§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
I commence with a word of explanation. First, I am speaking from this position, at the Dispatch Box—on a matter in which the Navy is but vaguely concerned—only because my voice is almost nil, and it is a great deal easier to use the amplifier. Otherwise I should be speaking from another place. [Laughter.] I am sorry; "another place" has a special meaning.
This matter concerns three prisoners who are at present within the custody of the Governor of St. Helena, that is, they are within the custody of Her Majesty's Government. They were apparently members of a revolutionary group in Bahrain. The object of that revolutionary group appears to have been to secure that some members of some advisory committee on public sanitation should be elected instead of being nominated by the Ruler. It seems a rather limited revolutionary aim.
Also involved here is the fact that some people—nobody suggests that they were any of these prisoners; they were people who might have been their friends—threw some stones at a car containing no less a person than the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would ask the House to pay rather special attention to the dates of the events connected with this matter. As a result of these sad and lamentable activities, on 18th December, 1956, the Ruler of Bahrain sent a communication to Her Majesty the Queen which contained this passage:We beseech you to allow us to make arrangements with the Governor of St. Helena for the reception of the persons who will"—and hon. Members should note the word "will"—be sent to that island in accordance with the sentence decided.That was on 18th December. Four days later, on 22nd December, a court was convened to try these gentlemen, and their trial took place five days after the sending of the communication, on 23rd December. This was a trial of people who on 18th December had not even been charged but concerning whom it 1150 had already been decided that they would be sent to St. Helena. Their sentence had been decided. That seems to be a strictly "Alice in Wonderland" order of proceedings.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Member, particularly because of his vocal difficulties, but the rules of the House require me to confine this debate to the matter raised in his application, which was assented to. It is a rather more modern matter than the history in 1956. It concerns the proposal to remove these people from the jurisdiction without due process of law.
§ Mr. Paget
I respectfully agree that those are the terms of the Motion, Mr. Speaker. What I am seeking to argue here is that the grounds which the Government have claimed in order to justify what they propose to do is an agreement with the Sheik of Bahrain. I shall argue shortly that there is nothing at all, either in that agreement or in the Act under which it operates, to obligate them to surrender these people, that in the light of what has happened it is not something which they ought to do unless they are obligated. I can assure you. Mr. Speaker, that I shall do it very shortly indeed, for many reasons.
The next thing that happened was on 26th December, when these gentlemen, who had then been charged and convicted—all on the same day—of the attempted assassination of the Ruler and the overthrow of the Government, were sentenced to fourteen years' imprisonment, although nobody has ever disclosed what the evidence was. As had been arranged before the trial, they were then to be sent to St. Helena, where the sentence which had been decided upon was to be carried out. They were put on a British warship, the "Loch Insh"—that is the naval connection—to be taken to St. Helena.
Something rather interesting happened then. The request made both by the Government of Bahrain and the Governor of St. Helena had been made under the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act, and that did not apply to Bahrain. A special order was made to apply it to Bahrain and, according to the terms of the Act, that order came into operation 1151 when it was published in Bahrain—and it was published in Bahrain on 28th December, 1956, two days after these unhappy men had gone. I should have thought that on any ground at all their removal was totally illegal. But I am not concerned with that; let us assume that it was legal. It was not compulsory. There is nothing in the law, and there never was anything in the law, that compelled Her Majesty's Government to make themselves assistants and executioners in this sort of justice.
The men were brought up by the Ruler, before a special court composed of the Ruler's relations, to receive a sentence which the Ruler stated had been decided five days before the trial. Are those the sort of proceedings which Her Majesty's Government ought to assist? Ought Her Majesty's Government to assist them now? If these facts had been known to the House in December, 1956, this would not have happened. The House would never have allowed the Government to do it. No Government could have done this in face of the indignation which would have arisen in the House if it had known the facts. But having done it, ought the Government to go on with these proceedings?
Their excuse is that we are obligated to return these prisoners to Bahrain by reason of our agreement with the Ruler. The Government seem to be on the horns of a dilemma. The Colonial Prisoners Removal Act applies between Colonies. It is applicable to Bahrain only in so far as Bahrain is a Colony.
This matter has been before the Privy Council, and I am not discussing the legal aspect of it for a moment. But what is decided there is that this Act puts the Ruler of Bahrain in the position of a colonial governor. If he is in the position of a colonial governor he is subject to the directions of Her Majesty's Government. If he is not in that position but is an independent ruler, then the Act does not apply and there is no legal authority to return these men at all. The Government must make up their mind one way or the other. Is the Sheik of Bahrain a colonial governor within the meaning of this Act, in which case they can return these men to him, but he is under their direction? Or is he an independent ruler with whom they have made 1152 a separate agreement? If that is so, then he is outside the Act and there is no power to return these men. That is the simple and direct point which I put to the Government, and I say that is the dilemma with which they are faced.
For convenience and for the record will read the relevant document. This is an agreement between the Governor of St. Helena and the Ruler of Bahrain. This is the Governor of Bahrain speaking. He said:… by this document … we have agreed with the Governor of St. Helena upon the removal of the said persons from Bahrain to St. Helena for the said period or until we agree to their return to Bahrain.That is until the Ruler of Bahrain agrees. That is an agreement within the Act if it be an agreement between two colonial governors and therefore, by definition, two people within our agreement. If it is not, then it is outside the Act because the Act—I have it here; it is the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act, 1869—provides as follows:Any two colonies may, with the sanction of an order of Her Majesty in Council, agree for the removal of any prisoners under sentence or order of transportation, imprisonment, or penal servitude from one of such colonies to the other for the purpose of their undergoing in such other colony the whole or any part of their punishment, and for the return of such prisoners …As the House will see, this is confined to Colonies, to the agreement of governors, to operations within our jurisdiction, to operations within our control. That is what the Act sanctions. It does not sanction—it was never intended to sanction and it would be against our principles for it to sanction—the return of people from our jurisdiction to those who are not our Colonies in the sense that we have any control over what happens to the unfortunate people when they get there. We have seen what happened to them once their conviction and sentence was decided before their trial. On that the Ruler of Bahrain is on record. It would be wrong for Her Majesty's Government to return those men in these circumstances.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has based his case, first, on the fact that these men were unjustly tried; secondly, on the fact that the Ruler 1153 of Bahrain is a despot and, thirdly, on the fact that the prisoners should not have been accepted into our custody as they were unjustly tried. I do not wish to enter into a long legal argument because I am sure that a lot of my hon. Friends who know more about the law than I would wish to speak. But I desire to make this point to the House. These men were members of the Higher Executive Committee in Bahrain which was formed in 1954, and from 1954 to 1956 this Committee was responsible for strikes, unrest and disturbances in the island. They were supported by the Governments of Syria, Egypt—
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood your Ruling to be that in order that this debate should not stray too far from the narrow paths of the Adjournment Motion matters outside the removal from jurisdiction should not be discussed.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is perfectly true, save only this, that I did allow the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) to urge, on the merits as he put it, why this removal should not take place and to that extent to look at the history. But it is a very narrow line and I was just; about to stop the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). I hope he will bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Wall
If I may, I will leave this point by saying that these men had been in rebellion against their lawful master the Ruler of Bahrain—[HON. MEMBERS: "Master?"]—the Ruler. I think I shall remain within the rules of order if I may be allowed to quote from an account of the trial, a very short account, because the point has been made from the opposite side of the House that the trial was really unfair. May I quote from two letters—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am sure that is out of order because, had it been included in this Motion in any way, it would not have resulted in the application being granted.
§ Mr. Wall
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I think I can point out that there is considerable diversity of opinion about whether this trial was just or not. A lot of people hold that it was wholly just and within the law.
1154 It had been the custom in Bahrain that long-term prisoners should be sent to the Andaman Islands. Therefore, it seems to me that the Ruler was perfectly right in asking that Her Majesty's Government should accept these prisoners, should they be found guilty. That seems to be an explanation of the story put up—
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I submit to you that all these references to the legality of the trial are quite beside the point, because so far as the clear history of this case shows anything at all, it shows that there was no code of law of any kind whatever in Bahrain at the time of these events. Therefore, it cannot be correct to argue that these men were convicted according to law. I am not concerned with the merits of whatever offence they committed—that could be argued all night—but I am saying, with a direct reference to the way the debate is going, that there was no code of law whatever in existence in Bahrain at the time of the events.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is essential that hon. Members keep in mind the limits of this debate. The question is the proposal of Her Majesty's Government to remove these prisoners without due process of law from within the jurisdiction out of the jurisdiction and there is added "for punishment". To deal with that part of the matter, I conceive it to be right to allow a degree of argument that we ought not to assist the removal unless we are obligated, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said. But there is clearly a line where the description of past history passes from discussing the equitable or inequitable character of the proposed removal.
§ Mr. Wall
Perhaps on that point of order I may point out that the criminal code was introduced in Bahrain in 1955, so that there was a criminal code in existence at the time.
I was making the point that it was customary for this country to hold long-term prisoners by agreement. It was also customary to return those prisoners to Bahrain at the end of their sentence or when the Ruler so requested, and that is all that happened in this case.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
May I ask a question which might enlighten the House a great deal? Was the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act invoked or not?
§ Mr. Wall
I find it extremely difficult to continue my argument and remain within the rules of order. I think the point has been made forcibly about the justification of the trial. The reason these people were held in custody was that it was customary so to do for long-term prisoners and there is nothing extraordinary in holding these prisoners or other long-term prisoners. That was the custom at the time and it was customary to return them to the Ruler when their sentence was finished, or when their return was requested. I find nothing unusual in it at all. I much regret the attacks on the Ruler, who has been a very loyal ally of this country.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stonehouse (Wednesbury)
After the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and the remarks which you, Mr. Speaker, have made in relation to the terms of this debate, I feel in entering it rather like a non-lawyer fearing to tread, but I am encouraged by the speed made by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), because I believe that if we are to examine this case in the way in which our constituents would want it examined we must draw some attention to the background circumstances in which these men were imprisoned.
You, Mr. Speaker, accepted this matter on the basis of it being an urgent matter and also on the basis of it being a matter of public importance. I submit that it is a matter of public importance because the Government and the integrity of the Government are under question, bearing in mind the circumstances under which these men were arrested and imprisoned. The background is that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Foreign Secretary, was on his way to a meeting of the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I cannot allow the hon. Member to do it this way or the debate will go wholly out of bounds. He is entitled to discuss past history in my view, as I have ruled, in so far as he is urging that this is not an operation which Her Majesty's Government should equitably assist, but not further than that. The sort of past history he is now relating would be out of order and not related to urgency.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I am submitting that Her Majesty's Government have behaved most dishonourably throughout this case. I do not wish to make that allegation without explaining the background, because the allegation cannot be made unless the House is aware of the circumstances of the case and the background.
