HC Deb 07 July 1964 vol 698 cc367-78

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

11.11 p.m.

Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)

I want to speak briefly on this subject and perhaps I might say that I am very sorry indeed to see the Home Secretary walking out of this Chamber. It is typical of the present Home Secretary's reputation and record that he should stay and speak when the subject is censorship, but leave when we begin to discuss civil liberty.

My concern in this matter arises, as the Joint Under-Secretary of State knows, from the decision of the Home Secretary in the case of Mr. Bensen. I have found myself exposed to criticism from all sides on this matter, and particularly from some of those who most supported Mr. Bensen, because I accepted the decision of the Home Secretary in this case and took the view that there were general issues involved in this case which needed further exploration.

It seemed to me that in the events of this case two possibilities existed. First, there might be a security risk, in the normal sense of the word, about which I could not know. Or, secondly, there was not such a normal security risk, and in this case the Home Secretary was extending very considerably the normal and generally understood definition of what constitutes an act "against the national interest" to new ground which seriously threatened civil liberties in this country.

If I may briefly sketch in the background, Britain ratified the European Convention on Establishment, and in doing that in particular ratified Article 3: 1 Nationals of any Contracting Party lawfully residing in the territory of another Party may be expelled only if they endanger national security or offend against any ordre public or morality. 2 Except where imperative considerations of national security otherwise require, a national of any Contracting Party who has been so lawfully residing for more than two years in the territory of any other Party shall not be expelled without first being allowed to submit reasons against his expulsion and to appeal to, and be represented for the purpose before, a competent authority or a person or persons specially designated by the competent authority. The Protocol makes it clear that any State is entitled to decide for itself the circumstances which constitute a threat to its national security or an offence against public order or morality. In the House on 20th November, 1958, the Home Secretary reiterated something already announced by saying: Where it is proposed to deport someone who has been settled here for two years or more—otherwise than on the recommendation of a court—since 1956 there has been a right of representation to the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1958; Vol. 595, c. 1349.] This, presumably, was the way in which Britain was carrying out the provisions of the Convention relating to the right of appeal to a properly constituted authority. The Home Secretary added that, up to that time, 41 aliens had been eligible to make representations in this way and 17 cases had actually been heard.

In a debate a year earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) had suggested that, so serious were the powers that the Home Secretary exercised in relation to deportation or refusal of visas to aliens, there should be a tribunal to inquire into such cases rather than that the whole responsibility should rest upon the Home Secretary alone. The Joint Under-Secretary of State of the day replied to that suggestion by saying that So far as the security cases are concerned, I think that, on consideration, the Committee will agree that no Home Secretary could abdicate his direct responsibility for decisions on national security grounds to any other body, however eminent, which had no such responsibility to Parliament. Such cases are very rare. We have not had a single one in the last twelve months"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1957; Vol. 578, c. 601.] Since this is so, and since the Home Secretary insists on exercising this power on his sole responsibility, he has an even greater duty to safeguard what the Home Secretary of the day described as the "liberal tradition of this country". He has a duty to make certain that he is not infringing civil liberties which have become traditional to our democracy.

I ask the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State how many deportations of aliens on security grounds have taken place during the last three or four years. I ask her in how many cases has the Home Secretary, as he did in the Bensen case, refused the right of appeal to the Chief Magistrate.

I ask the hon. Lady also if she will offer some reassurance to those of us who have been concerned about the principles which govern the Home Secretary's decisions in these cases. May we have an assurance that aliens have the same right of freedom of speech and freedom of association as do British nationals? May we have an assurance that this right extends to any political views, however irrelevant or distasteful or unpleasant others might think them to be?

For example, in particular relation to theories of non-violence and pacifism, may we have a recognition from the Home Office that non-violence in the world today has become a meaningful political theory? We only have to look at what is happening in Mississippi to understand that, in some countries, this has become a meaningful concept. While it may have little application and relevance in a society such as ours, where we have means of democratic determination of policy, nevertheless it is a creed which is interesting, quite legitimately, many of our younger people.

May we have an assurance that an interest in pacifism and the study of nonviolence does not constitute in the mind of the Home Secretary an association which threatens the national good and an assurance that the pacifist groups interested in this concept are not regarded as security risks. I ask whether the Home Secretary is making a correct distinction between political associations, political opinions and freedom to join political organisations on the one hand, and, on the other, illegal acts for which prosecutions could be obtained in the courts. It seems to me since the Bensen case that this distinction may not be being made and for this reason I ask for a statement of policy.

11.20 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

I agree with the hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) that it is most unfortunate that the Home Secretary is not present to listen to this debate, and that he has not condescended to see either the hon. Lady or myself when we have attempted to have a discussion with him on this matter. We think that it is of fundamental importance, not so much for the specific case of Mr. Bensen, as the hon. Lady mentioned, but the general principles that it raises.

