HC Deb 22 February 1963 vol 672 cc863-74

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peel.]

4.2 p.m.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

I am extremely grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for having come here this afternoon to listen to the complaint which I have to make. We have all admired the way in which he has been fighting for what he has believed to be the future prosperity and peace and happiness of some 50 million people. It is a tribute to our institutions that he comes now to listen to a complaint which I have to make about the treatment of one of our citizens. I apologise for bringing him here and at the same time thank him for being here.

I owe to the Lord Privy Seal the duty of presenting the case which I am about to make without any emotion or exaggeration, although, as the House will learn, it is fairly emotive. It deals with the trials and tribulations of an English lady, Miss Chloe Vulliamy.

She is a middle-aged lady without any particular associations who is guided by certain humanitarian instincts which have influenced her to a great degree in the past. She comes from what I would describe, without being snobbish, as a good family; that is to say, her brother is the coroner for the Borough of Ipswich and is a well-known solicitor in that town. Her association with Spain is marked by the fact that during the war she was in charge of some refugee orphan children who were looked after on the estate of an English nobleman. One of them, I am happy to say, is now the trainer of a First Division football team, so at least she has done something towards improving the happiness of her own people. She was not in Spain during the civil war, but at that time she was a member of one of the committees on the side of the Republicans in Spain. She was not alone in that, for so were the Duchess of Atholl, Wilfrid Roberts and my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger). She was in highly respectable company.

In a Question that I put to the Lord Privy Seal on 11th February I described her as a Quaker. I think that I went too far. It was a lapse of memory. What she had said was that she had complete sympathy with, and wished to be associated with, the Quakers, but I do not think that she is a member of the Society of Friends.

This is what happened to her. She went to Spain in January on the way to have a holiday in Morocco. She went while there, on 14th January, to a little village called Villafranca near Cordoba. She went by train and came back by train. She had a stop-over in the village of Villafranca of between 1½ and 2 hours between train times.

There she visited two or three families of Spanish political prisoners. There is no question but that she gave two of those families sums of money amounting to £6, that is, roughly £3 to each family. She visited one family who said, "Please do not give us any money, we are all right, but go to another family"—which was named—"because it is in a shocking condition." Incidentally, this is a commentary on the statements constantly being issued by the Spanish authorities that there are no political prisoners in Spain. In this tiny village the men of three families are in jail for political offences.

When she returned to the Cordoba railway station in the evening she was arrested by the police as a result of a message they had received from the village police. That was at 9.15 p.m. The policeman who arrested her had no warrant. He kept her in the railway station under his guard until about midnight. He was then relieved by another policeman, who, still without making any charge against this lady, marched her through the streets to the police station. At 1,30 a.m. she was put in a cell and told that she would have to stay there until 10 o'clock the following morning when she would see the police chief.

She had been shown two cells, one of which was so filthy that the police agreed she could not go into it. Accordingly, they turned a drunk out of another cell and put her into that. The floor of this cell was indescribably filthy, because there was no toilet bowl in the cell and the floor had been used as a lavatory. She was handed a verminous and horrible blanket and told to sleep on a board resting on a stone bench.

She asked to see the British consul. This was refused. In fact she was told that there was no British consul, and even if there were one he could not do anything for her under Spanish law.

At 10 a.m. she was taken by plain clothes men to the Social Investigation Department and asked what she was doing in Villafranea. After this questioning two plain clothes men took her again through the streets to the barracks of the Guarda Civilia. These are the men who wear those romantic japanned hats and are known to be among the biggest thugs which the Spanish authorities use.

There in the barracks of the Guarda Civilia the nastiness really began. She was grilled. She was third-degreed by eight to ten men, one of whom was such a fanatic and so brutal and menacing in his attitude that he had to be restrained by his colleagues.

At about noon—and I ask the House to remember that she had had nothing to eat since the previous day save a cup of coffee which had been brought to her by one of the kindlier of the plain clothes men—she was taken to her hotel, where her luggage was searched. The detectives who took her there showed considerable interest in a scrap of paper which contained some train times and a Christmas shopping list which she was carrying with her, and which she helped to translate into Spanish because the young man who had been asked to translate the document could not quite understand it. They said they were looking for names and addresses of Spaniards, but they found nothing. I understand that the chief of police has now said that Miss Vulliamy was carrying Communist messages in code. She was, in fact, carrying a diary, some personal letters and a shopping list.

