HC Deb 16 January 1964 vol 687 cc395-7
28. Sir F. Soskice

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to what extent he intends to introduce legislation to amend the Fugitive Offenders Act, 1881, in its application to fugi- tives accused of having committed political offences; and what amendments he proposes to introduce.

Mr. Brooke

The Government do not contemplate legislation on this subject until our consultations with other members of the Commonwealth about the Act as a whole have been completed.

Sir F. Soskice

Would not the Home Secretary agree that, as the law stands, he may, in the exercise of his discretion in dealing with future cases of political offences, be called upon to make very invidious distinctions between the judicial systems and the police systems of sovereign independent Powers? Does not he agree that the law should be altered as soon as possible in order to relieve him or his successors of that responsibility?

Mr. Brooke

It is because the Government as a whole think the law outdated, and in a sense that it should be reviewed, that we have started these consultations with the Commonwealth. I think that the whole House accepts that this is a matter where we could not act unilaterally. I am glad to say that hitherto I have not had to make the kind of invidious judgment suggested by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I hope that I shall not be called upon to do so.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Can my right hon. Friend say whether these consultations with Commonwealth Governments are actually under way?

Mr. Brooke

Yes, they are going forward and I think that there is a general reaction throughout most of the Commonwealth countries that it is desirable to have a review of this Act. But it is not a matter which can be settled in a day or two.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the intense indignation which would be aroused in this country if by any chance he should accede to a demand for the return of a Ghananian citizen by the dictator of that country?

Mr. Brooke

That is a hypothetical question.

Sir Richard Glyn

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will resist pressure on the Government, from whatever source, to act unilaterally in this matter without due regard for Commonwealth opinion?

Mr. Brooke

Yes. It is the firm determination of the Government to obtain the views of the Commonwealth as a whole before presenting legislation to this House.

Mr. Paget

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many members of the Commonwealth have already acted unilaterally in amending this Act and why we cannot act unilaterally in a matter concerning our jurisdiction?

Mr. Brooke

To the best of my belief, two members have already acted unilaterally. I am sure that it would be the view of the House as a whole that in a matter such as this, which affects the whole of the Commonwealth, this country, of all Commonwealth countries, should not act unilaterally.

Forward to