§ Mr. Speaker
It cannot be made in order in that way on this Motion. What is under discussion is the proposal to remove these people in certain circumstances
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse), but a great many of us are interested in this matter. The question we shall be called upon to decide at the end of the debate is whether the Government are justified in doing what they propose to do as described in the Motion, that is to say, return these people who are now in our custody and within our jurisdiction for punishment in a territory outside it. Surely it would be very difficult for us to decide that question honestly on the evidence unless we know exactly how they came to be within our jurisdiction in the first place. I submit with great respect, Mr. Speaker, that that must be relevant to the argument.
§ Mr. Speaker
It remains my view that what is relevant in that context to the argument on this Motion is saying that the Government are assisting or not assisting in this removal that which is an equitable or inequitable or a just or unjust transaction, but that relates to the present point of time of the proposed removal.
§ Mr. Silverman
The words of the Motion at the end are "for punishment". That means for punishment elsewhere, punishment not in our jurisdiction. It may be right in some circumstances to 1157 do that and wrong in other circumstances to do that, but part of those circumstances must be the character of the justice and the character of the punishment which would be inflicted upon these men if the Government were allowed to do as they propose.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
Further to that point of order. May I submit that in a technical sense, irrespective of the merits of the case, when the men were tried by the Ruler of Bahrain, the punishment awarded at that trial, rightly or wrongly, was fourteen years' imprisonment. The Ruler had decided with his family court to send these men to gaol for fourteen years. It was found inconvenient to incarcerate them in a prison in Bahrain and the co-operation of the British Government was sought through the usual channels—[Laughter.]—I shall correct that, through the unusual channels of this most extraordinary situation, to transfer them, like Napoleon, to St. Helena. Now they are in our jurisdiction. I think it most reasonable for my hon. Friend to submit that we cannot discuss even the jurisdiction question unless the House has some passing knowledge of how they came into our jurisdiction.
We are claiming tonight that these men should not be removed outside our jurisdiction until they are released and should not be sent back to punishment at the whim of the Ruler of Bahrain.
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot help the House more than to read the governing sentence from page 374 of the current edition of Erskine May, which says:No matter can be raised incidentally which would have been out of order if it had been included in the terms of the motion, when leave was asked, on any of the grounds mentioned in the preceding section.That refers back to the various sections of the text which put limits on the granting of applications to move the Adjournment of the House. That is the rule the House has to apply and which I have to apply.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The word "incidentally" there must be an argument referring to a fact of history which is irrelevant to the matter which the House is discussing. Although we cannot go into details or discuss the merits of it one way or the other, if it is a necessary 1158 part of the argument to refer to it we ought not to be excluded from doing so. I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the large number of occasions when the House and the Government have refused to return aliens to jurisdictions where our standards of justice do not apply precisely for that reason, because we would not expose them to political persecution by standards which would not be recognised in our courts. If that were our reason for refusing tonight, how could it be out of order to discuss whether the proposed jurisdiction to which the men are to be sent is in accordance with our standards of justice or not?
§ Mr. Speaker
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman began to submit to me, namely, the distinction between "incidental" and "relevant". That draws us back to what is and what is not relevant in the context in which we speak, but does not get us much further. My present impression is that the reason why they became involved in some imposed sentence is not relevant in the context of the proposal to remove them back. What might happen in the circumstances as to punishment in future might be, but that is different. I think that when I stopped the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) he was apparently starting out at the beginning of the history of the story.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I wish to reply to one point made by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). I shall do that briefly by quoting from The Times of 15th March, 1956, which said:Political parties do not exist. He rules autocratically and has responded slowly to demands that he associate a wide range of his subjects in government.The gentlemen in question were organising a group asking for reforms. In November, 1956, British troops were moved into Bahrain arising out of protest meetings in Bahrain by the people of Bahrain against the British-French intervention in Egypt. This, I submit, is one of the reasons why Her Majesty's Government have been behaving dishonourably in relation to this case. The reason is that the men were arrested in Bahrain because they were alleged to have been associated with protest meetings against the Conservative Government's Suez operation. It is necessary that we get this into perspective, and I 1159 would be very glad if, in replying to the legal points I wish to raise later in this debate, the Government will make clear why it is that they have behaved in this most peculiar manner in relation to the legal forms to be operated in regard to the imprisonment of these men. It is my submission that they have behaved in this way because it was convenient for them to get rid of these men. It was not only convenient to the Sheik of Bahrain but it was convenient to Her Majesty's Government to have these men locked up. Further, I imagine that it was at the instigation of Her Majesty's Government that these men were moved to St. Helena and not, initially, at the request of the Sheik of Bahrain, in order that Her Majesty's Government could be responsible for the custody of these men.
I do not want to go too much into the background of the case because, Mr. Speaker, you want to keep the debate to a fairly narrow point. However, I do want to make this point, arising out of the Privy Council's consideration of the case. The Times had an editorial on it on 3rd June this year, which ended with these words:Meanwhile, with the hearing completed, a gesture of clemency to the St. Helena prisoners would be widely welcomed.That, I submit, is an expression of view not only on the part of The Times but one which, I think, reflects the view of the overwhelming mass of people in this country supporting all the main political parties. I submit that public opinion generally would be absolutely horrified if these three men are returned to Bahrain, where they will almost certainly be subject to the most awful cruelties at the hands of the Ruler of Bahrain. I submit that public opinion would be horrified, and I believe it to be in accordance with the long tradition of British justice to ensure that these men have an opportunity of appealing to a British court of law before their case is decided against them.
I wish to refer to the circumstances under which these men were removed to H.M.S. "Loch Insh" on 28th December, 1956. This, as far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, is the beginning of the illegality of this case. The men were removed from Bahrain to the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Government—namely, to the jurisdiction of the 1160 Captain of H.M.S. "Loch Insh"—without the necessary process of law being followed; that is, the issue of the publication of an Order in Council under the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act. Publication as far as Bahrain is concerned would be the posting of the Order in Council outside the offices of the political resident in Bahrain. The men were removed to the ship at 4 a.m. on the morning of 28th December, which is most likely before any Order in Council was published in Bahrain. This is where the illegality comes in.
§ Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
Surely that was one of the points taken before the Privy Council, which decided that there was no illegality.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
That point was not taken before the Privy Council, and it it for that reason that I am now referring to it. It was specifically excluded because specific information was not available. According to the information available to the legal advisers of the Bahraini prisoners, an approach was made to the Colonial Office legal advisers on 26th October last in order that this point could be clarified, and the legal advisers at the Colonial Office told the legal advisers to the Bahraini prisoners in this country that, as a matter of urgency, further information would be obtained. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government what they have been doing since that date. Is it not time that they obtained this information? Are they not aware that the legal advisers to the Bahraini prisoners wish to apply to a writ of habeas corpus on the basis of the information that they proposed to obtain on 26th October? There is a very strong suspicion that the present arrangements being made for the return of these three men to Bahrain are being made because the Government refuse to make this information available because they know that they are, or have been, acting illegally in this case ever since the men were removed to the ship on 28th December, 1956.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am rather puzzled to know exactly how you would rule on the conduct of this debate. How can it be—I do not quite understand—in order to 1161 question the legal validity under which the men, apparently, were transferred in custody from Bahrain to St. Helena on a Motion under Standing Order No. 9 which seeks to question the validity or propriety of transferring these men back to Bahrain? How wide should the debate be?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
The hon. Gentleman has good reason for raising his point of order. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if once again I read out what I understand to cover the relevance of this debate. It is on page 374 of Erskine May:The debate on such a Motion … is confined strictly to the matter with regard to which leave to move the Adjournment of the House was obtained.It is my duty to try to keep the debate within those limits.
§ Mr. Paget
Further to that point of order. This is a rather important point. The Adjournment was moved in order to prevent these men being moved without due process of law. If, as I understand it, my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) is right in saying that these men are in St. Helena illegally and that the intention has been to move them so as to prevent a writ of habeas corpus being issued upon the new ground, as to which the Government are aware that there is no answer, it seems to me that the position is that, since they are in illegal custody in St. Helena, we have no power or right over them and cannot move them with due process of law. That is, on this point, precisely within the Motion.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The case as stated by the hon. and learned Member seems to me quite in order. Perhaps if the hon. Member who has the Floor will continue we can keep the debate as it should be.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, my point is that the Government are well aware that, arising out of the interview on 26th October, the legal advisers of these prisoners are preparing proceedings for habeas corpus and are awaiting further information which the Legal Adviser to the Colonial Office was proposing to provide as a matter of urgency.
That was two months ago. If the Government now return these men, apparently 1162 with great haste, to Bahrain, it will short-circuit the due processes of law of which the Government have already been advised. That is our case.
I want to ask the Government for two undertakings. First, will they now undertake not to return these men to Bahrain until they have provided all the relevant information which they promised to provide on 26th October? Secondly, will they undertake to give a full statement to the House when we return from the Christmas Recess about the manner in which these men will be returned so that the House will have a further opportunity to consider the Minister's statement before the men go back?
I seek those undertakings because I believe that the public—this is not a party political point—will expect us to get them from the Government, The Government will be covered in shame if they do not concede this point. We do not ask them to release the men now. We ask them to hold up the return of the men to Bahrain so that full consideration of the case can be undertaken.
I want to refer to a very curious aspect of the case involving Her Majesty's Ministers. It also concerns the illegality of which I have been speaking. It is the publication in the Government Gazette of St. Helena on 22nd December, 1956, of an announcement which read as follows:An urgent request made on behalf of Her Majesty's Government was recently received by His Excellency the Governor, as to the possibility of arranging for the detention in St. Helena of five subjects of the Ruler of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf convicted of political offences.After discussing all aspects of this offence with the Executive Council, the Governor informed the Secretary of State for the Colonies of his concurrence in the proposed arrangement.It is expected that these persons will be brought to St. Helena in one of Her Majesty's ships in the latter part of January, and that they will be detained at Munden's.I now quote from an article by Mr. Bernard Levin, entitled "The Prisoners of St. Helena", which appeared in the Spectator of 1st July:And so indeed they were, and are. But since their trial for political offences' did not begin until 23rd December, the day after the publication in the St. Helena Government Gazette of the announcement that they would shortly be coming there, convicted, it seems to me that the Extraordinary Issue of the St. Helena Government Gazette was Extraordinary 1163 in more than a technical sense, and that the case to whose outcome it so prophetically referred before it had started will bear investigation. And, as will be seen, the case becomes more extraordinary, and for that matter more disquieting, as investigation proceeds.This matter has not yet been cleared up. We have asked Questions in the House about it, but we have had evasion after evasion from Her Majesty's Ministers. I raised the matter in a supplementary question to the Lord Privy Seal some weeks ago. He asked me to table a further Question about it. I tabled a further Question to him, but it was transferred to the Colonial Secretary. It was due to come up today for a Written Answer. I have not yet received the Answer.
What I want from the Government tonight is a clear explanation of the circumstances under which the Extraordinary Issue of the St. Helena Government Gazette published the fact of the conviction of these men before the trial took place.