In the shopping list there appeared the sinister phrase "tin opener." That absolutely foxed the Spaniards and they could not understand it. I do not doubt that in the lexicography of the political jargon in Spain "tin opener" has gone down as a code word for the cry for an insurrection. When she had explained as well as she could to the chief of police what these incriminating documents were—described as messages in code to the Communists—she asked him if he was satisfied that there was no political material. The chief of police said that he was satisfied.

After the right hon. Gentleman's Department had made a protest through the British ambassador this hoary nonsense about Communist code messages was trotted out. However, what had happened so far was not enough. They decided that they had to search Miss Vulliamy. The lining of her suitcase was ripped open, as was the lining of her clothes, and she was returned to her cell. The police told her that if she did not reveal the names of the people she had seen she would stay in the cell for a long time.

This lady had been subjected to this treatment from 9.30 the previous night and I now move events forward to the next day. She was taken to a bathroom and made to strip in the presence of a nurse. I suppose that it must be said that they had the decency to provide a female nurse. She was subjected to a rigorous and intimate search. Throughout all this time, she was asking to see the consul and to be allowed to telephone at her own expense the Spanish ambassador.

The next morning a statement was put before her which she agreed and signed and in which she said that she had visited families of political prisoners for purely humanitarian reasons; but she refused to reveal their names. She made it clear that what she had done was by way of an entirely personal and voluntary act. After this she was shifted out of the cell and put into the guardroom of the police station, where she slept for the next three days with her head on her arms resting on the table. She had to push to one side some handcuffs and revolvers which the police had left casually lying about and while this was a little more comfortable than the filthy cell she had had previously it was, nevertheless, pretty awful.

She remained in the guardroom for three days, all the time incommunicado, refused access to the British consul and refused permission to telephone, at her own expense, our embassy in Madrid. To make matters worse, she was obliged to pay for her own food. Presumably she would have starved had she not had enough money to pay for the food.

She was under arrest for 100 hours. The Spanish penal code makes it quite clear that no one must be under arrest for more than 72 hours without a charge being made. Thus the Spaniards were violating their own code. That is not surprising to those of us who have taken the opportunity of reading Spain and the Rule of Law, published by the International Commission of Jurists, the secretary-general of which is that famous international jurist Sir Leslie Munro. It is a scathing comment on the way the law is observed in Spain.

On the third or fourth day Miss Vulliamy asked why there was this delay in communication with the British embassy in Madrid. She was told, in effect, "It is because the British embassy in Madrid cannot agree with the Madrid police about the proper procedure". In fact, as we know, the British embassy knew absolutely nothing about the fact that she had been arrested until 25th January—after she had come back to this country, after she had seen the Parliamentary Secretary at the Foreign Office and had told him her story, and after he had transmitted to the British ambassador a request that the Spanish Government should be told about her treatment.

So, on the evening of 18th January, this lady was told that she would be put on a train and handed to the British authorities—that is, the British embassy —in Madrid. She was certainly put on the train, but she was not taken anywhere near the British embassy. Instead, she was taken to the infamous Puerto del Sol police station in Madrid and told that she would be deported. She replied, "I am on my way to Morocco—will you please let me go on to Gibraltar?" Not at all. They said, "You can either go at our expense to the French frontier, or at your own expense to Britain". She decided on the latter course, and was driven in a police car to the gangway of the aeroplane. Before leaving the Puerto del Sol police station, without any formal charge being made against her, she was photographed and fingerprinted as though she were a criminal.

Clearly, the Spanish authorities lied to Miss Vulliamy when they said that our ambassador was informed and knew what was happening. Certainly, they lied to her when they said that there was no consul in Seville, and therefore no possibility of getting in touch with him and that, in any case, he could do nothing for her. I have referred to the violation of the Spanish law.

Miss Vulliamy's case illustrates the three risks there are for people going to Spain. The first is the almost absolute certainty that they will suffer from tummy trouble if they are there for long. The second is that if they are involved in a car accident while driving they will be treated as common criminals. The third is that anyone who goes to Spain and shows pity and generosity to the families of political prisoners can expect to be treated as Miss Vulliamy has been treated.

