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Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : It was a privilege to listen to the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who heads the list of the sponsors of early-day motion 18. He is a fellow member of the all-party group on war crimes, of which I am chairman. It would put the group into context if I said that for three years we have run an office, raised money and run a conference. We have hosted visits from the United States of America, Canada and Australia to find out what is going on in those countries and what changes have been made in their laws. We have also commissioned a report on the legal aspects of these cases in advance of the report that we are, effectively, debating today. In addition, we gave evidence to the inquiry. I hope that it has proved to be a model of an all-party group of hon. Members, and not a pressure group, although wishing to
Column 872pressure the Government. I do not commit all of us in the group to having the same views about what should happen.
In a sense, the inquiry took over from us because we had reached the limit of what an all-party group could do. It was right that under a previous Home Secretary the Government set up the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiry, which issued a report, which is the core of our debate. It was right that two Law Officers', one of Scotland and one of England and Wales, should carry out the inquiry because one of the aims that we could not achieve, with all the evidence put to us, was to consider the extent of the problem in this country, the numbers of people involved in this country and the number of those against whom allegations had been made who could be brought before the courts. It is the job of the Director of Public Prosecutions to make such decisions on a daily basis, working with the Attorney-General.
People coming from America, Australia and Canada found it strange that there was no question of setting up a special inquiry to investigate people against whom allegations had been made because only the police in this country can carry out investigations in the face of allegations and only then if the law has been broken. As things are at the moment, if I had carried out those crimes in middle and eastern Europe, I could be brought before the courts because I was born and bred in this country. However, if the person living next door to me had carried out those crimes, come here as a displaced person, settled here and taken out British citizenship, that person could not be brought before the courts because despite having become a British citizen--and some have--that person is not in the same position as somebody who was born here. One thing that has motivated me is that if one becomes a British citizen, one must accept that there are responsibilities and rights as well as advantages in coming to this country --
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding) rose
I turn now to the motion and remind the House of what we are debating. We are asking the House to take note of the war crimes inquiry and to endorse
"the need for legislation 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."
That is what we are debating today in this authorising debate. As I go around the country, I am often asked, "What is a war crime?" I must point out that the term "war crime" does not refer to acts committed in the course of war because most of the crimes that we are talking about had nothing to do with the German war effort. Indeed, some occurred before the second world war began and they did not necessarily arise in the period 1939-45. Most of the crimes were perpetrated on the ground of the victims' race, religion or belief. Knowing that I served in the Royal Air Force, younger people have asked me when I have argued this case, "What about the bombing of Dresden when 130,000 people were killed in one night?" It might have been 120,000--it does not matter very much to the argument. When I visit Dortmund, which is paired with my city of Leeds, and where we killed 2,000 people per night over a period as part of the war, I sometimes find it
Column 873difficult to define where a war crime begins and ends. However, when I read about the sort of thing that we are discussing, when in the cool of the night 2,000 people were killed in the way that they were, I know that that is a war crime--
Mr. Quentin Davies rose --
Mr. Rees : There are those who say, "What good will it do to bring it all back again now?" To those who have doubts and to the younger people who knew not, I say simply that if the Director of Public Prosecutions says so, those who committed such crimes should be brought before the courts. I do not particularly want to lock them up or to see them in show trials, but I believe that the world should know that such things will never be forgotten and they should be brought before--
Mr. Quentin Davies rose --
The report said, in relation to the evidence, that there were unpublished findings of horrific instances of massacres ; that there were three individuals against whom there was sufficient evidence to warrant immediate prosecution ; that in three cases detailed investigation had taken place but more was required ; that in 75 cases detailed investigation was needed ; and that in 46 further cases suspects were still untraced. The words that moved me most were :
"The crimes committed are so monstrous that they cannot be condoned."
Mr. Quentin Davies : What crimes?
