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War Crimes

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the report of the war crimes inquiry.

I set up the inquiry in February 1988 to consider allegations that persons who are now British citizens or resident in the United Kingdom committed war crimes during the second world war and to advise whether the law of the United Kingdom should be amended to enable prosecutions for war crimes to take place in this country. The report as submitted to me was in two parts. The main report contains the inquiry team's analysis and conclusions. The second part contains detailed material on individual cases. The inquiry team intended that the main report should be published. I am today publishing it in full and without amendment. I also accept the expert view of the inquiry team that publishing the material in the second part about individual cases would risk prejudicing any proceedings which might be instituted. I am sure that the House will see the wisdom of that distinction and understand why I cannot comment on individual cases.

I believe that the House will find the main report a full and impressive document. It takes a broad view of the historical context affecting the territories and peoples of eastern Europe, of the conduct of successive British Governments during and after the last war and of the legal and other issues. The team visited the Soviet Union and interviewed a large number of possible witnesses. I am most grateful to Sir Thomas Hetherington, formerly Director of Public Prosecutions, and Mr. William Chalmers, formerly Crown Agent for Scotland, for their authoritative analysis.

The inquiry deals with allegations of horrific killings on a large scale-- crimes which would constitute violations of the internationally agreed laws and customs of war. The allegations are not about actions committed in the heat of war. They concern individuals allegedly holding quite senior positions in paramilitary units operating in territories occupied by the German forces, whose task was the systematic murder of civilians.

The inquiry examined in detail seven cases. It concluded in respect of four that there was sufficient evidence to mount a criminal prosecution. One of the individuals concerned has since died. The inquiry went on to recommend that further investigations should take place in respect of the other three cases. In addition, of the nearly 300 further cases drawn to the attention of the inquiry, it recommends further investigation of 75 and that attempts should be made to trace a further 46.

The inquiry recommends that there should be a change in the law to permit the prosecution in this country of acts of murder and manslaughter committed as war crimes in Germany or German-occupied territory during the period of the second world war, by persons who are now British citizens or who are resident in the United Kingdom. Certain procedural changes, including the taking of evidence by live television link from persons outside the United Kingdom, are proposed to facilitate the trial of such cases.

The members of the inquiry were aware of the danger of creating retrospective legislation and have tried to meet that objection. They are addressing actions which they are

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satisfied constituted at the time clear breaches of international law, and which would constitute offences triable in British courts now, had the persons concerned been British citizens at that stage. The inquiry reached its recommendation on legislation and prosecution in this country after examining and rejecting other courses of action. In particular, it discussed but did not recommend extradition of the individuals concerned to stand trial in the Soviet Union. It set out in the report the arguments for and against extradition. The Government find the arguments against extradition to the Soviet Union convincing.

The inquiry's recommendations raise important issues of principle and practicality. It can be argued that it is no service to the memory of the victims of these crimes to resurrect, after so many years, the horror of what they endured. One can question what will be achieved by prosecuting old men so long after the events. The practical difficulties of conducting trials include the age and frailty of witnesses, the problems of assembling the evidence, which is available in the Soviet Union, if at all, in a form in which it can be convincingly presented to a jury in Britain, and the problem of establishing identity and other key elements beyond reasonable doubt when witnesses' memories are more than 40 years old. The report deals with all those matters.

On the other hand it will be argued that, in the words of the report :

"The crimes committed are so monstrous that they cannot be condoned To take no action would taint the United Kingdom with the slur of being a haven for war criminals."

Other countries that have uncovered similar evidence have acted to enable the alleged offenders to be brought to trial, sometimes making broader changes in the law than recommended in this report. Despite the practical problems of conducting a trial, the experienced inquiry team consisting of a former Director of Public Prosecutions and a former Crown Agent, reached the view that there would be sufficient evidence in three cases to mount a prosecution if there were jurisdiction. If and when the time comes for assessing the evidence, the prosecuting authorities of the day will need to make their own assessment of particular cases.