This is a disgraceful story of the treatment of a British citizen. I want the Lord Privy Seal to ask for an apology from the Spanish Government to Miss Vulliamy for this happening. I want him to ask that she be given compensation for the way in which she has been treated. And I ask him, in his discussion of this sordid affair with the Spanish Government, to be as tough with the Spanish Government as he would be if this offence had been committed by an Iron Curtain country.

4.18 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

I have listened with very great care to the very moderate statement made by the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) about this case. He raised the matter on an earlier occasion, when he put a Question to me which was answered by the Joint Under-Secretary—who regrets that it is not possible for him to be here today to take part in this Adjournment debate himself.

The hon. Gentleman has given a very full and, indeed, vivid account of Miss Vulliamy's experience in Spain. Perhaps I may here thank him for the very kind remark he made about me at the beginning of his speech. He has raised a number of points about the outcome of this incident, with which I should like to deal. If I may go back for a moment to the supplementary question he put to my hon. Friend when this matter was first raised, the hon. Gentleman then indicated that Her Majesty's Government had been very dilatory in the way they had handled the matter, but from that part of his speech dealing with the dates involved I understand that he is not now pressing that.

I do not think that I have any need to go over the incident itself, because the hon. Gentleman has described it in great detail, and I do not think that in any matters his description conflicts with the information we were given by Miss Vulliamy when she very kindly came to the Foreign Office and discussed it with one of the officials there.

Miss Vulliamy was, as the hon. Gentleman has said, originally detained on the night of 14th-15th January. On the 17th January she was told by the Spanish police officers who were detaining her that the case had been brought to the notice of Her Majesty's consul by the Spanish authorities in Madrid. I think this was the fact on which the hon. Member was basing himself in his original supplementary question on 11th February. In fact, as he has now pointed out, this was not so. We had not been informed in Madrid of this incident. We first learned about it when Miss Vulliamy herself came to the Foreign Office on 22nd January and then gave us a full account in the way in which the hon. Member has raised it this afternoon.

We sent instructions to Madrid on 23rd January, the following day. Our ambassador in Madrid personally made representations to the Spanish Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 25th January. I therefore think that the hon. Member will agree that there was no delay whatever in action being taken by the Foreign Office once this matter came to our notice and we had discussed it with Miss Vulliamy herself.

Sir L. Plummer

I withdraw absolutely any such suggestion. When I made that comment on 11th February I was not fully aware of the situation. As I repeat, I should like to withdraw any suggestion of dilatoriness on the part of the Foreign Office.

Mr. Heath

I am grateful to the hon. Member. When the ambassador made these personal representations he made absolutely clear how great the concern was in this country about the treatment which Miss Vulliamy described to us that she had herself received. He emphasised in particular the failure of the Spanish authorities to allow her to communicate with a consular officer. He then asked for urgent inquiries to be made about the facts of the case. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replied to the hon. Member on 11th February, we had not received a reply from the Spanish Government. We have since done so.

The Foreign Ministry replied in a Note dated 12th February. It is apparent from the Note and from the comments of the Spanish police authorities, which we have also obtained independently, that there are a number of discrepancies between the account which the hon. Member has given and which Miss Vulliamy has given to us, and that of the Spanish authorities. Perhaps, therefore, I should inform the House about the details of the reply we have been given by the Spanish Government. The Foreign Ministry stated in its Note that Miss Vulliamy had entered Spain as a tourist. The Note went on to say that she had been spending her time, however, visiting various villages in the Province of Cordoba with the sole object of coming into contact with what the Spanish Government describe as "persons of Communist leanings".

The Note stated that she was arrested at Cordoba on 15th January, that is, after midnight on the night of 14th-15th January, and immediately after her arrest she was able to destroy certain documents she was carrying. It went on to state that she told the police that the purpose of her journey to Spain was to give money to several people and families in various places in the province. Miss Vulliamy herself is reported to have said that families of political prisoners were involved.

What I am giving the House now is the statement in the Spanish Note. The Foreign Ministry went on to say that Miss Vulliamy had been asked to leave Spain because they considered these activities and contacts were not usual for a tourist in a foreign country. The Foreign Ministry said in the Note that she was treated with the maximum correctness at all times and did not art any time ask to be put into touch with the British consular authorities.

I have mentioned other information we have obtained. Besides these formal representations in Madrid made by the ambassador himself, our consular officers approached the police authorities both in Madrid and in Seville, with similar results. The Commissioner-General of Frontiers, in a letter dated 26th January to Her Majesty's consul in Madrid, stated that, far from complaining about her treatment, Miss Vulliamy when she left actually expressed thanks to the authorities for the reasonable way in which they had treated her.

