having seen all the documents in the case, I would say that that conclusion is completely irresistible. It is quite clear that before this man left the United States, in 1951, he complied with all the provisions of the American law in relation to registration. He registered and asked the military authorities, before he left, whether it was in order for him to go. He was told that it was quite in order.

A few months afterwards, as has already been pointed out in the two previous speeches, in 1951, two years before the first military call-up papers were received, Dr. Cort received three letters from the American Embassy asking him to surrender his passport and return to the U.S.A. When he wrote back asking why—this is strange, and I think I can say rather sinister—this information was refused. At that time there was no suggestion about his availability for military call-up, or that he was wanted for call-up; nor was there the slightest suggestion that he had transgressed any of the American laws in relation to it.

It is only two years after this, and after the Congressional Committee into the activities of Communists in Yale University had proceeded on its course, that these papers were served. In Dr. Cort's opinion—and I am bound to say that the conclusion is irresistible—these papers were not served to get him into the Army but to get him back into the United States. Bearing in mind his medical record and the additional fact that, apparently, since early this year Communists are not embodied as doctors in the Army, and all the rest of the history of the case, and the attempt made to get Dr. Cort back in 1951, that is an irresistible conclusion. I therefore suggest—I do not think it is a fact which the Minister has properly considered—that this call-up is a bogus one. Certainly, there is no indication that this man had transgressed against any of the regulations before he left.

What happens to him if he goes back? Other Communists have been subjected to victimisation. We know that some of them are embodied in the Army. Doctors who were formerly Communists have been embodied in the Army and have there been given completely unsuitable work, such as, for instance, shovelling coal and other menial jobs for which, in many cases, they are quite unsuited, not to make a contribution to military service but, in many cases, simply for the purpose of political humiliation.

I will mention two cases of Dr. Cort's colleagues. One, Dr. Thierman, was detained in a military prison for a good many months, I am not sure whether nine or 14, while he was being tried for offences before he had been in the Army, while he had been a Communist in Yale University. Dr. Nugent, another colleague—

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

I do not want to go into this matter but the hon. Member stated that Dr. Thierman was in prison during this period. Is the hon. Member aware that the doctor was acquitted at the end of the period?

Mr. Silverman

The point is that I am informed that during this period he was in prison. I suggest that when a man in the Army is being tried ostensibly for a military offence, as a matter of course he is kept in the "glasshouse" during such time as his case is being heard. If the Joint Under-Secretary has any information to the contrary perhaps he would tell me, but I think that my information is correct.

In the case in which Dr. Thierman was acquitted, I do not know whether the Minister knows that, according to a report in the "Observer" it was because he was not actually admitted to the Communist Party. That is not the position in this case. Quite a number of his colleagues have been victimised. Not all of them have been in prison, but many have been condemned to losing their employment.

We have not asked the Home Secretary to come to this decision on grounds of political asylum. The precise terms which make political victimisation may not exist here or, if they do exist, it is not politic for the Minister to make a decision on those grounds. We do not ask the Minister to do so. It was not necessary for him to make any decision, except quietly to allow this man to remain here and continue the good work he is doing in this country.

Why should he be refused permission to remain in this country? The only case we have had so far from the Minister is that of returnability; that is to say, that the United States authorities have threatened to take away this man's citizenship, and the Home Secretary is, therefore, afraid that he may, in due course, not be returnable. What is the validity of that argument? One might think that this principle of returnability was a well-established custom so far as the Home Office was concerned. But is it not a fact that the great majority of the aliens resident in this country are not returnable? The principle of non-returnability has not been applied to Iron Curtain countries since the war and long before. Where is this principle which the Home Secretary deems so important that these two young people must be forced to go back to victimisation?

In fact, an entirely new principle has been created. If that be denied by the Minister I ask him to produce any other case where a man has been sent out of this country because the country of origin has threatened him in such a manner. I submit that this is the first case and that a new and a dangerous precedent has been created. In future, it may be necessary only for another country to say, "We threaten to deprive this man of his citizenship" and then the man will be sent out of this country to undergo persecution, or something similar.

I submit that there is no justification or validity in the arguments advanced by the Home Secretary. He has created a new precedent which is opposite to the old precedent. Bearing in mind all those circumstances, the decision of the Home Secretary is to be condemned. It is probably too late to save Dr. Cort and his wife, but I hope that this debate will have some effect upon the mind of the Home Secretary in the future decisions which he may have to make in these important matters which mean so much to quite a number of people resident in this country.

