§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I rise so that we may have an opportunity of discussing the case of Joaquim Perez-Selles, now awaiting deportation to Spain. At what time he is to be deported, nobody knows, including, so we gather, the Home Secretary himself, but it appears that his deportation is imminent and it is for that reason that we on this side of the House are raising this matter as one of urgency.
This afternoon, the Home Secretary disturbed many of us, certainly on this side of the House, by two things that he did. In the first place, it would appear that he disclaimed responsibility for the fact that this man is to be deported. He did not actually disclaim it in so many words, but he could very easily have risen and relieved you, Mr. Speaker, of some anxiety when you were uncertain, I think, for a moment, whether the Home Secretary had the responsibility, or whether it was a judicial matter in which the House should not interfere. In fact, by not standing up and saying that he had responsibility, the Home Secretary can be said virtually to have disclaimed responsibility this afternoon.
The second thing that the right hon. Gentleman did which disturbed us considerably was to refuse even to postpone the order for deportation. If he had said, "I do not know about this. I am not very certain"—and he did not appear to be certain; for instance, he said that he was taken unawares and that the matter had been raised very suddenly and that he should have been given notice of it, which is as may be—that would have been a very strong reason for having postponed the decision, as he was asked to do. Having postponed it maybe only until next week, the House could have 1410 discussed it. In fact, he did no such thing and, as far as we can make out, it was highly probable that this man would be deported by the end of this week.
During the course of the interchange of questions this afternoon, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) raised a very pertinent point. He asked whether the treatment would have been the same if this man had been due to go behind the Iron Curtain. There was no reply about that.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I deliberately did answer that point, saying that the treatment was exactly the same. As the right hon. Gentleman has now misrepresented me in two respects, namely, saying that I disclaimed responsibility and that the treatment would not have been the same. I want to say quite clearly that I accepted responsibility and that I did say that the treatment was the same.
§ Mr. Dugdale
Oh, no. I said that the right hon. Gentleman did not actually disclaim responsibility, but could have risen very much earlier and said clearly that he was responsible, and thus have relieved you, Mr. Speaker, of a very difficult situation. I stick to that.
It may be that the right hon. Gentleman says that there is the same treatment in the case of people who are liable to go behind the Iron Curtain. If that is so, what was the reason for the treatment of Sergeant Ponomarenko quite recently? Sergeant Ponomarenko, so I understand, deserted—
§ Mr. Dugdale
With the very greatest respect, Sir, I think that I should be allowed to develop a parallel case to show that there is different treatment in one case from what there is in the other. That is all I want to do and I will be brief about it.
Sergeant Ponomarenko, so I understand, deserted after having been said—I will not say more—to have shot another soldier during a drinking bout and then having gone to Berlin. Whether those facts are correct, I do not know, 1411 but that was the accusation. It was an accusation of desertion coupled with shooting, a fairly serious accusation. He was allowed refuge in Berlin and, what is more, has been flown to this country, where he is still given refuge. It may be perfectly right that he should be given refuge. I will not argue about the merits of that case. I merely say that this is treatment quite different from what has been given to the man about whom we are talking today.
Many of us on this side of the House feel quite as strongly about Spanish injustice and Spanish tyranny as hon. Members on both sides of the House feel about Russian injustice and Russian tyranny. I do not think that that can be said of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves his very valid point about the parallel case, will he bear in mind that there are many cases where political asylum has been given on what seemed to be rather tenuous grounds in the case of desertion by Polish merchant seamen from ships which happened to come to this country, a matter which seems very much to the point?
§ Mr. Dugdale
I am very glad that my hon. Friend has added those cases. I do not have a long list of cases. I have not come prepared with a long list, but I quoted a case which I thought to be relevant to the present discussion. No doubt if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will be able to add other cases, as will other hon. Members.
It is quite clear that we on this side of the House are not concerned with this man's character. I have never met him and I do not know him. For all I know, he may be a most undesirable and unpleasant character, although I have no idea. All I know is that he is accused of having deserted the Spanish Army.
I ask the Home Secretary whether desertion is an extraditable offence. I do not know whether we have relations with Spain which say that desertion is an extraditable offence. If that is so, I presume that this man has been to court and that the police have asked for an extradition warrant.
If that is not so, under what powers 1412 is the right hon. Gentleman acting? That is something which we hope he will tell us tonight. I have no doubt that hon. and learned Members can advise me on this matter, because I do not profess to be learned in these things, but I understand that the Government perhaps have—and only perhaps—power to deport without notice. I believe that that power was called into question as long ago as 1905, in the case of a certain French duke—I think the Duke of Chateau-Thierry, whose case brought into doubt the Government's powers to send a man out of the country without giving a reason and without an extradition warrant. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is acting on those supposed powers or not, so perhaps he will tell us about them.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why it is that only France was requested to receive this man? I understand that he was given refuge by the French Government on a previous occasion. The French Government, in this case, acted very differently from us and very differently indeed from the Americans, who did what the right hon. Gentleman today is proposing to do, sent him back to Spain where he was imprisoned. I suggest that we might have followed the example of the French rather than the Americans in this matter.
Be that as it may, we ask the right hon. Gentleman to ask not only the French Government, but other Governments whether they would give this man refuge. I suggest that the Mexican Government, who have given refuge to many Spaniards, might be approached and might well give him refuge. We should ask any Government before sending this man back to Spain. This man's freedom may depend on the Home Secretary's action tonight, but something much more important than his freedom is concerned and that is the reputation of this country as an asylum for all who flee from tyranny and injustice. That reputation depends on the Home Secretary tonight.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I make no apology for having, with others, sought this debate. It is one of the great traditions of the House that even where one man's liberty and perhaps life are concerned the House will put aside other business in order to deal with such an issue. I am perfectly sure that there are many hon. Members opposite who wish to learn the facts of this case and who will reach a decision on those facts, just as there are hon. Members on this side of the House who will do likewise.
I propose to begin by stating the facts as they are known to me. A week ago last Friday, the London representative of the National Confederation of Labour in Spain drew my attention to the fact that Joaquim Perez-Selles was in Brixton Prison awaiting deportation. Perhaps I may say a few words about the National Confederation of Labour. Before the period of Franco it was the largest trade union organisation in Spain. It was unique in one way in that it was a syndicalist organisation. It was not associated with the general trade union movement, but one effect of its philosophy was that it was very strongly anti-Communist.
Perhaps I may be allowed to recite an episode from my personal history. I went to Spain during the Civil War to save members of the Independent Labour Party, not from Franco but from the Communists, and I cannot forget the fact that the grandson of our grand old leader, Robert Smillie, died in a Spanish prison under the Communists during that war. Therefore, I hope that no one will assume this evening that I am putting this case from any sympathy at all towards the Communist opposition to the Franco régime. That is not our ground of opposition. Our ground of opposition to the Franco régime is the same as our opposition to the Communist régimes. It is that it denies personal and political liberty.
Following the approach which was made to me by the London representative of the Confederation of Labour in Spain, I had a communication from its headquarters at Toulouse and the facts which I will give to the House are based on information which has been provided for me in that way. Perez-Selles is only 1414 24 years of age. His opposition to the Franco régime began in the years before he had reached adult manhood. Way back in 1950, when he was called for military service, he first became a stowaway on a boat, because he was not prepared to undertake military service for a Fascist régime to which he was opposed.
He went as a stowaway on a Swedish boat and he reached Rouen in France and there was arrested by the French police. He was detained for fourteen days. He came before the court at Rouen. The court recognised the sincerity of his refusal to serve in the navy of a Fascist Government and it liberated him. He was by profession a sailor and he got a job on a Scandinavian line.
I have had the opportunity of discussing this story with the Home Secretary and there was only one discrepancy in this part of it. The Home Secretary's information was that Perez-Selles first went on a Norwegian boat and subsequently went on a Swedish boat. The facts as given to me were that he went on a Norwegian boat and that that Norwegian boat broke down off the north coast of Spain, that it had to go into the Spanish port of Pasages for repairs and, whilst the boat was in that port, he was picked up by the Spanish police. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for two years. He underwent that term of imprisonment in a Spanish prison.
At the end of that period he was taken into the navy. Again he deserted at the first opportunity. The boat put in at New York and he deserted there. He was handed over by the American authorities to the Spanish authorities and returned by them to Spain. He was then sentenced to two years, six months and one day's imprisonment. The one day was added so that he should not be allowed remission on the two years and six months' sentence.
When he had completed that sentence he was again handed over to the navy and he was placed in the naval disciplinary battalion. It was from that battalion that he deserted last October and stowed away in the ship "Velazquez" of the MacAndrew Line. He arrived in this country at the end of October. He was then applying for 1415 a visa to go to France. He was picked up by the British police and he has been detained in Brixton Prison ever since.
On the Wednesday before I saw the representative of the Confederation of Labour, Perez-Selles had been taken from Brixton Prison and placed on board a ship of the MacAndrew line once more in the Port of London. He himself said that he understood the ship was to call at a French port before it reached Spain. I say at once that I accept the statement of the Home Secretary that he was not by intention given that information, but one has to remember that he is a Spaniard and does not know the English language, so there may easily have been a misunderstanding on that matter.
In any case, when he reached that boat and found that it was going to Bilbao, where he would again be handed over to the Spanish authorities, he panicked. In that panic he said, "If this boat goes out to sea, I will throw myself overboard rather than return to Spain." He came into conflict with the police, there was a scuffle, and the Home Office asserts that there was an assault. In those circumstances the captain of the ship said that he would not take responsibility for returning the boy to Spain because of his threat to throw himself overboard, and the police had to take him back to Brixton Prison.
Those are the facts so far as I have been able to learn them.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt before he leaves the facts? Can he say on the two issues for which the man was imprisoned—the two years' sentence after the Rouen incident and the two years six months and one day sentence after the New York incident—whether he was imprisoned because of desertion from the navy in both cases, or because of any kind of political offence?
§ Mr. Brockway
In one instance it was desertion from the army, and in the other it was desertion from the navy.
The case I am putting to the House is—and I shall be able to give parallels later—that desertion was not on pacifist grounds or on conscientious grounds as we know the refusal of National Service in this country. It was on the ground 1416 that he was opposed to the Fascist régime, and in that sense it was a reflection of his political views.
§ Mr. Brockway
Mr. Speaker, I have given way to one intervention. I am anxious to speak in a way which will state the case to the House. My own experience—and it may be my own infirmity—is that when I am interrupted I tend to lose the case which I am trying to put to the House. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not desire to shirk any facts, and it is very likely that as I develop my case I shall be able to answer the point he has in mind.
Immediately I heard of this case I communicated with the Home Secretary. Because I believe it deals with the heart of the matter, I will read to the House the excuse which the right hon. Gentleman gave for not regarding this man as a political refugee. A paragraph from his letter reads as follows:From our inquiries into this case it seems quite clear that any serious troubles PerezSelles has run into in his own country in the past have been associated not with any personal political background, but with his stowing away to various countries and with his refusal to comply with the normal Spanish obligation for national service. It would be quite inappropriate to regard a foreigner who sought permission to remain in this country in order to avoid such an obligation as thereby qualifying for the status of a refugee.On that paragraph I want to make two comments. The first is that the Home Office has not been able to find any political background. This boy is 24 years old. Spain has a dictatorship. No expression of opposition to that régime is allowed. If any expression of opposition were made, the boy would be sentenced to prison, and perhaps worse, immediately.
