§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.
The House will recall the statement that I made on 18th November last in which I said that I proposed, under the powers vested in the Home Secretary by the Immigration Act 1971, to make deporation orders against Mr. Philip Agee and Mr. Mark Hosenball, whose departure from the United Kingdom I had concluded was conducive to the public good as being is the interests of national security.
I explained to the House the non-statutory procedure under which Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball could make representations to an independent panel whose advice I would take into account before coming to a final decision.
Both Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball elected to make representations to the panel. I have now received and considered its advice in both cases. I have also considered the various representations that have been made to me by Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball themselves, their advisers, right hon. and hon. Members, and members of the public. I have reached the clear conclusion that in both cases my original decision must stand. I have therefore made a deportation order against each man.
§ Mr. Rees
These orders will now be served on them together with notices of restriction requiring them to report weekly to the police. Before directions for removal are given stating the destination, which would normally be their own country, the United States of America, I am prepared to consider, in respect of either of them, specifying another country of their choice, provided they can show by the beginning of next month that the country would be prepared to accept them. This is without prejudice to their statutory right of appeal against the destination finally named.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Conservative Opposition's position will remain as I stated it on 18th November—namely, that this House is rightly jealous of individual liberty but at the same time the security of the State must be the primary consideration? On the evidence available to him and not available to others in this House or to any of the rest of us—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] In terms of national security there are inevitably matters which are in confidence to Ministers and to no one else, and that must be the position.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
In these circumstances, is the Home Secretary aware that we shall certainly not question his decision?
§ Mr. Rees
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I must make one point clear. What is at issue is whether the powers available to me under the separate code of the Immigration Act should be used against foreigners temporarily in this country, and when I hear cries of "Czechoslovakia" it is not an equation that I am prepared to accept.
§ Mr. Rees
It is not the same. We are dealing with an important issue and nothing will be gained by my being shouted down. I am not prepared to be shouted down on the ground that some people are better Liberals or better Socialists according to the loudness of their voices.— [Interruption.] Those who are shouting at me have not had the access to the papers to which I have had access to.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It would be a thorough disgrace to this House—[HON.MEMBERS: "It is."]—order—if free speech were denied. Even if it is a view that hon. Members do not like, we must listen to it.
§ Mr. Rees
Under the law that I have to apply, I have information which I have to put before an independent panel, to which I have not spoken. The decision is mine at the end of the day, and 497 all I can say is that no Home Secretary could lightly disregard the advice that comes from the panel, and I am not prepared to say any more than that.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
The Home Secretary says that he has irrefutable evidence that these people have committed some of the most bestial crimes against the State. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] He has said that he has irrefutable evidence that they have betrayed the lives of Britishers. He said so in his original statement. Let those who were not present look up that statement.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
If that is the evidence, should not the Home Secretary have these people tried in camera? There would be no need for the trial to be public, and if the two men were found guilty they should be sentenced severely. But if my right hon. Friend is going to deport them to the country of their choice, will they not be able to disseminate there all the information which it is alleged that they have? Is it not the case that the CIA has demanded this action, and that my right hon. Friend has given way to that demand?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend has not referred correctly to what I said in my original statement. I must make it abundantly clear that there has never been any representation from the United States Government or from any American agency. I am not interested in that. I am concerned with the interests of this country. Those who have been talking about the CIA and what happens in the United States are entitled to do so—and some of those who have spoken in that way are most curious people to have done so, but that is another matter. I am interested only in this country, and I have carried out the law as passed in 1971.
§ Mr. Hooson
Is the Home Secretary aware that we on the Liberal Bench find this whole procedure offensive and contrary to the traditions of fair play and justice in this country? Is he further aware that we in the House do not know whether an injustice has been done to either or both of these men because we have no means of knowing? Is he also 498 aware that although we may rely on his judgment, the whole procedure lends itself to the suspicion that that judgment may be very suspect?
§ Mr. Rees
I am prepared to accept that discussion of the procedures—which were discussed both in 1971 and on the earlier legislation in 1969—is important, but I am also sure that no one has yet been able to devise an alternative procedure which would both protect the sources of evidence and give the person concerned—[interruption.] I must tell my hon. Friends that I am not equating this matter with the Official Secrets Act. I am saying that I have put my mind to the procedures and I know of no other way in which the sources of information could be protected. Cases differ. I am quite sure that in this process there is the greatest difficulty, but hon. Members, who are quite properly worried about the situation, should not equate it with the CIA, because that is not my interest.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Despite the roar of approval that he received from the Tory Benches, will my right hon. Friend recognise that there is serious concern about this case because no one in the House, apart from himself, knows the evidence or knows whether these men have been treated justly and fairly? There is great concern that, in order to reassure the House, my right hon. Friend could have explained a good deal more about what they are alleged to have done. Before these men are deported, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be a debate in the House so that the whole matter can be fully discussed, including the issue of the procedures?
