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Political Asylum

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 8 July 1954

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many citizens of the United States of America have asked for political asylum in this country in recent years.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department the number of persons to whom this country has granted political asylum since November, 1951.

The circumstances of individual cases in which political considerations are brought forward in support of applications to enter or remain in the United Kingdom vary so widely that no separate record of the disposal of such cases is kept. I am accordingly unable to supply the figures for which the hon. Members ask.

Although he cannot give the figures, would not the Home Secretary agree that political asylum has been granted consistently since the war and under his own Ministry, and that that shows he believes in political asylum? Why does he continue to refuse it to a man whose only troubles lie in the fact that he was once a Communist?

I explained at considerable length to the House last week, first, that political asylum Still exists and is operated in exactly the same way as it has always been, and, secondly, that in my opinion the gentleman in question does not come within the rules of political asylum.

Has the Home Secretary not seen the letter that has arrived in this country from Dr. Brown, of the Harvard Medical School, which proves conclusively that Dr. Cort is being sent back to be persecuted and that his life will not be worth living if he goes back? Does the Home Secretary not agree that all the facts prove that this man has every justification for claiming political asylum in this country? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman not consider the case again?

That is the letter that is in the "Daily Worker." [HON. MEMBERS "No."] I think it is the same one. I am just identifying the letter. If the letter is relevant I shall consider it.

For our information, can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether political asylum has ever been sought by or granted to a person who came from a country with a free and democratically elected Parliament?

I think that that would mean two things: first, going through the files of the Home Office for roughly 100 years and, second, deciding what constituted a freely elected Parliament.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that the writer of that letter, Dr. Brown, is a very eminent scientist? Would he not look into the letter and then make inquiries to ascertain whether the facts stated by Dr. Brown are accurate or not? If they are, would he then consider whether he should change his mind?

I indicated time and again last week the problem which I consider to be the nub of this matter. I have considered all the points that have been raised and it would not be honest if I said that there was any hope of my altering my decision.

For the purpose of information, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the United States authorities have made a request to Her Majesty's Government for the return of Dr. Cort to the United States?

Oh, no. I dealt with that last week and I made it clear that there has been no request.

If that is so, and there seems to be some doubt about this matter, would not the Home Secretary give Dr. Cort the benefit of the doubt?

The right hon. Gentleman has not got the point, which we discussed rather a lot.

The position is that the reason that I did not allow Dr. Cort to stay was that his refusal to answer the demands to appear before the United States' Selective Service authorities made him liable to lose his citizenship. If someone is liable to lose his citizenship and, therefore, to become unreturnable he is not kept here.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what precedents there are for not extending an alien's permit because his home Government has threatened to make him Stateless.

As I explained in reply to the Question asked by the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. J. Silverman) on 1st July last, it is the normal practice to require aliens who apply for an extension of their permission to remain in the United Kingdom to produce evidence that they have return facilities to another country. Whenever it appears that there is a risk of such applicants losing their citizenship or re-entry facilities permission to remain is refused.

Would not the Home Secretary agree that the real precedent of the case of Dr. Cort—and one which has been set by him—is that, for the first time in the history of this country, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has allowed his decision as to whether or not a permit shall be extended to be determined by what a body outside this country may do in a future unspecified circumstance? Has he not now surrendered his own authority over whether or not to extend permits to aliens here to an outside body?

I have not made that precedent. I have acted on the basis, which I believe is accurate and right, that if the person in question takes action which may result in jeopardising his returnability, he cannot stay here.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether that criticism applies equally to the case of a visitor from behind the Iron Curtain, who is then threatened with losing his status in his home country and ceasing to be returnable there if he claimed political asylum?

There are two questions and I hope that the House will keep them clear. There is returnability, which I have explained; I have also explained that returnability is subject to the qualification of the person being able to make out a case for political asylum. In my opinion, Dr. Cort did not make out such a case.