I have heard it said that there was only one occasion when he expressed opposition to the Franco régime and that was when he was under the influence of drink. If this charge be true. I would 1417 say that under the influence of drink his mind would become uninhibited and he might well express an opposition to Fascism and the Franco régime which no man in Spain today can openly express without suffering imprisonment. Knowing the right hon. Gentleman, I am surprised that he should give as one of his reasons for refusing politcal asylum to this young man the fact that under these conditions in Spain there was no evidence of a political background.
The other ground is that he has not fulfilled the normal Spanish obligation for national service. I hope I have made it clear that his refusal of national service was on the ground of his political convictions. I referred earlier to the philosophy of the C.N.T. It is the anarchist syndicalist philosophy. I hope it is not necessary to say that when I speak of an anarchist philosophy I am not dealing with the popular idea that anarchism is bomb throwing and terrorism. It is exactly the opposite. I have had the good fortune to visit some of these anarchist C.N.T. villages in the fishing towns of Spain where the whole population live in equality and where the entire catch is divided equally among them. Except in Israel, I doubt very much whether there are any communities in the world which express the spirit of cooperation and of equality in the same manner as did these villages I saw in Spain.
When a young man is unable by public speech to express his opposition to the régime, quite naturally that philosophy finds expression in refusal to serve in the armed forces of a Fascist country, and Perez-Selles—in evidence the right hon. Gentleman refers to him as a persistent stowaway—has tried continually to get away from that Fascist régime.
Apart from that, I will give the right hon. Gentleman two precedents where men who have refused normal national service in the armed forces have been permitted to come to this country as political refugees. The first also came from Spain. His name was Octavio. In 1948, Octavio was given political asylum in this country for refusing service in the armed forces of Spain. I want to be fair to the Home Secretary. I have a letter from Sir Alexander Maxwell, who said that the case must not be accepted as a precedent. If, however, there was reason to give Octavio asylum in this country in 1418 1948, during the time of the same Fascist and Franco régime as exists today, on the case I have stated there is far more reason why this boy should have asylum now.
Let me give another instance, for which the Home Secretary himself is responsible. I refer to the case of the Russian whom my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich has mentioned. Does the Home Secretary have opportunities of viewing television? Did he last week listen to that Russian broadcasting to this country as a political refugee because he had deserted from the Russian Army? My right hon. Friend may complain of the violence of Selles when, in panic on the boat, he became engaged in fisticuffs with some of the police. The Russian, however, before coming here had been charged with shooting and killing a man in the national forces of Russia.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the charge that when a man deserts from the armed forces of Russia or another Communist country, he is welcome here as a political refugee, but that if for political reasons he deserts from the armed forces of Spain, he must be returned to face, at best, a long term of imprisonment, or the possibility of being shot as a deserter.
During the exchanges which followed Question Time today, I said that there was a danger of this man being deported either tomorrow or on Tuesday. My basis for that statement is that he came to this country as a stowaway on the Mac-Andrew Line. It is the custom to send stowaways back by a boat of the same line. The same boat, the "Velazquez" leaves the Port of London tomorrow and a second boat, the "Palacies," leaves the Port of London next Tuesday. After a decision of deportation has been made, it is the custom of the Home Office to send back a stowaway on the first available boat. There were, therefore, justifiable grounds for the fear that Selles would be returned either tomorrow or next Tuesday, as I suggested.
I conclude with this appeal, The right hon. Gentleman has close personal knowledge that I am not interested in this case only because it concerns a Fascist régime, but that I have acted in a similar manner concerning people from the Communist countries. This country believes in liberty and democracy and has a concern for the 1419 rights of a person who, because of liberal and democratic views, is driven away from his own territory or who seeks escape from his own country. That is a great tradition, of which we ought to be proud. I beg the right hon. Gentleman, despite the decision which he has announced today, to reconsider his attitude. In many ways we have thought him a progressive Home Secretary. If he pursues this course, that reputation will be denied and lost.
§ Mr. E. Partridge (Battersea, South)
During his recital of the facts, the hon. Member told us that the man was on a ship which broke down and had to put into a Spanish port. Under what circumstances did the police pick him up? Did they come on to the boat to fetch him off or did he land?
§ Mr. Brockway
I am not familiar with all those details. As, however, the hon. Member probably knows, it is the custom of the police on those occasions, particularly in either Communist or Fascist countries, to go on board and demand to see the list of those aboard.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I certainly agree with the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway). It has always been the tradition of the Home Secretary, irrespective of party, to interpret his duties in the light of preserving liberty in this country and of affording asylum to foreigners. I do not think that anything either in the period of Administration of this Government or in my own personal administration, or that of those who assist me, has done violence to that principle, nor do I intend that it shall. Nor would any of my predecessors support me if I took any different line, nor, I think, do they believe that I have done anything of the sort.
In answering the sincere arguments of the hon. Member, I should like to acknowledge that in several cases which have come to my attention he has defended those who are in need of defence and he has looked to the oppressed and has exercised his right as Member of Parliament to raise their cases in Parliament. I have already answered the initial points made by the right hon. 1420 Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) and I shall be dealing almost immediately with his main point of whether we adopt the same standards in dealing with countries behind the Iron Curtain as we do in dealing with Spain.
I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman what powers we had used in the present case. I am answering the right, hon. Gentleman before I come to the main burden of my speech. There is no question of extradition. The man is a stowaway. He was refused leave to land and he is being deported to the country to which he belongs. Therefore, he was not a regular visitor to this country or anything like that. He was actually refused leave to land. The power we exercise is under the Aliens Order. Deportation is effected under powers conferred by paragraph 2 (b) of Article 20 of the Aliens Order, 1953, and it is under that Instrument that I have decided that it was necessary for me to act in this case.
Before I consider the case in detail—I speak now so that the House may have the facts before it—I want to refer in general to the question of asylum. The right of asylum is the right of a sovereign State to grant it; there is no right to claim it. Each State interprets its rights in its own way. After seeing the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who came to see me, I studied again the precedents on the subject of political asylum, which are available in my Department, and which are at the service of any Government.
These accord, in fact, with the Geneva Convention, 1951, and, in order to put this serious point at the beginning, I will define the principle in the terms used by my predecessor, the present Lord Chancellor, in this House on 1st July, 1954. I think we must examine the principle, and then I will examine the case against the principle to see how my judgment was arrived at. He said this:I would point out, with regard to political asylum, that what I stated to be the principle has not only been the principle acted upon in this country throughout the past years, but it is enshrined in the latest Convention that deals with the subject,…that is, the Convention of 1951—namely, that political asylum is given where the national of a country is in danger in regard' to his life and liberty from political persecution, among other forms of persecution, in that 1421 country. That is the principle that has been applied and is applied and what I pointed out was that f have no grounds for believing that it was not applied in this case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1954; Vol. 529, c. 1508.]That is the principle on which we work, and that is the principle which I attempted to apply in this case.
I go on from there to pick up the other main general point, which was also a point of principle, raised by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this debate, and that was the question whether there was any slant against any particular country. I should like to say here to the House that it would be a tragedy if the impression were to gain currency that the granting or refusal of political asylum is governed by any political or ideological prepossession. It is not true that there is any bias at all in favour of nationals of Iron Curtain countries, except in so far as the systems and actions of those countries may create the facts which would justify the grant of political asylum.
During 1957 about 12,000 Poles came to this country, and large numbers of them, having the desire to stay here permanently, claimed political asylum. The vast majority of those claims, being unsupported by facts, have been resolutely rejected, and I have not hesitated, if necessary, to enforce the return of these nationals of Iron Curtain countries by the ultimate sanction of deportation. Again, I have had many claims from Yugoslavs, who came here either as visitors or students, but who were unwilling to return to their own country. These claims have been rigorously sifted, and are not accepted, except on the most compelling evidence.
As for Hungarian refugees, I presume that everyone would regard, prima facie, the case of Hungarian refugees to be given asylum as being very well worth the closest possible consideration. Nevertheless, in each of these cases, we have sifted the evidence. We have been obliged to return many nationals to their own countries, and I must say to the House quite firmly that the only way to interpret this principle of asylum is to examine each case impartially, as we have done those from the Iron Curtain countries, and those from Spain, and as I have done in the case of Perez-Selles, particulars of whom I will now give to the House.
§ Mr. Dugdale
Will the right hon. Gentleman refer to the case, which I did, in fact, mention, and which does seem somewhat similar—the case of Sergeant Ponomarenko?
§ Mr. Butler
I was aware of the case of Sergeant Ponomarenko, but in that case we decided that there should be political asylum and he could be accepted. I cannot go into the details, though the right hon. Gentleman referred to it, because it is not on all-fours with this case, for reasons which I propose to give.
This man Perez-Selles first came to notice in 1950, when he arrived as a stowaway on an Egyptian ship from Valencia, and was refused leave to land. He repeated this the following year on a Honduran ship, and was again refused leave to land. In 1952, he came back as a stowaway, with a record of desertion from national service, and was again refused leave to land, but he had to be retained in prison for a while because of his violence, until he could be returned upon the same ship.
On 28th December last, he gave himself up to the police in Rochester, Kent, claiming to have come here on a Norwegian ship. This statement was untrue. He then said that he had stowed away on a Dutch vessel and landed at Hull. In fact, he had stowed away on a ship leaving Valencia for London, and his papers were falsified in the name of Perez Arlandis. It was only after several interrogations that he was identified as Perez-Selles. He was refused leave to land on 31st December.
Arrangements were made for his return to Spain from Glasgow on 5th February last. He was taken to Glasgow on 1st February, but the ship required some repairs, which were likely to take some time, and so Perez-Selles was brought back to London, and the shipping company in whose ship he had stowed away undertook to return him by the first available ship. Arrangements were made to send him away on 10th February. He was taken to the boat, and he then went berserk, and, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough will be aware, a policeman suffered considerable injuries as a result of his actions and had to go into hospital. The captain refused to take him because he said he had no suitable accommodation in which to keep so 1423 violent a prisoner under control, and he was therefore brought back.
Arrangements were then made to send him on 25th February, and on this occasion the departure was postponed in view of representations made by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough. I then saw the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and the right hon. Member for Smethwick and I told them the gist of what I have just told the House, which I think they will realise is the same as I told them before. I said I could not regard this case as covered by those normally included in the category of political refugees, or as one in which asylum should be granted. They asked me to see whether Perez-Selles could go to France; the right hon. Member for West Bromwich and the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who spoke after Questions today, asked, "Why not to France?" I was asked particularly to investigate whether France was a possibility, and I looked up this man's record in France.
He claimed to be a resident in France and said he had been living in Avignon, but according to his further statements, this is also untrue. His only residence in France was for nine months in 1953 after he had deserted a ship in dock at Rouen. He served three months in a French prison and remained in France to work. He then of his own accord resumed sea employment, and after serving in a Norwegian ship, from which he was paid off in Dunkirk, he served on a Swedish ship which, in due course, took him back to Spain.
