HL Deb 26 January 1967 vol 279 cc689-91

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, in reply to the Private Notice Question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, concerning the release of Mr. Armah, I should like to repeat the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to a similar Question in another place. His words were:

"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."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for repeat- ing that Answer. It is of course rather difficult, without knowing the full facts, to judge whether or not this is the right decision, and I think that very probably we do not know all the facts. There is one matter, however, that rather concerns me. The Answer mentioned the Fugitive Offenders Bill now before Parliament. Of course, this Bill is relevant only if the Home Secretary considers that the charges against Mr. Armah are political. So far as we know, the charges are of a criminal nature. If that is the case—that they are not of a political nature—what concerns me is that the action taken by the Home Secretary would seem rather derogatory to the Ghana courts. I should be grateful if the noble Earl could go a little more fully into this point. It is somewhat disturbing.


My Lords, I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said at the beginning is very true: that obviously in this statement I have not laid bare in public all the factors which are exercising the mind of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. Other former Home Secretaries present will know that in a case of this kind there are many factors which cannot be stated in public in connection with the exercise of what the Home Secretary regards as a quasi-judicial function. Therefore, it is quite true that I have not attempted to lay all the factors in front of the House. I can only say that if the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, or one of his colleagues wishes to go into this more closely with me—or, for that matter, with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary—we shall be very pleased to meet him.


My Lords, I do not wish to aggravate the position but, in view of what I have said about the Fugitive Offenders Bill, it would seem rather unfortunate that this was mentioned at all if we are not to be given any further details.


My Lords, I am afraid that, for the reasons given, I am not at liberty—and I am sure that the Home Secretary will take the same line elsewhere—to give more details in public. But, as the noble Lord has given a certain interpretation to the Bill I mentioned, I would just say that I do not necessarily accept his interpretation.


My Lords, with regard to the explanation or reason that the Home Secretary has given—that the Government of Ghana can take proceedings against Mr. Armah in this country—may I ask whether there has been any case where a Government, foreign or Commonwealth, has taken proceedings in this country against a Minister, a former Minister or a High Commissioner, in matters really affecting that Government itself?


My Lords, I am afraid that I should require notice of that question. But the fact is as I have stated it: that there is no possible objection to their taking this action.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, whether or not the decision the Home Secretary has to take in such a case can properly be described as quasi-judicial, it is a decision which has to be defended to Parliament?


My Lords, I am aware, but no one, of course, knows better than the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor (who suffered very heavily in a matter of this kind), that it is often impossible to lay all the facts before the public.


Yes, my Lords; but, with respect to the noble Earl, I am not sure that it is really very satisfactory, when questions are asked from this side of the House by the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Party, for the noble Earl the Leader of the House to say, "Yes, but I cannot tell you all the facts." I am not saving that the decision is wrong, but surely it is up to the Government to justify decisions taken and not shelter behind the statement that they cannot tell us why.


My Lords, that may be true in some cases, but if the decision is to be regarded as quasi-judicial I am afraid that the argument submitted by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition would hardly apply.