HC Deb 26 May 1960 vol 624 cc653-8
6. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations what requests the South African Government have made regarding the handing over of refugees in the High Commission Territories; and whether he will make a statement about the future of those claiming asylum in these Territories.

7. Mr. Grimond

asked the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations if he will ensure that political refugees from South Africa are not returned to that country against their will.

The Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. C. J. M. Alport)

I would refer the hon. Members to my reply to a Question by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) on 19th May.

Mr. Wall

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he has now had any further information about the alleged statement of the South African Minister of Justice, and also whether he has had further thoughts about the division between a political and a criminal offence?

Mr. Alport

With regard to the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, there is a later Question dealing with this subject. As for the first part, some inquiries were made of the High Commissioner, which I gather the Minister of Justice of the Union of South Africa has regarded as being the preliminaries to negotiations, but no negotiations have been started, and we were unable to give the information which the Minister of Justice requested on that occasion.

Mr. Grimond

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the categorical assurance which he gave on a previous occasion, that these people would not be extradited for political crimes but only for violations of criminal law similar to our own, was widely welcomed? Can he say whether, if any of these people wanted to leave these Territories and come to this country, they would be helped to do so?

Mr. Alport

I have a number of other Questions on this subject. Perhaps the hon. Member will await my Answers to them.

Sir L. Plummer

The Minister will be aware that many of the political refugees have automatically violated the passport laws in getting out of the country. If extradition proceedings are called for on these grounds, can the Minister see that it is made quite clear that this is in fact a political offence and not a criminal offence?

Mr. Speaker

Subject to misreading something, I think that that anticipates a further Question.

Mr. Alport

I am not sure, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I can answer that supplementary question, if only to clear up the point which the hon. Member is making. As far as I understand it, there is no violation of any Union passport legislation in connection with the movement from the Union into any of the High Commission Territories. That possibility would arise only subsequently.

Mr. Marquand

Returning to what the right hon. Gentleman said earlier about negotiations, will he make it clear that there is no intention to enter into any sort of bargain with Mr. Erasmus on terms of returning some refugees in response to a promise that other persons in South Africa will be released? There has been a statement in the Press to that effect. Will the Minister repudiate it now, so that there will be no further suspicion of anything of the kind? Further, will he indicate that he has no intention of giving the South African Government the names of refugees in British protected Territories?

Mr. Alport

We have already informed the South African Government of the difficulties with regard to the latter point made by the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to the former point, the best thing I can do is t3 re-state what I said previously in answer to a Question of his, namely: It is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to compel them to return to the Union on political grounds, though the House will recognise that the question of return to answer criminal charges would be a matter for the courts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1960; Vol. 623, c. 1485.] I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there could not be any question of a bargain on political grounds in connection with this matter.

14. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations if he has considered the desirability of arranging for a provisional passport being issued to all refugees from the Union of South Africa, entering the Protectorates, who apply for one.

Mr. Alport

There is no difficulty about the issue of passports to citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies or British protected persons in the High Commission Territories. The issue of travel documents to other persons is normally a matter for the authorities of the country to which they belong, but my noble Friend is considering whether, in present circumstances, any exceptional steps are desirable.

Mr. Sorensen

Will the Minister see if it is possible for either a passport or some equivalent to be issued to these unfortunate people and so implement the assurance that was given some time ago?

Mr. Alport

I have said, and I cannot go any further at the present time, that my noble Friend is considering whether any exceptional steps in this matter should be taken.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not clear from an earlier Answer which the Minister has given that, although no offence will be committed by the refugees under the South African passport laws merely by entering the Protectorates, it might be committed if, for example, they were to attempt to enter the Federation? Might they not, therefore, at that stage in their transit from South Africa, be in danger of extradition on the ground that a criminal offence had been committed? Would not the Minister, in order to make their political asylum a reality, approach the Federal Government to get an assurance that there will be no cases of extradition arising in transit?