These are the facts of the case. Despite his small association with France, I caused the French Consul in London to be approached, at the request of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The Consul's view was that, on all the information before him, which I have no reason to believe is inaccurate, he would not feel able to grant or recommend a visa for this man. I do not myself think that it would have been possible for our officers to find him any alternative country which he could enter. I did what I was asked to do, namely, to find out whether he would be accepted in France, and that I believe to be impossible.
§ Mr. Brockway
Did not my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) himself make the suggestion that, when we make deportation orders to Spain, those deportation orders should be fulfilled through France? We made no other suggestion. Is not it a fact that, in the case of deportation orders to distant places, the Home Office frequently provides them in that kind of way, and that on many of these occasions the refugees do not have to face the persecution which they would otherwise have to face?
§ Mr. Butler
I am afraid that it has not been possible to get him a visa for France, and therefore I must say that it is not possible to carry out in this case the course suggested by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Dugdale
I do not want to do anything in the way of scoring a point; I simply want to ask a question for the future. It is quite correct that the right hon. Gentleman asked France first, for the reasons he has given, but, having regard to the publicity which has been raised by this debate, can he now say that any country which applies to have this man, or says that it is willing to have him, will be allowed to have him, and that he will be sent there?
§ Mr. Butler
I do not anticipate that it will be easy for him to obtain a visa for any country. I have no alternative but to take the action that I have taken.
Before coming to my decision about a deportation order—and I think this will interest the House—against the background of the definition of political asylum which I have given, I went thoroughly through all the arguments in favour of giving Perez-Selles permission to stay here and granting him political asylum. I examined his past history very carefully. I have here his statements, made on more than one occasion, upon which we have to place some reliance; at any rate they provide the best evidence that I can get.
According to his last statement to the immigration officer, Perez-Selles had no history of political trouble in Spain—that is his own admission—apart from three months' imprisonment in 1950 for criticising the Franco Government when, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough said, he was drunk. He was interrogated 1425 on 7th January and he denied that he had ever been involved in politics. He said that he did not wish to return to Spain because, as a naval deserter, he might expect to be given a long prison sentence.
It is true that on more than one occasion this man has deserted from the navy, and according to the report of the interview which I have mentioned he says that he fears further terms of imprisonment if he goes back. He fears this because on the last occasion that he deserted it was from a disciplinary battalion, and this was coupled with the falsification of his own documents. He had already served three years for desertion, being released in 1957 for a period of service with that particular disciplinary battalion.
In interpreting this man's case I had to look at his application for political asylum. I do not find in his history anything remarkable except the fact that he has refused to carry out military service in his own country. Therefore. I do not accept that there are any grounds for allowing him to remain here as a political refugee. I look back to the case of a Dr. Cort, which was debated in 1954 in this House, and there I find an exact analogy. The Under-Secretary of that day, in defending the Government's decision, said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1954; Vol. 531, c. 967.]That is what we claim in this case.
§ Mr. Butler
In this case the man is a persistent stowaway and a deserter from Franco's forces. I do not believe, in the light of his history, that that is a reason for granting him political asylum.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to deal with the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) raised when he quoted the letter from the Home Secretary, namely, that in that letter the Home Secretary said that the man was deserting from his normal military service? Is the Home Secretary asserting that there is no 1426 difference at all between being required to serve in the forces of Spain and being required to serve in the forces of a democratic country like ours?
§ Mr. Butler
There is certainly a difference. Just as there is a difference between the constitutions of the two countries there is a difference in their forms of service. What is quite clear is that it would not be possible to administer our policy regarding political asylum if we were to take men who deliberately deserted from service in their own countries and who, as far as we can see, are not political victims in their countries. It would be quite wrong to administer our law in the sense of granting political asylum in cases of that sort.
Those are the reasons why I did not find it possible, after examining the case, to grant political asylum to this man. I do not think that we can possibly maintain our reputation for granting political asylum if we grant it in cases of this sort. I have therefore come to the conclusion that the deportation order must be made. In answer to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough I would say that I have ascertained that the first ship in which the man can sail in fact leaves on Monday next.
The final question arises as to the position of Parliament, with which I am naturally very much concerned as Leader of the House. I saw the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and the right hon. Member for Smethwick and told them my mind. I undertook to investigate the possibility of Perez-Selles going to France. I then prepared letters to send to the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend and those letters would have been sent had it not been for the interchanges earlier today. They would have received the letters this afternoon.
I also had ready an Answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). I did not know at the time of the business statement that he had deferred that Question. I also answered a Question from the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, which was left on the Order Paper and not withdrawn, on the subject of political asylum. I therefore felt that I had done my utmost to inform Parliament of my decision.
1427 I have examined all the precedents, and I certainly do not want to go into them tonight. That is a matter for the Chair to decide for itself, and to give us any further rulings it cares to in the future. It is for us to accept the rulings by the Chair. But on examining the precedents I found that it had previously been acknowledged that there is a right of the Executive to take administrative action of this sort. It is not exactly like the prerogative which arises in foreign matters, but it is definitely a duty of the Executive to continue with the administration, and normally in the past these questions have not been regarded as questions which can be raised under Standing Order Number 9. But that does not matter; it is a question for the Chair.
What I must make clear is that I attempted to give answers to my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite as best I could and to administer the law of the country as it falls to me to do. We have had this opportunity to express my reasons for the decision I took. I took the decision because I did not think this man was a proper candidate for political asylum. I do not think that we can administer the policy if we include cases of this sort. I give an undertaking that I shall handle all future cases with the utmost discretion, but I must ask the House to support the decision that I have taken. I would ask hon. Members in future, in cases of this kind to give me as much notice as possible so that we may have a more rational debate, and perhaps not such a hurried one. Certainly, however, I shall endeavour to comply with their wishes and state my reasons to the best of my ability. Government has to be conducted, and administration has to go on. The House of Commons expects this. It has a right to censure the Government of the day on any action, but I maintain that the action that I took was right, and I stand by it.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
It is, of course, a little difficult to have a rational and leisurely debate when dealing with something which is to happen next Monday. Because of that, we have had to take quick and speedy action.
These problems of political asylum raise very difficult questions of judgment. They raise principles that go beyond 1428 party, principles of political liberty and of our liberal tradition. Of course, every case must be treated on its merits; that is necessary in the whole nature of things. There seems to us to be one guiding principle which the Home Secretary has not clearly grasped. He defined his idea of what these principles should be in the application of the grant of political asylum. But surely there is one clear principle, that the grant of asylum must not be regarded in absolute undifferentiated terms.
One must make the distinction between democracy and dictatorship, one cannot avoid that. There will be cases, of course, where it is proper to grant asylum to a man coming from a democracy; but when one is judging this matter somewhat different standards must be applied to people coming from dictatorships. In an otherwise identical case it might be right to send a man back to the United States, or to France, and wrong to send him to Russia, Hungary, or to Nazi Germany in the past, or to Spain today.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was an exact analogy between the case of Dr. Cort and this case of Joaquim Perez-Selles, but there really is not. Dr. Cort came from a democracy and Perez-Selles comes from a dictatorship. There is not an exact analogy. It seems to me that the nature of the regime from which a man comes is inherent in the very concept of political asylum. This is what guided us after 1933 in admitting all sorts of people from Nazi Germany. It guided us after the last war in admitting all sorts of people from Communist countries, people who certainly would not have been admitted had they come from democracies. We cannot avoid making a distinction between the different sorts of regime and countries from which people come.
The Home Secretary made a good deal of this man's behaviour, his record, his personal political background. I submit that these are the very things which we cannot separate from a consideration of the difference between dictatorship and democracy. As was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) how do you, at the age of this man, express political opposition in a dictatorship? I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was rather easily satisfied with the evidence that allowed 1429 him to come to the conclusion he has about this man's record. After all, the evidence given by a young political refugee to an immigration officer is not likely to be exhaustive. It is not necessarily likely to be true; people of this kind are frightened of immigration officers. Of course they sometimes tell lies and suppress the truth; it is inevitable.
When the right hon. Gentleman says that Perez-Selles spent three months in prison for an act he committed when he was drunk, surely that is not a fair point. Not even in Franco Spain does one go to prison for three months for being drunk. There must have been a political content to this offence for him to have been sent to prison for three months. Is it really such a terrible thing to falsify documents if you live under a dictatorship? Is it not a sign of being a desirable and worthy sort of character? After all to refuse to do national service, which, in a democracy, may be a crime, is, in a dictatorship, a political action in itself: not because of what inheres in the act, but what inheres in the regime. To refuse to do national service in a dictatorship is in itself a political act.
When the Home Secretary says that the man was violent and went berserk, surely that shows the horror which possessed him at the very thought of going back to his own country.
It seems to me that the Home Secretary himself admitted that there is a political element in this case when he approached the French consul about the possibility of this man going to or via France. This suggestion was made by me and by my hon. Friend to the Home Secretary in the course of an interview with the right hon. Gentleman. I am grateful that he took it up, but after all, he did not have to take it up. The right hon. Gentleman could have come to a decision that it was a case where it was absolutely proper not to take into account any political considerations whatever. But the Home Secretary took the rather unusual step of approaching France, at our suggestion, for which we are grateful.
The only reason for this could be that the right hon. Gentleman thought there were some political factors in this case. This shows that the Home Secretary himself admits the basis of our case, namely, that this is not just the ordinary case of 1430 a stowaway with no political content to it. There is a political factor and element in this case of the kind we submit, that, at any rate, might be taken into account in deciding whether to grant political asylum. I beg the Home Secretary to try other countries, to try Mexico. He said there was an exact analogy between the case of Dr. Cort and this case. Dr. Cort went to Czechoslovakia, he did not go back to the United States. Another country was found—
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Dr. Cort took himself to Czechoslovakia; he did not go on the initiative of the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
If Mexico or some other country gives this man asylum and allows him in, I have no doubt that he will get himself there, or his friends will get him there. The essential thing is that Dr. Cort was not sent back to the United States, to his own country, but was allowed to go to another country.
I ask the Home Secretary not to rest on having tried France, but to try other countries. If he has tried France, he cannot refuse to try other countries. The very principle which led him to try France, must, I suggest, lead him to try other countries to see whether there are other countries where there is a reasonable chance that this man will be accepted. Our basic reason for raising this matter is that the Home Secretary has not properly drawn the distinction between a dictatorship and a democracy according to the traditions established by our practice; that his whole premise and whole approach is wrong. In this matter, the right hon. Gentleman is treating a Fascist country as if it had democratic procedures. That is the burden of our case in this matter.