Unless the Government give that explanation, it is obvious that they have been acting illegally in this whole matter. The House is entitled to a full explanation before we proceed to give them authority to return the men to Bahrain.
It has been suggested that these men have not applied for political asylum and that therefore the original point we raised was not in order. The men are anxious to be free. They are anxious, above all, not to be returned to Bahrain. Therefore, it is quite obvious to anybody endowed with the requisite amount of common sense that they would want to apply for political asylum.
Quite apart from that common sense approach, I have in my hands a letter from the solicitors acting for these men, which reads as follows:On behalf of my clients imprisoned in St. Helena, we apply for political asylum to be granted to them.I will, if necessary, hand this letter to the Lord Privy Seal so that he will have in his hands the appeal from the solicitors appointed to act on behalf of these prisoners, which makes it quite clear that these men are applying to Her Majesty's Government for political asylum.
It is on that basis that I ask for a clear assurance that the political asylum 1164 which has been applied for will not be refused until the House has had an opportunity of considering the statement from the Minister.
I therefore make these quite simple requests to the Government. I ask, first, that the Government undertake not to return these men to Bahrain during the Christmas Recess. Secondly, I ask the Government to make a further statement to the House about this case when we return from the Christmas Recess. Thirdly, I ask that the Government consider the legality or illegality of the case and make a full statement to the House, either tonight, if the information is available to them, or when we return after the Christmas Recess. Fourthly, I ask that the Government give the fullest possible information to the legal advisers to the Bahraini prisoners, as they promised to do on 26th October, so that the proceedings which the solicitors wish to take may be taken before the men are removed from our jurisdiction.
I make no apologies for having raised this case today. I apologise to the House for the fact that the business has been interrupted, particularly as I know that the House is anxious to finish our business before we rise for the Recess. However, I believe that the public at large will be pleased that at this time, the season of good will, we have turned our attention from other business before the House to consider the freedom of three men.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)
I thought that it might, perhaps, be far the convenience of the House if I were to intervene at this stage and then, if any questions arose after that, the House might give me leave to deal with them. This House is always extremely jealous of individual liberties and rights, and rightly so, and the case that we are now debating is a very difficult and complicated one.
I should like to put the facts of the case before the House as simply and clearly as I can. I do not wish to go over the back history, Mr. Deputy-Speaker; I shall try to adhere to your Ruling. There are certain facts that I want to place on the record, and as I have said, perhaps I may be allowed later to answer points already raised by those hon. Members who have spoken.
1165 First of all, I should like to place on record that the names of the three Bahrainis at present in detention at St. Helena are Abdul Rahman Al Bakir, Abdul Aziz Shamlan, and Abdul Ali Alaiwat. They were detained, with two other men, by the Ruler of Bahrain after the disturbances of November, 1956.
Then I come to the fact that they were charged in the court of the Ruler, and I put on the record that the charges were charges of attempting to assassinate the Ruler and his Adviser; attempting to overthrow the Government; attempting to depose the Ruler, and organising a general strike and demonstrations without violence. All five men were convicted on all four charges and the sentences imposed on them were, for the three men now in St. Helena, sentences of 14 years' imprisonment. This sentence was later reduced by the Ruler, on the occasion of celebration and local rejoicing, to 13 years' imprisonment. The two remaining men were sentenced to ten years in prison, and they are still in prison in Bahrain. I wish to emphasise that there are two men who were sentenced at the same time who are still imprisoned in Bahrain.
A point has been raised about the nature of the trial. I wish to say nothing about this, except to point out that it was dealt with before the Privy Council. The Privy Council's view is expressed in page 9 of the judgment, where it says:It was at one stage suggested that the circumstances attending trial before the special court were such as to preclude its recognition as a valid judicial proceeding. This objection was not pressed, and their Lordships are satisfied that it is without substance.That is the view of the Privy Council on the nature of the trial—
§ Mr. Silverman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman appears to be going into not merely the facts as they happened at the beginning of this unhappy story, but the rights and wrongs of the procedure of the trial, and the administration of justice in Bahrain. I have no objection to that being allowed provided that the rest of 1166 us are also allowed to discuss it, but I had understood from Mr. Speaker's previous Rulings that it was exactly that which we were not allowed to discuss.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This shows how easy it is to go too far in indulgence. I was listening to a great deal of history in some doubt as to whether or not I was right to allow it. The right hon. Gentleman is now seeking to reply, and what is right for one side must be right for both sides.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for that Ruling, but I am anxious that I should understand it aright. For many of us, a great part of our objection is the character of these proceedings in the first place. If you are now ruling that after the right hon. Gentleman's speech we shall be entitled to challenge that, we shall all be very grateful.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that the hon. Gentleman is carrying me too far. I read out earlier in the debate what it is that governs these rules of order. A little give and take usually takes place. It may be that I gave too much but, having given to one side, I conceive it my duty to give to the other, and I hope that the House will not take advantage of that to have the debate quite out of order.
§ Mr. Paget
As I understand it, what the Privy Council held was that within the law—or, if there was no law, within the custom—of Bahrain, this special court was a court of jurisdiction. It did not say that the proceedings, as conducted on the basis that a sentence had been decided before the trial, or anything like that, was a trial of which it could approve, but merely that it was a form of Procedure which appeared to be within the law or custom of Bahrain.
§ Mr. Heath
I do not wish to argue this point. The point I was making is that, whatever one's view of the proceedings is, they were under the jurisdiction of the Ruler of Bahrain and were not, therefore, in any way the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. It was entirely the responsibility of the Ruler, and it remains so.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) asked about the legislative powers or legislative responsibilities of this country in relation to Bahrain, and tried to compare those responsibilities with those of a Colonial Governor—say, St. Helena, which has a Colonial Governor. The legislative responsibilities or rights of this country were also described in page 7 of the judgment of the Privy Council. I do not propose to read that out—it takes a full page—but it defines precisely the legislative responsibilities under which the Act was extended in this particular case.
After the sentence, the Ruler made a request—and I wish here to deny the accusation made by the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse); this was not suggested by Her Majesty's Government—the request came from the Ruler 1168 —that these three men should be detained somewhere outside Bahrain. The request was one from the Ruler himself, and Her Majesty's Government acceded to it because of the fears of the Ruler that, with the tension there was in the Middle East at that time, there would be further disturbances in these men were detained in Bahrain itself—
§ Mr. W. Yates
Will my right hon. Friend tell us who the Adviser to the Ruler was—or the legal adviser to the Ruler? Was he a British person?
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the request was made before or after the trial, or—
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I realise that this is a difficult matter for the right hon. Gentleman and perhaps for others. My hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) did make the point that it was a conditional request but it in fact implied—indeed, it said—that a decision had been taken right at the beginning. Why cannot the Minister tell us now what is the Government's view about it? What sort of additional views does he expect to hear between now and the end of his speech? Why delay his reply?
§ Mr. Heath
In order to meet this request, the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act, 1869, was extended by Order in Council and two Orders were passed under it relating to these prisoners This was challenged—
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
In order to complete the record, will the Minister agree that before the Order in Council was passed the Political Resident in Bahrain—here I quote from the judgment of the Privy Council—orally informed the Adviser that Her Majesty's Government were willing to arrange for the removal of the men to a British possession to undergo any sentences which might be passed upon them, and that the Government of St. Helena had signified its willingness to receive them.That is before any trial, before any conviction, before any sentence and before any Order in Council.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he allow me—I thought he would probably come with these words—to quote to him the actual words:We beseech you to allow us to make arrangements with the Governor of the island of St. Helena for the reception of the persons who will be sent to that island in accordance with the sentence decided. Always, Your Majesty, placing confidence in a response to our request. May God keep you in his care.This was sent before the trial took place.
§ Mr. Heath
I am aware of that quotation, which was produced by the hon. Member for Wednesbury. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) has produced the sentence for which I was looking, in which the British reply contained the wordswhich might be passed upon them".1170 If the House will address itself to this point, it will see that this was done under the jurisdiction of the Ruler of Bahrain and it was not a British responsibility.
The removal of the prisoners was challenged by an application for a writ of habeas corpus by Abdul Rahman Al Bakir in March, 1959. He applied to the Supreme Court of St. Helena for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground, which hon. Members have just been discussing, that the extension of the Act and the Orders based upon it were not valid. The application was dismissed in the Supreme Court of St. Helena, and the same prisoner then applied to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Therefore, the question of the legality of the detention of the three prisoners in St. Helena was taken before the highest court in the land. The Privy Council advised Her Majesty that the appeal failed and should be dismissed. Whatever may be said by hon. Members about the way in which this was handled, about the dates, about the posting of the notices or about the messages which were exchanged, the Privy Council has held that the detention of these three prisoners in St. Helena is legal.
§ Mr. Paget
I am sorry to interrupt again. It has not held that. What it has held is that the ground upon which they relied, that is to say, that the Foreign Jurisdiction Acts could not apply to Bahrain, was a bad ground, and the Judicial Committee decided this because, in answer to a request from the Judicial Committee to the Foreign Secretary, the Foreign Secretary said that Her Majesty's Government had jurisdiction in Bahrain. It was only upon the basis of our having jurisdiction in Bahrain that the Act applied. Now, if they have jurisdiction in Bahrain, we have the right not to send them back; these prisoners are our prisoners. If they have not got it, the Act does not apply.
The second point, which the Judicial Committee has not decided and which is wailing to be decided—it should be raised—is whether the warrant which took them to St. Helena, since it was issued before the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act applied to Bahrain, had been applied by publication in Bahrain. That point has still to be decided. It was not before the Privy Council because it could not be raised then.
§ Mr. Heath
It is a complicated legal matter, and I will certainly consider that point which the hon. and learned Member raises. As regards legislative jurisdiction over Bahrain, the then Foreign Secretary replied—this is quoted in the Privy Council's judgment—that it is a specific and limited jurisdiction, whereas the jurisdiction in the courts dealing with citizens of Bahrain is the jurisdiction of the Ruler. About that I think there is no question.
After the decision of the Privy Council, the matter was raised in the House and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Foreign Secretary, was asked Questions about it on 29th June this year. In his reply he said:The legality of the removal of these prisoners to St. Helena and their detention there has been upheld by a judgment of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Now that this point has been established I am suggesting to all concerned that they should look again at this case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1960; Vol. 625, c. 1373.]Since then, we have asked, and my noble Friend has followed the then Foreign Secretary in asking, that this matter should be reviewed.
I deny any suggestion that Her Majesty's Government have been evasive What we have been doing since 29th June this year has been to review this matter and to see whether we could find an acceptable solution.
§ Mr. Heath
The point I wish to mention now is that when the prisoners were moved under the Orders I have quoted, that was done in agreement with the Ruler. This is on page 6 of the judgment:Whereas sentence of imprisonment for 14 years has been passed on the following 1172 persons … We, the Ruler, of Bahrain testify by this document that we have agreed with the Governor of St. Helena upon the removal of the said persons from Bahrain to St. Helena for the said period or until we agree to their return to Bahrain.That was the arrangement under which the prisoners were moved.