§ Mr. Rees
The question of a debate is not a matter for me. But in this particular case I made the situation clear in the first instance. I have said to the House all that I can say, and on that I have to rest.
I have discussed this matter with my hon. Friend, and he has every right to be concerned about the procedure. My hon. Friend worked at the Home Office and concerned himself with these matters. No one has yet been able to devise a procedure which protects sources of evidence. It is extremely important that that should be done.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
As I understand it, the Home Secretary is merely telling these people either to go home to the United States or to go to a country of their choice. Has he any evidence that they will face political persecution at home, or have they applied for political asylum?
§ Mr. Rees
I have no evidence on the latter point. But at the end of the fortnight period if they have not gone to a country of their choice, and by virtue of the law, I would have to sign an order saying "Back to the United States". They have the right of appeal on this issue under the 1971 legislation.
§ Mr. Mellish
As one who has enormous regard and respect for my right hon. Friend's judgment and integrity, and in fairness to himself, may I ask whether it is not possible for him to convey to the country—not only this House—some idea of what these people are charged with so that we can see why my right hon. Friend arrived at his decision? I happen to be one of those who believe that my right hon. Friend would not have made a decision of such great importance unless the evidence was overwhelming and it was for the benefit of and met the needs of the country.
§ Mr. Rees
I did not repeat it again today, but in November, and on other occasions, I read the list which I think would meet the case about which my right hon. Friend is concerned. Mr. Agee, for example,had maintained regular contacts harmful to the security of the United Kingdom with foreign intelligence officers; had been and continued to be involved in disseminating information harmful to the security of the United Kingdom; and has aided and counselled others in obtaining information for publication which could be harmful to the security of the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 18th November 1976; Vol. 919; c. 1567–8.]That is what I am talking about.
§ Sir J. Langford-Holt
Before the right hon. Gentleman listens too closely to analogies drawn between this country and Czechoslovakia, will he point out to his hon. Friends that this country is probably unique as being the one country in which citizens can leave or enter at will with or without a passport?
§ Mr. Whitehead
Will my right hon. Friend accept that the sense of grief with which we have heard him today comes partly because the deportation to a country of their choice was precisely what was offered last week to the Charter 77 leaders in Czechoslovakia, and we do see something of a parallel in these matters? Will he further accept that all of us who have become concerned about these matters are most concerned that when the two accused men faced the tribunal—which alone knew what the truth of the charges against them might be—it was seeking by interrogation to make clearer that the charges put to them were not such that they could have any possible notion of the full gravity of the offences with which they were supposedly charged.
In the case of one of the men, who has not yet been mentioned—Mr. Hosenball—the main interrogation hinged upon the so-called Cheltenham article which, it subsequently emerged, he did not write. It was written by a British subject. It would be best for this House, for Parliament and for the judicial procedures of this country if we were to set up a Select Committee to look at these procedures which are profoundly unsatisfactory, because I do not believe that they can be used again.
§ Mr. Rees
With regard to a Select Committee, or some appropriate way of looking at the working of this legislation, certainly if it is a matter of looking at the working of legislation—the procedures—I can understand the proposal. I realise the concern that people feel about this. But we are not talking about deporting people from Britain. We are not talking about Charter 77. We are talking about people who are visitors to this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Foreigners."] The analogy is certainly not complete. With regard to procedures, there is still the aspect that there is information which cannot be brought out in public without risking the lives of people who work for the State.
§ Mr. Amery
None of us who have had ministerial responsibility in intelligence 501 or security services can possibly ask the right hon. Gentleman, with any sense of responsibility, to disclose the evidence on which he has taken his decision. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that many of us on this side of the House think that when he was responsible for Ulster he showed, if anything, undue leniency. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the facts are strong enough to warrant deportation, that is good enough for me.
§ Mr. Rees
There have been curious analogies today. What I did in Ulster was to make sure that people who were involved in violence, and who were from Northern Ireland, were dealt with by the courts. I believe that I was right to do that. It is not a question of leniency. I believe that it was sense. I do not believe that there is analogy with this in terms of leniency. I have the law to carry out. It is a law that Parliament passed. That is all that I have available to me. On the basis of that, I believe that I have done the right thing. I have not done it on advice within the Department on a wide basis. There have not been Press releases which said this has been dealt with only because of my responsibility for the security services. Indeed, I am aware of my wider responsibilities in that sense because of what has gone on in other countries.