The Home Secretary said that there was no difference in his treatment of this case—there would have been no difference—had this man come from Russia or Hungary or a Communist country. The only way to test that is by precedent. These standards are, in fact, established by precedent. Every Home Secretary works on standards which have grown from the precedents set by himself and by his predecessors. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough mentioned the closely parallel case of Octavio, which the Home Secretary did not deal with. Another rather closely related 1431 case was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), that of the Soviet sergeant, which was reported briefly in The Times of 16th January this year. I will read the essential part:Britain today told the Russian military authorities in east Berlin that a Soviet Army sergeant who recently crossed into West Berlin had been granted asylum in Britain … Colonel Kotsiuba, Soviety Deputy Commander in east Berlin, said today that sergeant"—and then his name is given—deserted on 29th December after he had shot and wounded a comrade during a drinking bout.It would have been easy to have said, as is being said in this case, that this was only a matter of deserting, that it was only an act of refusing to fulfil and accept the normal obligations of Soviet military law. It could even have been said that the man was involved in a drunken brawl. All these things are said in the case of Perez-Selles. They might have been said in the case of the Russian sergeant. It was right to decide in the case of the Russian sergeant not to take these matters into account, but to give him political asylum; and for the same reasons I think it would be right and proper, and according to this very precedent, to give the same treatment to Perez-Selles.
Then there is the great and proud case of Anthoni Klimowicz, who was taken ashore from a Polish ship in the Thames Estuary in a very dramatic manner by 200 Thames river police and, one or two days later, was given permission to stay in Britain. There are differences; there always are differences between these cases. A writ of habeas corpus had been issued in this case. But the essential thing was that the Home Secretary took bold administrative action to rescue this man and did not worry to make detailed inquiries about behaviour, political background and all the rest of it. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor rightly thought that this was a case where he must act boldly.
The essential point in the case of Klimowicz was made by Dr. van Dal, Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists, on 24th August last year, which was quoted in The Times. He said: 1432The case of Klimowicz has already become a classical instance of an unimportant man who wanted freedom and who was helped by the noble tradition of British justice.The day when Klimowicz was taken off that ship was one that Britain can be proud of, and Britain was proud of it, regardless of party. We are glad that on that day a new precedent of very great importance was created.
I beg the Home Secretary to make the case of Perez-Selles, who is another unimportant man, one of which we can also be proud, as being in accordance with our traditions. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to show that our traditions of political asylum are as strong, as inflexible and as bold in regard to a Fascist State as they are to a Communist State.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, when he was defining political asylum, pointed out that it would be difficult, in this case, to grant the right of political asylum. I agree with him, but I would like to bring to his notice a precedent for a middle course. The definition of political asylum by Governments of this country has been too narrow. Even if it were made larger I do not think that it would apply to this case. We can all be disturbed by the action of the Home Office when it sent people back to Hungary, for instance. The mere fact that a person from a Communist country has claimed political asylum makes him a political refugee.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Would not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that precisely the same is true of a person who claims political asylum from a Fascist country?
§ Mr. Foster
The precedent is that when somebody is not guilty of an extraditable offence he is in a different category in the matter of being sent back to his own country. If he commits a crime, which is regarded by the extradition treaty between this country and the country from which he came, there is procedure for extraditing him back to that country.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Would that not apply in the case of the Russian sergeant who shot someone in a drunken brawl?
§ Mr. Foster
No. That is extraditable, but in the provision for extraditable offences there is a tradition that if he seeks political asylum and comes within the definition he is not extraditable. In those cases where it can be apprehended that the offence which the person has committed in his own country is likely to be treated as a political offence when he gets back, though it does not come within the definition of political asylum, it has been the humane practice of the Home Office to let him go to another country. We can be proud that we have applied this principle not only to democrats who have taken refuge from Communist countries and to Liberals who have taken refuge from Fascist countries, but to Nazis who have taken refuge from a Liberal country. We should treat everybody the same way on this principle.
The Home Office has had particulars of cases in which I have been concerned and has always been very helpful in granting a slight delay so that a country can be found by the friends of the person concerned to which the person can go. I was engaged in one of these cases which may or may not have been desirable in themselves, but I thought it right that this should be our action, through the Home Office. While this case does not come within the definition of political asylum, as the Home Office and Governments interpret it, under my extended defintion it would be right, in these cases, to grant a slight delay in order to find a country that will take the person concerned
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Something that the Home Secretary said towards the end of his remarks ought not, I think, to pass unnoticed. He seemed to suggest that it would be a matter hereafter for the Chair to decide in any particular case whether or not it was competent for this House to consider and perhaps censure the action of the Home Secretary in dealing with individual matters of this kind.
I believe the whole House will feel it very fortunate that we have this opportunity of discussing this matter this evening. No one disputes the principle laid down by the Home Secretary or the quotation which he gave from the present Lord Chancellor. I would be the first to recognise that there must be borderline 1434 cases in which any Home Secretary will have difficulty in deciding whether the decision should fall on one side or on the other. Our criticism of the Home Secretary this evening is that he has made an error of judgment in this particular case. I hope that it is not too late for the right hon. Gentleman to be influenced by the debate which is taking place.
There is always difficulty in persuading the Minister to change his mind, but the present Home Secretary is always responsive to arguments and to humane considerations that are put before him. However strongly he may have felt the rightness and correctness of the decision which he came to a few days ago, I urge him to bear in mind that the case has now assumed greater importance by the very fact that we have had this debate, and that considerable publicity will now be given to this case, not only here but in Spain and elsewhere. This must considerably increase the hazards which this man will face if he is sent back to Spain
I urge these further considerations upon the Home Secretary. Whatever else may. be said, it is clear that Perez-Selles, since the age of 16 or 17 has made every possible effort to escape from the clutches of the Franco régime. He left Spain as long ago as 1950, eight years ago, and even now he is only 24. Therefore, it is hardly open to the Home Secretary to say that the man has not given any evidence of political anti-Franco activity. How could he when he left Spain at the age of 16? On the two occasions when he has been back there, he spent on the first occasion two years in prison, and then subsequently another two years and six months in prison. The greatest evidence that this man is a refugee on political grounds is the consistency of the efforts he has made since the age of 16 to leave what he regards as the terror régime to which he is politically opposed.
Yet if further evidence is required it is available. After all, all we are concerned to do tonight is to urge upon the Home Secretary those considerations which should turn the scales in favour of a humane decision rather than a harsh and inhuman one.
Will the Home Secretary bear in mind what happened when this man escaped to France? France is a liberal-minded country. When Perez-Selles escaped to 1435 France in 1952 it was his second attempt to escape from Spain and he was then only 18. We do not want to be behind the French in our attitude of asylum to political refugees. According to my information, he came before a French court on the technical charge of being in France without permission to land. For that technical offence he was given a short sentence of imprisonment and, mark this, not deported from France, but given permission to remain in France as a political refugee. As long ago as 1952 the French authorities were prepared to recognise his claim to asylum. That surely must be a fact which ought to weigh with the Home Secretary.
The occupation of this man is that of a sailor. He returned to that occupation and found accommodation on a Scandinavian boat. I do not think it matters whether it was a Norwegian or a Swedish boat. He was going to ply his trade as a sailor. It was a pure mischance that the boat in which he happened to be working as a member of the crew, contrary to anything he might have foreseen, but as a result of some mischance of navigation or engine trouble, had to put in to a Spanish port for repairs. It was pure bad luck that Perez-Selles again fell into the clutches of the Spanish authorities, was tried by those authorities, and subjected to a term of imprisonment.
If it had not been for that mischance this young man would have enjoyed his right to reside as long as he wanted in France. He would have had the right to practice the profession of a sailor and, when he was not on the high seas, to go back to France as often as he wished, and stay there, as long as he liked because, in the eyes of the French authorities, he had acquired the status of a political refugee from Spain. Surely those are reasons which ought to weigh with the Home Secretary.
There is another thing which ought to be said. I want to paraphrase what the Home Secretary said in seeking to justify his decision. I do not think he gave this young man a very high character. I think that is completely irrelevant. If a person is entitled to political asylum, character is completely irrelevant, whether he be of good character, bad character or doubtful character. I hope the Home Secre- 1436 tary will agree that as a matter of principle, whatever his failings may have been, if it can be established that a man is a refugee from a Power whom he has good reason to believe would persecute him for political opinions, perhaps to the extent of his losing his life and certainly to the extent of his being sentenced to a long term of imprisonment, his character is irrelevant.
It is irrelevant whether he was engaged in a drunken brawl, whether he got into trouble with the French authorities or the American authorities, or whether he has not told the complete truth to immigration officers in this country. I believe all those questions which go to character are irrelevant once it is fully established that this young man from the age of 16 onwards has evinced on political grounds a determined opposition to the Franco régime and because of that he is in terror of what may happen to him if he returns to that country.
Those seem to be the fundamental facts. The Home Secretary would be acting contrary to the principles of which this country is rightly proud if he adhered to his decision. I believe this House would be acting contrary to the liberal principles we have established and cherished if we did not make the most of this opportunity or urging on the Home Secretary the desirability—nay more, the necessity—of his changing his mind.
There is very good justification for doing so, first, because the case has now assumed a different aspect of greater importance and therefore greater seriousness to this man and, secondly, because, as the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) pointed out, it is not the case that the Home Secretary must decide either to allow Perez-Selles to remain in this country or send him back to Spain. There are other courses open to him, which he can pursue consistent with his own dignity and with the requirements of justice and humanity.
I am quite convinced that if time were allowed for communications to take place, with Mexico and perhaps with other countries ways would be found whereby this man would be given the asylum and freedom which he certainly would not get in Spain and which the Home Secretary is unwilling to give him in this country. I therefore urge the Home Secretary not to treat the matter as concluded by what 1437 he has said tonight, but to take into account the views expressed on both sides of the House.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
It is obvious that the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) knows more about the close details of this case than any of us has yet had a chance to collect. But from my experience I know more than some hon. Members about the close, assiduous and, if I may say so, very fair manner in which the hon. Member pursues cases of this kind. I should like to begin by putting that on record.
No one with any experience of the Home Office or its workings in this field can fail to know that these cases lie among the most difficult and most explosive that may fall to the Home Secretary. That applies, as I think will be acknowledged by hon. Members who have had any experience of it, not to this side of the House only, but to both sides, since both sides have from time to time to provide the Home Secretary.
This is a field in which persons such as the individual about whom we are speaking, person of perhaps humble and unknown origins, may suddenly raise great principles. There is no harder task for the Home Secretary than to reconcile the law which Parliament has imposed on him—that is a point on which one should lay some stress—with the invaluable sense of this House for the liberty of the individual, a liberty which may sometimes mean the life of the individual. I am glad to acknowledge at once that it is a field in which the Opposition will always play a most valuable part. That lies deep in the purpose of this House. A great many cases, however, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough knows, never reach the House at all. They are cases in which the Home Secretary's ear, as in this case, is continually available to representations from hon. Members.
In the light of what the hon. Member for Eton and Slough said, I think it is fair to comment that it is the place more than the case which arouses emotion in this instance. There are many cases in which deportation has most delicately to be balanced, and I am thinking of those which genuinely involve political asylum. A good deal has already been said in the debate about the part which political asylum plays. I should like to 1438 be a little clearer about the definition which has been given, because in my mind I associate political asylum with the political character of the individual himself perhaps more than that of the country from which he has come. That, I believe, is a fair definition.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Could the hon. Member quote me a single case in which a Polish or Russian seaman who has jumped overboard from his ship and has sought political asylum in this country has had the genuinness of his political convictions tested? Is it not correct that in every one of those cases such an individual has been given political asylum?
