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Column 858In the meantime, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, who have agreed to go to Vietnam next month as independent observers to report to me on the conditions of those who were repatriated earlier today. There are still about 40,000 Vietnamese in the camps in Hong Kong who are not qualified as refugees. As I have already mentioned, there is a serious risk of as many thousands arriving next year. That is a serious situation. We shall now be discussing with the Vietnamese Government how to ensure in future the swift and safe return of those who are not refugees. We will talk about ways in which we can help Vietnam to take people back at a faster rate--both volunteers and those who are repatriated. We will discuss how we can help those who return to be reintegrated into Vietnam. We shall talk, as we have to, about ways to screen new arrivals quickly as they reach Hong Kong so that those who are not refugees can be returned quickly and safely to Vietnam. Those who are refugees will, as at present, be allowed to await resettlement in the West. We shall work hard to find way to check the inflow of Vietnamese into Hong Kong next year, and seek international co-operation on this at the next meeting of the Geneva conference steering committee in January.
I know that there is intense interest in the House in this issue. I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President intends to announce that there will be a day for debates on the Estimates on Tuesday 19 December. This will include a half-day debate on class II, vote 2, so far as it relates to the accommodation and repatriation of Vietnamese boat people. No further repatriations will take place before that debate.
Why was the operation carried out under cover of darkness and under the veil of a news blackout? If, as the Foreign Secretary says, force was ruled out, why were 150 riot police, equipped with riot helmets, shields and batons, needed to remove 51 people of whom 43 were children and women? Are those really the procedures that are used worldwide to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred? Who was responsible for organising and executing this operation? How many among those persons are now claiming that they need the right of abode in the United Kingdom to protect their human rights? If the Government are so satisfied with what they are doing, why did they not invite Amnesty International, the United Nations Commission for Human Rights or some other internationally recognised organisation to be present when the asylum seekers were removed? The right hon. Gentleman referred to screening procedures. Why is there no independent process of appeal for screening procedures? Why are appellants not allowed to put their case personally? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that such shortcomings do not accord with the concept of the rule of law? If the Government object to free
Column 859movement from Communist countries by what they call economic migrants, why were they a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act which embodied such principles in Europe? Why did the Government applaud the movement of such migrants from East to West Germany before the opening of the Berlin wall? What is the basis of the Government's discrimination between migrants from different Communist countries in different continents?
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Vietnamese Government have given assurances about the treatment of returning asylum seekers, but he is unconvincing about how he will reliably monitor such assurances. He says that the embassy in Hanoi will do the job, but he knows that the embassy in Hanoi is not equipped for that as it has only one Vietnamese speaker. How will it be carried out? In any case, if the right hon. Gentleman regards assurances by the Vietnamese Government as being so reliable, why does he deny such an admirable and trustworthy Government economic aid? Vietnam is one of only two countries to which the United Kingdom Government deny all bilateral economic development aid.
The right hon. Gentleman just said that he has had to adopt this solution, but the Government have always been determined on it. The Leader of the House, the former Foreign Secretary, said last night : "what is now happening was first foreshadowed in a statesment that I made in Hong Kong some 15 months ago. The policy has been repeatedly explained to the House". --[ Official Report, 11 December 1989 ; Vol. 163 c. 782.]
The Government planned, decided upon and wanted that policy, and no rational person could accept the pretence that it has been forced upon them. Far from having no choice the Government have deliberately made the choice of bundling women and children into closed cars under the supervision of riot police, and taking them to an airport in the dead of night and under a news blackout.
The Prime Minister said a little while ago that she would impose conditions on whether to attend the forthcoming conference on human rights in Moscow. Bellowing Conservative Members do not care about human rights except when they are attacking certain Communist countries in Europe. The Prime Minister has shown herself to be completely unfit not only to attend any conference on human rights anywhere but even to utter those words.
Mr. Hurd : The right hon. hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) began with the operation itself. The policy which it embodies, as he said later in his intervention, has been announced and argued through repeatedly in the House. There can be no possible surprise among any right hon. and hon. Gentlemen that it is being implemented, but we thought it right to carry it through in a way which reduced the risk of violence and force, and that was done. The right hon. Gentleman talked about screening. Each applicant for asylum who claims to be a refugee is screened at a two- hour interview and has the right of appeal. That process is monitored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I recommend the right hon. Gentleman to read the report of the British Refugee Council, particularly what it says about screening. In case he doubts the validity of that report, it is signed by two of his most distinguished former colleagues who are respected in the House--Lord Ennals and Mr. Alf Dubs.