4.10 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

It may be convenient if I go fairly quickly through the facts of the case. My right hon. and learned Friend stated them on 24th June, but I think that they must be brought clearly to the minds of hon. Members. Dr. Cort came here in June, 1951, to take up a research fellowship at Cambridge. In the first place he was allowed to come here for 12 months.

Perhaps I might interpose here to say that the difference between Dr. Cort and the people referred to by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) is that he mentioned people who came here to do work and that Dr. Cort is a person who came as a student. He got an extension of 12 months to June, 1953, to enable him to continue with that fellowship.

Early in 1953 Dr. Cort applied for a post of lecturer at the University of Bir- mingham, and he was selected for that post. At that time he applied for permission to take up the post on a permanent basis, but, of course, the Home Office was dealing with the matter on the basis that he was here as a research student. There was a little delay, and after some consideration he was granted permission to stay on until 30th June, 1954, but that was strictly on the understanding that this was on a temporary and not a permanent basis. That was the condition on which he received that extension.

Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)


Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

That was a condition. Earlier this year it came to the notice of the Home Office that Dr. Cort's United States citizenship was in danger because of his failure to comply with notices sent by the United States authorities under the Selective Service Acts.

This information did not reach us from the American authorities. It reached us after Dr. Cort had been informed of the position by the Birmingham police as a result of the normal inter-police machinery. It was because Dr. Cort had refused to make a reply to the American authorities but had, in fact, said that he was willing to make a statement to the Home Office that the matter came to the attention of the Home Office at all.

When it came to our attention Dr. Cort was warned that in the circumstances he would not get a further extension. The action to warn him was taken because it is necessary to insist upon returnability. Hon. Members have asked why it is necessary to insist upon returnability. The answer is that it is the only sanction which we possess, as far as immigration is concerned, for the control of aliens. Our only sanction is the power of the Home Secretary to deport. If we do not insist upon returnability that power is lost and the whole principle of aliens policy would fall to the ground. Return-ability is therefore an essential condition for permission for an alien to remain here on a temporary basis.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East—and I think the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger)—has referred to other aliens to which this policy of returnability has not been applied, and it was indeed to those that I was referring in the letter which I wrote to the hon. Member. Of course, I was there referring to the refugees who were allowed in after the war—not by this Government, as a matter of fact, but I think when the right hon. Member for Grimsby was in my present office—as part of our contribution to a large scheme to deal with refugees in Europe. That is really an entirely different problem and is not now relevant.

After Dr. Cort was warned that his permission to remain would not be renewed, he prepared a statement in which he said that his name had been mentioned in an investigation of Communist activities at Yale University that it would be unlikely that he would be able to find scientific employment if he returned to the United States; that he would be inducted as a non-medical private, and that he had been advised that there was no legal compulsion upon him to reply to the notice which he had received from the Government of his country. On those statements, the Home Secretary was approached by Professor Hill, by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) and by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East.

As I read it, that statement amounted to a claim for political asylum, and indeed it was on that basis that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East first of all approached this case. At that stage that was the way in which I think he put it.

Mr. Benn

I did actually ask the hon. Member to give a general decision on the matter. But I went on to say that if he were not able to grant my request I proposed to develop, subsequently, a case for political asylum.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I would not for a moment say that what the hon. Member said was not correct, but I think that I am right in saying that the statement which had been prepared, and which was the basis of the hon. Member's case, was a claim for political asylum. That was the essence of the case. But even if we were to accept the facts which were included in that statement, the claim does not amount anything like to the standard which has been required for many years past to sustain a claim for political asylum. It falls far short. On that basis, my right hon. and learned Friend decided that there was not a valid case of politi- cal asylum and that the decision that Dr. Cort could not get an extension must stand.

Mr. Younger

When the Joint Under-Secretary says that this standard has been observed for many years past, is he not referring to the standard observed under the extradition Acts, where the issue was whether some other country had a right, under Treaty, to have some one back, and was the subject of judicial proceedings? In those circumstances, one would expect an extremely strict standard, otherwise it could happen that the Treaty right would be defeated.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I can say that in no case has a claim for political asylum been maintained on facts of the kind contained in that statement, or indeed which are known to apply to Dr. Cort.

Dr. Cort then supplied the Press with a statement saying that the Home Secretary had rejected his claim because the rule under which political asylum can be granted was limited to danger to life. That was the next action that was taken. Of course, if indeed my right hon. and learned Friend had ever said that that was the rule, then I quite agree that all the criticisms that have been levelled against him would be valid, but the plain truth is that that statement by Dr. Cort was completely and absolutely without any foundation whatsoever. That was the first time, so far as I know, that this matter reached public ears.