Mr. Rees : The hon. Gentleman should have done us the courtesy of reading the report, which said that their prosecution could act as a deterrent in future wars. To take no action would taint the United Kingdom with the slur of being a haven for war criminals. The question of evidence has been raised on a number of occasions and I agree that it will need to be examined carefully when the Bill following the debate is brought before the House. In a speech at a conference which we organised, Sir Thomas Hetherington said : "If Parliament does legislate, if these cases do come to the DPP or Crown Agent, in each case there will be two main tests to be applied before a decision about prosecution will be taken. First of all, the adequacy of the evidence will be tested to make sure there is, as we believe, a realistic prospect of conviction in the light of the witnesses who are then available. The second main test, which is now always applied before the decision to prosecute is affirmed is whether it would be in the public interest. So not only could you prosecute, but should you prosecute. And in the public interest element, amongst those matters to be considered will be : fairness to the defendant ; age of the defendant ; infirmity of the defendant ; and all the other matters that are taken into account."
In other words, the matters that are of concern to hon. Members will be dealt with.
It is asked whether Soviet-source evidence is reliable. It has been brought to our notice that documents and witnesses from the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries are likely to be relevant, in the experience of
Column 874other western countries. That was put to us by Americans, and of all nations, the citizens of that country would be likely to question evidence from the Soviet Union.
In the experience of other western countries that have proceeded against alleged Nazi war criminals, evidence produced by Soviet citizens or Soviet authorities has proved consistently reliable. Access to Soviet-source evidence is given to all parties in proceedings.
The Hetherington-Chalmers report found Soviet-source documents authentic and witnesses credible, and said :
"Expert testimony in court is recommended as the best means of testing the authenticity of documents as material evidence." I suggest that the main points of the report appear in the concluding summary where it says :
"In our opinion, there is sufficient evidence to support criminal proceedings for murder against some persons living in the United Kingdom and further investigations may disclose the necessary evidence against other such persons The cases we have investigated disclose horrific instances of mass murders, and we do not consider that the lapse of time since the offences were committed, or the age of the offenders, provide sufficient reason for taking no action in such cases. We therefore recommend that some action should be taken in each case in which the evidence is adequate."
That evidence came not from politicians but from the
"In paragraph 9.18 we describe possible courses of action. We do not recommend deprivation of citizenship and deportation". That is the point that I assume the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. It continues :
"The remaining possibilities are prosecution and extradition." I had not intended to follow the line of extradition. I remember from my days as Home Secretary that extradition did not necessarily avoid going to court. If the Home Secretary of the day orders extradition and if an extradition treaty is available--and in this case there is not--the person concerned can elect to go before the Court of Appeal, so that the question of trial is not avoided. I can say, from my experience of a small part of Europe about which we have been reading following a recent court case, that one cannot but recall the chaos of the ghastly effects of the break up of society in the Balkans area which led to a lack of screening and large numbers of displaced people coming to this country. Many of them came to the mining village in which I was born. They have played a major part in the social life of the village, and they are good people. Nothing in my argument is concerned with the people from the Baltic or the Balkans or from that area, where the feelings and, in many instances, the hatred of nationalism arise to a great degree. We are not talking of a large number of people.
At this time, when the icecap of Stalinist Europe is cracking, it seems curious that we should be talking about a part of the world where there is little tradition of democracy but which is full of feelings of nationalism that have caused problems over the years, and we now know what happened during the war years.
We cannot forget other matters because of that. We must deal with those who inveigled their way into this country and who did not tell the truth about their past activities. I hope that the House will authorise the
Column 875Government to provide the necessary legislation. I wonder what sort of majority will be required today so that the Government will act, and I believe that they have acted honourably all the way through. I hope that we can have the necessary special procedure for dealing with the Bill that would come forward. It would be appropriate to take evidence in Committee upstairs rather than deal with it as a party political measure. There are ways of carrying on the tradition that we in the all-party group have built up over the last three years. Let matters continue in that way. This is a special problem and I hope that we will use special measures to deal with it in the House. Accordingly, I hope that hon. Members will vote for the motion.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington) : When the report of the war crimes inquiry was publishe my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary promised a debate, and that is why we are here today.
