HC Deb 02 August 1962 vol 664 cc804-8
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)

I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, make a statement about the case of Dr. Soblen.

When Dr. Soblen, who had been convicted of espionage in the United States of America and sentenced to life imprisonment, was on bail pending the hearing of an appeal, he absconded and made his way to Israel. He was expelled from that country, and was being returned by air to the U.S.A. when he stabbed himself.

When his plane landed at London Airport he had to be removed to hospital for the treatment necessary to save his life, though he was formally refused leave to land, and the airline were directed to remove him on the aircraft on which he had arrived. This was in strict accordance with the normal practice. Had he been fit to travel, this would have meant the immediate resumption of his journey to the U.S.A.

As soon as Dr. Soblen was fit to be moved from the hospital, he was taken to Brixton prison, where he still is.

A habeas corpus application to the High Court failed, and this decision was upheld on appeal.

I have given anxious thought to this case, and to requests made to me about it, and to the representations of some hon. Members who were good enough to come and put their views to me.

There is no ground for granting Dr. Soblen political asylum here. He is not in danger of persecution in his own country for his political opinions or on racial grounds. Dr Soblen is a convicted spy, a fugitive from a sentence imposed on him by the courts of a country whose life is based on democratic institutions and constitutional guarantees.

I have concluded that my proper course is to re-establish the situation in which Dr. Soblen would have found himself on his arrival in this country but for his self-inflicted wounds. In that situation he would undoubtedly and properly have been refused leave to land, and the airline would have been required to remove him at once on the plane on which he arrived, which was bound for the U.S.A.

Directions are accordingly being given to the airline now for Dr. Soblen's removal to the United States.

Before reaching this decision I called for and studied medical reports on Dr. Soblen's health and gave the fullest weight to representations made to me that he should be sent to Czechoslovakia or some other country willing to receive him.

Dr. Stross

May I. first, establish two things in this case and will the Home Secretary agree that they are correct? First, that the treatment of Dr. Soblen at London Airport was with complete humaneness and efficiency and that every effort was made to see that his life should be saved, as it was. Secondly, that he has had the full processes of law of this country, which is something of which I personally am very proud.

When so much humaneness and compassion have been shown up to date to Dr. Soblen, why should this not be partially extended in the way I suggest— by the Home Secretary retaining him here for another month? There are two months available from the time of refusal of entry into the country, so the right hon. Gentleman could, therefore, keep Dr. Soblen here until the end of August.

This man is 62 and acknowledged by everyone to be suffering from leukaemia and, therefore, carrying a sentence of death on him as well as the imposed sentence of imprisonment for life. Is it unreasonable to ask that he should not spend the last year or two of his life—for this is probably all he has left —in a prison, but rather in a country that is willing to take him? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am sorry. This is almost our last opportunity to speak before the Recess, and I beg the House to let me speak for thirty seconds more.

Would it not be reasonable to hold Dr. Soblen here for a week or two longer and consider whether, if India or Ghana would take him, he should not be allowed to go there or, in the last resort, to send him back where he came from —Israel—and not to the United States? The right hon. Gentleman has the power to do this.

Mr. Brooke

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the humanity with which Dr. Soblen was treated when he arrived in a very ill condition, thanks to his self-inflicted wounds, at London Airport. I am also obliged to the hon. Member for his saying that Dr. Soblen has had the full opportunity of legal process in this country.

I have thought over this case very carefully, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows, and I have come to the conclusion that the right thing is to restore the position as it was before Dr. Soblen attempted suicide. The only country which is known to be willing to grant him an entry visa is Czechoslovakia. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Israel, but my information is that the Israeli Government are not willing to receive him. In the normal course of events, had he not sought to commit suicide, he would have continued on that plane back to the United States, and, therefore, it would not be right for me to interfere.

Mr. S. Silverman

Accepting that the decision in the High Court and the Court of Appeal must be recognised, and that the right hon. Gentleman has to recognise it and to act in accordance with it, would he explain why that requires him to make this man go back to a country which he does not wish to go back to? [Laughter.] I do not regard this as funny.

We have an extradition treaty with the United States, and spying is not one of the offences covered. Therefore, the Home Secretary is under no obligation, even if an application had been made, to send Dr. Soblen back to the United States. Surely the right hon. Gentleman's function is limited to seeing that the man does not remain here. Where he goes to from here is no responsibility of the Home Secretary. To put him on a plane bound for America against his will is really to assume jurisdiction which the right hon. Gentleman has not got and Which will be regarded as a shameful thing.

Hon. Members


Mr. Brooke

I thought this matter over very carefully. There are only three countries to Which the law would allow me to send this man. One is the United States, of which he is a national, one is Czechoslovakia, because it is willing to receive him, and the third is Israel, because he came from there.

I cannot see that there would be any purpose in returning him to Israel, from which he has already been expelled and whose Government have subsequently said that they will not receive him. It would only cause unnecessary suffering if I were to have him sent back there only for him to be sent on, as he would be, to the United States.

I have come to the conclusion that in this case, which, as far as I am aware, is unprecedented, my right course is to restore the situation as it would have been had Dr. Soblen not sought to commit suicide.

Mr. Fletcher

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify one point? Granted that this is a very difficult case which is probably unprecedented, and assuming that Dr. Soblen, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, is not entitled to political asylum, would the right hon. Gentleman say whether the last sentence of his statement means that if there ware sufficient medical grounds regarding Dr. Soblen's health, he would feel able to send him to any country, other than the United States, that would be prepared to accept him?

Mr. Brooke

I do not think that that question arises. I have had the best reports available to me on Dr. Soblen's health. He is suffering from leukaemia, but nobody can say what length of life lies in front of him. The disease is, at the moment, in a state of recession —I believe that that is the correct medical term—and is not flaring up. He is fit to travel and I think that I must act as I have said I will.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Peter Thomas. Statement.

Mr. G. Thomas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that only one day of the year is given on the Floor of the House for a debate on Welsh affairs—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Thomas

I am coming to the point, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

I am very anxious to get there so that I shall not infuriate Welsh Members who do not get into the debate. I am satisfied that getting on with the statement will most help towards that end.