Mr. Benn

That was a mistake which Dr. Cort readily recognises. He understood that to be the case from the letter that the Home Secretary had sent to Dr. Hill. He readily recognises that that was a misunderstanding.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I think that the hon. Gentleman might have been a little more generous to my right hon. and learned Friend in the way in which he opened his case, if indeed he now says that that kind of mistake was made, because it was a pretty glaring one.

There were a number of Parliamentary Questions put down, and my right hon. and learned Friend gave a reply on 24th June. It was, in fact, a written reply, and it was written because the Questions were not reached. In fact, they were quite low in order on the Order Paper, but it so happened that they were not reached on that day. My right hon. and learned Friend was ready to answer them orally if a request of that kind was made, but it was not.

The "Daily Herald" on the following day attacked the Home Secretary for having sheltered himself behind the machinery of giving a written instead of an oral reply, and it went on to attack the Home Office for having raised the question to the level of a claim for political asylum. I am answering this in a somewhat polemical way because I think that the facts should be known. These imputations were made against my right hon. and learned Friend and the Home Office, and it is right that the true facts of the case should be brought out now. There were further Parliamentary Questions, which will be within the recollection of hon. Members, and they will also remember that my right hon. and learned Friend did not change his mind.

Mr. Benn

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I think he will agree that it is important to get these matters right. He will recall that he telephoned me at home to suggest that I put down a Question to give the Home Secretary an opportunity to answer. Although I was sick at the time, I sent a special messenger to the House with an oral Question. I was still sick on Thursday and, therefore, unable to be in the House, and I was very surprised that the Home Secretary had not taken advantage of the opportunity which is always open to a Minister to say, "With permission, I will answer this Question," in spite of the fact that it had not been reached. I think it is a little unfair of the hon. Gentleman.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am not making any imputation on that score against the hon. Gentleman. I appreciate that he was not here, but there were a great many Questions on the Order Paper, and a number of his hon. Friends, none of whom is very slow about asking for such a concession as an oral statement, were in the House. There was another somewhat important statement made on that day, and it may be that that was the reason. But, in the ordinary event, the Question would have been reached. I acquit the hon. Member of any dis- courtesy in that matter. Indeed, I entirely agree that it was at my suggestion that that was the day chosen to put down the Question.

Dr. Cort asked for an extension of a month for his stay in order to complete his personal arrangements before leaving the country, and that request was granted. Perhaps I should say that no day-to-day touch is kept with aliens in this country, and the first intimation that I have had that Dr. Cort had left the country has just fallen from the lips of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn).

Mr. Benn

He has not left yet.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I thought the hon. Gentleman said that he had left.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

May we be told where he is going?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The hon. Member was not here when his hon. Friend dealt with that point.

I think I should complete my statement of the facts, some of which are not within the direct knowledge of the Home Office. It has been suggested that the call-up notices were not issued by the American authorities in the ordinary course of their Selective Service Act administration. That allegation has been made on a number of occasions, and I have made such inquiries as I can in the matter. The position is that the call-up was made under the doctors' draft section. The previous call-up notices, to which hon. Members have referred, would have been issued under the general provisions of the American Acts, and this notice was issued under the special provisions of the doctors' draft section.

Under those provisions, physical requirements are much less stringent than for the generality of those called up, as one might suppose. The appropriate regulations prescribe that if a physician can furnish any medical service he is to be eligible for draft, and it is difficult to see why, if a man can be an effective doctor in Birmingham, he should not be as effective looking after American troops.

Mr. J. Silverman

Is it not a fact that ex-Communists are not called up as doctors in the American forces? Secondly, will the Joint Under-Secretary deal with the point I raised? I never suggested that the American call-up did not comply with the regulations. What I said was that the full history of the case—bearing in mind the attempt to get this man back to America two years before, without any reason being given—casts considerable doubt upon the bona fides of the call-up.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I have made inquiries on this score. Dr. Cort was called up in the doctors' draft. If the position is that he would not have been employed in that draft, all he had to do was to reply to the notices. He did not do so, and it is that failure which is the real cause of the difficulty, which he has created himself. I have examined the information, and I can tell the House that, as a result. I am quite satisfied that this call-up was entirely bona fide and was not made for any ulterior purpose.

Two grounds have been suggested for allowing Dr. Cort to stay here on a permanent basis. One suggestion is that his case should be treated as an exceptional one, and the other is that it should be treated as a case of political asylum.

