HC Deb 17 February 1977 vol 926 cc719-24
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration; namely, the proposed deportations of Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball". I made a similar submission yesterday, when you, Mr. Speaker, refused it. I raise the issue again now because of the new development that the Government have now been pressed for a debate next week in Government time and have refused it. If that situation remains unchanged, both these men will be deported before the beginning of March, which is the week after next, and there will be no opportunity for the House to discuss the matter.

The upshot of that will be that executive action has been used in relation to deportations in a way which is incapable of being checked by any approach to the courts or by any other kind of judicial review, and when an assurance was given by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), the Conservative Home Secretary, in 1971 that this was specifically a matter to be dealt with by the House of Commons. Therefore, there will be an erosion of the control of the Executive by the House of Commons if we do not decide to discuss it. It is wrong that this kind of unfettered Executive power should be discussable in the House only by grace and favour of the Executive in granting time to discuss it and when it is a matter for this House, and this House alone.

Yesterday, I thought that this was so clearly an issue for a Standing Order No. 9 debate that perhaps I did not express the argument as strongly as I should have done. I have now looked into the precedents. In the period since you became Speaker, there have been 39 applications under Standing Order No. 9 from right hon. and hon. Members oppo- site, and 22 from this side of the House. Only four applications have been accepted by you, and all four were from the Opposition Benches. One of them was from a spokesman of the Opposition Front Bench who had an opportunity in Supply time; of the other three, one was the Tameside issue, which was before the courts and was being discussed there, the second was a trade union issue with racial overtones, which was being discussed at that stage and is still being discussed because the dispute has not yet been resolved, and therefore there was no question of urgency, and the third—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman a lot of rope, but he is not going to criticise me for the choice of Standing Order No. 9 debates when I have used my judgment to the best of my ability in fulfilling the trust that the House has put in me.

Mr. Lyon

I have so far not said anything that was a question of opinion. What I have said—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not entering into debate with the hon. Gentleman, but he said that I had granted a Standing Order No. 9 debate in which there was no urgency.

Mr. Lyon

What I was seeking to do, Mr. Speaker, was to put the matter into context. The Standing Order No. 9 provision allows a discussion by the House of a matter which is of such urgency that it cannot be approached in any other way before some kind of irreversible decision is made. I was seeking to show that in the four cases which have been granted that situation, in my view, did not obtain. I am saying that it does obtain in this case. Indeed, in this case it is paramount because what will happen is that the decision will be carried out before it can be raised in any other way, since the Government have already decided that next week there will be no Government time available to discuss it, and Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball will be deported thereafter. Therefore, urgency, which is the keynote of a Standing Order No. 9 application, is the very essence of this case.

I return to the case itself. The argument, which I put very strongly, is that the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, who, as Home Secretary, was responsible for the Immigration Act which took away the rights of Parliament in these cases, told the House in 1971, when the Bill was before it, that these decisions are not judicial, legal decisions, adding: They are executive, political decisions, subject to the House of Commons and not to the courts of law".—[Official Report, 15th June 1971; Vol. 819, c. 378.] Therefore, they are answerable only in this House.

It may be that Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball can go back to the United States and may not suffer any undue consequences when they do. But none of us can be absolutely sure of that, since, on television just before announcement of the Home Secretary's decision, there was a discussion in which an ex-CIA officer indicated that they did want to see Mr. Agee back in the United States. They may well suffer some consequences if they return there.

But, more than that, there is the precedent. If the precedent which you set yesterday, Mr. Speaker—that we cannot have a Standing Order No. 9 debate on an issue such as this—is allowed to stand, a man may be deported from this country and returned to his country of origin where he may be executed.

This point arose in the case of two Moroccan pilots who were sent from Gibraltar to Morocco. In consequence, they suffered the death penalty. This arises only in rare cases. I have looked through the precedents and the last debate on the subject was in 1971 in the Dutschke case. Before that we have to look back to the 1960s when Henry Brooke was Home Secretary. It will be a rare case in which a Standing Order No. 9 debate is allowed.

I urge upon you, Mr. Speaker, that this is precisely the case for a Standing Order No. 9 debate. It cannot be said that there cannot be a discussion on the matter because security is involved. It is precisely because it is about security that it is not discussable in any other forum. If it were not about security, an appeal could be made to the adjudicators under the Immigration Act 1971. It was taken out of their province by this House, because this House said that the appropriate place to discuss such matters was here.