§ Mr. Heath
The 26th December, 1956. I quote that because it has been suggested in the House that we could, immediately or at some time in the past, have released these prisoners of our own volition. The House has heard the terms of that agreement: the Ruler was agreeing with the Governor of St. Helena upon the removal of the "said persons" sentenced to fourteen years' imprisonmentfor the said period or until we agree to their return to Bahrain.That would preclude such action by ourselves.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the statement he has read is a statement by the Ruler of Bahrain. It does not in any way commit us. It is a unilateral statement of what the Ruler himself intends to do. Can the Minister say in what way this unilateral statement by the Ruler is binding upon the British Government in whose jurisdiction, as the Lord Privy Seal has now admitted, and in whose jurisdiction alone, these prisoners are?
§ Mr. Heath
Discussions took place with the Ruler and the Political Resident there about the movement of these men. This was confirmed in the letter from the Ruler, and Her Majesty's Government have accepted that as binding. The Government do not accept an agreement of that kind and then turn it down.
§ Mr. Healey
This is part of the nub of the matter. The Lord Privy Seal has made it clear that this document is a letter by the Ruler of Bahrain and that the word "we" used in it refers to the Ruler. This document does not commit Her Majesty's Government in any way. If the Government are committed, the Lord Privy Seal must be able to produce to this House an agreement by Her Majesty's Government with the Ruler or other persons governing the matter. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that these men are now entirely in Her Majesty's Government's jurisdiction. While the Ruler's statement does not compel the Government to release these men, equally it does nothing to compel them to keep them or to return them.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
Is the hon. Gentleman right in suggesting that the "we" refers to the Ruler of Bahrain? I understood my right hon. Friend to be saying that conversations had taken place between both sides. It was the Ruler who put into writing the agreement which was entered into. Is my right hon. Friend saying that the "we" in the document refers to the Ruler of Bahrain or to the people conducting the discussion having arrived at an agreement?
§ Mr. Heath
There is no signature from a member of the British Government. It was sent by the Ruler after conversations, and for four years Her Majesty's Government have accepted that as being the terms under which these prisoners are held in custody in St. Helena. Her Majesty's Government feel that that is an obligation on them.
§ Mr. Heath
I am sorry; I cannot give way again. I have given way on an innumerable number of times, and I should like to continue.
Her Majesty's Government accept this as an obligation, and they are not going back on it with the Ruler of Bahrain. The obligation is for the prisoners to be detained in custody for the said period or until the Ruler agrees to their return—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—until we agree to their return.
§ Sir G. Nicholson
This is important. No doubt it is my stupidity, but how could an appeal to the Privy Council lie? If they won that appeal, would we still be bound by the agreement?
§ Mr. Heath
That is a further complication on this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I should not like to answer a hypothetical legal question of that kind.
I wish to continue with the steps taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and by my noble Friend. Many views were expressed in the House, as has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, that this country, this Government and this House did not wish to be associated with prisoners who were detained in these circumstances. The jurisdiction of the sentence was under the Ruler of Bahrain, but the House did not, on the whole, wish to be associated with their detention in St. Helena. That was how we understood the feeling of the House. My noble Friend then urged on the Ruler very strongly that he should show clemency in these cases. He urged him that he should commute the sentences, and he urged that if they were commuted they should be to sentences of exile. That was the course very strongly suggested to the Ruler by my noble Friend and the Members of the Government.
1175 However, the Ruler, after consideration during these months, decided that he was unable to accept that course and requested, as under the terms of his agreement with Her Majesty's Government he was entitled to do, that the prisoners be returned to his custody in Bahrain. We had explained to him that there was great feeling in the House that they should not be detained in St. Helena. As we understood it, that was the view of the House expressed over the past few months. In those circumstances, the Ruler, who said that he did not feel himself able to commute the sentences, asked that they should be returned to his custody in Bahrain. It is not for me to explain why the Ruler felt unable to accede to the request—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is."]—of my noble Friend that he should show clemency. He still has two prisoners in custody in Bahrain, but he has given his decision and has asked that they should be returned.
It has been said that they are being returned for extra punishment or for political reasons. There is absolutely no truth of any kind in that. They are being returned because we have expressed to the Ruler what we understood to be the feeling of the House, namely, that under this Act they should not be detained any longer in St. Helena, and because the Ruler feels unable to accede to the request for clemency to be shown to these three prisoners. In those circumstances, he has asked for the only other alternative, which is that they should be returned to Bahrain.
I must also refute the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman that this is being done to avoid a further service of a writ of habeas corpus. There is no truth in that either. What we have been trying to do was to meet the wishes of the House as we understood them, first that their detention in St. Helena under the two Orders should not be continued, and secondly, that clemency should be granted. As, however, clemency cannot be granted, the Ruler has asked that they should be returned to Bahrain, because that is the only remaining alternative if they do not stay in St. Helena and if they are not released.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. The hon. Member cannot rise to speak while the right hon. Gentleman already has the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Heath
I should like, in conclusion, to address the House to the points which are at issue. First, these men were sentenced under Bahrain jurisdiction. That is not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. Secondly, the legality of the detention in St. Helena has been supported by the Privy Council. Thirdly, we are entitled to move the prisoners back to Bahrain under the Order which is in existence. It will be seen that the last few words of the Order state, "and for their return". Therefore, it is in order under the Order to move them back. Fourthly, the terms of the letter from the Ruler do not permit us to release these men without the Ruler's agreement.
The hon. and learned Gentleman also raised the question of political asylum. As I said this afternoon, there has been no request so far to Her Majesty's Government for political asylum. The hon. and learned Gentleman has this evening produced a document. One would have to make sure that these prisoners are making this request and that they know the nature of the request which they are making. The terms under which the prisoners were moved under the Order and the terms of the letter in which the Ruler expressed his views, which we accepted, do not permit us to grant political asylum in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Heath
I have already explained. If we follow to its logical conclusion the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton that he objects to Her Majesty's Government or this country being associated in any way with the situation, the only logical conclusion is that the prisoners should go back to Bahrain. Questions have been asked about the nature of their imprisonment and I gave an Answer yesterday giving the views of the Judge of the Chief Court about existing conditions of imprisonment in Jidda. That is all the information I can give the House about the terms of the imprisonment.
1177 At the end of his speech, the hon. and learned Gentleman asked four questions. The first was whether we would give an undertaking not to return these prisoners until after the Christmas Recess, and it was coupled with the last point about the information for which the representatives of these prisoners in London had asked in order to make a further legal claim if they wished to do so. I have looked into the reason for the delay. As the matter is extremely complicated and as legal advice had to be taken by the Government before this information was supplied, it has taken some time. We will, however, supply it at the earliest opportunity.
What I will do is to undertake to the House to look into the nature of the statement that these prisoners wish to bring a further legal action in the matter. I said in the House yesterday that we were considering the arrangements to move these prisoners from St. Helena to Bahrain. As it will in any event take time to arrange this, I am prepared to see that if the request from their lgal advisers is justified, there should be delay until it can be satisfied one way or the other. I could not give an undertaking until I have looked into the nature of the action that the prisoners wished to bring, and so on, about this matter. As for a statement after the Recess or a statement about the legal niceties of the situation, I will, of course, consider whether there is anything further that can be said in a statement.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I am sure that everybody in the House will have been completely astonished at the totally unsatisfactory nature of the right hon. Gentleman's reply. The facts of the case become more and more curious as they are unravelled before this House.
I wish to deal immediately with the point made by the Lord Privy Seal at the end of his speech. For the purpose of this debate, I am not concerned to inquire further whether the original conviction in Bahrain was valid. That is not the question. It is, however, important to point out, as the Lord Privy Seal omitted to do, that the judicial proceedings, if they can be honoured with that description, in Bahrain were not proceedings before a British court of 1178 justice. They were not proceedings in which the ordinary arrangements of British law and justice were observed. They were proceedings before a local Ruler who is a despot in his own country and who has no knowledge or experience of the elementary principles of British justice. The right hon. Gentleman should also know that the judges in the Bahrain Court—the special court set up by the Ruler to try these men—were his own relatives.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
Is the hon. Gentleman also aware that although these judges were relatives of the Ruler—Bahrain is a very small State where people have very large numbers of sons and relatives—they were also regular judges of the Court of Bahrain?
§ Mr. Fletcher
That may be so, but nobody could conceive in a court in this country the relatives of a Ruler acting as judges where the charge was attempted assassination of the Ruler, even if they were judges who normally sat. The demands of elementary justice would ensure completely impartial judges being appointed.
The right hon. Gentleman was right in saying that the Privy Council has given a judgment, and that it asserted, on purely legal grounds, that the Colonial Office had jurisdiction to make an agreement with the Governor of St. Helena for the transfer of these prisoners there. But nothing that the Privy Council has said about the validity of the transfer can exonerate either the Ruler of Bahrain or Her Majesty's Government from the extraordinary circumstances in which the Government agreed, before the trial, before conviction and before sentencing, to the removal of these prisoners, whom the Ruler knew were to be sentenced, to St. Helena.
It is true that at that stage the prisoners were not willing to go to St. Helena, but they are there now. The reason why the Government are indicted tonight is that it is quite obvious that these prisoners do not wish to return to Bahrain and are afraid that if they are returned they will be subjected to injustice, cruelty, further punishment and perhaps to all kinds of barbarity.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I was told by their lawyers in London this evening. That is enough evidence. They are completely distrustful of being sent back. They know that they were tried for a political offence, and that the only reason that the Ruler did not want to keep them in Bahrain four years ago was because at that time he was afraid of political disturbances. Now circumstances have changed and he wants to get them back into his own custody, so that in accordance with his own system of jurisprudence—which according to our notions is barbaric—he can do what he likes with them.
Rightly or wrongly their fear is that they would be in danger of life, of their liberty, of their limbs and of their health if they went back.
§ Mr. Heath
I must make it plain that we raised this matter with the Ruler ourselves after the undertaking given by my right hon. and learned Friend, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, to the House at the end of June. It has not been raised by the Ruler. We have expressed to the Ruler the doubts in this House about the continued detention of these men in St. Helena. Therefore, I am afraid—[interruption.]
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is anxious to observe the wishes of the House in this matter. He is correct in saying that there was a time when great concern was expressed by the prisoners themselves and by this House about their transfer to St. Helena. There was a time, perhaps as late as July, when protests were being made about their transfer. It is true also that the Privy Council has justified the transfer.
If the right hon. Gentleman—and I want to do him justice—is anxious, as he should be, to observe the principles of elementary freedom and observe the wishes of the House, he should recognise that for equally valid reasons these three prisoners are terrified of the prospect of being returned to Bahrain.
