Hungarian Stowaways

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st January 1958.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Rossendale 12:00 am, 21st January 1958

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement regarding the 11 Hungarian stowaways to deport whom an attempt was made on Saturday, 18th January.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

Yes, Sir. The party, which consisted of six adults and five children, boarded the British liner "Highland Monarch" in Rio de Janeiro without authority; and when they arrived in this country they were refused permission to land. Pending their return to Brazil they were temporarily accommodated by the shipping company concerned in a hostel in Sussex.

The fullest inquiries were immediately made. It appears that the three families emigrated voluntarily to Brazil, where they were granted political asylum. They were dissatisfied with conditions there and wished to come to this country.

After careful consideration no grounds were found for departing from the decision to refuse them permission to land. We have already received in this country more than 20,000 Hungarian refugees. Keeping in mind that the families in question had already been granted political asylum in Brazil, it was not thought right that because they had come without authority to this country they should be given priority over the many other Hungarians and other nationals who would like to settle here.

In view of the fact that one of the women was expecting to have a baby very shortly, special arrangements were made by the shipping company, at the request of the Home Office, to have a trained nurse on board the "Highland Monarch" on which this lady was to return to Brazil. The ship has a surgeon and a sick berth.

On Saturday, 18th January, when the time came to take the party to the steamship, the expectant mother refused to leave the hostel. In these circumstances, instructions were given that she and her husband and their children could remain in this country until the baby was born. The three men of the party ran away; and in the end the "Highland Monarch" sailed without any of the party.

I have now reviewed all the circumstances of the case most carefully and sympathetically. I am satisfied that the decision previously taken was in principle correct. However, in the application of policy to this particular case it is necessary, as has been recognised throughout, to have regard to the very advanced pregnancy of one of the women of the party. As already explained, I had decided, when she refused to travel, that she could remain here with her family until her baby was born. Some time may have elapsed before she is fit to travel after her confinement, in which case it will no longer be appropriate to treat the family as stowaways awaiting removal.

I have, therefore, decided that in the interests of humanity this family may be allowed to stay here. No such considerations apply in the case of the other two families; but in view of the difficulty of discriminating among three families of stowaways who arrived in identical circumstances, I am prepared, exceptionally, to allow them to stay.

I should like to emphasise that this decision is due to the very special features of this case. It is not open to refugees who have found asylum in some other country to transfer themselves to the United Kingdom simply because they would prefer to be here. I am, therefore, ensuring that the strictest measures will continue to be taken to see that they do not.

As regards the allegations which have been made in regard to certain features of the present case, I have given instructions for a full and immediate review to be carried out of the arrangements for dealing with illegal immigrants who are refused permission to land in this country.

Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Rossendale

I am sure that the whole House will wish to thank the Home Secretary for the decision which he has reached and for the example which he has set to some of the officials who have been handling the case in the past. I think that we would also wish to thank him for his promise that there will be a review of the general arrangements for dealing with similar situations in the future. We all hope that it will be successful, because incidents of this kind can only be used to our detriment in the Iron Curtain countries.

There is one question which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. Will he himself investigate the various allegations which have been made by the individuals concerned, and in the Press, about the events which took place last Saturday, with particular reference to the fact that the officials and the police who visited the hostel gave no notice of deportation to the warden or to the Hungarians, although the Press were informed in advance; that the police produced no written authority for the action which they were taking; that no interpreter was present to explain the situation to the Hungarians; and that photographers were warned by the police beforehand that they must not take photographs of any scenes of violence which might take place?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

From the inquiries I have made I cannot accept that the last-named point is correct. I have seen the police officers principally concerned and I must say that I think they carried out an extremely difficult task, which they were asked to do, with the maximum of humanity. If there is anything wrong I think that the responsibility should be placed on my shoulders, as Home Secretary, and not on the police who carried it out.

As to the question of notice being given to the warden of the hostel, I am informed that she was told the previous day that the police would call to collect the aliens. I do not think it was made clear that they were to be removed to be deported, but I am going into that point.

As for the authority of the police, they produced their warrant card. There were no representatives of the Home Office present at this incident. Those are the answers to the hon. Member's questions.

Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Rossendale

The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, appreciate that I referred to these as allegations. I wonder whether he has considered the statements of people who were there at the time and who suggest that no written document was produced by the police? Would he also consider discussing the matter with the journalists who were present and who allege that the police told photographers that no photographs of scenes of violence must be taken?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

All I can say is that the reports which I have received to date do not confirm the latter point. If I receive any other reports I will consider them.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr

Without going into the undoubtedly exaggerated newspaper reports, may we from this side of the House congratulate my right hon. Friend on the humanity which he has shown on this occasion?

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

Will the Home Secretary say when these three men are to be released from Brixton Prison? Have instructions been given for them to be released, so that they can stay with their families in this hostel or wherever else it may be?

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that every year for, I think, nearly ten years, a number of us have, on the appropriate occasion, impressed upon the Home Office the undesirability of allowing questions of this kind to rest on the Home Secretary's personal decision without any right of appeal to any kind of third-party judgment, a practice in which this country is virtually alone? In the light of this particular case, which illustrates how wrong an original decision can be and what damage can be done to the reputation of our country by taking wrong action of this kind, will not the right hon. Gentleman now reconsider the policy of the Home Office in the light of those suggestions, which have been so repeatedly made for so long?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

No, Sir. I am glad to have the opportunity of answering the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that there was any mistake in the original decision at all. I think that the general policy on which we conduct our immigration regulations is right, and that we show great humanity in letting a great many foreigners, especially Hungarians, who want to come here, to come into the country. What I think went wrong on this occasion was some administrative arrangement; for instance, the men and women going to the hostel a long way from London after being refused permission to land. That is why I am having a complete review of all the administrative arrangements following upon the general lines upon which our immigration policy is conducted. I shall be very glad to give to the House, at a later date, an account of any alterations I may decide to make.