§ Mr. Deedes
I was stressing that the known political character of the individual is involved. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) said that a good or bad character should not be taken into account. I entirely agree with him, and certainly from my own experience I would say that whether a man is a good man or a bad man does not enter into decisions of this kind; but the political character which he is known to possess in the country of origin and the consequence of his returning to that country of origin are the real elements involved. It is the political character of the man as well as the political character of the country which the Home Secretary is entitled to weigh in cases of this kind.
The Opposition are perhaps hardly doing themselves justice, because I question whether a Socialist Home Secretary who had to weigh cases of this kind would give his decision solely in the light of the political ideology of the country without taking into account the political character of the individual and the consequences of his returning to that political régime.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I agree that it would not be solely on that consideration, but the Home Secretary said that one must do it regardless of such consideration. We cannot leave that factor out. Certainly it is not the sole condition which would determine one's judgment, but one could not leave it out.
§ Mr. Deedes
The political régime of the country would be weighed by a Home Secretary from either side of the House. 1439 The political character of the individual would also have to be weighed. That is what I want to stress. If we accept the facts which have been given from both sides of the House, which I think are not in dispute, this man's crime is not a political crime against the régime of Spain but the fact that he has been a deserter once, twice or three times and in addition has been a stowaway once, twice or three times.
§ Mr. Beswick (Uxbridge)
Can the hon. Member give any explanation of the series of desertions other than a deep-felt political conviction?
§ Mr. Deedes
All countries have their conscientious objectors to national service, and the reasons which lie behind their conscientious objection are too deep for me to enter into now. I place this case in the class of conscientious objection.
§ Mr. Deedes
I think that has been made clear by the testimony of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough.
Personally, I make all allowance for the deep feelings which the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) referred to in relation to Spain. I also remember the mood and affairs in the House 20 years ago when that frightful Spanish Civil War and the question of non-intervention were debated here day after day. My right hon. Friend was then answerable to the Government as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I do not underrate the emotions which are aroused. What I doubt is whether they should be allowed to weigh unduly in dealing with this case.
I suggest that the Home Secretary has not only national obligations and responsibilities to Parliament which has imposed certain duties upon him but certain international responsibilities, too, which he cannot shirk. If he were to shirk them it would be not only a failure of duty but a disservice to Governments of either side of the House who have these obligations to fulfil.
I have said that I think that it is the case less than the place which arouses deep emotions here. That is not a very good basis on which a Home Secretary should reach a decision of this kind. There are aspects of aliens policy which 1440 deeply divide us and whole sections of it which hon. Members opposite would like to change because they consider that we should be more liberal. That is disputable. There are also fields in which I think it is doing no service to either side to suggest that fundamental issues lie where, in fact, they do not; where the issue is simply whether or not the Home Secretary is to carry out the law which Parliament has approved, thereby laying a duty upon him, and to fulfil national and international responsibilities which, I think, neither side can afford lightly to cast aside.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham. West)
I had not intended to intervene in this debate until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). I am sure that he was speaking perfectly seriously, and was trying to put forward propositions in which he believed. Unfortunately, he did not put forward propositions in which I believed. The right of political asylum is not a matter of Parliamentary approval or of law. It is a prerogative acquired by history, by experience and by practice.
The right of political asylum was one of the lights that shone from this country on a fairly dark world in the nineteenth century. We did not stick up Statues of Liberty with inscriptions on them, but it was our claim that, whatever the nature of the political persecution, whatever the nature of the political opinion that was being suppressed, here at least was a place where refugees from political asylum could find a home.
We did not examine them with a microscope. We did not ask "Is this particular opinion valid? Does this come within a limited category of opinions or not?" As a matter of fact, Kossuth, who stimulated the imagination of Europe in his battle for Hungarian freedom, is now castigated by modern historians as a pathological liar himself. He probably was, but Kossuth became a figure of passion, a figure of emotion, and a figure which now goes down as part of our own history in the nineteenth century.
Under Gladstone and others we carried the right to a very great extreme. The Russian revolution was being forged in this country by refugees, the Amazons of the 1906 revolution. The Tschaikovskyites 1441 came here and lived openly in London under their ordinary names, communicating with the Russian refugees in Switzerland and actually fomenting revolution.
If I could translate the Home Secretary's reasoning in terms of a somewhat earlier period and apply it to Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the Home Secretary would say "Look at Louis Napoleon. He not only fomented a revolution, but twice broke undertakings and landed in France. He was put in courteous confinement and got away by subterfuge. Someone was put into his bed to deceive the kindly governor. He forced his way out of prison and the country and came to England."
Why did we keep Louis Napoleon here? We did so because we were a monarchist country and France was not, and he finally went back to become Emperor of France and found the most decadent monarchy in Europe—
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but that is not the fact. France was a monarchist country at the time that Louis Napoleon escaped from Hamm. Louis Philippe was on the throne.
§ Mr. Hale
That is true, and I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. The essence of it was that Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was a supporter of the empire, and a member of the Imperial family. But I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that correction.
Now we live in a different time, and, with great respect to the Home Secretary, we should look back. Hon. Members opposite ought to look back with shame to one thing that happened before the war, and we, on this side, should look back with shame on one thing that happened after the war. All of us have a guilt complex about the treatment of Jewish refugees, who came here in the years from 1929 to 1939 as stowaways, jumping on boats, trying to find a home. They could not establish a political character and they had no papers. They could only say, "If we go back, we go back to persecution, to hatred, to extermination, to the gas chamber." It was then that we should have lit again the light of liberty. We, on this side, have 1442 done all too little for those who fought for the Socialist cause in Spain. In our comfort, we have sat aside and watched those comrades marching in chains across North Africa.
I believe this is a relevant fact. North Africa is not a happy place to live in today. Most observers say that Spanish Morocco is that little bit better than French Morocco. Spanish Morocco has a fairly good colonial record—by comparison only. I am not extolling what happens there. Most people who have been to both places would agree with this. Day after day Spanish refugees pour into French Morocco, partly for geographical reasons, partly because as refugees from Spain the same persecution would follow them in a Spanish colony, and so they are prepared to go to French Morocco to escape from the régime. There cannot be clearer evidence of politics than that. There cannot be any clearer evidence of the possibility of persecution than that.
The right hon. Gentleman said that this case is not strong. None of us knows much about the facts. That is one of the tragedies of a debate of this kind. I would say one thing to the right hon. Gentleman with great sincerity. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about a letter on the board for my hon. Friend. I know that the right hon. Gentleman always receives us with great courtesy and great consideration. I do not think I have ever been to the Home Office without at least feeling that I have been met with every possible consideration and fairness. But what is the good of a letter on the board to an M.P. at 4 o'clock on the Thursday afternoon when the chap is to be deported on Monday? Let us face that single fact to start with. What could my hon. Friend have done if he had not asked for the Adjournment tonight? What possible step could he have taken?
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
When the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), accompanied by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), came to see me, I then informed them that my mind was as it has now proved to be, with the exception that I undertook at their request to make some inquiries from the French. My failure with France, of which I was planning to inform them, was the only alteration in the situation. When they saw me, therefore, they were aware of what was in my mind.
§ Mr. Hale
I am obliged. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman was saying that they had been too precipitate, or something like that. Ministers generally realise that the position of a back bencher is fairly helpless. We have not organisations behind us. We have not research secretaries behind us. I have been in the position for the last few weeks of not knowing when an execution was to take place, of being anxious to do what I could to stop it and being afraid that if I did not act quickly I should be too late. This is the dilemma that confronts us in matters of individual liberty or in the infliction of punishment.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman with complete sincerity that I do not care whether this is a strong case or not. We have had many refugees from Hungary, and when the right hon. Gentleman said that he had examined them carefully afterwards I was almost a little critical about that. Of course, I know that one must do that and one must have the facts, otherwise Hungarians, possibly with Communist spies, would infiltrate and so on. Yet, as he said it, one hoped that that examination was not for the purpose of sending people back to persecution. That is the test.
The law of extradition was fought for a very long time. It was fought because of the diversity of criminal systems throughout the world. It was fought because the normal exercise of justice, according to the laws of another country, would appear to be very harsh and unconscionable according to our laws. Therefore, it was our opinion that we were being called upon to send people to what appeared to us to be a very heavy punishment for a small offence.
In a sense, asylum is the answer to both these things. It is a question of whether a man is going back to persecution or not. Would anyone say, in the light of this, that this man is not going back to persecution? Will anyone put his hand on his heart and say that he believes the man we are discussing will go back to be tried according to the laws of Spain, with complete fairness and impartiality and with mercy administered as part of the system of justice? Does anyone really believe it? If not, would it not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to consider this?
1444 The right hon. Gentleman demonstrated a great principle a week or two ago. This is not a question of dignity, and I know that he does not think that way. He intervened for the miserable Hungarians, for whom not very much could be said except that they were desperately suffering, that they had crossed the South Atlantic in winter and that they had nowhere to go and no home to be found. They were stowaways, too. When the right hon. Gentleman intervened for the woman who was with child and for that family, his action was greeted with approval throughout the country. I do not recollect a word of criticism being made.
If the right hon. Gentleman tonight said, "I remain unconvinced, but so clear has been the expression of views of Members of Parliament who have spoken that in the circumstances I will withdraw this order for a period, for a fuller investigation, until we can have the facts sifted and examined, and I will withdraw the order, too, in the hope that some other country may have the opportunity of offering to give asylum to this man", nobody would claim to have won a political victory. Everyone would say, "Here is not merely a wise man, but a generous man, a man so big that he never minds altering his decision when he has listened to other arguments." The right hon. Gentleman's stature stands as high in this House at the moment as, I think, it ever has done. It would stand higher in an hour and a quarter or so if he thought it possible to take that view.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), I, too, would like to pay tribute to the tenacity and fairness with which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) pursues cases of this kind. I do not think that there is anybody in this House who has more experience of those qualities than myself, and I sincerely acknowledge them.
It is, however, fair also to point out that the hon. Member really objects in principle to any restriction on the entry of aliens into this country. I am sorry that the hon. Member is not at the moment in his place, but that has been his attitude throughout. I do not say 1445 that it detracts in any way from the fairness with which he pursues individual cases, but his guiding principle is that it is wrong that we should prevent people coming into this country altogether.
Indeed, in the course of his remarks today, the hon. Member said that the ground of our opposition to the Franco régime is the same as our opposition to the Communist régime in that both deny personal liberty. We are not here discussing opposition to régimes. We are discussing the treatment of an individual. That is the question at issue before the House.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
As my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) is not present, may I put this to the hon. Baronet? It may well be true that my hon. Friend does, in general, believe in a liberalisation of the immigration laws and that he presses the Home Office from time to time about these matters. I am, however, sure that the hon. Member will agree that the burden of my hon. Friend's speech tonight was that the merits of this case, the history of this man and the dangers that he would run if he were returned to Spain, made a powerful case for the Home Secretary to show a little clemency. It is not true to say that my hon. Friend tonight was making a general speech about relaxation of the immigration laws. He was talking about the very sad predicament of the man whom we are discussing.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I do not disagree with what the hon. Member says, but the point I was about to make was that the attitude of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough in this matter is coloured by that wider consideration. My point is that this case has to be considered from a narrower standpoint. Although all of us in the House may sympathise very sincerely with the basic emotion which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough has put across, nevertheless we must reject that from our minds in considering individual cases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I hope that I may be allowed to develop my remarks.