The events which led to the setting up of the inquiry are well known. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) referred to the letter addressed to the Prime Minister by Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the grave allegations contained therein. The whole House will agree that those allegations had to be investigated.
My right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary therefore appointed Sir Thomas Hetherington, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and his Scottish counterpart, Mr. William Chalmers, to carry out the task. The whole House would like me to thank them both for the dedicated and thorough way in which they approached the work and the clarity of the report they produced.
Sir Thomas and Mr. Chalmers set about following up no fewer than 301 allegations that had been made to them. Some of those were detailed and specific. Others were extremely vague. But it proved possible to investigate seven cases in detail. In four of them, they considered that the evidence available was sufficient to mount a prosecution. One of the four people concerned has since died. They recommended additional work on the three other cases and they identified 75 others in which further investigation would be warranted. They also recommended that attempts should be made to trace a further 46.
In the light of the apparently strong evidence of guilt which the authors had uncovered in at least some of the cases, the inquiry considered possible courses of action that might be taken to bring the alleged offenders to justice. The inquiry ruled out the possibility of depriving the individuals concerned of their citizenship and deporting them. Any attempts at deportation were certain to be resisted strenuously through the immigration appeals system and the courts, and would probably be frustrated. Extradition to the place where the offence was committed--in each of the cases examined in detail, now part of the territory of the Soviet Union--was also rejected. The inquiry noted the apparent progress towards greater democracy and openness that had recently been made in the Soviet Union, but concluded that despite these changes there must still be doubts whether the legal safeguards that would be the right of anyone put on trial in this country would be available in the Soviet Union. The inquiry therefore recommended that our law should be changed to
Column 876give British courts jurisdiction over acts of murder and manslaughter committed as war crimes--that is to say, as violations of the laws and customs of war--during the second world war in Germany or German-occupied territory by people now resident here.
In last week's debate in another place, one of the main points of concern was whether the implementation of these recommendations would amount to retrospective legislation. There are clearly two views about this, but the inquiry suggests that retrospectivity does not arise and points out that had these crimes been committed by British citizens our courts would have had jurisdiction over them. Their proposal was simply to extend that jurisdiction to those who were not British citizens or residents at the time but are now.
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton) : How is German-occupied territory defined? Germany and her allies--Italy, Romania and Hungary, for instance--occupied a great deal of territory, for example Russian territory, sometimes with German officers attached and sometimes without. There were German bases in Italy when Italy was not German-occupied. How is that to be defined in law?
Mr. Quentin Davies : On that specific point, does my right hon. and learned Friend see any rhyme or reason in the jurisdiction which it is proposed to take under the proposal being confined to acts committed in German-occupied countries but not to crimes committed on territory occupied by other powers, for example, the Soviet Union? Does not the logic of that lead us into the absurdity that if the Katyn massacre had been committed by Germans, as the Soviet Union used to maintain but which we now know is nonsense--
Mr. Waddington : There is not the slightest evidence that any foreigner resident in Britain could have been responsible for the Katyn massacre. The report calls for jurisdiction to be given to the British courts to try people whom it says have been identified as responsible for war crimes in particular parts of the world. One must address one's mind to the circumstances identified in the report.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Unquestionably, many people in this country were responsible after 1945 for sending people back at bayonet point to the other side of the divide to be butchered. Will legislation be introduced for those who, no doubt, will claim that they were acting under orders--one recently did--when they sent back thousands of men, women and children to be massacred in their own sight? Is that to be a war crime?
Mr. Waddington : I do not concede for one moment that those people were guilty of war crimes but, if they were guilty, they would be triable here because they are British citizens. My hon. and learned Friend's point does not arise.