Therefore, I urge upon you again, Mr. Speaker, that this issue ought to be discussed. It would be a travesty of justice and a derogation from the rights of this House if we did not discuss it next week.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy this morning of sending me a letter in which he outlined the cases to which he has referred this afternoon.

First, I should tell the House that when I deal with an application under Standing Order No. 9 the side of the House from which the application comes is of no concern to me. I hope that in the year in which I have occupied the Chair, that has become clear to the House.

Next, I refreshed my memory following the hon. Gentleman's letter. I must tell the House that it is not for me to decide whether this matter is to be debated in the weeks that remain —I emphasise "weeks"—before the deportation order would be put into effect. The responsibility for that does not lie with the occupant of the Chair. It lies somewhere else.

I have to decide on the narrow issue whether the matter is to be given precedence tonight or on Monday night over the business. I have to decide whether to give precedence to this matter. My judgment is the same as yesterday. I fear that I cannot grant the application.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. John Mendelson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House will understand that I shall, of course, listen to points of order which do not deal with my ruling because my ruling is not open to question.

Mr. John Mendelson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you will know, Mr. Speaker, on some occasions similar to this I have asked to be allowed to speak on a point of order and I have never questioned the decision of the Chair. I do not now intend to do so. You have deliberately and rightly given some guidance to the House by emphasising where the responsibility lies. We are in the presence of the Home Secretary and Leader of the House. I put to you, Mr. Speaker, that it was found possible in the Dutschke case for the then Home Secretary and the Cabinet that he represented to find time to arrange a debate before the order in that case was carried out. It would be an eternal shame if my own colleagues could not live up to the same reputation of providing time as early as possible for this matter to be debated. A Home Secretary of liberal tradition and tendencies should provide that time.

The point of order that I wish to make is a general one. It concerns urgency rather than the issue which you, Mr. Speaker, have told us belongs to the Government. It is urgency that takes precedence over the other business before the House, which, as you said, belongs entirely to you. It was argued in the House and in the Committee which revised the Order that the tendency should be to make it easier for the House to debate matters of urgency with the least possible delay.

I am not in fear of contradiction on this one narrow point. That was the purpose of the deliberations and the conclusion of the Committee which dealt with the matter and of the approval subsequently given by the House. That being so, if the spirit of the recommendation was, by design, to make it easier for the House to deal with matters of importance with the least possible delay— importance and without delay are the main definitions—would it not be possible to go with the spirit of that recommendation and in that way enable us to decide whether other business should wait and this business should be given precedence?

Mr. Whitehead

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, too, in no sense wish to question your ruling. I accept it absolutely. Earlier this afternoon the Lord President said that time could not be found in Government time to debate this matter, and that the House must seek other remedies. The only other remedy we have is to seek a debate under Standing Order No. 9. If that is withheld, and if the Executive is to be answerable to the House of Commons, we are forced to appeal, through you, for a statement from the Lord President that may help you, Mr. Speaker, and us in our difficulty over this matter.

Mr. Kinnock

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you rightly pointed out, responsibility for the allocation of time is not yours. However, this happens to be Thursday afternoon. It is but a short time since the Lord President made his statement about the business for next week and for 1st March. That exhausts the time left to Agee and Hosenball. Just as surely as if we were going into recess, unless there is a substantial extension of the time they have in this country, there will be no possibility, other than on the Adjournment or under Standing Order No. 9, for the matter to be raised.

Would it not be most unfortunate if unwittingly, because of the time involved and the general interpretation of Standing Order No. 9, these men were to be denied a hearing of any description? It would be unfortunate not only for this House and the Government but for the whole name of British justice, which, if it is to be done, must be seen to be done. If it cannot be done in the open elsewhere, surely it must be done in the open in this House.

Mr. Speaker

I deeply appreciate the way in which the three hon. Members have made their substantial points, of which I take note.

I shall deal, first, with the point raised by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) about the date of 1st March. It is my clear understanding that it is one month, or the best part of one month, before these two persons can be deported if they put in an appeal. Such is the time factor. I am not seeking to enlarge the debate. I am now answering, I hope finally, the point that was raised.

Secondly, with regard to the spirit of the resolution referred to by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), I want to interpret the spirit properly. But, as hon. Members might have guessed, I examined this matter very carefully. I regret that I am unable this afternoon to change my judgment.