HC Deb 19 June 1961 vol 642 cc939-43
25. Mr. Warbey

asked the Lord Privy Seal what action he proposes to take following the success of the habeas corpus application made by the three Bahraini citizens imprisoned since December, 1956, in St. Helena.

31 and 33. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Lord Privy Seal (1) in view of the release of the three Bahraini political prisoners on St. Helena following the habeas corpus application, if he will now make a statement regarding the arrangement Her Majesty's Government are making for the transport of the three men to a place of their own choosing; whether he is willing to grant them political asylum in the United Kingdom; and what compensation he is proposing to pay them for four years' unlawful detention;

(2) if Her Majesty's Government will meet the full costs of the legal actions, and other related costs, taken by the three Bahraini citizens who have been unlawfully detained on St. Helena for four years; and what other action he proposes to take to recompense those concerned in this case.

32. Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he has any statement to make with regard to the successful application for a writ of habeas corpus to the Chief Justice of St. Helena made on behalf of three Bahraini prisoners.

35. Mr. Manuel

asked the Lord Privy Seal what compensation Her Majesty's Government is proposing to pay to the three Bahraini political prisoners who have now been released following habeas corpus petition after four years' unlawful detention.

Mr. Heath

The court in St. Helena granted the applications of Abdul Aziz Shemlan, Abdur Rahman Al-Bakr and Abd Ali Alaiwat for writs of habeas corpus on 13th June. Her Majesty's Government will meet the reasonable costs of travel by the three men to any destination which they may choose, up to a distance equivalent to that from St. Helena to Bahrain, and are assisting the men to leave St. Helena on 1st July. I am not aware that any request for political asylum has been received from these men, whose status is that of British protected persons.

From the telegraphic report, the judgment of the court appears to have been based not on the ground that there was any defect in the original trial of the men but that the warrant under which they were transferred from custody of the Ruler in 1956 was invalid. The full report will be studied when it is received.

Costs have been awarded to the applicants in the present action. As regards costs of earlier actions and the question of compensation, I am not at present in a position to make any statement. Her Majesty's Government had already arranged and paid for the transport of the prisoners' legal advisers to and from St. Helena, and had given assistance in this respect during the earlier case in 1959.

Mr. Warbey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is perfect poetic justice that the Government were caught out on a technical hitch, because this technical hitch was characteristic of the indecent haste with which the whole operation was carried out in Bahrain, and will the Government now prop up the wounded pride of the Foreign Secretary and make full redress to these men who have been so wrongfully dealt with?

Mr. Heath

If the hon. Gentleman is placing so much substance on the technical hitch then, presumably, he is arguing that the Government in substance were correct.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is a satisfactory end to four years of the most unfortunate and unsatisfactory cat-and mouse game which he and his predecessors conducted in relation to these most unfortunate men? May I ask him when he intends to announce when the compensation to these men will be paid and what the amount will be, and whether he is going to make an apology in regard to the statement he made on 8th February to the effect that it was clear that all three prisoners had requested no further legal proceedings should he taken in their name, and will withdraw the imputation against the solicitor involved in this case who has behaved most correctly throughout it?

Mr. Heath

I have nothing to withdraw, as the hon. Member will see if he consults the record. I gave to the House at the time the details of the message which we had received from Al Bakr, who asked that he should be returned to Bahrain and that no further legal action should be taken, and that request has been undenied by Al Bakr throughout this time. In view of the ambiguity we ourselves arranged for the other two men to be interviewed by the Governor in the presence of a friend, as I stated at the time, whereupon they said their wishes were, if they could not be freed, they should be re turned to Bahrain.

As I explained to the House, the Government had no power to release or to order the release of these men. It could be done only by a court, because of the separation of the Executive and Judiciary. As far as any further statement about compensation is concerned, I cannot, of course, say when it will be possible to make such a statement. We have not yet received the full report of the court's proceedings, and must be given time to consider this.

Mr. W. Yates

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply today is quite satisfactory, but will he bear this in mind as well, that when I visited Bahrain and spoke to them they did not seem to be very confident about the standing of the plot? When are those who were really involved in the plot to be brought to trial?

Mr. Manuel

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the granting of this legal writ for the release of these prisoners places a clear liability on the Government to make restitution to these men? Who can gauge the loss and damage they have suffered over these four years, and what those four years have meant to them and their families? Surely the right hon. Gentleman should be a little more warm-blooded than he is in standing at that Box and being so coldly dispassionate about a matter which arouses very deep feelings in this House?

Mr. Heath

I fully recognise the implications of this, but I have said I am not in a position to make a statement today.

Mr. Paget

Surely the Lord Privy Seal must realise that what he has said about the statement on 8th February will not do. Is he aware that this is a matter which I raised on the Adjournment before Christmas, when the right hon. Gentleman promised a statement? In that statement he informed us that the dearest wish of these three men was to go back to Bahrain where they had the utmost confidence in the treatment that they would receive at the hands of the Ruler and that their only desire was to withdraw these proceedings. We then find that a most remarkable change has happened in their minds. Will not the right hon. Gentleman tell us a little more?

Mr. Heath

The hon. and learned Member, with his customary skill, has exaggerated. If he is prepared to quote my words the House will find that they are somewhat different. It is perfectly true that at a later stage two of the men changed their minds and then decided again that they would like to bring legal proceedings. That never applied to the third man until after the decision by the first.

Mr. Healey

In view of the fact that the Government's actions have been proved to be juridically illegal as well as politically unwise, as the majority of the House has believed for a long time, and in view of the fact that the Government have proved to be out of touch with some of the major elements of fact in the case, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give an assurance that there is no possibility of such a cavalier attitude being adopted towards justice in other issues in the Gulf at present?

Mr. Heath

The Government have not been out of touch with matters of fact about this. These are matters of the utmost legal complexity, and this is the second time that the case has been before the courts. As to the wisdom of this, it is true that as a result of this action quiet was restored to the Gulf after a period of intense tension after the Suez incident. When, after a period of five years, we reviewed this situation we felt that it was no longer right that these men should be detained in the custody of Her Majesty's Government, and the proposal was made to the Ruler that either they should be offered clemency or they should be returned to him for imprisonment in Bahrain.

Mr. Stonehouse

May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? On 8th February, the Minister concerned in this case made a misleading and, indeed, in some respects false statement to the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member wants to make assertions of that kind he must take appropriate steps. I do not think that we can debate the question of a statement made and whether it should be unmade now at Question Time.

Mr. Stonehouse

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, for your guidance on what steps the House can take to ensure that the Minister makes an apology to the people involved in this case and who have been gravely implicated by his statement?

Mr. Speaker

It is not for me to give guidance in this matter. Perhaps the hon. Member can find some place where he might obtain assistance. If not, if he likes to see me I will do what I can to help him.

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