HC Deb 26 January 1967 vol 739 cc1781-3

Mr. Hogg (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what are the reasons which led him to release Kwesi Armah and whether he is prepared to make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

I thought it right, in exercising my discretion under Section 6 of the Fugitive Offenders Act, 1881, in this case, to take account of all the relevant circumstances, including the provisions of the Fugitive Offenders Bill now before the House; and that, because the offence of which Mr. Armah is accused is alleged to have been committed in this country, it is open to the Government of Ghana to take proceedings against him here.

Mr. Hogg

Whilst no one would wish to say anything prejudicial in one way or another about a man who has not been tried for any offence, and whilst no one would wish to prejudge the question without knowing what information is available to the Home Secretary, would he acknowledge that there are serious political questions to be explored here? Would he acknowledge that, whether under the legislative position as it exists or as it may exist, there is a distinction to be drawn between a political offence and an offence committed by a politician? Will he also acknowledge that it is of vital importance, in dealing with independent Commonwealth Governments, not to imply any slur at all upon the integrity or good faith of their assurances or the independence of their judiciary?

Mr. Jenkins

I am most anxious not to imply any such slurs. These cases, as I and my predecessors have found, are extremely difficult. It is extremely difficult to hold a balance between the liberty of the individual and political considerations, but I thought it right to take into account the Bill before the House, and I gave notice of that intention in reply to a Question by the right hon. and learned Member on 23rd June last year. I think Clause 4 of this Bill clearly defines political offences in a very wide sense.

Mr. Michael Foot

Is it not evident that my right hon. Friend has acted strictly in accordance with the views which were expressed by the Official Opposition at the time of the Enahoro case? Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that certainly from many hon. Members on this side there will be no criticism of him for paying proper weight to the rights of the individual in this matter?

Mr. Jenkins

I endeavoured in this case to act in what I thought to be the right way.

Mr. Tilney

Does the Home Secretary agree that many people in Asia and Africa will think that by his decision he has called under suspicion the judicial system of many developing countries in the Commonwealth and that many people in Africa will think that they can get away with impunity with what appears to have been embezzlement and get political asylum?

Mr. Jenkins

I very much hope and believe that such a view will not be widely taken. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do nothing to lend currency to such a view.

Sir J. Hobson

Which of the provisions of the Fugitive Offenders Bill was the Home Secretary bearing in mind? Was it sub-paragraph (a), (b) or (c)? If it was sub-paragraph (a), how is stealing £30,000 a political offence?

Mr. Jenkins

I was taking into account all the provisions of Clause 4(1).

Mr. Paget

Is it not a basis of extradition that the crime should not be triable in this country? Was not the Fugitive Offenders Act in its origin based upon the fact that the members of what was then the Empire were subjects to the Crown? Are not the Government of Ghana on this occasion being treated precisely as any other independent Government, and is not this really an incident of their sovereignty?

Mr. Jenkins

I think that there would be a very widespread view in the House that the Commonwealth was now a very different entity from the Empire of 1881 when this Act was brought into operation. Also, without necessarily accepting my hon. and learned Friend's premise, I draw attention again to the fact that this alleged offence is triable in this country.

Mr. Hogg

Pursuing that last point, and without in the least desiring to prejudge this issue, at whose instance ought it to be tried? Can the Home Secretary seriously pretend that he would attempt to try a French diplomat who was accused of a comparable offence and whose extradition was sought by General de Gaulle?

Mr. Jenkins

I do not think that any question of diplomatic immunity arises in the case of Mr. Kwesi Armah, who has not a diplomatic position. It is fully open to the Government of Ghana, if they so wish, to take proceedings.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order, order.