It is certain that the acts alleged were crimes under the law of this country and under international law at the time
Column 877when they were committed. It is equally certain that no one who committed the acts described could have imagined for one moment that what he was doing was not a crime.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, was the main moving force behind the Nuremberg war crimes trials. He will also be aware that in September 1946, 43 years ago, Churchill said : "There must be an end to retribution. We must turn our backs on the horrors of the past and look to the future."
If that was true 43 years ago, surely it is true now.
Mr. Waddington : After that, the decision was made not to proceed with war crimes trials in the British-occupied zone. We are not talking about that. No decision was ever made by a British Government that there should be an end to all war crimes trials, least of all that there should be an exemption from prosecution for all time for people resident in this country who had been proved guilty of war crimes.
I repeat that it is absolutely certain that no one who committed the acts described could have imagined for one moment that what he was doing was not a crime. This is not a proposal to criminalise actions that were not criminal at the time. It is a proposal to give our courts power to try here actions which were undeniably criminal and which the perpetrators must have known were wicked and criminal.
Mr. Gorst : Before my right hon. and learned Friend leaves that point, may I draw his attention to page 55 of the report in which the authors set out clearly that there is a precedent for us in this country to try war criminals who have never been tried within the United Kingdom, because we extended our jurisdiction by the royal warrant of June 1945. That enabled us to try war criminals. We did so and were not fettered by the question of which territory they should be tried in.
The inquiry also made a number of related proposals about the practical and procedural steps that might have to be taken before any trials could take place. They were concerned in particular with the problems posed by the need to take evidence from elderly people living abroad. Their principal recommendation was that such witnesses should be able to give evidence through a live television link, legislative provision for which exists already for trials in England and Wales under the powers in the Criminal Justice Act 1988. They also advocated the extension to war crimes trials of the procedure for bypassing committal proceedings, already available in serious fraud cases. That in itself would require legislation.
In last week's debate many noble Lords made clear their view that no action should be taken on the Hetherington report. Those who hold to that view have no wish to blot out the memory of the terrible atrocities that occurred. That would be quite impossible. Rather, their doubts about proceeding centre on the length of time that has elapsed since the end of the war. There is an understandable feeling that time may have gone some way towards healing some of the wounds and pain.
Column 878More importantly, it is argued that those who witnessed these terrible events are, in many cases, dead or very elderly. No one doubts that some who suffered from these dreadful events yet survived will go to their graves with the full horror of them still printed vividly and indelibly on their minds. One has to face the fact that others might have great difficulty identifying accurately those involved. There are also, no doubt, some colleagues who feel that it would be impossible to ensure that the evidence of witnesses abroad was open to fair challenge by the defence, even if that evidence was given via a television link. Other hon. Members may judge that, in all the circumstances and after the passage of such a long time, it would be impossible for anyone accused to gather evidence and witnesses in his defence.
I respect the views of those who see insurmountable difficulties in the way of fair trial. I understand the view, expressed in another place, that the substantial sums that would be incurred in implementing the report would be better spent on other things. I also appreciate why some feel that putting on trial elderly men who have lived in this country peacefully for nearly 45 years is distasteful and would serve little purpose. Nothing we do now, they say, can ever make amends for what happened in the last war, and holding war crimes trials might even risk rekindling old prejudices. That is one side of the case, but there are powerful arguments the other way. First, there is the dreadful magnitude of the events that we are discussing. We are not talking of excesses or cruelty by soldiers on soldiers carried out in the heat of battle. We are talking about premeditated acts of cold-blooded mass murder perpetrated upon defenceless civilians. Some, therefore, will argue that justice demands action. Some will say that time may have passed, but with crimes as terrible as these it should never be too late to prosecute, and that we have a duty to the memory of those who suffered and those who continue to suffer from the physical and mental wounds inflicted upon them to bring the guilty to justice.