We are impressed by the force of argument that led the inquiry to its clear conclusion that legislation was required, but we want to hear the views of Parliament before taking a final view on the principle of legislation. This is a matter, after all, on which the views of Parliament will be decisive. The Government will provide an opportunity for each House to debate the implications of the report and the action that should be taken in response to it. The debates will take place in the autumn once there has been a proper opportunity to study the report and reflect upon it. In the light of the views expressed in those debates, the Government will take a final decision on whether to bring forward a Bill on the lines proposed by the inquiry.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : I offer the Home Secretary support for the general position that he has adopted following the inquiry into war crimes. Few will doubt that the crimes considered in the report are too appalling to be passed over, even after half a century has elapsed. The inquiry was right, however, to identify some formidable problems of principle and practice that would

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be involved in prosecutions. We therefore welcome the Government's decision to arrange a debate in the House before reaching any definite conclusion on how to proceed.

If there are war criminals in Britain, and if they are brought to trial, it is essential that action against them should be taken by acceptable legal means. I therefore welcome the Government's decision that, if there are to be prosecutions, those prosecutions must take place in Britain. It would be quite wrong to deport, or allow the deportation of, suspected persons to countries where, as the report put it :

"The system of justice is not comparable to that in this country". The decision to try such people here would require substantial changes in British law. I hope that the Home Secretary will confirm, in terms, that it would require restrospective extension of jurisdiction to persons who are not at present liable to charge or trial.

With that in mind, let me ask the Home Secretary three specific questions. First, if changes in the law were necessary--for example, the introduction of video recordings as evidence in Scotland--would the Government consider changing the law in general and applying the changes to all criminal proceedings, or would they consider simply changing the rules of evidence as they apply to war crimes? There is clearly a great danger in having one rule of evidence for one crime and different rules of evidence for all others.

Secondly, has the Home Secretary considered the full implications of relying on evidence in statements by individuals who are now dead? Few people would be happy were that practice to be extended to legal proceedings in general and, again, there is great danger in applying the principle to one category of charges and trials but not to others.

Thirdly, the Home Secretary will know that some of the individuals who may be prosecuted under the legislation that he is considering have already been named in newspapers. As they are not covered by the sub judice rule, does the Home Secretary propose to take steps to protect them from more prejudicial publicity?

Finally, let me ask the Home Secretary to consider one issue of principle-- even before the House debates the subject. Does he agree that there are great problems of principle and practice in introducing legislation to facilitate the prosecution of a very limited number of individuals, who are probably identifiable? Would it not be better to introduce general legislation--perhaps in terms of the Geneva convention of 1949--to make possible the prosecution of criminals from any war who have taken refuge in Great Britain or acquired British nationality? I understand that that is the approach which has been favoured by other countries that have faced the same problem. To many of us, that seems right--to avoid making retrospective changes in the law to deal with known individuals and to ensure that Britain does not harbour criminals from any war taking place at any time in any part of the world.

Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) for his general approach. This is a matter on which there will be strong differences of view that will certainly cut across party lines and on which Parliament as a whole will have to take a view.

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I confirm the right hon. Gentleman's understanding that the proposal in the inquiry report would not make anything criminal which is not now criminal. Instead, it would bring within the jurisdiction of our courts certain allegations of crimes which are not at the moment within their jurisdiction because those concerned did not live here at the time of the crime although they now live here and in some cases are British citizens. That is the scope of the change. I accept the general principle that the right hon. Member suggested about not providing special procedures for the particular crimes described in the report. He will know that under section 32 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 we provided for evidence to be taken by video links in England and Wales. It does not apply in Scotland, which is why the report suggests that it will have to be dealt with. It has not yet been implemented in England and Wales, and we shall have to discuss its implications more thoroughly. The principle is provided in the law for England and Wales.

The right hon. Member rightly said that there has been comment on individual cases in the past. Neither I nor anyone else can prevent such comment in the future. It is worth saying that, even if Parliament decides to amend the law, as the inquiry suggested, three consequent stages will bear on a fair trial. First, the prosecuting authorities will have to decide, by their usual criteria, whether there is scope for a successful prosecution, Secondly, the judge will have to decide the conduct of the trial to ensure that it is fair--the Criminal Justice Act is clear about that. Thirdly, the jury will have to decide whether the trial has been fair.