Mr. J. Silvermanindicated dissent.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The hon. Member shakes his head. He favours the case being treated as one of political asylum, but the right hon. Member for Grimsby favours dealing with it as an exceptional case. The latter proposal has not been pressed very strongly, because hon. Members on both sides of the House have criticised the arbitrary powers which are given to the Home Secretary under the Aliens Order. I do not complain of that criticism.

It has been the policy of the present Government, just as it was of the last, first, to define very precisely the rules under which the Order will be operated; secondly, to make those rules known as far as possible—indeed, I have done my best to expound them in the House on a number of occasions during the last few years—and, thirdly, to try to apply them strictly. If we were to modify the rules in this way, as I have been invited to do today, in response to political agitation, it would be grossly unfair on those who had not got political agitation behind them, and it would certainly be an end of sound administration.

Mr. Younger

The point is that this could have been done at the discretion of the Home Secretary before there was any agitation.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Then the right hon. Gentleman would have had to put forward a special case. As I understand it, he is now pressing that this should be dealt with as a special case, because of political feeling that has been aroused.

Mr. Younger

I am not suggesting it is because of political feeling. I am suggesting that as the Home Secretary has been given discretion precisely because conditions are so variable that no fixed rule can be worked from year to year he should at any rate have shown realisation that there are political conditions in some other countries which did not previously exist but do exist today, and that account should have been taken of that fact. That is all I am asking.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The right hon. Gentleman is putting the case for political asylum. If we are to treat this as an exceptional case we must find some exceptional grounds, and the only exceptional grounds suggested are grounds of political asylum. Those grounds are not anywhere precisely defined. I think that the best I can do is to refer the House to the Refugees Convention which was drawn up at Geneva in 1951. That, of course, is not a definition of political asylum, but it deals with political refugees. It provides that no contracting States shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. That, I think, fairly and accurately describes the basis upon which the right of political asylum has been operated in this country for many years past.

It has been suggested on behalf of Dr. Cort, but, curiously enough, not by him personally, that if he returned to the United States he would be liable to imprisonment because of his Communist activities. There is really no foundation whatsoever for that allegation. There is not a single case in which an individual has been imprisoned because of his Communist activities as yet, or of any similar circumstances whatever. No hon. Member has been able to put forward a case. The hon. Member for Erdington, who, presumably, made such researches as he was able to, was able to cite one case where the prosecution was for a misrepresentation on the part of the individual, namely, that he had not been a Communist. My information is that he was not put in prison awaiting trial but in fact was acquitted when the matter went for trial. That is the only case any hon. Member has been able to put forward that is anything like this one.

Mr. J. Silverman

That case was the case of a court-martial. Where was the man kept pending the court-martial?

Mr. Hannar Nicholls (Peterborough)

On a point of order. Could hon. Members be asked to allow my hon. Friend to make his speech without so many interruptions, because they take up time and so reduce the amount of time left for the other subjects we hope to debate?

Mr. Speaker

If a Member seeks to intervene and the Member addressing the House gives way, he may do so. There is nothing wrong in that.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

Why does not the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) learn the rules of order?

Mr. Nicholls

I am concerned about the time left for the following subjects.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

It is perfectly true that that case was a court-martial, but a court-martial is as much a trial as any in a civil court.

I quite agree that Dr. Cort may be liable to imprisonment for refusing to comply with the call-up notice. That may very well be true, but it is certainly not a ground for claiming political asylum. Nor do I deny for a moment that people with Communist associations in America may suffer various degrees of unpleasantness, as the right hon. Member for Grimsby has suggested, but that is very far short indeed of persecution, and the kind of things which have been suggested, if not by Dr. Cort himself at least on his behalf, are the very greatest exaggeration of anything which could occur.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East asked about the interrogation of Dr. Cort by the Birmingham police. My right hon. and learned Friend has already made a statement in that connection in the House. I can perhaps add this: he has considered whether any guidance to chief constables is necessary and he proposes to make some suggestions to ensure that where police inquiries are made to see whether an alien is in a position to answer correspondence, the alien is left in no doubt as to his rights. In view of what has been said, that should be made clear.

The Home Secretary has given this case the most careful consideration. He is perfectly satisfied that the decision which he has taken is one which it was his duty to take. Dr. Cort has never come near to establishing a valid claim to be regarded as a political refugee. The motives which led him to seek publicity and to misrepresent the Home Secretary's attitude must, of course, be a matter for speculation, but it was certainly no part of his desire to improve relations between this country and the United States. It is unfortunate that so many people were successfully misled and have allowed themselves to assume that the case had an importance and raised issues which never really arose at all.

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