HC Deb 17 March 1969 vol 780 cc33-5
45. Mr. Ian Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what communication was made to the British High Commission in Lagos by the Master of the "Tweedbank"; whether a specific request for political asylum was made to the High Commissioner by Seaman Safronov; and what advice was given by the High Commission to the master of the "Tweedbank".

Mr. M. Stewart

The Master of the "Tweedbank" informed the British High Commission that a young seaman from a Russian warship was on board. A representative of the British High Commission went on board the "Tweedbank" to advise the master and was present when Safranov was interviewed by the Nigerian authorities.

No specific request for political asylum was made to the High Commissioner. Safranov did, however, indicate by drawing a Union Jack that he wished to come to Britain.

The British High Commission advised the Master of the "Tweedbank" that local law applied in Nigerian internal waters and that he should accede to the Nigerian police request to take charge of Safranov.

Mr. Lloyd

In view of the rather complicated law which seems to surround such situations, have the masters of British vessels generally been advised by the Foreign Office on what their powers are?

Mr. Stewart

I think it is well understood that when a ship is, as this one was, in the internal waters of any country the law of that country applies.

Mr. Whitaker

Are the Government satisfied that Mr. Safranov returned to the Russians of his own free will? Will my right hon. Friend convey to the master of the "Tweedbank" our appreciation of his efforts to maintain the tradition of British freedom of political asylum?

Mr. Stewart

I am sure that we all wish well to the master of the "Tweedbank" for his handling of the matter. I repeat that there was no request for political asylum. I understand that the young man was resentful of the way he was treated by his officers. There is no evidence that he had any political motive. He subsequently told Nigerian police officials that he was willing to go to the Soviet Embassy.

Mr. Heffer

In view of the reply that my right hon. Friend has given on this subject and in view of the reply that he gave me on the question of the "Enugu Palm", will he indicate precisely what powers masters of British ships do have in the port of Lagos?

Mr. Stewart

To obtain an exact answer I think that my hon. Friend would have to table a Question. This could be quite a complicated legal matter. I have answered in so far as it is relevant to this Question, just as I answered my hon. Friend in so far as it was relevant to the point he made.

Sir F. Bennett

I appreciate the legal problems involved, but is not the Secretary of State prevaricating a little about the young man's wishes? If all that he could do was to draw the Union Jack, how could he possibly give specific reasons as to why he wanted to come to this country?

Mr. Stewart

I was careful to say that I understood that the young man was resentful. That is the report we have received.