I do not like the Home Secretary's attempt to deport Mr. Bensen without any justification for his action. Deliberately or accidentally the right hon. Gentleman tried to mislead me when I questioned him about it on 4th June. I asked him to state the reasons for asking Mr. Bensen to leave the country and he said that his continued presence here would not be in the public interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th June, 1964; Vol. 695, c. 188.] I understand that when he gave me this answer he was thinking of the Aliens Order, 1953, paragraph 20 of which says: A deportation order may be made … if the Secretary of State deems it to be conducive to the public good to make a deportation order against the alien. But it does not say anything about the public good or the public interest in the European Convention on Establishment, which supersedes the Aliens Order, 1953. The part of it which the hon. Lady has just quoted—the grounds for expulsion-are clearly set out in Article 3 of that Convention. I should like to know why the Home Secretary did not state his true reasons when he replied to my Question.

I should like an answer to the question raised by the hon. Lady as to what constitutes a threat to national security. Is it membership of a certain organisation, or more than one organisation? If so, could we have a list of them? Does the Home Secretary or the Under-Secretary agree with the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science in a letter which appeared in The Guardian last week, in which he said that Dr. Bensen had abused this country's hospitality and I, for one, will be glad to see the back of him. You write about democracy Respect for the law, whether by foreigners or British subjects, is a condition of its survival". Do the Government agree with the Secretary of State for Education and Science? If not, let us have a clear statement to that effect, because it is a horrifying thought that it is quite possible for somebody like the Secretary of State for Education and Science to become Home Secretary in a future Government.

Finally, on a point which I have taken up with the Under-Secretary, and on which she has disagreed with me: does it follow that the right to submit reasons against one's expulsion is lost when the deportation order is made on the ground of national security? I do not believe that it does, because the European Convention on Establishment, in Article 3, as quoted by the hon. Member for Lanark, says: Except where imperative considerations of national security otherwise require there shall be this right of representation. I take that to mean that the imperative considerations of national security are those which would arise in the representations which a person to be deported makes before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate.

If the Home Secretary had to adduce secret reasons for his decisions to deport this man he would have to refuse this right, but I can conceive of circumstances in which he might think that the expulsion of a man was justified and in which he could still justify them, without infringing secrecy, before a tribunal of this nature. Certainly if membership of the Committee of 100 or any similar pacifist organisation is to be taken to be a valid reason for expulsion there is no reason why he should not have to justify that before the court.

11.25 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I seek to underline one of the many serious points which are raised by this case. The Home Secretary takes his stand on the ground that he cannot reveal the security reasons why he exercises his right to deport a person from this country. We may disagree with that on many different grounds, as has been stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart), or question it, but the claim of the Home Secretary in this particular case is invalidated by the statement made by the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

He has given what he believes to be the reason why Mr. Bensen is to be deported. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not just someone contributing his point of view; he is a member of the Cabinet. Therefore, it is the duty of the Home Secretary either to secure the repudiation of the view of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, or to tell us his reason, in which case we would think it not a valid one for expelling Mr. Bensen from this country. It would be a very serious matter if Mr. Bensen were expelled by the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary not giving the reason when the only public reason given was that by the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and if Mr. Bensen returned to his country with the slur on him of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about him. That might have serious consequences for his future political life and his future life in general in the United States.

I therefore hope that in replying to the many other serious matters affecting the liberties of people who come to this country the Under-Secretary will reply in detail to that point. I join with my hon. Friend in expressing grave concern and protest that the Home Secretary did not himself remain to give the reply, when he insists that this matter is his province alone.

11.27 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Mervyn Pike)

I think that the hon. Members who have spoken have been most unjust to the Home Secretary. They are well aware that it is a convention of this House that Under-Secretaries reply to Adjournment debates. It is in fact one of our perquisites to be here late at night in order to reply to those quite important debates. We are a very powerful trade union and hon. Members would do well not to try to take any of our privileges from us.

I have, of course, listened carefully to everything hon. Members have said and I recognise the seriousness with which they approach this problem. The hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) asked some specific questions about figures and I am sure that she would not expect me to give the answers to those tonight. I shall see what I can do to get the figures for which she asked. I hope that I shall be able to answer her other questions and to give the assurances which she sought. I should like to put the whole debate into perspective and very briefly to outline the provisons for admitting aliens to this country.

The Aliens Order, 1953, provides that every foreign passenger entering the United Kingdom must obtain leave to land from an immigration officer. This grant of leave to land may be subject to conditions including a time limit on the foreigner's stay. The Order empowers the Home Secretary to grant or to refuse extension of stay, to vary or cancel conditions upon which leave to land was granted. The great majority of foreigners coming here are admitted on a temporary basis and for periods subject to conditions which are related to the purposes for which they seek leave to land.

For instance, students are accorded normally as long a stay as they need to take advantage of our educational facilities, but they are expected to return to their own country when their studies here have been completed. Foreign au pair girls are allowed to stay here up to two years under au pair arrangements and if at the end of that period they wish to go on staying here in some other capacity, for instance as students or for employment, an application to do this will be considered on its merits. Foreigners coming here on Ministry of Labour permits are normally landed for 12 months in the first instance and this period may be extended in consultation with the Ministry of Labour up to four years, at which time the conditions attaching to the foreigner's stay would normally be removed and the foreigner would pass into the resident alien population.