Mr. Alport

I have explained that the matter of immigration law, under the constitution, is a matter for the Federal Government. I am answering a Question which relates exclusively to the position with regard to the Protectorates.

16. Mr. Dugdale

asked the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations if he has completed his consideration of the question whether the undertaking to give asylum to all South African political refugees reaching the High Commission Territories includes refugees sentenced under the Prohibition of Communism Act and other Acts making political offences crimes; and what conclusion he has reached.

Mr. Alport

This matter is governed by the Fugitive Offenders Act, 1881, as it applies between the Union and the High Commission Territories.

The offences to which Part II applies are stated in Section 13 of the Act. The powers of the courts to order or to refuse to order the return of a person under that Part of the Act are defined in Section 19.

It would not be proper for me to anticipate the manner in which the courts would exercise the discretion given to them under Section 19 of the Fugitive Offenders Act.

Mr. Dugdale

Does this mean that the Minister cannot anticipate the case of any man who is accused of a political crime and who, in consequence of an Act of the South African Government, becomes a criminal? Does he realise that this may make it impossible for people, not only in South Africa but on the other side of the Iron Curtain, to claim the right of asylum because they have been found guilty of offences which are made criminal in that country, while those offences are not criminal in this country at all?

Mr. Alport

I think that, if I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman finds this subject as difficult and obscure as I sometimes do myself. I would say that the positions of Commonwealth citizens or British subjects under the fugitive offenders legislation and of foreign subjects under the extradition laws are entirely different. I have gone into this, as I promised the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition I would do, with care, and I think that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will realise that, in any decision with regard to the law on this matter, in the light of the discretion given in Section 19, there is appeal, if it is necessary to pursue it, from the court of first instance to the High Court, and we intend to make it clear that there will be an appeal from the High Court, if necessary, to the Appeal Court of the Territories, and finally to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I think that the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members in this House will join with me in believing that in these circumstances and in the light of the relative sections in the fugitive offenders legislation, the responsibility for a decision in this matter should be properly left to the courts.

Mr. Dugdale

Is the Minister aware that that answer will be received with relief and satisfaction by large numbers of people throughout the Commonwealth?

Mr. Foot

Could the Minister say, in regard co appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, whether it will be within the discretion of the appellate tribunals in the Protectorates themselves to give leave to appeal to the Judicial Committee, or whether it will be a matter of applying for special leave?

Mr. Alport

I understand, and again I should like to be absolutely certain in my answer, that the decision in this, which would be a criminal case, would be for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I have also inquired as to the problem with regard to the financing of appeals of that sort, and I am assured that, so far as we are concerned, we would give every possible facility that we can give so that the appeal could be made in forma pauperis.

18. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations if he will grant political asylum to the Reverend Marcus Kooper, Mr. Isaac Howiten, Mr. Arnold Selby, Mr. Joseph Matthews, Mr. Wilton Ymkwai, Mr. Patrick Van Rensburg, Mr. Moses Mabida, and Miss Molefe, political refugees from the Union of South Africa, who have escaped into the High Commission territories, and make documents available to them to enable transit through the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Mr. Alport

Entry into and residence in the High Commission Territories are governed by the immigration laws in force, and it is open to the persons to whom the hon. Member refers to apply for residence permits. So far as travel documents are concerned, I would refer the hon. Member to my reply today to a Question by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen).

Mr. Stonehouse

I appreciate the reply given by the Minister and I thank him for the consideration given to the issue of documents to these political refugees. May I ask whether representations are being made to the Governments of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland to ensure that the documents are recognised and that the political refugees are given full facilities for transit? Are representations being made to secure recognition of the passports being issued by Ghana?

Mr. Alport

The recognition of passports issued by another Commonwealth country is not a matter for me. I should have thought that travel documents issued to refugees from the United Kingdom would normally be recognised by other Commonwealth countries concerned.

Mr. Stonehouse

In that case, would the Minister indicate that there should be no possible objection to the recognition of passports issued by Ghana?

Mr. Alport

As I have already said, that is not a question for me.

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