§ Mrs. Hart
Speaking also as a Minister who has had some concern with intelligence responsibility on at least two occasions, I have found that sometimes the information is not entirely correct. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very great concern about the procedures under the 1971 Act? This is a hypothetical question, but sometimes Ministers can answer slightly hypothetical questions. If new procedures are found which are satisfactory to my right hon. Friend in terms of the urgency and the need to protect the sources of intelligence information, would he be prepared to look again at these two cases? Is he fully aware that throughout the whole of the local proceedings Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball were not allowed to know anything more about the charges against them, which the right hon. Gentleman had made public to the House, and there was no transcription or recording of the defence evidence?
§ Mr. Rees
Regarding the procedures, I have indicated on all occasions that, as happened in 1971, Parliament should look at them to see whether they are conducive to the public good and security. That is the right thing to do. But I certainly cannot have this case looked at again. Anything that happens in future might be looked at under new laws passed by Parliament. I did not take this decision lightly in the first instance. There are easier matters for politicians to deal with than this case. I believe that I was right in the decision that I took. If it brings out the kind of feeling which people have in that respect, I suppose it can be said that I knew in the first instance that it would do so, but I still feel I was right to take this course.
§ Sir A. Meyer
Is the Home Secretary aware that, despite a massively orchestrated Communist campaign to portray these two individuals as equivalent to the Shrewsbury pickets, the great mass of public opinion still remains of the conviction that he has leant over backwards to be fair?
§ Mr. Rees
There have been some curious analogies this afternoon. I should point out that not only Communists have been concerned. Civil liberties in this country are proper and important matters for this House to consider. People who are by no means Communists are concerned about this case, and I understand why. But, under the law, I had to take the decision. The matter went to the panel, which knew what it was looking for, but the decision was mine. All I can say in that respect is that I obviously took into account what the panel said.
§ Mr. Strauss
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as a former Minister who had analogous but not identical security responsibilities for some time, I fully sympathise with him in the difficult decision that he had to make under the procedure.
Is he aware that, during a period when we had grave difficulty because people such as Fuchs and Pontecorvo were giving information to potential enemies of this country, there was a correct demand for a careful survey of a large number of people who might be a danger to the security of the country—namely, civil servants and others in industry in sensitive positions? The Government, with the 503 general support of the House, then decided that the only course was to select those against whom there might be a case, although they had not committed any crime, and to submit their names to a group of senior civil servants, called the three wise men, who were asked to investigate the background and history of those people in the same way as the people who investigated this case. At the end of the day those three wise men made a thorough investigation and reported their conclusions to me as the Minister responsible at that time, and in most, but not all, cases I had to agree with those people.
Although the procedure is regrettable, unfortunate and difficult, does my right hon. Friend accept—I hope that the House will also accept—that we could not devise a better procedure? There was a tremendous outcry by all liberal opinion in the country about the procedure, but at the end of the day no better procedure was suggested. I think that the outcome was satisfactory, because only those against whom there was real suspicion were sacked from their posts.
§ Mr. Cormack
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most people in this country will expect him to put the security of the State first? Is he also aware that most people believe that he has behaved as a true British Home Secretary should behave and that, furthermore, they have absolute confidence in his judgment and integrity in these matters?
§ Mr. Rose
I should like to express my utter dismay and revulsion at the Home Secretary's decision, particularly in respect of Mr. Hosenball. Is he aware that, having attended the procedures which resulted in the order for his deportation, I can only describe them as a mockery of justice? How on earth can one answer allegations when one does not know what they are and when one can- 504 not cross-examine those who are making the allegations? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that he is guilty of double standards with regard to agents of totalitarian powers who have been brought to his attention and about whom he and his Department have done nothing for two years?
§ Mr. Rees
We must disagree on the procedure.
On the latter point, my hon. Friend is concerned about certain Koreans who have been involved in activities in the United States and in this country. With regard to the evidence of their being involved in security matters which would be to the detriment of this country, if I have information it will be dealt with in the same way.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this House owes a duty to those who serve this country in the security services? In many cases it would be easy for a Home Secretary to neglect that duty by taking a course which would disclose their identity. Is he aware that, where he is backed by the advisory panel which thinks it is right to make use of the procedure, this country will always support him?
§ Mr. Rees
I must make it clear that the decision is mine. The panel is advisory. All I have said is that I obviously take firmly into account what the panel says. One matter which I take into account in terms of information is the danger to servants of this country, which is what any Home Secretary will have to do.