The chief of police at Seville stated that Miss Vulliamy was not detained in prison but at police headquarters. I think the hon. Gentleman mentioned prison in his supplementary question, but I think we are now quite clear that it was at police headquarters. This accords with what Miss Vulliamy has told the Foreign Office, except that she told officials of the Department that she was put into a cell at the police station for the first night and that on the other three nights she had to sleep on a hard bench in the headquarters without even a blanket, and with only male police officers present. That accords with what the hon. Gentleman said.

The House will, therefore, realise that there are several major discrepancies as to the facts between the account which we have heard and the reply of the Spanish Government. In particular, the Spanish police authorities in Seville deny that Miss Vulliamy was ever kept incommunicada, that she ever asked to communicate with a consular officer, or that she was subject to any harsh treatment or had any complaint to make on leaving. It is not denied that she must have suffered discomfort when she was detained at the police station, but it is contended by the Spanish authorities that her treatment was at all times correct.

That is the situation with which we are faced at the moment, having made representations and having received this reply. Miss Vulliamy has told us that she has been concerned for many years with Spanish welfare problems, originating in the way in which the hon. Gentleman has described, and I understand that she speaks Spanish quite well and, therefore, there is unlikely to have been misunderstanding because of language difficulties.

It is, therefore, appropriate that we should now take further action, and my noble Friend has instructed Her Majesty's ambassador in Madrid to draw the attention of the Spanish Government to the serious discrepancies, in particular between Miss Vulliamy's statement that she asked repeatedly for consular assistance and the Spanish authorities' denial of this in the Note which they have sent to us. My noble Friend has also asked the ambassador to draw the Spanish Government's attention to Miss Vulliamy's statement that she was told on 17th January that Her Majesty's consul at Madrid had been informed of her position, which, as I have said, was not, in fact, the case. Finally, the ambassador has been instructed to raise again the matter of the state of the accommodation and its inadequate nature which was provided for Miss Vulliamy during these incidents.

The hon. Gentleman has raised the question of the violation of Spanish law in that Miss Vulliamy was not charged. We raised this matter with them on the question as to why she had been expelled and what the charge was in relation to that, rather than on the question of detention beyond the allotted time without being charged. Their reply was that if they had charged her formally, she would have been charged in their view, with serious offences under Spanish law connected with the distribution of money to those whom they describe as known Communist agents; and, rather than lay serious charges against her, they considered that they should expel her in the way described by the hon. Gentleman.

The last point that the hon. Gentleman raised concerned the matter of an apology to Miss Vulliamy and the question of compensation. When we receive the further reply from the Spanish Government we can then consider this question of an apology. On the matter of compensation, I think the position is this: visitors to Spain possess no immunity from Spanish jurisdiction; nor can there be any question of the right of the Spanish authorities to require any one of them to leave Spain. But if the hon. Gentleman, or Miss Vulliamy herself, would like to explain to us the nature of the compensation to which she feels she is entitled, we can give further consideration to this matter in the light of any further reply that we receive from the Spanish Government.

The House is aware of the sympathy felt in this country towards those who engage in humanitarian work abroad; but, as the hon. Gentleman himself has pointed out, it is to be noted now that the Spanish authorities regard activities such as those carried out by Miss Vulliamy as inconsistent with the purposes of a holiday visit.

Perhaps I may just sum up the situation as it is today. First, as soon as we had received from Miss Vulliamy an account of her experiences, we immediately sent urgent instructions to the ambassador in Madrid, and he personally made representations to the Foreign Ministry. Second, there are clear discrepancies between the account of events in the Note of the Spanish authorities and that which we have received from Miss Vulliamy. Her Majesty's ambassador has now been instructed to take up these discrepancies with the Spanish authorities. Third, the other matters which we have discussed, the question of compensation in particular, we can examine again in the light of any further information which the hon. Gentleman or Miss Vulliamy care to give us about the nature of the compensation to which she feels herself entitled and in the light of any further information we receive from the Spanish Government.

I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will feel that Her Majesty's Government have acted speedily in this matter and made the most forceful representations to the Spanish Government.

Sir L. Plummier

I do, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Five o'clock.