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Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : In his concluding remarks, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that we could not push these matters to one side. Nothing can ever push them to one side, and no one is suggesting for a moment that we should even attempt it.
I remember, as a boy in the 1930s, seeing the refugees arriving at Pegwell bay and Sandwich and going into encampments there in search of refuge from Nazidom and all that it meant. I was at Nuremberg in 1937, and I saw exactly what it meant. I met them all : I saw who they were and what they were like. I experienced the six years of the war, and was at the Nuremberg trials after it. Nothing can ever put to one side what all of that has meant. On the other hand, I have not heard a single convincing argument tonight, or found one in the report, that will ever lead me to support legislation that would change our entire system to bring those alleged war criminals to trial.
My right hon. and learned Friend said that all that was necessary was that legislation that affected British citizens at the time should now be extended to those who became British citizens later. If that were the case, I would still say that it was wrong--absolutely wrong--but, if we read the reports of the House of Lords debates, we see that it is not the case. The most distinguished lawyers in the Lords have said that it is not the case.
The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), once a very distinguished Home Secretary, is reported as having told the press that it was wrong for the House of Lords to debate this matter before it was debated in the Commons, but I do not understand that point of view. I think that it was a very good thing that the Lords debated it first. At least two Lords Chancellor took part, and they and Lord Campbell made powerful speeches on the legal side. It is difficult for Members of this House to emulate such speeches.
Column 884The legal question comes to this : are we to have retrospective, retroactive legislation to deal with this alleged crime? My answer is, "No, in no circumstances." The Conservative party above all has always opposed retrospective legislation. Even when a simple- minded Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to backdate a tax for three months, he was torn to pieces by his hon. Friends. There is no reason whatever for such legislation.
On other questions, such as the means of giving evidence, I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I am not prepared to tolerate such changes to deal with these particular circumstances. If we wanted to deal with them at the time--if we were determined to do so--we should have taken the necessary action then. If we want to deal with similar circumstances in the future, let the Government introduce general legislation now, and we can debate whether it is necessary.
I must warn the Home Secretary, and particularly the Foreign Secretary, that if they take such action they will put themselves in a terrible mess in every quarter of the world. What do they intend to do at this moment about south-east Asia? What will they do about visitors to this country who may then be accused of having committed war crimes or genocide? Such factors must be considered.
Mr. Heath : Yes, but that does not affect people at the time of their actions. [ Hon. Members :-- "It does."] That is what the motion deals with, and why I am so strongly opposed to it. [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) shakes his head ; he may have an opportunity to speak later. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South, who is chairman of the all-party committee, says that no pressure has been exerted, but there has been enormous pressure, and it has all come from California. We know all about that ; there is no point in trying to avoid it. The question is, do we accept the arguments or not? As far as I am concerned, we do not.
It has been said that Britain's name will be stained unless it takes this action. I can think of nothing further from the truth. We took the lead in the Nuremberg trials : Lord Shawcross made the opening and concluding speeches, but it was Sir David Maxwell Fyfe who fought the case the whole way through. Both, however, performed a noble function. We have no reason to think that our name is stained. The Nuremberg trials were controversial at the time, but they dealt with the major people involved in the atrocities of which we know so well.
As for the practicalities, the argument can be raised to a very high level : that this is a question of morality. Of course it is a question of morality, but there is also a practical aspect which would have to be considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General. Not for one moment, however, am I prepared to give that power to them. They would have to consider whether the defence would have a proper opportunity to defend the people who may be left to face these charges. How would the defence produce witnesses and counter letters or documents that the report recommends should be brought before the court? The defence would have no opportunity to deal with such matters.
Column 885Another practical point that was referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is that, if it came to a prosecution, why should people who have been living here peaceably for 45 years have to go through all that? It is not a simple question. I am greatly worried about British justice. Look at the time it is taking in the Guinness case. It will be years before that case comes to court. That is not British justice. People who may be proved to be innocent are unable to earn a living ; they have no social life ; they cannot do anything, because British so-called justice is dragging on year after year before their case even comes to court.