§ Mr. Litterick
In view of the recent and, it seems to me, colossal failure of the security services to detect a considerable arms traffic between this country and South Africa via the Channel Islands, which is illegal and illicit, can my right hon. Friend with any confidence assure the House that his intelligence information system has not been subverted by some other organisation for its purposes?
§ Mr. Rees
I do not know the facts of the case to which my hon. Friend is referring. I am satisfied that the information that I had was sufficient to deal with the matters which I put to the House and that that information was not subverted. If hon. Members look again at the statement that I made to the House in the 505 first instance, they will see that was what I was concerned with. I hardly see how it could be subverted by anybody from outside.
§ Mr. Hastings
Has the attention of the Secretary of State been drawn to the television broadcast of the "World in Action" programme on 7th February which seemed specifically designed to further the interests of Agee and Hosenball together with their British supporters without a serious or fair attempt at achieving a balance? Will he look into the motives of those responsible?
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
Does my right hon. Friend realise that Labour Members, unlike Opposition Members, are not prepared to condemn individuals without evidence, albeit that they are foreigners, and that we are not prepared to leave such matters to the private and, in a sense, irresponsible decision of a Home Secretary? With due respect to my right hon. Friend, he will not be the Home Secretary for the next 10 years. It may be a Member from the present Opposition, who will not have the confidence that we have in my right hon. Friend. Will he now give a categorical assurance that he will put in train a review of the procedures so that evidence against an individual can he heard and refuted, that the procedures will be open and accessible, and that we shall not in future have a slur cast on our system of justice and our proud tradition of individual liberty?
§ Mr. Rees
I fully understand the problem. There are 9 million visitors to this country in a year. I have the responsibility which I indicated to the House for people visiting this country. The procedure is not a slur on British justice.
I cannot agree with my hon. Friend's final remarks about evidence being made available generally. One of the difficulties in this case was that the slightest information would have put at risk, and made it very easy to identify, the people from whom we get information.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have given a very good run on this subject, and I propose to allow two more questions from each side. I remind hon. Members that there is another statement to follow and two applications under Standing Order No. 9. I honestly believe that I have given the House a fair opportunity to question the Home Secretary on this matter.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
Would the Home Secretary, without wasting the time of the House, simply publish a list of the European countries in which there is a right of appeal against deportation of foreign residents? This is something unique in this country. The Minister for the Interior in France can deport someone as and when he pleases—just like that! Perhaps those hon. Members on the Left who are complaining about this incident should look at France.
§ Mr. Rees
I think it is a unique situation that people who are visiting this country have the right of appeal against deportation. It needs to be looked at very firmly from time to time because of the power that is put in the hands of the Home Secretary. I have carried out the law as it is, and I believe that I made the right decision.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas
Can my right hon. Friend even begin to justify a system under which an accused person has no indication of the evidence against him, and in which he then has to throw out random questions to the assessors in the hope that through a twinkle in the eye he may get an indication of that evidence? The nebulous statement that my right hon. Friend has just read out was typical of statements from totalitarian countries when they are meting out similar punishments.
§ Mr. Rees
My action would be reminiscent of a totalitarian country if I were taking a British citizen with whose views I disagreed and deporting him out of the United Kingdom. But I have no power to do that. I am dealing with the problem of people visiting this country. They can come here as visitors, and I have to exercise my discretion over what is conducive to the public good. I had to consider that when Mr. Thorsen 507 arrived at a port the other day. My hon. Friend's analogy with totalitarian countries is not on all fours at all.
§ Mr. Rees
Only a couple of days ago I let someone out of prison and although I was not in the House I read in Hansard the reports of what was said. The comments made then depicted me as something of a flaming radical. Two days later I am being portrayed as a flaming reactionary. You pays your penny and takes your choice.
§ Mr. Spriggs
Is the Home Secretary aware that many of us wonder why two people either with work permits or who were visitors to the United Kingdom are being deported with information which is prejudicial to the safety of the State? Why is he not taking proceedings to prosecute these people here in the United Kingdom where they are alleged to have committed offences? Has the Home Secretary seen the Early-Day Motion on right of information to this House? Will he consider the position put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) in deciding cases of this nature?
§ Mr. Rees
On the second point, of course under the Immigration Act 1971 the House has the right to look at procedures which it gives to the Home Secretary to carry out. On the question of work permits, I will give information about that in each case, of coming here as a visitor, extending the stay as a freelance writer, and so on. On the question of information which it may be possible to publish from abroad, this illustrates the point that I have no power to stop people from saying what they like to say. It is a question whether they should say it as visitors to this country.
§ Mr. Alexander Lyon rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) can pursue his application under Standing Order No. 9 after the next statement.