The reason is that, although as the Lord Privy Seal has said and as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has acknowledged, Her Majesty's Government have legislative jurisdiction in Bahrain, and although it has been there 1180 laid down that we are entitled to make this Order in Council for their transfer—and I disregard the circumstances in which it was made—the distinction is that Her Majesty's Government have no judicial jurisdiction in Bahrain. They have legislative authority to make that arrangement, but if these three unfortunate prisoners are returned to Bahrain they will be entirely outside the protection or the competence of any British courts in Bahrain. They will be subject only to the personal rule, which I think is the despotic rule, of the Ruler.
The distinction today between leaving the prisoners in St. Helena and transferring them to Bahrain is that as long as they are in St. Helena which is a British possession, they are under the jurisdiction and competence of British courts and they are entitled to judicial protection and what we recognise as the fundamental basis of British justice. If they go back to Bahrain, no British court will have any power to protect them. That is why, for good or bad reasons, they are now terrified about going back to Bahrain.
I now want to deal with the argument of the Lord Privy Seal. Contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. I assert, first, that Her Majesty's Government have no right to transfer these prisoners back to Bahrain. Secondly, even if I am wrong in that and Her Majesty's Government have a right to transfer them back, they certainly have no duty to do so. Thirdly, assuming, as I think the House will agree, that Her Majesty's Government have an option and a discretion in the matter, it would be contrary to all equitable principles, to all principles of decency, to all decent regard to human rights—
§ Mr. Fletcher
It would be contrary to all these things to entertain any question of transferring these men.
Since this matter turns on the terms of the agreement to which the Lord Privy Seal draws attention, I ask him, with great respect, to reconsider it because I am sure that he has misconceived it. This argument is a little difficult to make, but I want to make it as clear as I can. Yesterday, in answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the 1181 Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stone-house), the Lord Privy Seal said that these men… were sentenced under the Ruler's jurisdiction and detained under an agreement by which, at the Ruler's request, they could be returned to Bahrain. He has now made that request."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1960; Vol. 632, c. 877.]The Lord Privy Seal must make up his mind about one of two things. Is he saying that there is an obligation on Her Majesty's Government to return them to Bahrain, or is he merely saying that there is a power to return them to Bahrain?
I want to demolish once and for all the argument that there is any obligation to return them to Bahrain. This is the vital point of the debate. The agreement to which the Lord Privy Seal refers is made in the Arabic language. The document from which he quoted was written in Arabic. All we have at the moment is a translation. Whether or not it is a correct translation is a matter about which people would be entitled to reserve their views. It is addressed by the Ruler of Bahrain to the Political Resident in Bahrain representing Her Majesty. It says:We, … the Ruler of Bahrain testify by this document"—I emphasise the "we" because it occurs so often that the "we" must have the same meaning throughout.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The document reads:We, … the Ruler of Bahrain testify by this document that we have agreed with the Governor of St. Helena upon the removal of the said persons from Bahrain to St. Helena for the said period or until we agree to their return to Bahrain.That must mean royal "we", but I will consider the alternative argument in a moment. Assuming it is royal "we", this document means that these prisoners must be detained in St. Helena either for the period of fourteen years or until the Ruler permits them to return to Bahrain. I do not for a moment doubt that the Ruler is very anxious to have them back in Bahrain; that is why they are anxious not to go back. But the document does not say that because—
§ Mr. Heath
The Ruler is not anxious to have them back in Bahrain. [HON. MEMBERS: "Then why send them 1182 back?] We explained to the Ruler that the general feeling in the House was that they ought not to be detained in the Island of St. Helena. Because of the request made in the Question to my right hon. and learned Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, we impressed on the Ruler the doubts which had been expressed, and it was in those circumstances that, as he did not feel able to commute their sentences, he said that he would adopt the alternative of asking for their return to Bahrain.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am anxious to got this right. I think that there is an element of truth in what the Lord Privy Seal said, but only an element. It is true that because of events which occurred in the past, because of objections which had previously been made to transferring these people to St. Helena, and perhaps because of the application of habeus corpus that went to the Privy Council six months ago, the Government thought this House was against these people being in St. Helena, and it may well be that some approach was made to the Ruler, but the Lord Privy Seal cannot dispute what he said in the House yesterday. Speaking of the request for them to be returned to Bahrain, he said:He"—that is the Ruler—has now made that request".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1960, Vol. 632, c. 877.]Therefore, whether the request was inspired by the Government or not, the position today is that the Ruler has made a request, and the unfortunate prisoners do not want to return. However, it must be observed that they are prisoners for whom we in this country have a traditional duty to have regard, because it has always been our law that whenever anybody comes within British jurisdiction he has the full rights of personal justice open to all British subjects. That is a cherished tradition. The Ruler wants them back. They do not want to go back. The Minister must face the nub of the question, which is whether there is any need to send them back.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I will give way in a moment. The only basis on which it could be asserted that there was a requirement to send them back is this 1183 document written in Arabic signed by the Ruler where he says in effect: "Keep them in St. Helena until I agree to their return." I accept that. I also accept that he would now agree to their return, but that does not oblige us to send them back. The alternative is to keep them in St. Helena. Although I do not suppose that they particularly like being there, they prefer being there under British protection and jurisdiction to being in the hands of a barbarian Ruler. When I say "barbarians", I mean uncivilised according to the standards of British justice.
§ Mr. Hobson
Will the hon. Gentleman make clear whether he is saying that there is no obligation to return them now that the Ruler has agreed that they should be returned because the agreement is not binding, or because it does not mean that they have to be returned in the circumstances which the agreement sets out?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I think that this document written in Arabic—which, after all, is unilateral and was not acknowledged or confirmed in any way by the Government—places upon the British Government an obligation to keep them in St. Helena, or, if the Ruler agrees, to return them to Bahrain.
I agree with the Lord Privy Seal that if one depends merely upon the agreement he might be able to argue that they could not be set free and sent to Canada, say, but that is not the case under the agreement. They are entitled, if they so desire, to remain in St. Helena, and the House is entitled to insist that Her Majesty's Government keep them there, under the agreement.
So much for the agreement. All I am concerned to say about the agreement is that it does not place any obligation on Her Majesty's Government to send them to Bahrain, but the agreement is not the final word. I dispute first whether there is an agreement, secondly, whether that agreement has any validity, thirdly, whether Her Majesty's Government are entitled to make such an agreement in defiance of the principles of British law.
For example, if these people were to apply for a writ of habeas corpus, perhaps on totally different grounds from those already used to raise the matter, 1184 if, for example, they were to challenge the validity of the agreement, which they have not yet done, then they have a historic right to have that case heard both in the Supreme Court of St. Helena and in the Privy Council. Until they have exhausted all their legal remedies, Her Majesty's Government have no right whatever to remove them from St. Helena. It would be in defiance of the great traditions of British justice and in defiance of the wishes of the House and thoroughly immoral and indefensible for Her Majesty's Government to transfer these people out of the protection of the British courts in St. Helena until they had exhausted all their rights to remain there and tested to the Privy Council every argument which they wished to make on the validity of the agreement and the whole situation.
The Lord Privy Seal has recognised that the whole case bristles with many complications and I am sure that, having heard what has been said by hon. Members, he will wish to pay attention to their wishes and take the course, which does not involve any great hardship, of allowing these men to remain where they are at least until they have had the full resources of the exercise of all their legal rights.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I have considerable sympathy with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in your difficult decision of what to allow to be in order in this rather technical debate. However, I suppose that one is safe if one confines one's remarks to issues which the Chair has already allowed to be mentioned.
There is one comment which I must immediately make about the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and the speech of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stone-house). If ever there was an example of the birds coming home to roost, this is it. If hon. Members opposite had not been so vocal in the past about the position of these three Bahrainis at St. Helena, the question of their return to Bahrain might never have arisen and they might still be basking undisturbed in the sunshine in the prison of St. Helena.
None the less, according to the true principles of democracy and so on, hon. Members opposite for some time past 1185 have been conducting a kind of sporadic campaign on this question and they probably blew up the whole matter without knowing the whole background of the story. As I said, this is an example of the birds coming home to roost.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) led the House to believe that these three Bahrainis had committed no crime. All they wanted, he said, was the wholly commendable desire to get on to the local council and improve the drains. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal put the matter into its correct perspective. These Bahrainis were convicted of various subversive activities, in which a number of buildings were burned down, together with a plot to assassinate the Ruler and various members of his family and the Political Adviser.
The point I want to make to the House is this. There has been much talk from the other side about the conditions in Bahraini prisons and Bahraini courts and about the code which they follow and so on. The House must be realistic about this. It is not the slightest use trying to pretend that the standards of justice and the code of judicial proceedings in the Middle East are comparable to ours. They are quite different. [HON. MEMBERS: "Are we not supposed to change them?"] To compare the courts in Bahrain with the courts in this country is not comparing like with like. They are quite different. All I would say is that by Middle East standards, the code of justice and the method of administration of justice in Bahrain is very high indeed.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I am not going to give way. The anxiety in this respect voiced by hon. Gentlemen opposite about the code of justice and condition of prisons in Bahrain might carry a little more weight if they expressed similar anxieties about similar sentences passed for similar acts of violence by other kinds of people in other countries.
§ Mr. Paget
When the hon. Gentleman says that the standard of justice is high for the Middle East in a case in which the Ruler and the Convenor of the Court are on record as having stated that the 1186 sentence is decided five days before the court is convened, will he tell us what happens in those courts in the Middle Fast which are less judicial?
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I doubt whether, in fact, he said anything of the kind. Perhaps, in turn, I may ask the hon. and learned Gentleman this question. If he had to be adjudged in any court in any country in the Middle East, in what country would he prefer to be adjudged, rather than Bahrain? Would he prefer to be adjudged in a court in the Trucial Coast, in Egypt, or in Iraq?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Order. I think the House will be led away from the strict rules of Order if we pursue that question any further.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
The request for the removal of these Bahrainis to St. Helena was not made by Her Majesty's Government at all but by the Ruler of Bahrain, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said, there was quite a longstanding custom, going back before the first war, a custom by which certain Bahraini prisoners used to be sent not to St. Helena but to the Andaman Islands.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I think it was before 1914. It was a very old custom, but I cannot recollect—[Interruption.] What was equally clear was that the acceptance of these Bahrainis for removal to the Island of St. Helena was conditional upon their return to the Ruler of Bahrain, if he so desired it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, that was a condition. I have yet to learn how many people signed the letter which the hon. and learned Gentleman read out, but what is clear is that once we had accepted the Bahraini prisoners for removal to St. Helena, we accepted the condition which the Ruler made, which was that if he so demanded, either upon a review of the sentences or upon any other grounds, they should be returned to Bahrain.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I cannot give way. I want to make a final point, because other hon. Members want to speak.