Some restrictions and some rules are essential and I think that that would be agreed by the great majority of hon. Members. There are exceptions and I think that the hon. Member for Oldham, 1446 West (Mr. Hale) is one. I think he is on record as having said that he would allow completely free entry, and that was the gist of his speech this evening. That is why I do not follow him in his remarks, because in that he and I differ fundamentally. I am not sure that the hon. Member is not in a minority of one in this connection.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The hon. Member's basis is that he would allow all aliens to enter this country.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I do not want to carry this any further with the hon. Member, but I think that he is on record as having said that he was against all these restrictions. If he says that this is limited to the cases which he has mentioned, I am quite willing to believe that. Indeed, I am glad to do so.
But we are here dealing necessarily with an exception from the general principle. In other words, the general principle is that of restriction, and if we are to make an exception to that principle we must satisfy ourselves that the case falls properly within that exception. In this case, the only basis for making an exception that has been put forward in any part of the House is that here there is a claim to asylum and it is one which ought to be granted.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has mentioned the Refugees Convention of 1951, and the definition of political asylum contained in that Convention. The test is that the applicant's life or liberty would be in danger on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular political group, or political opinion. If this case is to be brought within the principle of 1447 asylum it will have to be shown that the individual is in danger either of life or liberty on account of his political opinion. That is the whole issue that is before the House.
The difficulty is to apply that principle. The hon. Member for Oldham, West has said that he would apply it in the case of anyone coming here on political grounds from countries which we acknowledge are not free. But if we were to accept them we would have to accept the fact that anyone coming here from any of those countries would be free to remain, because all he would have to do when he got here would be to state, publicly or otherwise, that he disagreed with his own régime and that, therefore, he was entitled to remain here as a political refugee.
That is the difficulty we come across at once. Indeed, as the House knows, there have been a number of such cases. People have come here from countries behind the Iron Curtain, they have come here perfectly regularly, perhaps to take up employment of a temporary character and, when they have got here, they have, so to speak, cocked a snook at the régime they have left behind and have said, "I am a political refugee and I am entitled to remain here."
§ Mr. Brockway
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that persistent efforts have been made by Perez-Selles since 1950 to escape from the Fascist régime, and to express opposition to it by the refusal of service in its armed forces? This has been persistently continuous.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
That is exactly the point I am now coming to. If a man merely says that he disagrees with his régime, it does not make him a refugee. He has to show something more than that. In this case what has happened is that a man has deserted from national service in Spain on several occasions. It has been argued indeed—that was the point of the hon. Gentleman's question—that the mere fact of desertion from the armed forces implies the motive of hostility to the régime. That is the effect of his argument, because no one in my hearing this evening has suggested that there is anything more political in the man's motive than that—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I agree that he has deserted, and I am willing to accept the suggestion that he has done so because he does not like the purpose for which he might have to work or fight if he remained in Spain, but I think that a motive of this kind is nothing like sufficient to constitute a man a refugee because, if we accept that motive, we have to accept anyone coming from Spain, Poland, perhaps Yugoslavia and many other countries today.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
May I ask a question, since the hon. Gentleman is on this point? He will recollect the case of the Polish stowaway at the end of July, 1954, which I drew to his attention when he held the office of Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the day the House rose for the Summer Recess. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman had his hat on, had his briefcase in his hand, and was about to go on holiday. All I knew about the case was that what two Polish men told me.
That very night the hon. Gentleman behaved very well. Two warships were sent into the Thames, the man was taken off the ship and we granted him political asylum. I was very pleased with that action. I applauded it. In that case no one asked what was the man's political background. He had never been a member of a political party, he had not actively participated in politics in Poland. We took his word for it and granted him political asylum. Surely that policy ought to be applied to this man.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
That was a special case. [Laughter.] All these are special cases. The only way to deal with them is to treat them as special cases. Unless we adopt that principle, we have to adopt the principle denied by the hon. Gentleman, of letting them all in. And if we deal with them as special cases we must look at the facts of the individual case. I am trying to look at the facts of this individual case, and I am saying that the only fact which has been produced so far which is relevant is that this man has deserted from the Spanish Army or Navy on several occasions—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
—and it is argued that that is the reason for saying that he is a political refugee.
§ Mr. Brockway
I emphasised that the reason for his desertion was his opposition to the Fascist dictatorial régime and that when he could not express it in words the only way to express his opposition was to refuse to do military service. I am reminded that on one occasion he did express it in words and got three months' imprisonment.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I have no knowledge of this case, but I am saying that mere dislike of a régime, accompanied by desertion, does not to my mind—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—amount to anything like the test which is laid down by the Geneva Convention. I do not believe that that test is accepted by any country, or would be accepted by any Government from either party in the House.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I do not know what the particular circumstances were, nor do I think that the hon. Member does, but so far as we can tell France does not wish to have him now, and there is an end to the matter.
The test would be if it could be shown that there were any reason to say that when the man got back to Spain he would be treated not in respect of his desertion, but in respect of his political views, and in a way different from that accorded to any other deserter. Then, maybe, we would be looking at the matter in an altogether different way.
§ Mr. John Diamond (Gloucester) rose—
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I have given way a good deal and I cannot take up too much of the time of the House.
If evidence of that had been produced, I should have been willing to look at the matter in another way. I am not saying that a man who deserts from the Spanish Army may not be in for a very rough time, but that is true of anyone who deserts from the Spanish Army; and I do not see that there is any evidence whatever to show that this man will be treated in respect of the political views which he is said to hold any differently from any other deserter from the Spanish Army.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I would say exactly the same of Communist countries.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) made a suggestion to which I want to refer. He mentioned a case in which he had been personally concerned and in which there had been delay in carrying out a deportation order so as to allow the individual concerned time to take himself where he wished. I can think of several cases where that has occurred. If my hon. and learned Friend will study those cases, he will see that they were all cases in which the alien concerned started in a free capacity, and that is not so in this case. In the ordinary way, a deportation order is made when the individual has been warned that he must go or take the consequences and he is then free and, more often than not, I agree, he goes.
In this case, the man was a stowaway and entirely different considerations apply. Nothing has been said to show that that treatment could be applied in the case of a stowaway.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
Does it not affect the hon. Member's consideration that this man has made four attempts to get to Britain and seek shelter here? In those circumstances, does he wish to put him on the first ship and send him back to the place from which he is struggling to escape?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
He has deserted and gone elsewhere, but not always come here. It is not the desire to come here, laudable though that may be, which constitutes political asylum. There are millions of people in the world who desire to live in this country, and if we were to apply that as the test, obviously our whole system of dealing with aliens would break down.
For the reasons I have given, I think that the Home Secretary has dealt with this case rightly and I am certain that any Home Secretary of whatever party would have dealt with it in a similar way.
§ Mr. Delargy
The hon. Member has said that if he had evidence before him that on this man's return to Spain he will be treated not as a deserter, but as a political figure, he might reconsider his position.
I put to him, and to his right hon. and hon. Friends, this question. Even supposing that until now this man has not been a political figure, does he think that, after three hours' debate in the House of Commons, Perez-Selles will no longer be considered not to be a political figure on returning to Spain? We have made him a political figure, even if he was not one before. He is bound to be treated as a political figure if he returns to Spain.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I would not regard that as a valid argument, for obvious reasons, but, on the other hand, I am inclined to think that, although he may be regarded as a political figure in one sense, that will not necessarily be to his detriment on his return.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) speaks with great sincerity, but I think that he is deceiving himself. I cannot believe, despite everything that the Home Secretary has said, that we do not apply a double standard in these cases.
We have spent many millions of pounds on the maintenance of Poles and other foreigners in this country, and, having had some knowledge of these people, and having been privileged to fight for them in the past, I do not disagree with enabling them to build their lives afresh in this country and elsewhere. But I also remember the policy adopted toward the Spanish refugees after the Spanish Civil War, and that was completely different.
I should like to ask the hon. Member for Hendon, South, who has such a large experience in these matters, whether he knows of a single case of a Russian deserter coming over to this country who has said, "I am deserting from the Russian Army," who has been handed back to the Russian authorities. Does he know a single case? As a matter of fact, we have heard about what we can only regard in this matter as very strange behaviour. There was the case 1452 which was mentioned by a former Member, Mr. Geoffrey Bing, on one occasion, when we discovered that a person was, for political reasons, being brought over here, at the height of the most difficult housing conditions, and provided with a flat in Kensington. The case was raised in some detail by Mr. Bing.
I put it to the hon. Gentleman that we are in danger of being accused, and rightly accused, of humbug, because we are contriving to apply one set of rules in one case of people coming from one country, and another set of rules in the case of people coming from Spain. We have heard two most remarkable speeches. I think that even the Home Secretary would agree that anyone listening to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) would have been greatly moved and would have said, "Here is a case about which we must do something, a man for whom we must find asylum." Anyone coming into the House, not having heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough, but having heard the Home Secretary, would have said, "Here was a man of bad character, who had reason to get out of Spain, who had a bad record and"—
§ Mr. Beswick
I think he would. He would have said that on the speech of the Home Secretary, but, matching up these two speeches, there is not a single case quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough which is in any way controverted by the facts stated by the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker rose—
§ Mr. Beswick
No, I cannot give way.
I ask the Home Secretary to look at the language he used. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough said that the man, when taken to the ship, was desperate and struggled and said that he would throw himself into the sea. This incident, in the Home Secretary's words, is described as "The man went berserk".
There was another rather revealing incident which my hon. Friend gave in some detail. This unfortunate person got a job on a Norwegian boat which had to go into a Spanish port of repairs. It was on that occasion that he was taken 1453 back into Spain. When the Home Secretary referred to the same incident he dismissed it in a few words. He said, "He then got another job on a Swedish boat which took him back to Spain." He said not a single word about the circumstances in which that boat went back to Spain, or how the young man was taken off the boat and got into the hands of the Spanish authorities again.
Does the Home Secretary say that there is anything in the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough which he does not accept? Is there a single thing about that most powerful case which the right hon. Gentleman does not accept?—because there is nothing in his own statement of the history of this man which controverts my hon. Friend's case.
Someone has said—I think that this was the burden of the argument of the hon. Member for Hendon, South—that this is a question of interpreting a principle which had been laid down in relation to political refugees. I do not think that that was the difficulty which faced the Home Secretary; his difficulty was not one of interpreting that principle, but of interpreting the political character of the Spanish Government. That fact came out very clearly in a paragraph towards the end of the letter from the Home Secretary to my hon. Friend. It seemed quite clear to the Home Secretary that there was absolutely no reason why this young man should not fulfil his national service obligations in Spain.