Each one of us is entitled to his view, and each Member of the House and each member of the Government will make up his mind without advice from anybody. The House, however, would expect me to state my personal view, having studied the issue carefully. It is this. Nobody would have chosen to address these issues so long after the event. It is so long since the war, and the instinctive wish of most of us is to get on with our lives in peace and not to rake over the past, let alone the pasts of men who have lived peacefully in this country since before some hon. Members were even born. But sometimes one is brought face to face with facts that cannot be buried and I do not believe that the Hetherington report can just be interred. The terrible stories revealed in its pages and the evidence of foul deeds that is presented cannot just be put aside or ignored.
I see all the difficulties. Difficulties might be involved in presenting to a jury compelling evidence of the guilt of any individual so long after the event. There are problems involved in securing proper safeguards for an accused person. But evidence has now been put before us that people in our midst committed war crimes. It has been pointed out to us that such people would now be subject to the jurisdiction of this land, had they been British citizens at the time, and that they now escape from such jurisdiction only because they were not then subjects of the Crown. In the light of that, and despite all the difficulties, I cannot believe that we should now fail to give jurisdiction
Column 879to our courts so that, if the independent prosecution authorities so decide, the issues of guilt or innocence can be properly determined.
Although I have offered my view on the issue before us, I must stress again that the Government have not yet formed an opinion on whether we should legislate to implement the inquiry's
recommendations. I have listened with care to what has already been said, and will pay equal care to the views that will be expressed in the rest of the debate. In the light of those views and of the views expressed in another place, the Government will decide whether a Bill on the lines proposed by the inquiry would be likely to command the general support of Parliament.
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : No topic on which I have spoken during my 25 years in this House has raised so many doubts in my mind as the subject which we discuss today. Tonight my hon. Friends will vote according to their conscience and I shall do the same. I do not propose to offer the House any advice. I simply set out my instincts and judgments, and describe the conclusion to which they have led me.
The motion before us refers to "War Crimes"--the title of the Hetherington- Chalmers report, on which most of what we say depends. I wish that we were discussing war crimes in general. That would resolve at least part of my dilemma. In truth we are discussing war criminals or, to put it more properly, alleged war criminals. Indeed, the Home Secretary was explicit. He said that we were considering legislation to try people resident in the United Kingdom. We are debating the Hetherington-Chalmers recommendations. That is the purpose of the debate promised by the Home Secretary on 24 July. The opening paragraph of that report makes it clear that it is primarily concerned with 10 alleged war criminals, whose names appear on the list supplied by the Wiesenthal Centre and seven from a list drawn up by the Soviet Union and broadcast on Scottish television. The final paragraph of the report is even more explicit : "Given the ages of the suspects and the witnesses, we consider that any proposed legislation should be introduced and brought into force as quickly as possible."
I am deeply uneasy about hurrying legislation through the House in the hope of convicting known individuals.
New legislation aimed at the prosecution of known suspects is a much more dubious proposition than law designed to prohibit a specific form of conduct. Since some of the suspects have been named in newspapers and on television, it may even be impossible for them to obtain a fair trial. The courts may not allow such prosecutions to proceed.
In any event, as a matter of principle it would be much better to introduce general legislation, ideally in the terms of the Geneva convention of 1949, which made possible the prosecution of criminals from any war who take refuge in the United Kingdom and are protected by some anomaly of jurisdiction. I hope that even now the Government have not ruled out that possibility.
Column 880I shall discuss my dilemma and tell the House the conclusion to which it leads me by considering the nature of the suspects, the people that we are debating. Those suspects share three characteristics. First, it is alleged that they committed terrible crimes almost 50 years ago. Secondly, if the allegations are true, they committed those crimes at a time and in a place which excludes them from the jurisdiction of British courts. Thirdly, even if the jurisdiction of our courts is extended to cover the alleged crimes, some changes in the rules of evidence may be necessary in order to secure conviction.