However, about three-quarters of the foreigners entering this country are short-term visitors, holidaymakers, business visitors and relatives paying family visits. These are normally landed for periods of three months which may be extended to six on good reasons being shown. In all these cases, the grant of an extension of stay is subject to the foreigner in question not being undesirable or objectionable in any way.

It is, of course, as hon. Members will appreciate, in spite of what the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has said, not possible to give a short definition of what constitutes undesirability. Nor would it be desirable to give lists of organisations which might come under consideration. Each case must be considered on its own particular facts and an assessment made of the alien's behaviour since being admitted to this country.

In the debate on the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill on 20th November, 1958, as hon. Members know, the then Home Secretary instanced security risk as an example of the sort of activity to which objection could properly be taken. He did not imply, however, that it was the only possible ground of objection and in the debate on that occasion he said, referring to foreign visitors, that such people are always welcome so long as they are not open to objection on security or other grounds.

Concern is often voiced in this House—and hon. Members have voiced concern this evening—lest the power to refuse an alien an extension of his stay and in the last resort to enforce his departure, may be used to suppress political opinions objectionable to the Government of the day. This is the main anxiety underlying the plea of the hon. Member for Lanark tonight.

I would assure hon. Members that such fears are completely groundless. No objection is taken to foreign visitors or residents holding political ideas, such as Communism to which most of us here are antipathetic, or to their giving expression to such views in any proper manner. There are, however, certain necessary limitations. For instance, as was stated as long ago as 1933, in reply to a Question by Mr. Tom Williams, an alien here would not be permitted to advocate the overthrow of our institutions by violence or, in pursuit of his political objectives, to advocate and organise disorder and rioting.

It has also been found necessary to deal firmly with Communist peace-front propaganda. It was in this context that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), in the course of a debate in this House on 3rd May, 1961, drew a distinction between the open promulgation of Communist doctrine by people and organisations whose attachment to the doctrine is evident, and the activities of front organisations which camouflage their true aims in misleading descriptions and try to organise people throughout the world by advocating peace and friendship and other things we all want.

In the course of the debate on that occasion, my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that a certain decision to refuse visas was in no way directed against the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It is no part of this country's immigration practice to refuse to admit genuine pacifists coming here for genuine and overt pacifist business—and this I hope answers one of the hon. Lady's questions—or to refuse to extend a foreigner's stay because he is engaged in pacifist activities, provided that he does not break the law or incite others to do so.

I hope that the hon. Lady will find that what I have said is satisfactory and I am sure she will understand that it is not right for me to go beyond that at this stage. The hon. Member for Orpington and the hon. Lady raised the question of Article 3 of the European Convention. As hon. Members know, the question of whether an extension of stay should be granted or refused for a particular alien or whether, in the last resort, the alien's departure should be enforced is one left, in our practice and conditions, to the Home Secretary, who may find it necessary to act on information that he is not prepared to make public. The propriety of this is fully recognised in this country's international obligations.

Article 3 of the European Convention on Establishment contemplates that foreigners may be expelled if it is found that they endanger public security or offend against ordre public or morality, and the Protocol to the Convention provides that each contracting party shall have the right to judge by its own national criteria the circumstances which constitute a threat to national security or an offence against ordre public or morality. Indeed, the Protocol goes on to say that the concept of ordre public is to be understood in the wide sense generally accepted in Continental countries, and that a national of another party to the Convention may be excluded for political reasons. As I think will be clear from what I have said, the practice in the United Kingdom is considerably more liberal than this wording of its international obligations might seem to contemplate.

I would say to the hon. Gentleman that in a letter from me which he will have received this morning, I hope I have set out the position very clearly and very fully—more clearly, and certainly more fully, than I have time to do tonight. I have nothing to add to the very full statement that has been made, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we believe that our practice and principle are well within both the spirit and the meaning of this Convention.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) mentioned the specific case of the deportation of Mr. Bensen. He and I and other hon. Members have had full opportunity to discuss this. Hon. Members are fully aware of the Home Secretary's stand in this matter, and the reasons he has put forward. I am sure that the hon. Member does not seriously wish me to comment on reports in the Press or letters from other hon. Members, but I will certainly say this to him. We have discussed this. He is well aware of the situation whereby the Home Secretary has full responsibility for the announcement and the making of this decision, and I have no intention tonight of making any comment at all on anything that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) may have said in a letter to his constituent—

Mr. Foot

Does the hon. Lady mean to tell the House that she does not intend to comment on whether she agrees with a statement made by a member of the Cabinet on the specific case we are discussing tonight?

Miss Pike

Yes. I have made it clear that the reasons given by the Home Secretary were the reasons for the deportation in this case, and I have no intention of making further comment on the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes to Twelve o'clock.