HC Deb 04 April 1967 vol 744 cc127-36

(1) Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that a person could have been returned under this Act but for the provisions of subsection (1) of section 4 of this Act whether or not an application for his return has been made and that person is a person to whom section 6 of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 applies, then the Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, make an order requiring him to leave the United Kingdom and prohibiting him from returning there so long as that order is in force.

(2) The provisions of subsection (3) of section 9 and of sections 10 and 11 of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 shall apply to a deportation order made under this section and to the person to whom it relates in the same manner as if the deportation order under this section had been made under section 9 of that Act.—[Sir J. Hobson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir J. Hobson

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The last new Clause dealt with a situation where someone who was a security risk to the Commonwealth or to this country or to the other country concerned was required back. This Clause is intended to deal with the different situation where a person who is a Commonwealth citizen has committed a criminal offence of a political character in a Commonwealth country.

The curious situation under our present law, and under the law as it will stand under the Bill if it becomes law, is that, if the person who has committed that offence in a Commonwealth country, it being an offence of a political character, is an alien, the British Government have power to say, "Although we are prevented, because you are a political refugee, from extraditing you so that you can stand trial in the country where you committed this offence, nevertheless we shall deport you to some other country, or at any rate expel you from this country and where you go is your concern and not ours. We do not want you here". This is a power which the Government will be able to exercise in respect of an alien who has committed an offence in a Commonwealth country, whether or not that offence is of a political character. The ordinary situation will be that it is an offence of a political character.

Under the Bill as it stands, if the person who has committed that offence is a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, the British Government will have no power to deport him and we shall have him within the bounds of this country for the rest of his natural life. It may be said that, if he commits an offence here, we may be able to deport him. I do not think that we shall be able to exercise that power, if we have already refused to send him back for trial in a country where the charge is outstanding.

Let me deal with some examples of what could happen. I gave them in Committee, but they are worth repeating. Let us suppose that in Zambia a monstrous offence by Fascist agents or Communists—I mind not which—is committed upon some prominent political figure for political reasons. The persons who commit that offence reach this country and obtain entry before it is discovered that they are required for trial on that offence. If their return is demanded so that they can stand trial for that montrous offence, they may say that it was an offence of a political character; and they will not, under the Bill, be returnable to the Commonwealth country which requires to try them. If there are two or more and if one of them is an alien, he can be deported from this country. However, if any one of them is a Commonwealth citizen, he will not be capable, under the law as it stands, of being returned.

There are not only political crimes. There are religious crimes which are dealt with by Clause 4. There are crimes committed on the grounds of nationality. There are crimes committed on the grounds of race.

8.0 p.m.

If any such person who has committed a crime for any of these reasons comes to this country and we do not want him and nobody would think it right that we should keep him—he is perhaps a Communist, a Fascist or a racist, a person utterly detestable whom we think ought to be tried, and he may have committed an offence of which no one in this country approves—we have to keep him within our gates if he is a Commonwealth citizen.

It is extraordinary that the Government should deny to themselves the power to say at least to the man, "We will not send you back to be tried because it is a political offence, but you can at least get out of this country and find somewhere else to go." There will be some occasions when such a man may have no other country to go to and there may be difficulties as a result, but there will be other cases where he has committed a crime in a country other than his own. It is possible to imagine that a citizen of Pakistan may commit a serious political, religious or racial crime in India and reach this country and secure the protection of Clause 4. Then according to the Bill we are bound to keep him in this country, although we could easily have said, "Why do you not go back to Pakistan, to the country of your origin, which is another Commonwealth country?" Why should we have to keep him in this country because his offence was of a political, religious, nationalist or racist type?

While I entirely agree with the view which no doubt is the basis of the Bill—it has also been expressed by the Under-Secretary—that normally this country, with its traditions, expects to give asylum to political refugees and even to those who have committed dastardly crimes for political reasons, there is no reason why we should assume that burden in every single case. There may be many occasions which will bring in the doctrine of political asylum and involve this country in keeping people who are not desirable and whom we do not particularly want. But that is not to say that we have to keep every single one of them however detestable they may be and however unacceptable their crime is to every person in this country and even when there is another third country to which they could go, and perhaps their own country.

While I recognise that for any Secretary of State who may have such a power committed to his authority there will be difficult problems, I really would have thought it not very difficult for a Secretary of State to say to a man coming from another country, "You have committed a crime in a third country. We do not want you here. We hate you and your crimes. Go home." That is all that we are suggesting in the Clause.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

I should like to add a question to that put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson). If I repeat something that was said in Committee I must apologise. I was not in the Committee. I was in another Commonwealth country at the time, though I hasten to add not as a potential request for asylum.