The report concludes that in the case of only three people is there a reasonable chance of conviction. I am told that only one of the three would now be able to come before the courts. According to the report, there would have to be much more investigation of the cases against the other 46 people, which would take many more years. The report concludes that there is no point in doing anything about the rest. From a practical point of view, therefore, I do not believe that anything can be done.
If the Government introduced a Bill, Parliament would be asked to consider legislation whose effect would be retrospective and retroactive for nearly half a century. Certain means, such as television, are not used in our courts and ought not to be employed in cases of this kind. The defence would be unable to establish what it would want to establish in defending its clients. As the years went by, the public would say, "Why are we doing this to these people?" Those of us who survived six years of war feel that as strongly as anybody. We fought it out. Then we had the Nuremberg trials and disposed of them. We are now moving into a better and, we hope, a more peaceful and much wider Europe. That has always been our ambition. This is not the time to pass legislation of this kind. 6.14 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : The difficulty of holding trials under legislation such as that proposed by Sir Thomas Hetherington and Mr. Chalmers is undoubted. The difficulty of bringing cases to the point at which prosecutions could be proved by the prosecuting authorities is also undoubted. We need consider only the evidence of the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiries, carried out over a period of 15 months, to have some idea of the time involved. There were 301 allegations to be investigated. After sifting, as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has just pointed out, there was only one case left in which the evidence is such as to be likely to lead to a conviction.
The difficulty of proceeding with investigations might not be the clinching consideration if all the moral arguments for holding the trials pointed in the same direction. However, no hon. Member would make that claim. I agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that ths is one of the most difficult matters that we have had to consider during our time as Members of Parliament. I have reached a broadly similar conclusion, though with one important difference.
The Home Secretary was somewhat disingenous when he suggested that the matter was being addressed by
Column 886Parliament without there being any history of decision making. No formal decision not to legislate along these lines has been taken, but in 1948 and 1949 the question of what to do with those whom it was apprehended were in our midst was squarely addressed by Parliament. It was not suggested then that the law should be amended, although it would have been more understandable if such a suggestion had been made at that time. It was much closer in time to the offences that were in everyone's mind. However, Parliament considered whether the screening of the 130,000 immigrants from occupied Europe should continue and whether there should be a positive response to any applications for extradition. The firm decision was taken by Ernest Bevin and Clement Attlee that that process would cease. The decision was taken against the background of what had happened to the Yugoslavs and the Ukrainians about whom there were still serious doubts. The only criticism in Parliament at that time was that the Government's decision had been taken too late and that the time for continuing the scrutiny process and pursuing war criminals had gone. The matter was again considered in 1957 when the Geneva Conventions Bill was before the House and in 1969 when the Genocide Bill was before the House. On neither occasion was Parliament minded to change the law in the manner that is recommended in the report. I find it hard to understand how, after the passage of two decades, the case for changing the law in the manner recommended by the report has been strengthened.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Does my hon. Friend recall the suggestion in the Hetherington report that throughout that period it was not believed that war criminals had gained access to, or were resident in, this country?
Mr. Maclennan : I cannot accept that that is the position. Lord Mayhew made it plain in another place that it was clearly in the Government's mind in 1948 and 1949, when the decision was taken to which I have referred, that among the 130,000 immigrants living in this country there were people who were guilty of very grave crimes. However, the decision was taken not to pursue them for the reasons that I have given.
The sensitivity of those hon. Members who have spoken against the retrospective changes in the jurisdiction of the criminal courts, for example, distinguished Law Lords such as Lord Wilberforce, is not misplaced. We should be seeking to strengthen the forces of justice, and we must ask whether that will be achieved by a retrospective change. In many countries the constitution would rule out that sort of change. It is ruled out under the United States constitution, and that is why the United States has chosen an alternative route--stripping people of their citizenship and extraditing them. Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) rose--
Mr. Winnick rose--
The second area of retrospective change that is proposed is also extremely difficult to accept. The right
Column 887hon. Member for Sparkbrook spoke at some length about the proposed changes in the rules of evidence, which would make it more likely that prosecution would be secured and conviction obtained. I agree with everything that he said on that subject, and it is unnecessary for me to repeat his arguments. It is not tolerable for us to amend the law to bring about the conviction of named individuals. The advantages of the defence should weigh as heavily in the balance as the advantages of the prosecution.