The right hon. Member mentioned the scope for wider legislation. Other countries have gone wider, but to go wider than the Hetherington inquiry would land us in a range of further problems. I shall study what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the recommendations of this distinguished inquiry will meet wide support throughout the country, because they will mean that Britain will no longer be a safe haven for the monsters who committed the worst atrocities? Although any decision to legislate will undoubtely be strengthened by an opportunity for quiet consideration of this emotive subject, one of the recommendations of the inquiry is that legislation should be introduced as quickly as possible, bearing in mind the ages of suspects and witnesses. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that although the inquiry was limited to consideration of the second world war, it will be necessary to have such legislation in place to deal with atrocities committed in wars since the second world war?

Mr. Hurd : On the second point, the scope of the recommendations is more limited. If we legislate, that is exactly the sort of point that the House will want to consider.

I note what my hon. and learned Friend says about speed, but I find this such a difficult subject, and all those who have thought about it will share my views. The arguments of principle and practice pile up on either side, and it is not easy to reach a conclusion. I am sure that it is right that we should all consider the report carefully, pause and listen to views, which the Government certainly intend to do before bringing proposals before the House.

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Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Will the Home Secretary accept that Social and Liberal Democratic party Members welcome the measured depth of the analysis of these two distinguished gentlemen? The Home Secretary has taken appropriate action in allowing Parliament to voice its view before he takes a final decision, although perhaps it is fair to say that his statement leans towards accepting the recommendations.

Does he accept that the important finding of the report is that the crimes concerned were not only monstrous but were against international law at the time that they were committed? The limitation of the recommendation to extend the jurisdiction of our courts to deal with these matters is important because it enables us in Britain to give greater effect to the rules of international law for the purposes for which the Nuremberg trials were set up. Finally, may I add my support to the submission made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that in considering legislation it would be appropriate to contemplate wider legislation to seek to bring within the scope of our jurisdiction war criminals who have committed crimes in other situations and at other times, perhaps those covered, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, by the Geneva convention?

Mr. Hurd : When the hon. Gentleman studies the report, he will see why the inquiry came down in favour of a narrow extension of the law. It was anxious to avoid the accusation of retrospection and, therefore, to confine the scope of any change in the law to allegations of crimes which clearly and beyond any doubt were crimes and were criminal at the time they were committed, and not as a result of any international instruments that may have been entered into since 1945. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his general response.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be a tragic mistake now to institute war crimes trials in this country and to stir up the emotions of hatred and revenge which would be evoked by the stories of these wartime atrocities? How would it be possible for those few men to get a fair trial when a law would be passed specially to frame them, when the evidence would be almost 50 years old and when it would be impossible for them to go to the Soviet Union to find witnesses and evidence that might clear them?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend puts a point of view which will certainly be widely shared. However, the emotions that he has talked about are, of course, stirred up by the allegations and would certainly not be put to sleep by an announcement that the Government were going to do nothing. That would not necessarily have the effect that my hon. Friend mentioned. We in this country do not have a statute of limitations. Other countries, such as Sweden and Belgium, do, and it affects their handling of these matters. However, like Australia, Canada and the United States, we do not have statutes of limitations and, therefore, although there is force in my hon. Friend's practical point, it is not a point of principle for our law.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : Is the Home Secretary aware that, as chairman of the all-party group on war crimes, I agree with his description of the report as impressive? It contains within its covers a statement about the international law and about what has happened in other countries. Indeed, the impressive nature

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of the report is what one would have expected from Sir Tom Hetherington and Mr. Chalmers. In the writings that preceded the report, far too many people have ignored one fact, which is brought out in paragraph 9.50, which states :

"The cases we have investigated disclose horrific instances of mass- murders".

I emphasise that the Hetherington report has been investigating mass murders, not any of the other horrible things that happen in wars on either side. I should like to make it clear to those from the Ukraine, from Latvia and from middle Europe that most of those people who have come into this country have become first-rate citizens, and many of us know them, especially in the cities of the north. The people that we are concerned about are those who have been involved in horrific instances of mass murders, and those who choose to forget that will be asking for equally horrific things to happen in the future.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that the recommended change in the law is approximately this : that if I, as a British citizen, had committed these crimes in any part of the world, I could be brought to trial ; so those who acquire British citizenship subsequently are not being treated in any other way than in the way in which British citizens by birth are being treated, and that is the way that it should be?