I wish to give one word of warning to hon. Members opposite. I think they are trying to make out a case by which, no doubt in logic and, maybe, by international law, Her Majesty's Government ought not any longer and, indeed, ought never to have had any custody of these Bahrainis. Never at any time have the British Government had jurisdiction over the Bahrainis. Assuming for the moment that the argument of hon. Members opposite is valid—although it was not held to be valid by the Privy Council—it leads to the conclusion that for all practical purposes, the British Government have abducted these three Bahrainis. If that is so, the only thing that we can do is to return them to the Ruler of Bahrain.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I shall speak for only two or three minutes. I read the letter which has been the subject of recent controversy in this matter entirely differently from the way in which the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) does. It seems to me that when that letter was written the Sheik of Bahrain may have thought that we would get tired of keeping these people and would say to him. "Why should we keep your prisoners? Will you not take them back?" [HON. MEMBERS: "That is what we have done."] The Sheik may have thought that he would reserve the right to agree to the transaction. He thought that the request would be made the other way round, and might well have thought, "If these terrible fellows get back here, goodness only knows whom they will throw stones at next time."
§ Mr. Ede
I do not like to see stones thrown at anybody. I do not believe that this has worked out in the way the Sheik thought it would. These people are now in our custody, and from what I have heard tonight, even from the hon. Member for Windsor, I would not return 1188 these men to the custody of the Sheik of Bahrain under any circumstances whatever.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
I cannot feel that the interpretation of the agreement by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was the right one. I have in my hand a report of the appeal before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. What happened was that a letter was handed by the Sheik of Bahrain to the British Political Resident in Bahrain, who represents Her Majesty's Government. Translated from the Arabic that letter reads as follows:We … have agreed with the Governor of St. Helena upon the removal of the said persons from Bahrain to St. Helena for the said period"—namely, the period of their sentence—or until we agree to their return to Bahrain.The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said that the British Government have no part in this agreement, because it was made between St. Helena and Bahrain. That cannot be the case. In the first place, this letter was handed directly to the Political Resident in Bahrain by the Ruler on 26th December, 1956—and the Political Resident is there on behalf of the Queen. If he did not wish to accept that letter and did not wish, by his action and conduct, to indicate that an agreement existed between Her Majesty's Government and the Ruler, he should have handed it back and said, "No, we do not agree."
Apart from that, it is not true that the British Government have no part in this agreement, because it is made between the Governor of St. Helena and the Ruler of Bahrain, and the Governor, as Governor of a Colony, represents Her Majesty there and is directly subject to her orders. On those two grounds it is clear that Her Majesty's Government are bound by that agreement, unless they wish to tear up their diplomatic obligations under it. They are both morally and legally bound by that agreement, and they cannot be heard to say, "It is nothing to do with us. We never agreed to it."
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask him a question? I have not yet heard any 1189 evidence of an agreement. If there was, in fact, an agreement between the Governments or the Governors, how does that entitle the Governor of St. Helena to send back to Bahrain individuals whose rights cannot be determined by a treaty? Surely the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that a treaty or agreement between States cannot affect the rights of individuals. What is an extradition treaty for? What are statutes for, like the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act which was referred to earlier in the debate?
§ Mr. Kershaw
The answer to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is that Orders in Council have been made under the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act and all the appropriate legal steps have been taken to make it possible to remove these prisoners from Bahrain to St. Helena under the Act of 1869.
§ Mr. Mitchison
How can they be made under the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act if Bahrain is not a Colony?
§ Mr. Kershaw
That is a separate point. I am coming to whether or not this Act was properly applied. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council thought that it was properly applied to Bahrain in this case.
The hon and learned Gentleman said that we cannot remove these men in St Helena and their rights by an agreement between the Ruler of Bahrain and the Governor of St. Helena. But we have not done so. They have applied for a writ of habeas corpus to the Supreme Court of St. Helena and to the Privy Council. It is suggested by the hon. Member for Wedneslbury (Mr. Stone-house) that they are going to apply again on fresh evidence, and no one can stop them from doing that.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman will see the difference between the determination of a point of law by the Privy Council and the acceptance by the Privy Council of a piece of evidence offered by the Foreign Secretary. It is common ground that all this business would be illegal if the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act did not apply. It cannot apply unless this is a Colony. The Privy Council did not determine whether or not it is a Colony. The Foreign Secretary 1190 answered a Question by the Privy Council which was:Did Her Majesty's Government on December 19th, 1956, hold, exercise and enjoy legislative jurisdiction in Bahrain over persons being subjects of the Ruler of Bahrain and/or Qatar?This afternoon the Lord Privy Seal said we had limited jurisdiction, but when the Foreign Secretary replied to the Privy Council he said nothing about "limited". He answered that question plainly in the affirmative and the Privy Council accepted what he said.
§ Mr. Kershaw
The hon. Gentleman is surely not quite right about that. Of course, the Privy Council is bound to accept a letter from the Secretary of State saying that he has certain jurisdiction or the extent of his jurisdiction. The Council addressed two questions to the Secretary of State. First, it asked:Did Her Majesty's Government on December 19th, 1956, hold, exercise and enjoy legislative jurisdiction in Bahrain over persons being subjects of the Ruler of Bahrain and/or Qatar?".The second question was:If so at what date did Her Majesty acquire such jurisdiction and what was its extent?The Secretary of State replied on 8th April of this year in an extensive letter and I shall not waste the time of the House by quoting it. In it he said he had jurisdiction over certain classes of cases in Bahrain and Qatar. That was the Judicial Committee's reason for saying the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act, 1869, was properly applied to Bahrain. I think the hon. Gentleman will have to go to the merits of the case in order to overturn that letter of the Secretary of State. He will have to consider whether the Secretary of State was wrong in sending that letter.
§ Mr. Kershaw
If he was wrong, it was for various reasons which the hon. Member may or may not be able to introduce into this debate, but to say that legally the Secretary of State or the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is not right is, I think, at this date hardly possible.
§ Mr. Paget
The position is that what the Foreign Secretary was saying was that we had jurisdiction in this case and 1191 it was not in this case that it was irrelevant. If we have jurisdiction in this case we have jurisdiction to remit the sentence. Apparently, according to the Lord Privy Seal, we want to remit the sentence. We can do it. If we do not have that jurisdiction, the Privy Council was misled and these men were cheated.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Of course the Privy Council was in order in giving its judgment. I feel bound to quote from the judgment in which it said at the rehearing after hearing the Secretary of State's answers:On 19th December, 1956, Her Majesty held, exercised and enjoyed legislative jurisdiction in Bahrain over subjects of the Ruler of Bahrain and subjects of the Ruler of Qatar to the extent indicated hereafter.
§ Mr. Kershaw
We still have it for the purposes of the Act of 1869. Then there is the passage from the judgment of the Judicial Committee, on page 134 of the Weekly Law Reports, 1st July. 1960. which reads:But their Lordships are satisfied that … the appellant's case was properly brought before the special court set up by the Ruler.The second point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was that the proceedings before this court were invalid because it was staffed by relatives of the Ruler. As I said in an interjection, they were the regular judges of the territory, albeit that they were relatives of the Ruler. I think the hon. and learned Member will know that in a very small country such as that where the educated class is very small it is not unusual for that to happen and for there to be very few judges who are not related in some way or other to the sheik. That point was ventured upon in the course of the trial before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council but it was abandoned, apparently because there was no ground on which to push it. It was said by the Judicial Committee in reply to the argument that the appellant was not a prisoner under sentence within the meaning of the Act of 1869:it was (their Lordships understood) at one stage suggested that the circumstances attending trial before the special court were such as to preclude its recognition as a valid judicial proceeding. This objection was not 1192 pressed, and their Lordships are satisfied that it is without substance.It was further said that this particular order cannot apply to these prisoners on the grounds, among others, that the arrangements for their reception at St. Helena were made before the sentences were passed. That was surely only an administrative convenience. If it was desired, presumably for reasons of security, to remove them as soon as they were sentenced, I should have thought it was essential and only prudent to inquire if they could proceed there if it was desired to move them there. I do not think any deduction can be drawn which invalidates the proceedings or shows fault on the part of those concerned.
Thirdly, it was said by the hon. Member for Wednesbury that this order was in some way invalid because the agreement of the Governor of St. Helena referred to five prisoners whereas, in fact, only three were handed over. That point was specifically considered by the Judicial Committee in its judgment and it decided that there was nothing in it. It said:Their Lordships would add that, inasmuch as Her Majesty's jurisdiction to make the Extension Order and the Sanction Order did not depend on the existence at the time of making them of any particular prisoners under sentence the fact that the addresses were presented and the Orders were made before the date of the conviction of the appellant and the other four men, though made a matter of comment on the appellant's side, is immaterialIt is said that fresh evidence will be produced to show that these men were improperly put upon the naval ship at Bahrain. I understood this was fresh evidence that might be adduced. This was mentioned by the hon. Member for Wednesbury, whom I am glad to see is in his place again.
That point was also considered by the Privy Council. Although fresh evidence, if it is really fresh evidence, would be another matter altogether, the point was raised in argument that there was at least some doubt as to whether or not the order had been properly displayed on that particular day before the men were put on to the British ship. The point was made and this is what was said in the judgment:A further argument was raised before their Lordships to the effect that as the serving 1193 of the warrant and the coming into force of the Sanction Order by publication in Bahrain took place on the same day (viz. 28th December, 1956) the latter might have preceded the former event, so that it was not proved that, at the moment of time on 28th December, on which the warrant was issued by service on the captain, the Ruler had power to serve it under section 5 of the Act of 1869. This point (as distinct from the point that a warrant was drawn up before 28th December does not appear to have been raised below, and inasmuch as it could only be resolved by evidence as to the precise moments of time at which the publication of the order and the service of the warrant respectively took place, their Lordships do not think the appellant should be allowed to raise it now.If I may concede a point, the hon. Gentleman is strictly correct in saying that the Judicial Committee did not decide whether the publication had been properly made. Is it unreasonable to suppose that if the evidence had been available for the court that the publication had been wrong, it would have been urged? It was not taken either in the first court or before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and one wonders why, if the evidence was available, it was not brought out then.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for conceding the point that it was not dealt with at the Judicial Committee hearing. Is he aware that the Colonial Office legal advisers on 26th October undertook specifically to obtain the information to which I have referred in my speech and that that information was to be provided as a matter of urgency? Does it not prove the fact that both sides in this case are aware that information must be obtained and does it not prove that the Colonial Office itself was not fully aware of the facts, at least on 26th October? Is not this a further reason for delaying the return of these men to Bahrain so that the full circumstances can be revealed?
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am sure the hon. Gentleman has got ahead of the evidence there. To say that the Colonial Office—I would have thought very properly—promised to review any evidence that might be made available to it and try to find if there was any evidence, is not to say that the Colonial Office decided that there was evidence and that hitherto it was suppressing it, which is the implication of what the hon. Gentleman said. It is not right to say that the Judicial Committee did not deal with this matter. 1194 It considered it, but it did not have to come to a conclusion about this as the point was not taken before. If there is fresh evidence, it would be proper for the matter to be reopened. But on the basis of the Colonial Office promise to reopen the matter if there is fresh evidence, the hon. Member should not say that therefore there must be fresh evidence.
