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Gerhardt Eisler (Arrest)

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 19 May 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the last occasion before 14th May, when Mr. Gerhardt Eisler was arrested on board the s.s. "Batory," when British police officers under his jurisdiction went aboard a foreign vessel in British territorial waters in order to arrest a passenger on behalf of a third country of which he was not a national; and what were the circumstances in the case.

The records of my Department show no case falling within the terms of the hon. Member's Question.

Are we to take it from that answer that under a Labour Government we are getting a precedent set that is in contradiction to all the traditions of this country? Might I also ask the Minister if he would not use his great powers to liberate this man and keep him out of the hands of enemies who have made it clear that they are determined to destroy him?

In November, 1938, the Polish police arrested a Bolivian citizen on board a British vessel in the Port of Gdynia. His Majesty's Government did not contest their right to do this, but it was stated at the time that they expected that the British Consular officer with jurisdiction in the port concerned should he notified before any such arrest took place. Polish police now search all British ships before sailing, and have arrested British seamen on 10 occasions since the war.

All the same, whatever other people may do, can my right hon. Friend say what this man is alleged to have done to justify his being hounded all over the world in this unprecedented way so far as this country is concerned?

I have not yet received the requisition from the Government of the United States asking for his extradition. When I receive that, I shall have to consider it in the light of the duties imposed on me and the powers conferred on me by the Act under which this action takes place.

When my right hon. Friend considers these facts, would he bear in mind that anxiety on this case is felt not only by Communists and Communist sympathisers, but is widely held throughout the country?

May I say that that anxiety is shared by myself. I have heavy duties imposed on me under the Act dealing with this matter, but I cannot proceed to deal with them until I receive the requisition which I am now awaiting.

Would not my right hon. Friend consider it better to follow the traditions of our own country rather than to refer us to those of countries which many people in this House have affected to despise? Will he also bear in mind that perjury in connection with a passport must have been committed by hundreds of thousands of political refugees in the days since Hitler aggression?

I must have regard to what the law of this country says, and no action so far has been taken in this case which is contrary to the law of this country. I have examined that point carefully and have taken the best advice I can get on it. As far as I am concerned, I shall be greatly relieved when I get the requisition so that I can reach a final determination on the points at issue.

But when the Home Secretary says that he, too, is anxious about this case, which the House no doubt will accept, is he not placing himself in an invidious position, for is it not the fact that the case cannot be proceeded with in court in view of the fact that the case has to be prepared by the United States Government? Therefore, it appears that the Home Secretary has to wait, hand and foot, for the Government of the United States to prepare their case, and hence his feeling of anxiety?

I do not have to wait for the United States Government to prepare their case. I have to wait until the United States Government serve a requisition on me. When I reach that stage, I shall have further information on which I shall be able to reach some decision, I hope.

I had not quite understood last week that the requisition had not been received. If the right hon. Gentleman has not yet received the requisition from the Government of the United States, can he tell us on what request from them or action by them he has acted so far?

I have not acted at all so far. I explained quite carefully to the House last week that there are two ways in which this matter can be dealt with. Under Section 7 of the relevant Act I can be asked to issue a warrant. If that course had been followed, the responsibility would have been on me. In fact the Section 8 procedure was followed, the information was laid before a magistrate, and he issued the warrant. As soon as I get the requisition, I can decide whether the case is of a political character or not. If it is of a political character, it will then be my duty to see that further proceedings do not take place, but I cannot act on newspaper reports and similar unsworn statements as to what is the dispute between this man and the Government of the United States.

Further to the statement by the Home Secretary that he is not responsible; is it not the case that several officers from Scotland Yard were present, and are they not responsible to the Home Secretary even though the magistrate at Southampton may not be directly responsible; and in that case should not the right hon. Gentleman take responsibility now?

No, Sir. They are responsible for carrying into effect the warrant issued by the magistrate at Southampton.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what part in the proceedings on board the Polish vessel s.s. "Batory" was taken by the two American officials who accompanied the police on board.

I am informed that the American officials who boarded the s.s. "Batory" with the police officers were present at a discussion among the police officers who finally effected the arrest, Eisler, the captain and certain Polish officials, and gave information about a telegram stating that extradition proceedings were to be taken against Eisler and that proceedings would be taken against the captain under United States law if he did not surrender him. No American official was in any way concerned in Eisler' s apprehension which was carried out by British police officers.

In the first place, in what capacity did these American officials, one of whom was a Mr. Beck from the United States Embassy, attend with the British officers on the boat? Did they come over on the tender which took the police officers and did they get aboard the vessel with the police officers; were they, in fact, introduced as aliens to the captain of the ship, or were they assumed to be part of the entourage together with the other police officers? Further, may I ask the Home Secretar—[Interruption.] May I respectfully point out—

I am very anxious to answer all questions but when four or five supplementaries are mixed up together it is very difficult to do them justice.

In that case, I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I will rest my case at that and if I have a further opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, I will do so.

The tender which was used on this occasion is in the ownership of the Alexandra Towing Company and was chartered by the agents for the Gdynia America Line on behalf of that line. Among those on board the tender when they went from the shore to the ship were the police officers, the American officials and two representatives of the Polish Embassy in London. They all went together; they all boarded the ship together, and an individual pass was issued to each member of the party by the charterers to enable them to go from the shore to the ship. British police, British immigration officers, American Embassy officers and Polish Embassy officers all went in the same tender and all boarded the ship together.

Would my right hon. Friend tell the House when and where these elaborate arrangements were made, and whether they were made before or after it was known whether the Southampton magistrate was going to grant the warrant or not?

I am trying to give the House as full and detailed an account of what happened as possible and to explain all the circumstances. This tender is the usual vessel which proceeds from Southampton to a liner lying in Cowes Roads to take out passengers who desire to board the liner and to pick up and bring back those who wish to leave the liner in order to land. Therefore, no elaborate arrangement was made; the tender would have left in any event, whether these people had wanted to go or not. Each person had to apply individually to the persons who had chartered the tender for permission to go in the tender. I have here a copy of the pass actually issued to Detective-Inspector Bray and as far as I know there was nothing unusual about the matter. The tender has no connection at all with the warrant issued by the magistrate.

Does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that in order that there shall be two representatives from the Polish Embassy and two representatives from the American Embassy all present in Southampton at a particular time and place, with passes issued to them for that time and place, involves a considerable degree of prior consultation and arrangement; and I am asking my right hon. Friend whether these arrangements were made before or after the application was made for the warrant in Southampton?

What happened was this. It was known that the American Embassy were going to apply to the magistrate at Southampton for this warrant.

I must make this quite clear. I am taking complete personal responsibility for this. Before any of these actions were taken I was consulted and gave my consent. The Polish Embassy were informed so that if they wished to be represented they could be there. When the vessel anchored in Cowes Roads the application was made to the Southampton magistrate. Thereafter the police officers left Southampton for Cowes Roads to execute the warrant; the American Embassy officials went on the same tender and so did the representatives of the Polish Embassy.