Mr Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman's first and last points are correct. The report brings out clearly the turmoil in central and eastern Europe immediately after the war and the way in which people came here for all kinds of reasons and through all kinds of procedures. There was confusion and a lack of clear thinking and administration. As a result of that, many thousands of people of east European origin have been living here for a long time as admirable and loyal citizens. The right hon. Gentleman was right in pointing out that we have all come to know and respect their communities. As the right hon. Gentleman said, and as I tried to say in my statement, we are not talking about actions committed by soldiers in the heat of battle. That is a different proposition. We are talking about allegations--they are only allegations--that crimes of mass slaughter were presided over and participated in by a number of people now living in this country.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that to deter such crimes in the future, it is first necessary to ensure that those who commit those evil deeds will be certain that they will have to face justice and that, therefore, there is a gap in our existing law? May I ask my right hon. Friend one detailed question? If Parliament affirms what my right hon. Friend will be putting to it in the autumn, will it be necessary for the British police to carry out investigations, which they cannot at the moment carry out or believe that it will be necessary to carry out in future?

Mr. Hurd : Yes, Sir, certainly, and the report makes that clear. It recommends a series of investigations, but I am not prepared to authorise further work on them until it is clear in what way Parliament will wish to proceed.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : The Home Secretary used the phrases "within the United Kingdom" and "a Bill". If the Government decide, with Parliament's approval, to introduce legislation, will they seek to proceed by way of a single Bill applying simultaneously to all parts of the United Kingdom?

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Mr. Hurd : Yes, Sir, I believe that that would be the right way to proceed if--it is an "if"--it were decided to seek legislation.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there will be widespread admiration for the thoroughness of the excellent report, which requires careful consideration? Does he also agree that the horrific nature of the allegations contained in the report make it not a matter for just British Jewry alone, but that the wider issues of justice and principle must also apply?

Mr. Hurd : I very much echo the hope that hon. Members and. indeed, the public will read the report. I know people who have approached the subject with one attitude but who, having read the report, have come to a different one. My hon. Friend is right to make his distinction. It would not be for the House or for Parliament to decide whether individuals were guilty or even whether they should be prosecuted. Now that the report is before us, Parliament is involved with a question of principle--whether there should be legislation to bring such allegations within our jurisdiction. If Parliament so decided, it would be for the prosecuting authorities in different parts of the United Kingdom, under their existing criteria, to decide whether prosecutions should be mounted. If they were mounted, it would be for the judge in each case to decide whether the trial was best conducted under this or that procedure authorised by Parliament, and at the end of the day it would be for the jury.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West) : While in no way dissenting from the right hon. Gentleman's proposal for a debate, has it occurred to him that those who hear nemesis approaching may decide to disappear for a second time? If there is a delay in legislating, the Odessa file may be out again. Has he any proposals for dealing with that and, if not, is time not of the essence?

Mr. Hurd : I have no proposals for dealing with that. It would be unacceptable to take powers to constrain the movements or actions of people who are involved in the situation that we are now discussing. I cannot see any basis on which one could do that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's point is an argument about time, but I do not believe that he would press us to rush into legislation in the fag end or the spillover of this Session. That would not be a sensible way in which to approach such a matter.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome) : I think that many people will be grateful that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has agreed that Parliament should make the decision on whether legislation should go ahead. My right hon. Friend has already answered my question when he said that Parliament would have no further say on whether there would be prosecutions following that legislation and that, naturally, that would be within the hands of the prosecuting authorities. The decision to go ahead with legislation could mean that such war crime trials could take place. After 45 years we in this country should not feel that it is necessary to prove that we are not a safe haven for war criminals. We never have been and we do not need crimes tried after 45 years to prove that.

Mr. Hurd : I understand my hon. Friend's point of view. I hope that he will read what is said in the report about the

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people, the crimes and the documents and statements that have been produced as part of the investigation by Sir Thomas Hetherington and Mr. Chalmers.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Does the Home Secretary accept that war crimes are not committed by the losing side only, but that the specific and horrific nature of the crimes in this case--no one denies that those crimes were committed--is what makes them different from all other war crimes? Therefore, I do not believe that we should feel apologetic at all in seeking to consider bringing forward legislation. It behoves the combative powers of the second world war, 45 years after its end, to make a common decision and to say, "We will proceed no further at any time with any allegations regarding war crimes" or, "Collectively, we shall amend and adjust our legislation to pursue until the end of time those who have committed those atrocious crimes." I subscribe to the latter view, but one way or the other, a decision of principle should be made.