I say this very forcibly: if I thought that anyone was coming into this country to escape his national service obligations elsewhere I should have him sent back straight away. Unless a person can prove that he has conscientious scruples in this matter—and even then he should accept the alternative to national service which is usually provided in various countries—we should have no truck with him. If anyone comes from a democratic country, such as the United States, to escape his national service obligations we should send him back. But does the Home Secretary really think that the successive attempts which this young man has made to get out of the Spanish Army are consistent wth the action of a shirker or a lead-swinger, who wants only to get out of a tough job with the Spanish Army, as one hon. Member opposite said?
1454 My mind goes back to before the war when a young man came before me when I was a member of a public assistance committee. Because he had a very long record of unemployment, and had been losing jobs, it was said that he was a shirker and did not want to work. He showed me his bare feet under the uppers of his shoes and said, "Sir, do you really think that I would rather not have a hard job of work to do than this traipsing about looking for work?" Similarly, does anyone believe that it would not be much easier for this young man to put in two or three years with the Spanish Army rather than suffer these privations? What reason can there be for his escaping like this, unless he has some strong political conviction?
I come now to the plea made by the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster). It would seem to be absolutely incredible that the Home Secretary should not listen to that plea, made from the benches behind him. I ask him to enhance his reputation and heed what has been said. I am sure that it would show that he is a really great man if he accepted the pleas made to him.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that he applied to the French authorities to see whether they would take this man. Why did he do that if all that he is saying is true? Why did he try to get this man out of his obligations to the Spanish authorities and into France? If it was right for him to go to France, it would be equally right for him to go to Mexico. There is reason to believe that he would have been accepted in Mexico. At least, let us have a chance to see whether we can find a home for this young men in some other country. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to listen sympathetically to the plea which is being made to him tonight.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Halifax)
I intervene in this debate not only because of my sympathy with the case but because I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) that the definition of political asylum is in this country still too narrow. I agree with him, too, in accepting that even his extended definition cannot cover this case. Thirdly, I agree with him and with hon. Gentlemen opposite who have 1455 made the point that the debate will endanger this young man's freedom and liberty and possibly his life. It is true not only in this case, but in other cases in other countries where attempts to obtain political asylum have been made by a trick, that when the subject returns to his own country he returns to danger.
I must join issue with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) on the question of the part that the country played in this case. I am trying to arrange for a refugee from Yugoslavia to remain in this country after coming here on a visit on a permit in which he falsely declared that he wished to visit his father. In fact, it was his intention to stay here and I am arguing with the Home Office on the same lines as hon. Gentlemen opposite have been arguing in this debate. I should like to read out part of a letter written to me by this young man's sponsors in this country. I will not give the name of this man, because it may be that he will have eventually to return to Yugoslavia. The letter states:It must be surely clear to the authorities that life in a Communist country is not honest, straightforward and open as it is in this country. It is not possible for a young person who is not friendly to the Communist organisation to leave the country permanently and it is very difficult for such a person to leave even temporarily. Thus it is essential for such a man, if he wants to get out alive, to lie, which, as you know, he did. For the same reason his father felt that he dare not risk telling the truth in this country for fear of the facts being transmitted to the Embassy in Belgrade and the Yugoslav authorities getting to know.I agree with that and think that the same would probably apply in the case of the Spanish authorities.
I have another case from Yugoslavia in which a young man was not allowed to come to this country. The facts are similar to the present case. The reason given was that he had already found sanctuary in Austria. The Austrian authorities had intended to deport him, but, so far as I know, they have not done so yet. I can only hope that this country will be at least as generous as Austria.
A right hon. Gentleman opposite made the point that there was a difference in offences committed in democratic countries and in dictatorships. I am not sure how much I can accept that, except that in this case the offence that this man has 1456 committed is that of desertion. The question of political asylum turns on whether desertion is a criminal, a civil or a political offence. In certain circumstances, I can agree that it must be a political offence. Whether it is or not in this case, I suggest most sincerely that there is a possibility of reaching some compromise.
Whatever sort of offence it is, there is not, under the law of any country that I know, any possibility of its being an extraditable offence. If the man had committed an extraditable offence, he would have been returned through the police authorities to stand trial in his own country. This is a question of his deportation. I would like to follow the suggestion made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich, not necessarily that we cannot extend our tradition of political asylum to give this man sanctuary, but that we should grant a stay of execution which will allow him to remain here long enough to give his friends a chance to find him a safe place.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
I feel that the whole House will wholeheartedly welcome the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) and will equally heartily endorse what he said.
§ Mr. Jones
It was a speech of a courageous character in the circumstances, a speech which will greatly enhance the reputation of the hon. Member and add to the great reputation of his family name.
The tradition of political asylum is a noble one. It is a civilised tradition, and we act against it at our peril as a civilisation and as a democracy. The Home Secretary unfortunately is not present at the moment. I hope he has gone away to sit in silence to contemplate the course of this debate. There have been four speeches from the Government side. In regard to one of them I was not very clear on which side the spokesman was on this issue; but we have had two very clear appeals from the Government side of the House to the Home Office which I beg the Government to act upon.
1457 First, there was the contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), whose activities on behalf of those who suffer oppression anywhere in the world are well known to me personally and to others in this House. He has acted in accordance with his own traditions and the best traditions of this House by his speech here tonight.
I venture to ask this question of the Home Office. If the offences which this young Spaniard committed—and admittedly committed—had been extraditable offences, can anyone doubt that if the matter had come before the average metropolitan magistrate in London he would have had great difficulty in saying that the offences were not of a political character? In this matter, the benefit of the doubt should be given to the one who is liable to be persecuted and to suffer.
I do not want to re-cover the whole ground, but the evidence of there being present a political explanation of this Spaniard's conduct is overwhelming. There is the record of persistent acts of desertion by a young man whose character shows no sign of cowardice. Whatever may be said of him, cowardice is not one of the weaknesses of his character. There is neither in his behaviour any sign of pacificism, although I. know from some of my hon. Friends who are pacifists that their personal bellicosity sometimes belies their political position.
Looking at the case as a whole, is not it clear that the character of this young man is not a callow character which evades duty to his country because he is a coward or weakling? He is a young man, apparently of courage and determination, a young man—I submit the conclusion is clear from the facts—who has been driven to this course of persistent desertion for political reasons because he loathes and hates the régime of the country in which he lives.
There is further the point of detail, the corroborative evidence of the incident which resulted in his getting a sentence of three months' imprisonment for drunkenness. Having been to Spain I should say that imprisonment for mere drunkenness, one suspects, would fill the Spanish jails and many others. There must have been something more to it than that. We know what that something was, a political denouncing of the Franco 1458 régime. It needs a man to be drunk to be so foolish as to do that in Spain, publicly at any rate. There is this important corroborative element in the case, quite apart from the persistent history of desertion. Then there is the fact of his asking for political asylum, which in itself surely is a significant political action. All those circumstances taken together underline the political nature of this man's difficulties and the reason he has come here.
There was one omission from the speech of the Home Secretary which I found very surprising. Surely it is relevant, when considering whether to grant an applicant political asylum, to consider what will happen to him if the deportation order is applied. It must be relevant. The same to some extent applies in regard to extradition. Is it not a most relevant consideration—especially if it is a borderline case, as admittedly this must be—to ask what will happen to this man if he is put on a boat to Spain?
I do not know what experience hon. Members opposite have had of the administration of justice in Spain. What we do know is that today there are men rotting in Spanish prisons who have been there for over a decade. For political reasons, men are there without trial, without hope, without contact with friend or relation, to say nothing of contact with lawyers, not because they are murderers but because they are political opponents of the régime. Here is a man who, if he was not politically involved yesterday, as the hon. Member for Halifax has indicated, is certainly politically involved tonight. If he goes back to Spain he will be a political figure there and will suffer the fate of political prisoners at the bar of Spanish "justice", the fate of injustice, the fate of indefinite detention, the fate of a farcical trial, if a trial takes place.
For those reasons, I entreat the Home Office to look at this matter again. It would not be an act of weakness if the Home Secretary were to do that. There would be no political exultation on this side of the House because he had changed his mind. He has already indicated, in his reaction to the suggestion of my right hon. and hon. Friends that an approach should be made to France, that he is open to persuasion in this matter. Because he is a pretty determined man, that fact 1459 most impressed me when I heard this story. There must have been some room for gnawing doubt in his mind for him to do that much.
This debate has transformed the position of this young man, if he is given the chance of mercy which we now ask the Home Office to give, because as from now his name and his case will be known all over the world. It. has been said that every word which is spoken echoes through eternity. What is clear is that every word spoken in this House in this kind of debate echoes through the world. What we now ask as a compromise measure is that the order that he should be deported on Monday should be withdrawn at once, that he should be given an extended period of stay in this country and that any application which may be made for hospitality for him elsewhere or any opportunity which he may receive to be sent elsewhere shall be placed at his disposal.
As from now it is at least possible—let me put it no higher than that—that sympathetic countries and Governments may be willing to open their doors to him. Let us not slam those doors in the face of this young man.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) said that this debate has transformed the position of this young man. It may be that it has brought him this publicity, but it may also be that that publicity will not have the effect which the hon. and learned Member thinks it will have. Would it not be that the country to which he might have to return would lean over backwards to treat him fairly in these circumstances, the case having been considered in this House?
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) admitted that if this were merely a case of a man endeavouring to avoid national service in his country, he would send him back at once.
§ Mr. Page
He would not give him asylum in this country against merely trying to escape from national service or other such duties in his own country. 1460 Despite the implications which have been drawn from the facts by some hon. Members, it seems to me that that is simply the case here. There is no true political background to the facts as we have tried to sort them out and as they have been given to us today.
Throughout his recitation of the facts of the case, the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) continually referred to the man endeavouring to escape from a Fascist régime. Is it fair or even reasonable to draw that assumption from the facts? The only fact that this man has any political background at all is that at the age of 16 he suffered a term of three months imprisonment for being abusive of the régime. That seems to be the sole fact on which the claim that he is a political refugee is based.
§ Mr. Brockway
On a point of correction. I do not know why the hon. Member says that this happened at the age of 16. My information is that it was much later and that he was much more adult.
§ Mr. Page
And it is now 1958 and the man is 24. It was said that since 1950 he has endeavoured to land illegally in this country. On one occasion it was from an Egyptian ship. On a second occasion it was from a Honduran ship. There was a third occasion in 1953. On a fourth occasion he escaped to Rouen, on the fifth occasion he escaped to New York, and the sixth occasion was when he came into this country in October, 1957.
That certainly shows persistence in endeavouring to escape national service in his own country, but it shows no justification for the assumption that it is necessarily an endeavour to escape from a political régime. Indeed, from what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, it does not seem as if even the man himself has claimed to be a political refugee. Hon. Members opposite have claimed it for him. The whole argument of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) was based on the assumption of this man being a political refugee, though I do not think he adopted 1461 the argument of his right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) in saying that if a man endeavours to escape from national service that, in itself, makes him a political refugee, if it is from a dictatorship country.
To look at the régime behind the incident, to see whether there is a dictatorship behind it, surely cannot be the sole test. We must see what is to happen to the man if he goes back. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite applaud that, but I do not think that they will agree with the conclusion I draw from it—
§ Mr. J. Hynd
Wait and see.