I want to discuss the implications of each of those aspects of my dilemma, and the first is the propriety of initiating prosecutions for crimes that were committed almost half a century ago. The question has two aspects, the first of which is what effect delayed prosecutions will have on society in general and, more important, whether it is right in itself not only to prosecute men who are suspected of committing crimes so long ago but to change the law in order to do so.
Prosecution and punishment have many purposes such as the deterrence of other potential criminals, the reformation of those guilty of crime, protection against repetition of the offence, retribution and the demonstration of revulsion which society feels towards both the crime and the criminal. Plainly, not all those objectives will be achieved by the prosecutions that we are considering. Despite what was said so movingly in the House of Lords by the Chief Rabbi, I do not think that the idea of deterrence is remotely appropriate in this case. In any event, if that were our primary objective we would be promoting general legislation against all war crimes. Plainly, the people reported to the Government as fugitive criminals are wholly inappropriate to any process of rehabilitation. It is inconceivable that such people need to be locked away to prevent them from repeating their offences. Two possible justifications for taking action remain. The first is retribution, which to me is the least acceptable reason for judicial punishment. Therefore, I am left with only one possible reason for us to proceed--the demonstration of society's continued abhorrence of what these men are alleged to have done.
In what I shall describe as normal cases--even murder--it is inappropriate after 50 years to change the law to allow suspects to be charged, even to demonstrate abhorrence. However, we are discussing what the Hetherington-- Chalmers report describes as "Crimes so monstrous that they cannot be condoned."
I know of no one who seeks to condone them, but the House and Parliament have to go a step further. We have to demonstrate our abiding revulsion of what amounted to carefully planned and clinically executed genocide, no matter how long a period has elapsed between the commission of that offence and the trial of those whom, it is claimed, were responsible for it.
For that reason I regard it right, at least in principle, to proceed towards prosecutions, although I look with foreboding upon the by-products of that decision. A section of the British press will deal with any resulting trials in the prurient fashion that characterised their coverage of the capital punishment debate five years ago. As is so often the case, the excesses of some of our newspapers are the price we have to pay for a free society. Despite that foreboding, I am in favour of proceeding
Column 881towards prosecutions as long as that is possible within the accepted rules of law and the conventions of a democratic society. That leads me to the conclusion that the prosecutions must take place within the United Kingdom. I could not support legislation that resulted in the deportation of the alleged offenders to countries where, in the words of the report,
"the system of justice is not comparable with that in this country".
In any case I would never vote for the deportation or extradition of those accused of murder--even mass murder--to a country that retains the death penalty. If we are to prosecute, we must prosecute here. We cannot discreetly turn away and ship these old men somewhere abroad. I know that the principle that I support requires retrospective changes to the jurisdiction of British courts. However, as we have been told, the individuals concerned would have been triable in Britain had they been citizens when the alleged offences were committed rather than foreign nationals who subsequently acquired British citizenship. I might be prepared to argue that acquisition of a new nationality should provide immunity from some prosecutions, but mass murder would not be one of them.
The 1957 Geneva convention implies that war crimes are offences over which it is suitable for British courts to exercise jurisdiction regardless of the nationalities of the perpetrators or the victims or the country in which the alleged offence took place. I am prepared to support the retrospective extension of jurisdiction in order to demonstrate the abiding national sense of revulsion.
That leaves me with one final question : is it possible to prosecute these alleged criminals with any prospect of success within the present rules of evidence? There is much in the Hetherington report which implies or suggests that there is not. I am certainly opposed to show trials, so that if there is no hope of conviction, I am against the matter proceeding. However, I am even more strongly opposed to the matter proceeding if its progress depends on changing for this category of offence the way in which our courts behave. It is that final question that leads me to fear that many of the allegations against these men, admittedly carefully documented, are increasingly taken as proof of their guilt and that only the formalities of proof are now thought to be necessary. Of course, I do not accuse the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiry of holding such opinions, but the report contains statements about evidence which raise the fundamental question about whether it is possible to proceed in an acceptable fashion. Paragraph 9.39 deals with witnesses who are now dead. It says :
"It would undoubtedly be helpful if statements, taken from witnesses who have subsequently died, could be admissible in the British courts."