Mr. Hurd : The report gives a fascinating account of the efforts to reach precisely that decision of principle immediately after the war and how those efforts foundered. Different countries have gone different ways. The United States, for example, deports and extradites--it has extradited to the Soviet Union and I believe that the person extradited was executed. In our terms I do not believe that that is a satisfactory way in which to proceed. Other countries have statutes of limitations and other countries have held trials. Canada and Australia, which faced a very similar situation to ourselves, have passed legislation that goes rather wider than that proposed in the inquiry. Although I see the advantage in what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has suggested, I am afraid that it is past praying for. We shall not get a co-ordinated and harmonious approach to this matter. We must deal with it as the report deals with it, within the law and within the practice of each country.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : Despite the horrific nature and the horrific scale of the allegations will my right hon. Friend remember Churchill's precept : there is no greater danger than retributive persecution, and a policy of retribution is a policy which is pernicious?

Mr. Hurd : It was actually Sir Winston Churchill who, during the war, set in hand the principle that there should be retribution. The report clearly shows how that statement by the Prime Minister set the tone for a great deal that followed. The fact that someone like Sir Winston Churchill had great difficulty, as time passed, in deciding within himself what the right approach should be, illustrates something that anybody thinking about this comes to appreciate--that it is extraordinarily difficult and that the passage of time obviously makes it more difficult in terms of principle, but particularly in terms of practice. I believe that the only recipe--I will not give this advice again--is for right hon. and hon. Members to digest the report and to come back in the autumn and form views upon it.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the distinguished and learned commissioners the appreciation of the House of the way in which they carried out their difficult task? Will he especially convey the appreciation of those of every nationality, race and religion who suffered and whose

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families suffered as a result of the mass murders and barbaric Nazi outrages to which this report refers? Will he also have regard to the final paragraph of the report--that

"Given the ages of the suspects and witnesses"

the commissioners considered

"that any proposed legislation should be introduced and brought into force as quickly as possible"?

May we hope that the debate on this matter will be at the end of this Session, although, of course, legislation could be introduced only at the beginning of the next?

Mr. Hurd : I note what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. I think that I covered most of his points in my earlier replies. I would certainly hope that the debates will not be long delayed ; I mentioned the autumn, which gives the business managers a certain flexibility.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the report highlights an anomaly in the law--that under present legislation this country does, indeed, provide a safe haven for war criminals, an unpleasant fact which is true of only one other country, Syria? Once legislation is contemplated by the House, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider setting up a specialist police unit to investigate the allegations made not only against the 75 people who have been identified but against the 46 who have yet to be traced?

Mr. Hurd : Certainly, if the House decided to proceed down this path there would need to be further investigations. The matter could not be left on the basis of the cases that the inquiry had the time and resources to explore. That would be far too haphazard. If Parliament took a decision in principle there would be further investigations as a consequence and they would have to take place in the usual way. As I have said, I am not prepared to authorise such further investigations at the moment.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : Am I right in assuming that the Government have still not made up their mind about the possibility of bringing forward legislation? Is the Home Secretary aware that this is a highly emotive issue which pulls people in all directions? For some time at the beginning of the statement I thought that I might be in a minority of one--until I heard some Conservative Members speak. I have just as much sympathy and feeling for the victims of these atrocious crimes, but, on the principle involved, what is to be achieved by putting on trial people of 80 years of age or more and, assuming that they are found guilty, sending them to prison for the rest of their natural lives? What on earth can be achieved by that sort of approach? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the world, north and south, east and west, is at the beginning of a healing process? If we open up all these old sores, how will we ever continue that process?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Member puts it well ; he will certainly not be alone. It would not be this House which put very old men on trial. The decision before the House is a different one, about whether, as a matter of principle, we should follow the example of Australia, Canada and the United States, which were faced with the understanding that there were people within their borders who might have committed these crimes, and which changed their laws to bring those crimes within their jurisdiction ; or

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whether, again as a matter of principle, we should take the line that although we have no statute of limitations, the matter is too difficult and too long ago, and however horrific the crimes, we intend to forget them.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the report in full. He will find his views recorded there and he will discover what the report has to say about them.