The right hon. Gentleman pretended that there was some discrimination. There is no discrimination. The
Column 860crucial test tests who is a refugee. We apply the same test in the United Kingdom, as I know from my last job. The same test is being applied in Hong Kong. It is a test laid down not by us but by the United Nations in the 1951 convention. The test is whether an individual has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. That is the United Nations test. We apply it in Britain and it is being applied in Hong Kong.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to assurances. So far as we and the United Nations can tell, the assurances given by the Vietnamese Government in respect of those who volunteered to go back, have been fully respected. But of course monitoring is important. I agree that it has to start with the embassy, and I am very keen to reinforce it as soon as possible. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to Lord Ennals for conducting that reinforcement. I hope that the new UNHCR and our own non-governmental organisations will join in that monitoring. It does not require them to approve the policy ; it simply asks them to monitor whether the undertakings given are being fully respected.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about aid. We are giving some aid to Vietnam to help the people whom we are repatriating or who are volunteering to resettle in their communities. We are prepared to consider further aid, including perhaps through NGOs, but that will have to be negotiated as part of wider arrangements to repatriate boat people.
I listened when the right hon. Gentleman was asked this morning what his policy was. He announced a three-point plan. The first thing that a Labour Government would do is conduct proper screening, but there is proper screening, which I have just described and which is monitored by the UN and endorsed by his right hon. Friends. The second point in his great plan was that refugees would be settled in the West. They are being settled in the West, which is one of the main purposes of the international agreement that was reached last year and in which we are playing our part. Having announced the third part of his three point plan, he forgot what it was, and when he was pressed on what would be done for people who had been screened-out as refugees, he found no answer. He has shown, by his diffidence in putting forward alternatives, some understanding of the realities, but when pressed he has always dodged them--we cannot do so.
Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South) : Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on having taken a courageous and correct decision on this very difficult problem? He will be aware that the population of Hong Kong is roughly one tenth of the population of the United Kingdom. If 400,000 boat people had landed illegally on the shores of this country as economic migrants from, say Romania, does he think that the Opposition might be singing a different tune?
Mr. Hurd : My right hon. Friend described the decision as courageous and correct, which is for the House to judge, but, as he will agree, it is an unwelcome one. I considered this, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President before him, in the hope of finding an easier way, but we were forced back--the right hon. Member for Gorton failed to realise this--on the
Column 861realities to which my right hon. Friend referred. We come back to the essential distinction, which will become more and more important in the world as we proceed, between people who, quite understandably, want to move somewhere else to achieve a more agreeable life and those who are forced to do so by the well-founded fear of persecution. Those who blur that distinction do not understand its crucial importance to the successful handling of a series of intractable problems, of which at the moment this is the worst.
Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : Does the Secretary of State accept that the feelings of the people in this country about what happened last night vary from unease to repugnance that a British Government should stoop to use a device that, under successive Governments, we have consistently condemned in others--the knock on the door in the middle of the night? His statement was evasive on that issue ; he has not responded to questions on the point, but will he do so now? Will he explain why the Government rejected the proposal to use the empty Hong Kong island of Tai Au Chau as a more adequate resettlement facility pending international agreement or improvement of conditions in Vietnam? Will he be more forthcoming about exactly what aid he is offering to help to resettle these people?
Mr. Hurd : We are talking about the repatriation--many countries, including Britain and certainly the United States, do it--of people who are not refugees and who have no right of entry or settlement. In the circumstances of Hong Kong, it was clearly right to do that in a way that did not involve, or which reduced to the minimum, the risk of violence and force, which is what occurred. Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that we should ask the people of Hong Kong to accept refugees on one of their islands, which has no facilities or services and is wholly unsuitable for the purposes that he described? If he, or the leader of his party, who has just returned from Hong Kong, are seriously suggesting that we should put that proposition to the people of Hong Kong who have endured a great deal precisely because they have been more open and responsive to the real problem than neighbouring countries, it shows how completely out of touch they are with reality.