The question that arises is "helpful to whom?" The only answer consistent with the context is that it would be helpful to those who wish to obtain a conviction. That is a bad basis on which to make new laws.
Mr. Hattersley : In moving the motion the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) made exactly that point. I am loth to argue with a lawyer as distinguished and experienced as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), but as I go through the section of the Hetherington report from which I have already quoted, and from which I shall quote again as lucidly as I can, I find time after time the suggestion that changes in the law are necessary. If that is not the case, nobody will be happier than I. I repeat that I think that the prosecution should go ahead. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West will speak in the debate. Perhaps if he does so he will examine the sections of the report that deal with changes in the rules of evidence that the report recommends in order to deal with these specific cases.
Paragraph 9.34 recommends that the provision in the 1988 Act to allow witnesses to give evidence by television link be extended--for this particular--to Scotland. Paragraph 9.37, which deals with video and audio recordings, concludes :
"if it is thought necessary to introduce new legislation to ensure the admissibility of such recordings, we so recommend."
The next paragraph concerns evidence on commission, and expresses doubts about whether such evidence--as it would probably be taken in the absence of the accused--would be acceptable in court. It goes on to say, however, that the process has something to commend it, and proposes that it be applied in Scotland and considered for use in the English courts, with the necessary adjustments. I must confess that, as a layman, I am not clear about whether those adjustments would be changes in the law or alterations in judicial practice.
Paragraph 9.42 deals with the wide subject of "other documentary evidence". It proposes that papers from wartime archives should be admitted in evidence if authenticated by archivists, and specifically recommends amending legislation to make that possible.
According to the internal evidence--the evidence in the report, on which our debate is based--changes in the law are either necessary or, in the terms set out, desirable ; and it is that that concerns me most. I could not possibly vote for proposals to change the rules of evidence with the specific intention of obtaining the convictions of a particular class of person--persons who are known and named. Fortunately, the motion does not require us to do that. I very much regret that the Home Secretary has complicated my position further by saying at the end of his speech that, if we voted for the motion, we would be voting to implement the Hetherington report, for that is not what the motion says ; it proposes that we take note of the report and then proceed to consider what legislation is possible. I am perfectly prepared to take note of the report, and to instruct the Home Secretary to consider implementing whatever legislation is decently possible to prosecute alleged war criminals. I hope, however, that the Home Secretary will not believe that many of the hon. Members who join him in the Aye Lobby tonight will be voting for what he said. We are voting for what the motion says : there is a substantial difference.
The motion does not refer to the problems of evidence or to the details of the Hetherington report, nor does it require us to endorse that report's most contentious passages. I am entirely ready to support the principle of
Column 883proceeding to legislation, and, as I have said, I will vote in the Aye Lobby tonight. Let me, however, make it clear to the Home Secretary--and I suspect that I speak for some hon. Members on both sides of the House--that, although I support the motion in principle, I could not possibly support any subsequent Bill requiring or recommending changes in the rules of evidence.
I do not wish to overstate my objections to such a course, for this is not an occasion for the usual excesses and rough and tumble of our debates. I must say, however, that it seems to me that changes in the rules of evidence in such circumstances constitute a negation of our basic freedoms, and it is the mark of a civilised society to preserve those freedoms, even for--perhaps, indeed, especially for--the people whom society despises most.
Mr. Marlow : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has become apparent that legal difficulties are inherent in the change in the law that might be required, particularly with regard to the rules of evidence. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is in the Chamber, would it be possible for him to catch your eye later so that we might hear his opinion of what the difficulties may be and how they can be approached?