My right hon. and learned Friend instanced a case where a dastardly attempt was made on racial grounds in an African country belonging to the Commonwealth and the person or persons concerned managed to gain entry to the United Kingdom before the crime was discovered. He then asked why we should deny ourselves the opportunity, if we had it, of eventually getting rid of such undesirable persons, if possible.

I want to ask a question elaborating on the matter of gaining entry to this country. Suppose there had been a fanatical sect in some Commonwealth country which had preached and practised genocide against another tribe or another religion and then two or three of them turned up at our ports without any of the certificates required under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, saying, "We want asylum. We have not got Category C or Category B or Category A. We are not relations of anybody here. We have not got work permits. Unless you let us in the only place to which we can go is the country where we have—and we admit it—committed these crimes which are of a political, religious or racial nature. Let us in. If you do not let us in it is equivalent to denying us asylum."—which the Under-Secretary says is so important and so over-riding. That would be the effect if such persons appeared and said, "We have done these things. We did them from deeply held religious, racial or political motives. We have no way of getting away from the results of our crime except here. No other country will have us except the country of our origin, which is trying to get us back because it wishes to prosecute us for these offences."

What is the immigration officer to do in these circumstances? Does the right of asylum apply then? I am assuming that a clean breast is made of all the facts by the would-be entrants to the United Kingdom. Can the immigration officer then say, "I am not concerned with the right of asylum in these circumstances. All I am concerned with is the fact that you have not got the right vouchers issued by the Home Office or the Ministry of Labour. You must go back there even though you say—and I believe you—that you will be standing trial for a serious political, racial or religious offence." Is that the situation? If it is the situation, is it not absolutely in conflict with the great principles of asylum which the Under-Secretary has been putting to us this evening?

What, then, is the way in which these two principles can be harmonised in such a situation? If such persons are to be allowed in by the immigration officer I think we shall find a lot of immigrants who are unable to get into this country except by confessing to religious, racial or political offences. If that is to be the passport, if that is to be the only way that they can get in, it may be that they will be tempted to commit such political, religious or racial crimes in order to get in.

I must assume, and I think that we must all assume, that if a person has committed these crimes but is without the right documents for entry into this country, albeit he is a Commonwealth citizen, he will be turned back at the port by the immigration officer, who in these circumstances, of course, denies the right of asylum which the Under-Secretary has in such very high flown and no doubt highly creditable terms commended to the House. Which is to prevail in these circumstances?

Mr. Taverne

The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) has put forward a fairly difficult proposition, as he no doubt will recognise.

First, I think it has to be recognised by the House as a whole—the Government do not shrink from this—that often in granting political asylum one will give asylum to some undesirables and that in refusing the return of someone sought for a political offence one will refuse to return someone who may in many ways be an undesirable character. Either one rejects altogether the idea of political asylum or one faces the fact that some undesirables will certainly be admitted.

The question that the hon. and learned Gentleman raised about the people at the port involves a number of difficult issues. In the first place, there is nothing in this Measure which affects the decision to be taken at the ports. As I understand it, if at this moment someone presents himself at a port or airport without proper, valid travel documents, he will be refused entry into this country, but if he can show that he is a genuine, bona fide political refugee he will be allowed in.

Whether those who committed the crimes which the hon. and learned Member mentioned would be classed as political refugees is somewhat doubtful. The political offences under Clause 4 do not include racial or religious offences. What it does refer to is not the returning of someone whose trial may be prejudiced on account of his race, religion or nationality, which is something quite different. If one looks at the definitions such as they are, established by the courts in previous cases, the term "political offence" is given a fairly restrictive meaning. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman has tested me with an example which is not a very real one.

I do accept the fact that retaining some political offenders will mean retaining some undesirables. The new Clause is not dissimilar to an Amendment moved in Committee and fairly elaborately discussed. I certainly concede that this is a difficult matter. I do not pretend to argue that there is no merit in the proposition put forward from the Benches opposite. What hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are trying to do, however, is essentially to reconcile two fundamentally different matters, extradition law and deportation law. They are trying to put two contradictory provisions in the same Statute.

In Committee I made the point that the power of deportation should be exercisable on the merits of an individual case, as happens with the deportation of aliens. There, the question of deportation is quite separate. Someone can be deported because he is in many respects undesirable, irrespective of whether an application for his return has been made. There is no link in that sense between deportation and the Extradition Acts.