During the recitation of the facts by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) I put to him the question: What happened to this man after he went back on the Rouen occasion, and after he went back on the New York occasion? On the first occasion he was imprisoned for two years, and, on the second, for two years and six months—[HON. MEMBERS: "And a day."] Those were simple forms and terms of imprisonment such as one would expect to be imposed upon a man who has avoided his national service.
There is no political persecution there that one can see. And those were just two out of five occasions, if I have totted them up aright. He went back to Spain after landing here from an Egyptian ship, and we know nothing of any political persecution then. Again, after he had escaped on a Honduran ship, he went back to Spain, and we hear nothing of any political persecution then. He came here in 1953 and was sent back to Spain, and again we hear nothing of any political persecution.
One cannot draw from the facts of the case any conclusion that this man is a political refugee at all, or that he would be treated as such if he went back to Spain, or would suffer anything else than punishment for the crime of escaping national service—and, indeed, persistently escaping it. One might expect that his punishment would be rather heavier for that persistence if he does go back, but that is no reason for giving him leave to remain here.
I think that my right hon. Friend has come to the right conclusion, and that to 1462 have come to any other conclusion would have created a precedent that would put us in the gravest difficulty in the future.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I make a final appeal to the Home Secretary to reconsider his decision. Whatever party cheers may have divided us during the two hours and forty minutes that this debate has occupied, there has been very little evidence of party feeling. Indeed, as I have listened to the progress of the debate, I have formed the impression that it has become one of those comparatively rare occasions when the House of Commons, without fear of Whips or care of consequences, expresses the minds of its individuals Members as they see the truth.
I am very proud to be able to take part in a debate of that character tonight, because whatever others may think about we "pygmies" who occuply this place, it is something to be proud of that the House of Commons can, for two hours and forty minutes, step aside from considering important matters affecting the Army to consider the fate of a simple Spanish sailor, about whom we have not heard previously, about whom I doubt whether we shall hear again, but whose life and whose liberty is dear to everyone in this islands, and to every hon. Member in this House no matter where he may sit.
I could not rest easily tonight if I did not ask the Home Secretary to bring compassion into his consideration of the merits of this case. I listened to him and I could understand why the administrative wheels should turn. I could understand the administrative background to this decision. I can seen that it is necessary to lay down a corpus of regulations and practice behind which we must shelter when we have to make decisions, but there come moments now and again when people feel, whatever may be the administrative practice, that a case has been established where a man's fate is more important than a strict adherence to the rules.
I believe that this is such a case. This is a young merchant seaman who obviously has all the faults and virtues of a merchant seaman. I represent many of them in Cardiff. They get drunk, speak their mind and are very ready with their fists. I cannot believe that a young 1463 man like this, who has escaped three or four times from the country of his birth, can be anything but in desperate earnest. The fact that he has come to this country and sought shelter here makes me very proud. It makes me proud to think that this country is still a beacon among many of the peoples of Europe, so that those who wish to breathe the air of freedom come here.
I know a little about Spain. I cannot adopt the detachment of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). During the war, I was for a short time in an aircraft carrier which went out to reinforce the East Indies Fleet. We called at Gibraltar. I never saw it. Our aircraft carrier went into Gibraltar after dark and it left before daylight, because across in La Linea the spies, harboured by Franco's régime, were reporting to Berlin every movement of the British Fleet.
Are we to stand on points of punctilio where a régime like this is concerned? I have no desire to make a long speech, but, if the Home Secretary would reverse his decision and give this young man sanctuary, there is not a man or woman in this country whose head would not be held' a little higher tomorrow. I would feel very proud if he could do that. If he cannot, will he withdraw the order for a matter of weeks to give my hon. Friends who have brought up this matter the opportunity of finding another country to which this man could be sent and to which he would be allowed to go?' This would be in our tradition.
This is something that we can surely do, and I beg of the Minister, who is a big enough Minister, to listen to the voice of the House of Commons as it has been expressed tonight, not only by hon. Gentlemen on these benches, but by at least two of his hon. Friends, the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) and the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan), who made a most courageous speech. I believe that we have heard the true voice of the British people speaking in the House of Commons tonight, and I beg the Home Secretary to reconsider this matter and to give this young man the opportunity to remain here.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
With permission, I should like to make a few observations in reply to the debate.
1464 The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has said that it is a good thing to listen to the voice of the House of Commons. I agree with that. I have listened very carefully to the arguments of both sides, and I have considered very carefully the circumstances of the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) rehearsed again the arguments that I tried to use and which led me to my decision. I must honestly tell hon. Members on all sides—because, as has been rightly said, there has been no political bias in this debate—that I think the decision I have taken on the merits of the case is the right one. I think there is no doubt that the circumstances of the appeal for political asylum made on behalf of this young man are not strong enough to prevail when contrasted with the many arguments that I have to take into account in other cases. That is the position.
I do not want to traverse again all the arguments I used in my earlier speech. I have to turn my attention to whether the circumstances of this debate have made any alteration to that judgment and secondly, whether the arguments put forward in the debate have raised any new aspect which I should consider. I have had the opportunity of considering this matter as best I can and taking what advice I can upon the matter, both administrative and from my hon. Friends and from those who have taken part in the debate.
First, concerning the circumstances of the debate. One or two hon. Members opposite have said that now that we have held this debate the young man's position has been prejudiced. Most of the responsibility for raising this matter rests upon hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Callaghan rose—
§ Mr. Butler
I am not making any political point, but we must get the facts clear for the benefit of the public outside. I heard one hon. Member remark—I cannot name him at the moment—that this debate win not have helped the young man. Other hon. Members have been in some doubt whether the debate will not have done him considerable harm. At least, nobody who is not a simpleton would claim that it has not made him somewhat of a marked man. The 1465 responsibility, however, must rest squarely on the shoulders of those who raised the matter.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I quite agree, and we are ready to accept our responsibility. I do not, however, believe that the right hon. Gentleman would want to put our sins upon the shoulders of this young man.
§ Mr. Butler
That raises a point, with which I want to deal before I close my few remarks, concerning the administration of the Aliens Branch of the Home Office. I shall want the assistance of the House in the future administration of that Department, because I assure hon. Members that in administering the Aliens Branch of the Home Office the mixture of public pressure and private discretion is extremely difficult. If this debate helps us to understand one another better, it will have at least done something.
The point I was making was that the debate and the speeches which have been made—although mostly, as I have said, temperate in tone—will undoubtedly have made this young man a marked man; and that I take into account in my judgment. As to the arguments during the debate, I said in my opening remarks that I do not think that a case has been made. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, who supported the arguments which I used in not granting this man political asylum.
The best thing to do on this occasion is to make it quite clear to those who consider that my decision was wrong that if they want to divide the House, or to vote against my decision, they should certainly take the opportunity, because I do not propose to go back upon the main decision I have made, namely, that this man is not a candidate for political asylum in this country. I have made that decision.
I now come to the question of what has been called a spell of time in which to consider whether there is anywhere else he should go. After listening to the debate, in the spirit of the debates of the last century in this House, when statesmen had to pay attention to what was said—I can remember one historical occasion—I say that I have to some extent breached the principles that I have enunciated in this debate by inquiring informally whether there was any chance 1466 of this man going to France. I did that on the request of the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and his hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), and I do not regret having done it because I did it on request.
As far as I can see, I am fairly clear, as I told the House, that there is little or no hope of a visa being granted for France, and I am not prepared to make any further official approaches. I do not think that they would be effective. But I cannot deny that if friends of this young man were to find any country that would accept him there is no objection on the part of Her Majesty's Government to his going there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) said that there was no extraditable offence. That is true in this case. I stick to my judgment that I cannot give this man political asylum. Normally, the only thing for him to do would be to return to Spain. I have already conceded, by my approach to the French Government, that I would have no objection to his going elsewhere. The only solution that I can then see, as a result of considering the circumstances and arguments of the debate, and of listening to the legal experience of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), is to stay the date of his departure and to give an opportunity to his friends to find somewhere for him to go.
I do not want, by any words of mine, to prejudice his chances with any Government. Therefore, I will not comment on what I think are his chances of finding a place to go to. If his friends can find anywhere for him to go they had better tell the Home Office, through me, and I will listen to what they have to say. On the other hand, I cannot allow this case to go on indefinitely. The ship which I told the House was in mind sails on Monday In the circumstances, I will not insist upon his going on the ship on Monday.
At this late hour I cannot check what the exact sailings are, but I can postpone his going until the next suitable vessel, which will give him a week or two in which to look around. That is the best I can do. I cannot give the exact date, but I should like to indicate that it would be the next suitable vessel, 1467 which would be in a week or a fortnight. That would give a period of grace to his friends, if they think they have a chance of helping him, to do their best to help him. But I want to make it clear that I will not give way on my main decision that this man must leave the country.
That is the best that I can do for hon. Members. If they find that that is not enough, I beseech them to express their objection to what I have said by way of a vote. There is no question of the Government being anxious about this as a Government issue. We are only anxious about the future of an individual. We can carry this as a Government issue perfectly well. We are only anxious to get it settled in a way which is fair. I am convinced that the way I have made up my mind in this decision is fair. If the young man's friends can find a place for him to go to in the period of grace it is up to them to find it.
I should like to say something about aliens regulation. One or two hon. Members have been kind enough to use very extravagant language in favour of my kind heart. It so happens that there has been one notable case lately where I was convinced that the only possible decision for a Home Secretary was to grant a concession. It happened to be a case where there were certain humane considerations and there was no other sane course to, adopt.
At the same time, there have been a number of aliens' cases which have been very protracted and difficult to administer. We have had representations from hon. Members and we have done our best to carry out our administration in a fair and equitable manner. But I would say to hon. Members that once a decision has been taken they should either have a debate here upon it or accept it, because it is not in the interest of the country that there should be an entry of an indefinite number of aliens such as we cannot control.
A country like this is not a country of absolutely free entry. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, especially those representing industrial seats, know perfectly well 1468 that if we had absolutely free entry, over and above what we have under "civis Romanus sum"—the British citizen who can come in from our Commonwealth—our employment position would not be tenable. It is necessary to bring these facts home.
Furthermore, a discretion is absolutely essential for the Government of the day in administering their aliens' policy. Anyone standing at this Box as Home Secretary, whether from that side of the House or this, would have to adopt certain rules. There should not be any laxity in the administration of our aliens' policy. I am making this observation at the end of this debate for a very good reason. There has been a claim that an alternative issue to this case can be found by the friends of this young man. If it can be found, let them find it; and if it cannot be found, my decision stands.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
By leave of the House, I should like, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and, I am sure, also of hon. Gentlemen opposite, to thank the Home Secretary for the way in which he has listened to, and been influenced by, this debate. Of course, I cannot conceal that we would have been happier still if the right hon. Gentleman could have agreed with us altogether or given us even longer than two weeks. None the less, we are extremely grateful to him. This has really been a very fine night in the history of Parliament, in the history of the Home Office and in the right hon. Gentleman's own personal reputation and record.
I can tell him that none of us will want to divide on this matter. We are extremely grateful to him, and we and this young man's friends will certainly do our utmost now to take advantage of the stay of execution which the Home Secretary has granted in response to the obvious desire of both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Dugdale
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's generous and statesmanlike speech, Sir, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.