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are many cases in the world where illegal immigrants who are not refugees and seek a better economic prospect are returned whence they came? For instance, large numbers of Mexicans are returned by the United States. Is it not true that Hong Kong last year returned over 50 illegal immigrants a day to China? Has my right hon. Friend heard any fuss from the Opposition about those situations? As I cannot remember any fuss, will he take little notice of what they say now, especially as they have no practicable alternative policy to offer us?
Governments--has been pushing across the border between the New Territories and the People's Republic people who have
Column 862entered illegally from China. The people of Hong Kong cannot understand why a distinction is drawn between that, which has been constantly happening, and the repatriation of the Vietnamese. I failed to reply to the right hon. Member for Tweedale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) on the question of aid, although I gave an answer to the general point. The reintegration aid being made available for volunteers and for those repatriated last night is $620 per person which goes towards their transport inside Vietnam as well as food, medicines, domestic equipment, training, administration costs and tools. We are perfectly ready to consider expanding and developing that aid. The right hon. Gentleman knows the reasons why Vietnam has not qualified for international aid. It has been connected with the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnamese troops. However, they have to a large extent withdrawn. I regard this as an open question but it is a mistake to suppose that whatever is done about aid will persuade a villager living in the Red river delta to abandon his plans to go to Hong Kong unless and until it becomes clear that such a voyage is not, after a short stopover, a voyage to Vancouver or Australia. That is the illusion that has been fostered among those people. That illusion is damaging to them and we have to end it.
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : Is not one of the background factors the fact that Vietnam was so devastated in the war? It was drenched in napalm from end to end and poisoned with agent orange and then blockaded, and has been ever since, by the United States as a punishment for defeating the United States in the war. Should not the proper policy now be a massive aid programme from the West as repatriation for the injustices that that country has suffered? That would be a more honest policy for the Government.
Mr. Hurd : There is an argument for discussing in the international community the question of aid for Vietnam and how Vietnam is to be treated now that the bulk of its combat troops have withdrawn from Cambodia. The arguments which the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) advances are not likely to gain a great deal of ground with the United States.
Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst) : How many Vietnamese arriving at the shores or borders of Hong Kong have been refused entry and who has been responsible for meeting the cost of accommodating them? Further to the response that my right hon. Friend gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), can he tell us what representations he has received from the American Government, Her Majesty's Opposition and the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) about the return, over a number of years, of illegal immigrants from China into Hong Kong?
Mr. Hurd : On the first point, Hong Kong has not turned away people coming from Vietnam and in that respect, it has differed from some of the other neighbouring ports of call. It is precisely because Hong Kong has followed that policy that it has 57,000 boat people in camps. Her Majesty's Government have made a contribution, but a substantial burden has fallen on the people of Hong Kong. On the second point, I am not aware of any representations having been made on the return of illegal
Column 863immigrants across the border into the People's Republic. It is a practice which has been settled for many years. It occurred even when I served in Peking a very long time ago and it has not attracted particular comment or protest.
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : Will the Secretary of State tell us what consideration he has given to the position of unaccompanied minors and orphans who are currently in the camps in Hong Kong? Does he agree that if the same amount of effort were put into finding an international solution as into the defeatist approach of forcible repatriation, our country might avoid the stain that will be marked indelibly on its international reputation for generations to come, as people are repatriated to a country that has one of the most appalling human rights records in the world?
Mr. Hurd : There are unaccompanied children in the camps and it is hard to divine how they reached Hong Kong. The decision on their future must depend on where their families are. If their parents are back in Vietnam, I suggest that they should go back there, but if their families are resettled in the West, it is sensible that they should join their families in the West. That seems to be a common-sense approach. The hon. Gentleman's rhetoric is damaging because it falls short of the facts. There is a careful screening process to distinguish between those who are refugees and those who are not. Refugees should be accepted and resettled. If the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition parties are beginning to put forward the doctrine that anyone who wants to move from one country to another in search of a better life must, as of right, be accepted there in the cause of humanitarian principle, I can say only that it is a recipe for chaos and great unhappiness throughout the world.