There is no specific provision in the Extradition Acts providing for deportation when someone has been shown to be a politically undesirable person, whose return is sought. I suggest that it is inconceivable for any Government to say on the one hand that they will not return a person because he is a political refugee, and on the other to say that they intend to deport him nevertheless. To meet the criticism which I advanced in Committee, that the questions of deportation should be generally considered, the question of deportation law should be justified on general grounds irrespective of whether an application is made, the new Clause has said that the power could be exercised where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person could have been returned: … whether or not an application for his return has been made … That leads to further difficulties and it only goes to show how essentially irreconcilable these two concepts were. If there is no application made, how is the Secretary of State to decide that if an application had been made a prima facie case would have been made out to the court? How can he decide what the court would have decided, if evidence had been produced before the court? He cannot do this. It may be said that perhaps the requesting country could submit evidence to the Secretary of State, which it does not produce before the courts, because it does not make any official application.

This would be a way of getting round the courts, by-passing them, and removing the essential safeguards. The difficulties in which this new Clause finds itself show the fundamental irreconcilability of the two concepts. There are some other minor criticisms that I would make. There are none of the safeguards now existing in the case of deportation of a Commonwealth citizen. It is a point which I do not think the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) really met in Committee.

The further point is that it is taking a very theoretical example of the case where some other country would be willing to take a person, and where this kind of case could come forward. There have been only a few political offences since the war, either of extradition cases or fugitive offenders cases from the Commonwealth, and it seems wrong to extend deportation powers in order in a very theoretical, possibly very occasional case, to induce a third country to accept a particular person whom they would not have accepted if we had had no power to deport. For these reasons I ask the House not to accept this new Clause.

8.15 p.m.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Some political refugees are brave and honest. Those of us who read romantic novels may think that a great many of them are. My own experience, I regret to say, and I am not particularly cynical, is that very few of them are. I am afraid that very considerable numbers of political refugees are extremely dubious characters. Not only is there dubiety about whether their actions were motivated by political considerations, but there is also dubiety about what they are likely to do when they reach this country.

The trouble about this Bill is that it lets them all in. Not only does it give power to let them in, but it absolutely insists that they have to be allowed in.

Mr. Taverne

It does not say that they can be let in. The position about people coming in is the same. It deals only with cases where their extradition is sought once they are in.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

This was put very fairly by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). Nowadays in most places where political offences are likely to be committed there is an air service which communicates very quickly with London Airport.

One can be pretty sure that if a serious political offence is committed, those concerned will soon be arriving in London and when they arrive at the airport, as I read this Bill, they have to be allowed to remain here. That is the machinery of the Bill, there is no discretion. That is the real danger. It may be that one has to take a balance between what is desirable in the interest of individual freedom and what is desirable in the interests of peace and security, and wider public considerations.

It may be that a person arriving here able to tell a story which sounds as if it might be true, to the effect that he has committed a political offence, must be allowed to come here and be accepted as a political refugee. What I am bothered about is that the Bill seems to go much further than this. I have grave doubts about the effect of Clause 4 upon Part II of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act.

Having listened carefully to what the Under-Secretary of State has said, I am not certain whether Clause 4 does not oust the Commonwealth Immigrants Act altogether. India has been mentioned already. Suppose an Indian committed a political offence in Pakistan and then got to Britain. As I understand it, the effect of Clause 4 would be to forbid our authorities from sending that individual back to India, although India is quite irrelevant from the point of view of the political offence. This seems to be wrong.

This is not taking a balance of any sort. It is wrongly worded; the thing has got out of step with itself, and I want to see this corrected. To some extent the Bill affects the provisions of Part II of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. The Under-Secretary said that it would be ludicrous in one Measure to say that a man can remain here on account of political considerations, but that the Government can trump up a case for sending him back under Commonwealth immigrant considerations. That would be quite wrong. But for how long would it be wrong? If a man is admitted from a Commonwealth country and is given asylum in respect of a political offence, does that asylum last for only a month or two, a year or two, or, as I understand it, for ever? In other words, once he is here, is it impossible ever to return him to a Commonwealth country? That is the effect of the Bill, and it is going too far. It is quite outside the scope of what is intended by the Bill. We are not balancing considerations. We are doing something which if it occurs—and it will occur sooner or later—will tend to shock people's consciences.

I accept some of the criticisms which the Under-Secretary of State put forward. All that we can do is to raise these points by the machinery which is available to the Opposition. But I think that our point is the good one, and that the Government have not met it either in the Bill or in their arguments. They should consider the matter again. There is a real difficulty here which should be dealt with.

Question put and negatived.