HC Deb 11 January 1977 vol 923 cc1256-60
Mr. Thorpe

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on his refusal to grant political asylum to two Indian monks, Mr. Roy and Mr. Prasad, and on his decision to order their immediate deportation from this country.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

Mr. Prasad and Mr. Roy are citizens of India who in 1975 left that country and went to live in Nepal. In December 1976 they travelled to Stockholm via Dacca and London, were refused leave to enter Sweden for political asylum and when their return flight arrived at London Airport on 14th December they sought leave to enter the United Kingdom for political asylum. They were detained pending a decision.

Their application rested on their membership of the Ananda Marga movement, which is banned in India. I have weighed these applications with great care, taking into account the various representations I have received, and other information available to me. I concluded that Mr. Prasad and Mr. Roy should be refused leave to enter the United Kingdom on the grounds that their presence here would not be conducive to the public good. I do not consider that they have established a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to Nepal, a country in which they have lived since 1975. Accordingly, arrangements have been made for their return to that country by a route which does not entail their travelling via India.

Removal was to have taken place today but will now be deferred as their flight has been cancelled. I understand an application has today been made to the High Court concerning their case.

Mr. Thorpe

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply and for his correspondence with me on the matter. These men fled from Nepal following a police raid on their homes. Has the Secretary of State ascertained whether they were in danger of being accused of political offences in Nepal or whether the raid took place at the request of the Indian Central Bureau of Intelligence? Has the right hon. Gentleman received any undertaking from the Nepal Government that if they are returned to Nepal they will not be transferred to India—which occurred on a previous occasion—where they will be subject to immediate imprisonment without trial for belonging to an illegal organisation?

Is the Secretary of State aware that both these gentlemen hold valid International Red Cross travel documents and that both have the status of United Nations refugees? To refuse these men political asylum in these circumstances casts doubt on whether we are not in breach of a UN convention on refugees to which we are signatories, and this causes grave disquiet to many people.

Mr. Rees

I have considered the question of refugee status very carefully. Under the terms of the relevant 1951 convention I find that the men have not been admitted to Sweden, Thailand, Canada, the United States and Australia. There are two wings to this organisation. On the question of refugee status, I am sure that in the general sense there is no problem about their going to the country where they have lived for some time.

On the issue of their presence not being conducive to the public good, I believe that, given the nature of the organisation, I am protecting the people of this country by not allowing them in.

Mr. Moonman

Does my right hon Friend not accept that he has made a statement which is sad and which is perhaps the most worrying regarding personal liberty which has been made in this country for many a generation? Will my right hon. Friend say in specific terms why it is not possible for the two men to stay here? What does he mean by not conducive to the public good"? Is it not the case that the two monks have no political record whatsoever and that there is a great danger that they face being incarcerated in gaol? Will my right hon. Friend please reconsider his decision?

Mr. Rees

I have taken these matters carefully into account. I do not regard it as a case of libertarianism that will stand for many generations and I firmly disagree with my right hon. Friend. There is no question of deportation because the two men have never entered the country under the immigration rules. I state bluntly that it is not a case of deportation.

If I am told that everyone who is a monk in this organisation has only to appear at London Airport to be admitted to this country, I say firmly that that is not libertarianism but crass foolishness. I am unrepentant about the decision that I have made.

Mr. Carlisle

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has the support of many in the use of his discretion when he refuses people entry into the country if he considers that their entry is not conducive to the public good? Will he assist the House by giving further reasons for coming to his decision which I am sure is one in which he must use his discretion?

Mr. Rees

The basis, in terms of not approving entry, is that they were not in the country in the first place. There is a violent wing to this organisation. I do not believe that this country should be a haven for people who have engaged in violence of this nature. I am responsible for law and order. I do not believe that there is a question of refugee status. If there were, I would consider it carefully. My hon. Friends would be wrong to think that this is a case of liberty, because, in this instance, the two men can go back to Nepal where they have been before. In my view there is no problem about that.

Mr. Whitelaw

In such cases the Secretary of State has to make a difficult decision bearing in mind the interests of the people of this country and of security. Is he aware that when he makes such a decision I believe that he should have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are two discrepancies of fact between his information and the information that some hon. Members have received? Is he aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House feel that the tradition that Britain should be a haven for people who are being persecuted abroad is a very noble and honourable one which should not be overthrown lightly? Will he confirm that our attitude towards and our relationship with the Government of India has not been a factor that has been taken into consideration?

Mr. Rees

I assure my hon. Friend that our relationship with the Government of India has not been a factor in the decision. A number of members of the Ananda Marga movement are lawfully in this country and I do not believe that their presence is a threat to the country. I have not dealt with the matter on the basis of the organisation as a whole but on an individual basis. There is a violent wing to the organisation. It is not a question of refugee status. I do not believe that it is right that they should come into the country bearing in mind my responsibility for law and order.

Mr. Thorpe

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter at the earliest possible opportunity.