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is a sad day for some Conservative Members? Some of us have been very much involved in the matter for a considerable time and well understand the complications. However, there is nothing in my right hon. Friend's statement that deals with the basic problem. These migrants are not escaping from tyranny, but from abject poverty. Those of us who have seen them in Vietnam recognise that the fault lay partly with the Vietnamese Government and their policies, but the Vietnamese Government have now changed their policies and that is part of the reason for people leaving. The new system does not subsidise people in factories that produce goods that are not sold, so people have to leave the factories without a safety net. When the people have no hope, they take to the boats and unless we give the Vietnamese people hope by normalising relations and by pressing the United States to normalise relations with that country, by restoring bilateral and multilateral aid and by giving it access to the International Monetary Fund and the banks, we shall not stop the boat people. There will still be people leaving because when there is no hope, they will continue to leave and to seek somewhere else.
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is right. He has studied the problem with great care for a long time and he has visited Vietnam. He makes the accurate distinction, which has escaped the Opposition, between people fleeing from tyranny and migrants who wish to escape from poverty to what they believe is likely to be prosperity. As I have said already, there is a case for looking again at relationships.
Column 864We have political and diplomatic relations with Hanoi and that is not in question, but there is a case for looking again at economic relations. As I have outlined, we are already building them up for those who are repatriated and who volunteer to return. I repeat to my hon. Friend, as I have in answer to earlier questions, that whatever is done about aid, the World bank or the relationship of Vietnam with the international community that will not in itself--and certainly not next year--deter people who are now planning to sail or to go along the south China coast to Hong Kong in the belief that the journey to Hong Kong is halfway to Australia or to Vancouver. We can argue through the remedies that my hon. Friend suggests, but they are not remedies for the immediate critical situation that we and the people of Hong Kong face.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : As some hon. Members have already said, is not the main problem that the United States still considers itself to be at war with Vietnam and that those who burned down Vietnam, or who acquiesced in that as we did, are unwilling to participate in its reconstruction? Does the Secretary of State recall an American Under -Secretary describing American policy towards Vietnam 10 years ago as being "to bleed Vietnam white"? Does he agree that until American policy changes, the flow of refugees will continue unabated? Will he tell the House what efforts we have made to persuade the United States Government or our allies in Europe to change their policy towards Vietnam and to participate in its reconstruction?
Mr. Hurd : I have answered that question two or three times already. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman, as I said to his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), that we shall not solve or improve the problem by resurrecting all the arguments about the war in Vietnam. It is over and Vietnamese troops are now out of Cambodia. There is a case for examining these points, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) suggests. However, I do not kid myself that by doing so, we shall solve the immediate grave problem.
Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley) : Will my right hon. Friend recognise that it is impossible to separate this issue from our responsibility to govern Hong Kong firmly and fairly until 1997 and that it is quite impossible to explain to the Chinese population in Hong Kong that we are putting their relatives back across the frontier with the mainland day after day yet allowing boat people from Vietnam to remain in Hong Kong?
I support my right hon. Friend in his very lonely and courageous decision. Does he recognise that the Government of mainland China have a substantial interest in the matter and that in trying to prevent increasing numbers of people coming from Vietnam there are interests working in conjunction with the Government of mainland China who wish to persuade the people of Hong Kong that they are as concerned about that colony's future as we are?
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and my position is not quite as lonely now that he is alongside. He is perfectly correct on his second point especially now that more of the recent inflow came along the south China
Column 865coast rather than across the sea, so there is an interest and involvement for the Government of the People's Republic which we need to discuss with them.
Several Hon. Members rose
Mr. Speaker : Order. The House knows that we have an important debate on war crimes to follow. Again, I shall have to limit questions to three more from each side and we shall then have to move on. The House knows that we shall have a debate about this matter next Tuesday.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : Is this situation not similar to the forcible repatriations that followed world war two in which people were simply left to their fate? What kind of people are we who are willing to sell individuals and families to the Vietnamese for $30 Hong Kong a head? The price of this betrayal is not 30 pieces of silver but $30 Hong Kong. Will the Secretary of State think again and act differently, in the name of humanity?
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : As the unfortunate boat people are being sent back to a closed and totalitarian society, will my right hon. Friend say exactly how many independent British observers and British relief workers will now be able to move freely throughout Vietnam and to see exactly what happens to those whom we are, so unfortunately, sending back?