The Motion uses the wordswithout due process of law".If my arguments up to now have been valid, due processes of law have taken place and the agreement between the Governor of St. Helena and the Sheik of Bahrain is one in which the due process of law can act. I therefore suggest that that part of the Motion is wrong.
The Motion says, secondly, that these men are to be returned to Bahrain "for punishment". That implies that they are being returned to Bahrain for extra punishment. They are already under sentence and they are going back to serve the rest of their sentence. It is incorrect to put it in the way in which it is put in the Motion.
The Motion says, finally, that the men are going to another jurisdiction. All I have to say about that is that to some extent British jurisdiction does run in Bahrain. That was what founded the possibility of using the Act of 1869. Therefore, it is not entirely true to say that the men are going to another jurisdiction.
The Opposition are being unreasonable about this. They got very hot about these men being sent to St. Helena in the first place. Now they are equally hot about the men being sent away. It is very difficult to please the Opposition. I appreciate that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose, but to push and pull in this way makes it very difficult for the Foreign Secretary. After all, what is my noble Friend to do? I suppose he has to keep them in St. Helena until they have an opportunity to apply for habeas corpus. I am sure that the House would not disagree with that. But in the long run, is he to tear up this perfectly valid agreement and dishonour our word with the Ruler of Bahrain? If that is the way our foreign policy would be conducted under the guidance of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen 1195 opposite, the country can be very pleased that it is likely to be many years before they have the opportunity to do it.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Bosworth)
It must be a long time since we listened to a more deplorable speech than that made from the Government Front Bench tonight. For a Minister of a great country like ours to tell us that the position is that he does not feel that he has jurisdiction over prisoners in his control but that the Ruler of Bahrain has jurisdiction over us and we simply obey his instructions, is about as far down the scale as we could possibly get. The right hon. Gentleman justified himself at the same time with the proposition that he has in fact got jurisdiction over Bahrain, because that is the Act he used.
I want to consider very briefly what the plight of these wretched men is likely to be if they are returned to Bahrain. This is very relevant to what may happen to them in the way of punishment, and so forth, if they do get back there. I do not want to dispute the legality of the proceedings which got the men to St. Helena. I will not even dispute the rather nasty legality of the Government's retrospective cover-up actions after that.
When I went to Bahrain I was given a booklet called "Welcome to Bahrain", published by the Government of Bahrain. On page 32 it says:The form of Government can he described as a benevolent autocracy.That is their own description of their own Government. In the case of these gentlemen one would have to leave out the word "benevolent".
I met them at Bahrain. When I went to see them I found them to be very respectable mild merchants who were kind enough to give me a television interview. The moment this began Sir Charles Belgrave, the then Minister, rang up and said that the Ruler did not like it and was going to put a stop to it. I was told that he was on his way in a car to do so. I said that it was too late and simply carried on.
The moment these men get back to Bahrain they will be at the mercy of the whims of a despot who does not propose to do anything on a legal basis. What can we do for them, or what can 1196 we do about them? The Lord Privy Seal based his case on the proposition that he would like to be clement to them. He said that he has urged clemency on the Ruler, but he is helpless and can do nothing. I submit that this is totally untrue.
In that same visit to Bahrain I questioned Sir Bernard Burrows, the then Political Resident, about his powers. He said very clearly—I am putting this shortly in the restricted time available to me, although I could quote extensively—that he was in a position to give advice when he thought things were going very wrong and to do it on his own initiative.
What does that advice mean? It means that when we feel like it we depose the Ruler of Bahrain, as happened in 1923 when we deposed the present Ruler's grandfather. The Ruler of Bahrain depends entirely on our protection. He depends on British troops. He depends for his entire existence on us. All the Foreign Minister has to say is: "You will release these men forthwith or we will depose you. If you do not behave properly, we will depose you as we deposed your grandfather."
The terrifying thing about members of the party opposite nowadays is that they still have a lingering feeling about Imperialism—the Suez adventure and that kind of thing—but have lost the sort of nerve that used to carry that kind of activity through. They are now mesmerised about a little sheikh in a tiny island like Bahrain, although the Government have said that it is wrong for him to keep these men in prison, and have repeated it at that Box this afternoon. Where, without hesitation, in such circumstances the present Ruler's grandfather was deposed, the present Government dare not do anything to today's Ruler.
It will be a travesty of justice to permit this kind of thing to go through, and it will be a slight on the British nation, if we cannot say that at least we in this House of Commons have tried to save something for three wretched men—who could be saved at once tomorrow by one word from the Political Resident in Bahrain given on the instructions of Her Majesty's Government. The Ruler is in no state to oppose us. We can take away our troops, or depose him— 1197 do whatever we like—but we are absolutely mesmerised because we have an oil refinery there and dare not lift a finger. There are many of these rulers in that part of the world, and if we are to obey the behest of the Ruler of Bahrain—as, indeed, the Lord Privy Seal has said this afternoon that we are obeying him—we are absolutely out for the future in the whole of the Middle East.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
The case we have been discussing this afternoon is one of the greatest importance from the human, the legal and the political points of view. It is a very old tradition that this House should break off from dealing with matters of great national importance to concern itself from time to time with the fate of single individuals. It seems to me that this case is peculiarly appropriate for consideration by the House. It presents some legal aspects of extraordinary complexity, and some of the difficulties in which the Lord Privy Seal found himself in trying to answer questions on the legal aspect testified to that.
But we in this House are not concerned essentially with the legal problems. We are not concerned so much with law as with justice, and we are concerned with justice, not only as the House of Commons but as the representatives of the British people. I must say that the situation that has been uncovered in the course of this debate is one of the most deplorable and unsavoury entanglements in which any British Government have ever found themselves.
The Government have made great play during this discussion of the fact that the Privy Council in a recent judgment ruled that the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act rightly applied to the territory of Bahrain because the British Government had jurisdiction in Bahrain in this matter. I shall return to that point later. What the Privy Council did not reveal in its judgment—because it was not the Privy Council's business to do so—is that the methods by which the Bahraini and the British authorities contrived to act legally to this extent were tortuous in the extreme, and profoundly disturbing to any one who values the traditions of British justice.
It may be true, as the Privy Council found, that the trial at which these men 1198 were sentenced to fourteen years' imprisonment was valid in Bahraini law, but, after all, Mr. Speaker, all that that judgment means is that what happened in Bahrain on that day was the way in which the Bahrainis do carry out their trials. It means no more than that. It has no relevance whatever to the question we have to decide in this House, which is the extent to which justice is being served by what is happening and what the Government propose shall happen in the near future.
The plain fact is that the trial in which these men were sentenced was conducted by a court which had been specially constituted the day before, which was composed entirely of the relatives of the Ruler, none of whom had any legal training, and the accused in court were not represented by counsel. That is the first basic fact from which all the story springs. We have heard also that the sentence which was to be inflicted on these men was decided and even announced before the trial had been held. We know that their deportation to St. Helena was ordered before they were convicted.
Her Majesty's Government have a direct responsibility in this particular matter because they published an Order the day before the trial ended announcing that they proposed to transfer three convicted persons in a British warship to St. Helena. There is no question of hypothetical decision there. This was an announcement that three convicted men were to be transferred.
Thirdly, there is the point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) referred, that it seems highly probable that these men were physically put on board the British warship before the order sanctioning the action was posted in Bahrain. I must ask the Lord Privy Seal to answer the question which has been put to him. Why have the Government so far not carried out the promise made by the Colonial Office legal adviser to the solicitors of the accused men on 26th October this year to produce evidence which would enable the Privy Council to make a finding on this particular problem?
So far, I admit, we are dealing with past history. Since the problem to which the House is asked to address itself is 1199 the problem of whether it is equitable—to use your own words, Mr. Speaker—that these men should be transferred from British jurisdiction to another jurisdiction, it is very closely relevant for the House, which concerns itself with equity and justice, to consider the evidence which would enable it to make up its mind about the sort of jurisdiction to which it is proposed these men should be transferred. I think that The Times in a leading article which has already been quoted spoke very moderately when it said:Inevitably the picture has been given of an alliance between the Ruler of Bahrain and the British Government to contrive special machinery for removing trouble makers quickly from the scene. There is certainly something hugger-mugger about the business which cannot be reconciled with the principle of justice being seen to be done.I pass over very rapidly the general political aspects of the case, but the House will, no doubt, wish to return to them at a later date. There is no question that the difficulty in which the Government find themselves now entangled arises from the very archaic treaty arrangements governing relations between Great Britain and the Gulf Sheikdoms. I believe that the key to the original decision of Her Majesty's Government to take these men on the island of St. Helena lies in the fact that the riots for which they were being tried were riots against the British Foreign Secretary during his visit to Bahrain at the time of the Suez affair, and the British Government acceded to the Ruler's request at that time primarily because they felt themselves responsible for the troubles in which the Ruler was then involved with his own people. It is for the party opposite, which supported that adventure, to decide whether or not the moral obligation it then accepted was one which arose naturally out of its actions in another part of the Middle East.
That time is now long passed. These men have already been deprived of their liberty for four long years. The question on which the House is now being asked to decide is, what shall be done in 1960?
There is no question whatever that these men are now exclusively under the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Government. 1200 That has not been questioned by any Government speaker. I suggest to the Lord Privy Seal, however, that there is also no question, at any rate from the Government's point of view, that they were also under British jurisdiction when they were in Bahrain from the moment on 19th December when the Order in Council applying the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act was made to apply to Bahrain. The Foreign Secretary gave evidence to the Privy Council on this matter when it was considering the prisoners' appeal. The Foreign Secretary stated in so many words that with the passing of the Order in Council all other subjects of the Ruler of Bahrain—that is, subjects other than those who were previously under British jurisdiction—came under British jurisdiction. Indeed, the ground on which the Privy Council rejected the appeal was precisely that Her Majesty's Government, from the moment that the Order in Council was made in this House, became the possessor of jurisdiction over all the citizens of the Ruler of Bahrain.
It is no good the Lord Privy Seal talking, as he did, about some restricted jurisdiction in this matter. The Foreign Secretary's evidence to the Privy Council was quite explicit and was not in any way conditional or restricted. These men were under British jurisdiction from the moment when, on 19th December, the Order in Council came into force. They were under British jurisdiction in Bahrain just as much as they are under British jurisdiction at this moment. For this reason, Her Majesty's Government are completely free under law to change the sentence which was made by the Ruler of Bahrain before the Order in Council came into effect and, if they like, to release these men unconditionally tonight. There is absolutely no obstacle in law to the Government doing this forthwith.