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that I remember only too well the war crimes trials held immediately after the last war, and that some, even then, had doubts about the procedure, although I agreed with it? Are we now to resume war crime trials of these few old men 40 years later? How can we ever obtain proof? Will not the trials be in danger of being show trials? Above all, do the people of England want this? We are not a vengeful nation and I have not heard any demand for it apart from the demand by this small and highly articulate lobby.

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend puts a view in which, as I have said, he will not be alone. He will read the report as others will, and he will see how it caters for the objections that he puts forward about the fairness of trials. Of course, the House will be concerned not with individual cases or trials but with the principle of the matter. It will be concerned with the quotation, which I have now found, from a speech by Mr. Churchill to which I referred in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). Mr. Churchill, the Prime Minister, said :

"Retribution for these crimes will henceforward take its place among the major purposes of this war."

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : There are valid arguments on both sides about whether prosecutions should occur and many reasons have been voiced by hon. Members. Is it not more a question of justice and certainly not revenge? Will not many people ask how it was possible for people who have been held responsible for monstrous crimes against humanity to enter the country in the first place? Is it not correct to say that if it had been the determination of the allies to carry out in practice what Sir Winston Churchill, together with other wartime leaders, promised to do from 1941 onwards, and if Nazi war crimes had been properly investigated after the war and certainly after Nuremberg, but before the cold war started, it is likely that some of the difficulties and agonising problems that we are discussing about whether such people should be brought to justice would never have arisen in the first place?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman can hark back like that if he wishes, but I am not sure that it is profitable. The first chapters of the report deal with the history in some detail. Great numbers of people came here in the turmoil that followed the war. Some of them were deliberately recruited by the Government for particular jobs, some were here as prisoners of war and, for example, many Poles came because of their connections with the Polish armed forces. The matter has a long and tangled history. There was a good deal of screening. No one could argue that it was particularly clear minded or administratively thorough and no one with a sense of history would expect that it could be. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would do anyone a great deal of good by spending too much time on history.

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Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South) : Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on a sensitive statement on matters which show crimes beyond parallel in the long catalogue of human misery? Will he underline that, as the law stands, it would be possible to prosecute a natural-born British citizen over such matters and that what he now proposes is to put those who acquired British citizenship after birth in the same position as those who acquired it on birth? I accept that there is a need for the House to debate the matter widely and thoroughly. Does he accept that there is a need to get on with it?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend accurately describes a proposal which is not mine but that of the inquiry. The Government make no proposal today. We are impressed by the force of the arguments and the background set out by the inquiry, but propose to pause and listen in the way that I have described.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : Does the Home Secretary appreciate that although a Bill may deal only with war crimes, Nazi crimes started many years before the commencement of the war? Does he also appreciate that since the war unfortunately, many other acts of mass murder have been committed in both the East and the West? Would not the Bill be a marvellous opportunity for this country to reassert its leadership of the world on humanitarian issues? We can do that if we sent out a clear signal to all those whose business is mass murder and torture, whether in the distant past, the recent past or now, that never again will they find safe refuge in our country.

Mr. Hurd : That goes very much wider and I think that on examination the hon. Gentleman will find that there might be quite serious problems in terms of retrospection if we went back that far and covered the kind of pre -war offences that he talked about. I hope that he will look at the report. He is obviously in sympathy with its general conclusion and would like it to do more. The report spends a certain amount of time discussing why it thinks that its limited recommendation is right.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The House knows that there is to be a debate on this matter later, but, as hon. Members have been rising, I will call them. However, we must move on at 20 past four because we have another statement.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Will my right hon. Friend agree with Milton Shulman, who says in today's Evening Standard that no emotion

"soils the human spirit more than vengeance"?

Is it not possible, despite what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said, that the motivation behind this campaign has nothing to do with justice and everything to to with smothering the world with a form of moral blackmail as a means of covering the present behaviour of the state of Israel? The House has got the impression that my right hon. Friend is not happy with this measure, and has not found a respectable way of not bringing it forward.