Mr. Hurd : I hope that it will be a considerable number. When I met the leaders of some of our non-governmental aid organisations a few weeks ago to discuss Cambodia, I asked and encouraged them to take part in the process of monitoring. As my hon. Friend knows, some of them are already deeply involved in Vietnam. I mentioned the part played by our embassy and the role played by a Member of this House and a Member of the other place. I should like to build up those activities. As soon as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is properly in place, we shall encourage him to extend monitoring over and above what the UNHCR already does to include boat people repatriated last night and in future. I should like to build up the widest possible pattern of monitoring and that seems at present--so far as we can tell--to be acceptable to the Vietnamese Government.
Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North) : Does the Foreign Secretary realise that the mass of the British population will consider the repatriation of men, women and children in the early hours of the morning to be an even greater obscenity than the condition of the camps, which some of us have seen? Are not the Government placing a false perspective on history by calling the Vietnamese boat people economic migrants? Does that not deny the whole lesson of history? This whole people is to be discriminated against once more, even under the terms of the United Nations charter. They had more bombs dropped on them in the American war in Vietnam than were dropped throughout the second world war. Their country has been left devastated, their lands poisoned and their children deformed. Does not that mean that we should take a realistic attitude to raising the necessary finance and
Column 866ensuring that the rest of the world takes in the boat people and looks after them and that we give proper aid to the peoples of Vietnam?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman underestimates the commonsense of people in this country. Are the Opposition really intending to set out, as a matter of policy, that people who come to live in an unfortunate country- -whatever its history--have the right to be received in another country that they think is somewhat more prosperous? If so, I hope that they will say so.
Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that, far from being lonely in this matter, he enjoys the overwhelming support of those in the House and in the country who are prepared to look beyond an emotional knee-jerk reaction and accept that, however unpleasant the present process may be, it is an inevitable consequence of events that would otherwise result in absolute chaos? My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) drew a comparison between the repatriation of the boat people and the repatriation to China that has been taking place daily for many years, and that is the comparison which should be drawn in the best interests of everyone in Britain.
Mr. Hurd : I can quite understand people in Britain who come new to the problem, and who have not had it drawn to their attention before, feeling dismayed. I have very much less sympathy for those who have studied the problem and lived with it for months--in some cases, years--but who still turn their back on the reality of it. I have very little sympathy for them.
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South) : The Foreign Secretary said that the effect of restoring aid would be small and delayed. Will he consider whether the further repatriation of refugees could be delayed until aid has had time to have a significant effect, with only new Vietnamese arrivals in Hong Kong being repatriated in the mean time?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman has made a constructive, although not wholly realistic, suggestion. Our key objective--and our urgent objective-- is to prevent new arrivals. Because of the doctrine of first asylum, we do not have a system for turning people round quickly. We cannot act as the United States acts in the case of people coming from the Caribbean. That is one reason why I felt it essential to repatriate to show the people who might even now be planning to come in the spring, when the winds change and the season begins that it is not a happy voyage and will not lead them to resettlement in the West.
Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West) : My right hon. Friend rightly emphasised again and again that we are not dealing only with the problem of the 40,000 who are there already. We are dealing with those who will follow. Does he accept that, as a result of our exchanges in the House today, he will have to explain that repeatedly to the Opposition parties, which take the simplistic view that if we solved the problem of the 40,000 there would be no more problems? But that figure could be 400,000 or 1 million if we do not take the proper action now.
Column 867camps who are likely to be screened out and classified as non-refugees would ensure that the camps refilled very quickly. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I am sorry that it has not been possible to call all the hon. Members who wished to participate, but I shall bear their claims in mind when we debate the matter next Tuesday. Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Electricity Supply Industry (Rateable Values) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft British Waterways Board (Rateable Values) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the draft Railways (Rateable Values) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Water Undertakers (Rateable Values) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the draft Docks and Harbours (Rateable Values) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the draft Electricity Generators (Rateable Values) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the draft Telecommunications Industry (Rateable Values) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft British Gas plc (Rateable Values) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the draft Non- Domestic Rating (Transitional Period) (Appropriate Fraction) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
That this House takes note of the report of the War Crimes Inquiry ; and endorses the need for legislation to permit the prosecution in this country, for acts of murder and manslaughter or culpable homicide committed as war crimes in Germany, or German-occupied territory, during the Second World War, of people who are now British citizens or resident here.