The Lord Privy Seal tried to persuade the House that the Government had some sort of treaty arrangement with the Ruler under which they were obligated to return these men to the Ruler's custody—not, I suggest, to his jurisdiction, because the Government, under the Order in Council, still have jurisdiction over Bahrain, according to the Foreign Secretary's evidence to the Privy Council. The Lord Privy Seal suggested that we have an obligation to return them to 1201 the Ruler's custody whenever he asks for them. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has produced no evidence for this whatever. The only document which he has quoted to the House to support his claim is a letter by the Ruler of Bahrain to the British Resident in Bahrain in which he asserts certain things which he says he has agreed with the Governor of St. Helena. As far as I am aware, no corresponding obligation has ever been asserted by the Government until this day. In fact, it is entirely within the discretion of Her Majesty's Government to decide whether or not they regard the Ruler's assertion as in any way binding on them.
I suggest that the agreement is not an agreement in any formal or legal sense whatever. It is simply a statement by the Ruler as to what be believes to be the situation. This statement has never been confirmed in writing by the Government as being the understanding of the Government. Still less has the statement been embodied in any formal agreement with the Ruler of Bahrain.
It has been suggested, notably in the Press this morning, that in some sense Her Majesty's Government in 1956 made a bargain with the Ruler under which they were allowed to take these men into their custody on condition that if the Ruler wished, they should be returned. It is quite clear, however, from everything that has been said in this House and from everything that is public knowledge, that there was no bargain whatever. The fact is that the Ruler of Bahrain asked Her Majesty's Government to do him a favour in taking these men off the island of Bahrain because the Ruler did not feel competent to suppress the disorders which, in his view, would undoubtedly have taken place had these men been left on the island. Her Majesty's Government did the Ruler a favour in 1956. They are under no obligation, moral or legal, to do the Ruler another favour in 1960 by transferring these men to the Ruler's custody.
Every argument of justice and humanity demands that we should now release these men. Indeed, the Government have accepted that this is their own view by formally requesting the Ruler of Bahrain to do exactly that. There can be no argument whatever about what is the right, the just, the 1202 human and decent thing to do. The Ruler, however, has refused to do the right, the decent and the just thing.
Therefore, this is the question facing Her Majesty's Government and facing all hon. and right hon. Members in this House tonight. The Ruler of Bahrain having failed to do what Her Majesty's Government, as well as Her Majesty's Opposition, regard as the right, the decent and the just thing, should the Government, who are under no formal obligation whatever in this matter to the Ruler of Bahrain, betray their own convictions, fly in the face of all the basic principles of humanity and transfer these men into the custody of a Ruler who has demonstrated by refusing clemency that he is still terrified of them as political opponents?
The Lord Privy Seal has given no assurance that if these men are returned to the custody of the Ruler, their sentence will not be doubled or that their heads will not be cut off the moment they step ashore at Bahrain. As far as this House is aware, the surrender of these men by Her Majesty's Government to a Ruler who regards them as dangerous political enemies and who has proved by his conduct at an earlier stage of the case that he has no regard for what we consider to be the principles of justice is completely unconditional.
The case we have tried to put today is a double case. We have argued, as we have argued in the past, that for Her Majesty's Government to take custody of these men in the first place was a political blunder. But we have argued the much more serious point that for the Government to offer now to return them to the Ruler's custody would be not only a political blunder, but a moral disgrace.
By returning these men to the custody of a Ruler whose standards of justice are as they have been demonstrated to be in this House today, Her Majesty's Government are not only compounding ancient errors of policy which have already gone far to destroy Britain's position in the Middle East: by taking this action, the Government are flying in the face of every principle of common humanity and British justice.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Heath
By leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I will make a few closing remarks after what, I fear, was a long contribution earlier in the debate.
1203 This matter today arises, as you will recall, out of the Motion for the Adjournment on the removal of these prisoners out of our jurisdiction to another jurisdiction… without due process of law.We have had a very complicated and technical discussion about this, but throughout there has been no discussion of what exactly the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) meant when he raised this today in referring to the removal of these prisoners from one jurisdiction to another… without due process of law.I still do not know what he meant to imply by those words "due process" when he raised the matter.
We have the power, under the Prisoners Removal (Bahrain and St. Helena) Order, 1956, to return these prisoners to Bahrain, and therefore the whole question of the technical basis of the Adjournment is dealt with by that single sentence under the Order which I have quoted earlier.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has raised the question of our legal position in Bahrain. We do not have unlimited jurisdiction over these prisoners. We have jurisdiction to deal with them in accordance with provisions of the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act and the Order which was made under that Act.
This includes the right to make an agreement with the Ruler of Bahrain for the return of the prisoners to him at his own request. That is our legislative position. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We made that agreement that the prisoners would be subject to what is known as The Agreement. It is headed "The Agreement" in the document placed before the Privy Council. There must have been an agreement for the prisoners to be moved in the first instance.
§ Mr. Heath
I am afraid that I cannot give way. That was the arrangement under which the Ruler asked us to move the prisoners, which was covered legally by the Order made under the Act, to be detained in custody in St. Helena. As I have said earlier, there were discussions between the Ruler and the Political Resident about this matter and it was agreed. 1204 The Ruler expressed his agreement in the letter I have quoted.
§ Mr. Heath
That document has been in existence since the removal of these prisoners and has always been accepted by the Government as an agreement with the Ruler. The Ruler himself has always so regarded it. Otherwise, of course, the prisoners would never have been moved in the first instance.
The Government are not going to say at this stage, four years afterwards, that this is not an agreement and that we are perfectly at liberty to free these prisoners whenever we decide. Those were not the terms of the undertaking with the Ruler, and the agreement does not give us that liberty.
§ Mr. Healey
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I wish to ask a question on the far more important prior matter of whether the Government consider that they have jurisdiction over the subjects of the Ruler. The Foreign Secretary was asked to give evidence on this question to the Privy Council because the prisoners' representatives maintained that it was wrong in the first place to extend Colonial Prisoners Removal Act to St. Helena. The Foreign Secretary argued that Britain had jurisdiction over the men from the moment that the Order in Council came into effect. He suggested that there was no restriction whatever on Her Majesty's Government and that it had acquired legislative jurisdiction in Bahrain.
§ Mr. Heath
I am endeavouring to explain that it is legislative jurisdiction, and this gave us power to deal with prisoners in accordance with provisions of the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act. That is what legislative jurisdiction means, and it is what I understand the Foreign Secretary was referring to in evidence quoted in the judgment of the Privy Council.
§ Mr. Heath
I cannot give way again. This is a complicated matter, and that is how I understand the position. The Ruler has confirmed the conversations which he had at the time with the Political Resident. They are the conditions 1205 under which these arrangements were made, and these are accepted by Her Majesty's Government.
All this, of course, has arisen out of the comments which have been made in the House about the detention of these prisoners in St. Helena. I should like to emphasise again that it was because of that that my noble Friend approached the Ruler. Therefore, I must take exception to many of the comments which have been made about the Ruler asking for these people back in order to grab hold of them for some nefarious purpose. That is not the position. The position was that we took the matter up with the Ruler ourselves and we explained the feelings that existed about the continued detention in St. Helena itself.
As the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said, in fact the Ruler's fears may have been confirmed that at some time or other we should point out to him whether we considered this desirable or not. That is the position and not that the Ruler has suddenly made an approach and is suddenly wanting to get these people back in his own power for some purpose.
§ Mr. Callaghan
We accept the position that it was because of a feeling in the House that the Foreign Secretary then approached the Ruler of Bahrain and put to him what he thought was the position. May I put it to the Minister that it has become quite clear during the debate that not only this side of the House but a number of his hon. Friends are disturbed about the position? If the initiative was started because it was thought that was the feeling of the House, would the right hon. Gentleman not continue in that initiative and would he now represent that the feeling of the House is not that they should not remain in St. Helena but that if they should be returned to Bahrain they should not be incarcerated? Will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to that effect?
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
If the Ruler refuses that, can the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that these men will not be sent back until the new application for habeas corpus has been heard and any further representations from them have been received by the House?
§ Mr. Heath
I explained to the House that my noble Friend explained to the Ruler that it was our wish that he should look at this again from the point of view of showing clemency to the prisoners. He has not found himself able to do that. If they are returned they will be in exactly the same position as the two men who were sentenced at the same time as they were and who have been there under detention for some time.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury asked about the information for which the solicitors of these prisoners have asked. It has taken time to obtain the information because most of it was not in this country. It had to be sent for and it has been difficult to obtain, but I give an undertaking that as much as possible of this information when obtained will be given to the legal advisers of these men.
Yesterday when I answered Questions in the House I said that I was anxious to give the House a statement for the reasons that I mentioned. The matter was first raised in June and on several occasions I have had to tell the House that I was still unable to make a statement and that I was anxious to make it at the earliest possible moment. I did so and I said that we were considering the arrangements that could be made for the return of these prisoners.
This is quite a difficult and lengthy operation because special arrangements have to be made. I assure the House that it will not be possible to do this before the end of the Recess on which we are about to enter. I can therefore give an undertaking to the House that arrangements which may be made for their return will not take effect before the end of the Recess.
§ Mr. Heath
I can also tell the House that when arrangements are put into effect I will notify the House. That is a perfectly fair undertaking. It will also give time for the information to be supplied to the solicitors of the prisoners who have asked for it and for them to consider legal action.
1207 I know the House will understand that on the question of considering legal action one cannot go on for ever leaving the matter open to enable them to decide whether they want to take legal action, because that could drag on for a long time. I think that this is a fair arrangement. It will give time for information to be supplied to their solicitors, and for them to consider the matter of legal action.
As regards the Ruler, the Political Resident will be able to inform him of the views of the House. I will naturally consider what the hon. Member and right hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench have said, but we have already made representations to the Ruler. Some of the remarks which have been made in the House tonight are, I think, unjustified and will undoubtedly be distressing. That is regrettable because the Ruler of Bahrain has been a very loyal friend of this country for many years. I would not like this friendly and loyal relationship to be interrupted, but I will consider what the hon. Gentleman said.
§ Mr. Healey
I am grateful for some of the remarks made by the Lord Privy Seal. I do not think that my right hon. and hon. Friends would wish to divide the House on this matter if they had an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will again approach the Ruler on the question of the return of these men. [An HON. MEMBER: "Their release."] First of all, their return. I think it is clear from the views expressed on both 1208 sides of the House that no one would wish these men to be returned to the custody of the Ruler of Bahrain. The Lord Privy Seal has said that the Ruler of Bahrain himself does not wish the return of these men and that the matter arose only because Her Majesty's Government approached him. Can we have an assurance from the Lord Privy Seal that he will keep these men in St. Helena, and that in the meanwhile he will continue his representations for the total release of these men?
§ Mr. Heath
Having already approached the Ruler of Bahrain and he already having in turn, in view of our representations, made his request to us, the position is slightly different from the position before we approached him. I am prepared for the Political Resident to approach him again to discuss this matter in the light of what has been said. What I cannot do is to give an undertaking as to what the Ruler's decision will be in the situation which has now changed from that in which we made our representations to him and in which he made his reply. I cannot give an undertaking as to what the Ruler's decision will be, but, in the light of the debate, I will see that the Political Resident discusses this matter with him.
I hope, after this very long and complicated debate, that we shall folow the wisest course.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.