Mr. Hurd : I honestly think that my hon. Friend's description is grotesquely astray in its attempt to describe Sir Thomas Hetherington and Mr. Chalmers, who have taken a great deal of trouble to take the allegations that have been made--for whatever reason--to analyse them and to look behind them into the facts of these crimes. It

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was because the Government wanted to get away from the kind of atmosphere that my hon. Friend attempts to describe-- in which all kinds of allegations were being tossed to and fro, and nobody knew the motives or what substance there was behind the allegations--that we had this inquiry. I hope that my hon. Friend will read the results of it.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the important message that should come from the House is not one of revenge or of opening up old wounds, but the simple fact that those who have been guilty of horrendous crimes against humanity must never be able to feel that they are capable of achieving a safe haven in a civilised world? Would not that be the best message of hope that we could give to their potential victims?

Mr. Hurd : I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in that no serious person can be interested in revenge as the basis for justice. Nor could any serious person ignore the difficulties of proceeding as the inquiry suggests after this length of time. Those difficulties are real, and that is what makes the subject so daunting. Nevertheless, the analysis is a clear and strong one.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : I share the considerable unease that has been expressed by some of my hon. Friends about whether, 45 years after the events, there can be a fair trial and fair rules of evidence, especially when we have to introduce retrospective legislation. Therefore, I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that Parliament will make a judgment on this.

I have a more specific question concerning the documentary evidence. My right hon. Friend will be aware that most crimes took place in what is now either the Soviet Union or another eastern bloc country. Historians have recently expressed concern that many documents have been forged. Can we be assured that any documents that might be used for trials will be the originals and not photocopies?

Mr. Hurd : That was one of the points in which some of us were particularly interested before the inquiry was set up, and it was something on which the inquiry spent a good deal of time. It reached the conclusion set out in part 1, which is that there was a strong case for believing that the documents concerned were authentic and the witnesses credible.

Mr Toby Jessel (Twickenham) : Is not the real point the sheer number of murders? We are not talking of one murder, nor six, nor 60, nor 600, nor 6,000, nor 60,000, nor 600,000 but 6 million murders, including the murder of about 1 million children. What is wrong with the idea of a little bit of justice for that?

Mr. Hurd : In essence, what we are talking about in this inquiry is the slaughter, after the fighting was over, of very large numbers of Jews, simply as a matter of policy. The policy was one of slaughter, and a large number of people participated in that.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Should not the fact that the evidence is regarded as sufficient to warrant a prosecution by Sir Thomas Hetherington silence the doubts of those who cast doubts on the quality of the evidence?

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Mr. Hurd : I do not expect a report, however expert, to silence doubts on a matter such as this. I should be surprised, and in a way dismayed, if that were to happen. That is not the way that we run our affairs. There is bound to be controversy, and it is bound to cross the ordinary boundaries of party, as we have seen in these exchanges. It is a clear and forceful report, by people whose experience, coolness and caution in such matters it would be hard to rival.

Mr. Hattersley : I have no wish to take serious issue with the Home Secretary this afternoon. I think that we have more in common over this issue than over many, united by our mutual doubts. However, I ask him whether he will consider one answer which he gave, and consider the possibility that it was wrong in fact. He said that were we to proceed on the lines that are now possible we would not be proceeding against individuals. That would certainly be the case were we to amend the law in general as the Geneva convention of 1949 suggested, but were we to proceed as the report suggests, it would be specifically directed towards individuals. If the Home Secretary reads paragraphs 8. 24 onwards of the report under the heading "Tracing suspects", he will see that the report does everything but name the individuals against whom the action is proposed. It is that which concerns some of us. Therefore, will he think again about the more general provision which I have urged upon him?

Mr. Hurd : I have promised to think about the more general provision, but I would not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Parliament would be asked to extend our jurisdiction over a series of offences--not specified and not specific as to individuals--committed outside the United Kingdom during the war, in Germany or German-occupied territories, by people who were not then British citizens but now are or who live here. That would be compatible with individual decisions by the prosecuting authorities to proceed or not to proceed in particular cases. That is what I mean by saying that Parliament would be involved in deciding the principle. It would then be for the prosecuting authorities, the judge and finally the jury, if there were a prosecution and a trial, to decide in particular cases. That is an important point.

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