Mr. Speaker : I must tell the House that I have selected neither of the amendments on the Order Paper. Moreover, a very large number of right hon. and hon. Members have written in seeking to participate in the debate. I urge them all, if they are called, to be brief.
Sir Bernard Braine : In October 1986 the Simon Wiesenthal Centre wrote to the Prime Minister with a list of 17 alleged Nazi war criminals said to be living in this country. Scottish Television made a programme on the subject at about the same time and obtained from the Soviet Union a further list of 34 suspects believed to be living here. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who was then Home Secretary, examined the allegations and concluded that 10 of the 17 names on the Wiesenthal Centre list and seven of the 34 names on the Scottish Television list might be alive in this country.
In February 1988 my right hon. Friend announced that Sir Thomas Hetherington, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and Mr. William Chalmers, the former Crown Agent for Scotland, would prepare a detailed report. My right hon. Friend presented their report to Parliament on 24 July. It recommended that British criminal law should be changed to make possible the prosecution of a number of individuals for Nazi war crimes.
Details of those investigated were quite rightly placed in an unpublished annex to the main report, which stated that they revealed
"horrific instances of mass murder."
The investigations related specifically to three individuals against whom there is sufficient evidence to warrant immediate prosecution ; three cases in which detailed investigation has taken place but more is required ; 75 cases in which detailed investigation is still needed ; and 46 further cases in which suspects are so far untraced--a possible total of 124 cases.
At present, under our law, murder and manslaughter committed during the second world war anywhere in the world can be prosecuted in British courts only if the person who committed the alleged offence was a British citizen or resident here when the crime was committed. The inquiry recommends that the law be changed so that persons who now live in Britain may be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter committed as a violation of the laws and customs of war in Germany or German-occupied territory during the second world war. The effect of that change is that a criminal law as already applied to those who were British citizens at the time of the alleged murders would apply equally to persons who later acquired British citizenship or residence. This is simply to recognise an obvious truth : that the acquisition of British citizenship confers both privileges and responsibilities.
In common with all other western countries, the British legal system has a proud tradition of resistance to the
Column 869retrospective introduction of offences into our criminal law. The Hetherington-Chalmers report fully endorses that tradition. Under its proposals, no new offences will be created. The changes will be retrospective only in so far as those who were not British citizens or residents at the time will now be liable to face charges that could always have been made against British citizens.
Not only were such crimes against our domestic law but they were against international law at the time. They were crimes against the accepted and recognised law of all civilised nations. What is more, current international conventions to which Britain is party explicitly permit such legislation. It might be thought unusual that, if the proposed legislation is enacted, British courts will be required to try individuals for crimes committed overseas. Not so. When an offence is considered sufficiently serious, British courts already have criminal jurisdiction over persons who did not have British citizenship or residence at the time of the offence. Our courts have been granted extraterritorial jurisdiction relating to hijacking, terrorism and the practice of torture. The inquiry's recommendations in respect of the rules of evidence are all in line with our current practices.
The Criminal Justice Act 1988 provided for the use of live video links in England and Wales. The recommended change would bring Scots law into line with the 1988 Act. The inquiry recommends that the recorded statements of persons now dead should be admissible as evidence. That requires no new legislation. As a guarantee of fairness, the courts have wide powers to determine whether such statements should be admitted as evidence.
It is important to recognise that, if we approve legislation on the lines recommended, Britain will not be standing alone. Indeed, we are the last of the allied powers engaged in the second world war to bring war criminals to justice. Legislation to allow for the retroactive punishment of Nazi criminals has recently been sponsored by the Governments of two countries whose legal and constitutional systems are based upon our own--Canada and Australia. Both have enacted war crimes legislation. Both have acted on recommendations from commissions of inquiry which held that such measures were in accordance with their own constitutions and with international law. In Canada, legislation was passed in September 1987, and proceedings against alleged war criminals are now under way. In Australia, the Government-commissioned Menzies review reported to the
Attorney-General in November 1986 with detailed allegations against 70 persons whose former activities warranted further investigation.
Sir Bernard Braine : I would rather not give way. I listened carefully to what Mr. Speaker said about the large number of hon. Members who wish to contribute to our debate. If I give way once, I shall have to give way on another occasion. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand.
Appropriate legislation was introduced in Australia in December 1988, and trials are expected to start quite soon. The United States changed its immigration law 10 years ago so that Nazi criminals could be stripped of their
Column 870citizenship and deported. In 1980, the United States Justice Department set up the Office of Special Investigations which, so far, has successfully proceeded against about 30 persons. In western Europe, France, Holland and West Germany continue to mount investigations and prosecutions.
Of course, I recognise that this grave issue has given rise to moral doubts and reservations, and that is only right--it is only human. First, there are those who say, "It happened a long time ago." To them I reply that there is no period of limitation in English or Scots law for the prosecution of murder or manslaughter. Indeed, various United Nations and European conventions require states not to impose statutes of limitation on the prosecution of war crimes. Police and prosecutors investigate and prosecute murder committed in Britain, however long ago such crimes were committed. Indeed, the report refers to an alleged domestic murder committed 27 years ago. Certainly public opinion in this country would be outraged if the real perpetrators of the Guildford bombing were traced but were then released because the offence was committed some 15 years ago. Secondly, there are those who, I am sorry to say, have not read the report but who tell me, "Surely after such a lapse of time there is insufficient evidence." To them I reply that Sir Thomas and Mr. Chalmers were appointed to their task by the Home Secretary precisely because of their experience as experienced and much-respected prosecutors. They are used to applying a strict test of the evidence in a case before recommending it for prosecution--that there must be a greater than 50 per cent. chance of conviction. It was on that basis that they found sufficient evidence of murder and manslaughter against a number of persons. However, as is the norm with criminal legislation, my supporters and I ask hon. Members to consider only enabling legislation. Whether or not prosecutions go ahead is not a matter for us. It will be for the current Director of Public Prosecutions or the Crown Agent.
Thirdly, there are those who say, "Such trials run counter to the Christian concept of mercy." Not so. The concepts of justice and mercy run alongside, not against, each other in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. A former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Coggan, went right to the heart of the matter in his letter to The Times in March 1987, when he wrote :
"Justice demands that society takes note of wrongs committed, and does so in such a way as to ensure, in so far as possible, that such atrocities do not occur again It is hardly for one who has not suffered at the hands of the Nazis to hint at which way the scales should be tilted."
Fourthly, it may be argued that it would be wrong to prosecute old men. There is no question of putting frail old men in the dock. In any criminal case in this country, if a defendant is unfit to mount a proper defence, it is the normal practice not to proceed. Fifthly, some argue, "Terrible things happen in war. Why single out these particular acts?" The answer is that these were not crimes committed in the heat of battle. They are cases of mass murder of non-combatants--the slaughter of whole communities and of women and children. Such murders were premeditated--planned. I hope that the House will forgive me for mentioning one case which has been in my heart and mind ever since I saw people coming out of concentration camps at the end of the war. In 1942, the Nazi leadership met at the infamous Wannsee conference. It was resolved there that mass
Column 871murder by carbon monoxide gas was too costly and laborious and that instead gas chambers would be built--it would be cheaper and quicker. Such calculating cold-blooded criminality had nothing to do with savagery in the heat of battle. Let me be clear about the sort of crime that I and my supporters are talking about.
On 15 April 1946, during the Nuremberg tribunal, the chief witness for the defendant, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, was called to the stand. His name was Rudolph Hoess. From 1940 to 1943 Hoess was the commandant of Auschwitz, where he presided over 2.5 million planned deaths. While in the witness box, his signed affidavit was read out in open court. It stated :
"The Final Solution of the Jewish Question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941.
I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. The camp commandant told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one half-year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyklon B, which was crystallised prussic acid that we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening.
It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped.
We usually waited about half-an-hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed, our special commandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of their corpses."
In 1943, along with the United States of America, Canada and the USSR, Britain signed the Moscow declaration, committing itself to the pursuit of Nazi war criminals. Britain gave this solemn undertaking :
"Most assuredly, the Allied Powers will pursue them to the uttermost ends of the earth and deliver them to their accusers in order that justice may be done."
As the Hetherington-Chalmers report reminds us, Britain has never taken a decision not to prosecute war criminals. The question that we must now resolve is, "Why should we act now?" There are two reasons. First, mass murders of the kind that I have described are as abhorrent to the British people now as they were on the day and at the place they were committed. Secondly, we must make it clear before the entire world that the proud privilege of British citizenship cannot and must never be extended to vile criminals.