I detected too great a preoccupation in the Hetherington--Chalmers report with the possibility that the prosecution would be successful, as did the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. Sufficient attention was not paid to the rights of defendants to face witnesses who are giving evidence against them, and that is a fundamental principle of our criminal law. The report was too casual in its support of some of the changes in the laws of evidence, although, no doubt, changes would be necessary in those laws in cases which depend heavily upon the recollections of people some 45 to 50 years after the event, living thousands of miles away, in completely different circumstances. I base my opposition to the proposals made in the report not solely on considerations of legal propriety, but on considerations of the public reaction to such trials. A‡s the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, it is right that the main justification, if any exists, for bringing about such trials would be as an expression of our unabated revulsion to the horrors of the events with which those people named were associated. The justification would be to show that there has been no falling-off in the determination of the British people to end such horrors, and to prevent their recurrence. There is a serious risk that the cases considered by Sir Thomas Hetherington and Mr. Chalmers might create a backlash against the whole process. Public opinion in countries that have conducted such trials recently has been divided. The reaction has not always been one of strengthened revulsion to the offences, and I am thinking, in particular, of the Barbie and Demjanjuk cases in Israel. Public opinion may question whether it was right to have conducted such trials. Many people's sympathies might end up in the wrong place, and we should avoid that at all costs.
The report by Sir Thomas Hetherington and Mr. Chalmers was serious, and it was right that it should have been commissioned. However, the Home Secretary should listen to the views of some of his right hon. colleagues, including the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, who expressed serious reservations about the attack on our system of justice if the recommendations are carried out. I shall vote against the report, and against the motion.
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : I intend to be brief as there is no need for repetition. I welcome and support the words used by the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), to introduce the motion. I also welcome and support the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
The motion invites the House to vote, not to create a retrospective offence, but to recognise that the offences of mass murder and manslaughter are contrary to the
Column 888criminal law in all civilised nations, contrary to international law, and were unlawful at the time that the offences were committed. The House is merely being invited to agree the principle that jurisdiction should apply to persons who may be resident in the United Kingdom today. That is the cardinal issue that the House must dwell upon.
In the House this afternoon, and in another place, we have considered whether it is right to prosecute people who committed crimes 50 or more years ago. That is what may happen if the law is amended. We have contemplated that in the light of the decision made in the late 1940s not to continue to seek out persons who may have committed those serious crimes.
Circumstances have changed. Information of such a compelling kind was presented to the public domain in Britain, in October 1986, that the decision of 1948, or whenever, on whether to proceed to look for those people who have committed awful crimes cannot possibly be glossed over. That is not a luxury that we can afford to entertain now.
Allegations of such a grave nature have been made that the judicial system, and our concept of justice, would be impaired if we did not give the normal process of the criminal justice system the opportunity to contemplate the allegations in a court of law by changing the rules.
Those are the two issues that the House must decide upon when we vote on the motion. We do not have to contemplate what procedural consequences might arise if the House were to approve the principle of changing the laws to permit that jurisdiction. That is for another time, and it may also be decided through the normal process of examining a case when those people are under investigation. I said that I would be brief, and I do not intend to be repetitious. Other hon. Members will express their points of view, but I am in favour of voting for the motion.
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : I take the opposite view from that expressed by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) but nevertheless respect greatly and deeply the views of him and his colleagues.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that he would vote in favour of the motion to express his horror at the terrible events that the House is discussing. I shall vote against the motion to express my horror at the terrible events that the House is discussing.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Berlin. Anyone who has travelled there and seen, standing by the side of the avenue up to the Reichstag, the wagons that were used to collect people to take them to the gas chambers left out to rust as a constant reminder of the horror of those events, and anyone who has visited the building between the Reichstag and the airport, where thousands were put to death walking through dark curtains, not knowing which step would be their last, cannot fail to have feeling for those who suffered in the holocaust.
I have no answers for some of the questions that people will ask me. When I made my views known after the previous Home Secretary made a statement, I received letters--not many, perhaps five or six--all of them courteous and complaining about what I said. They asked
Column 889how I would feel if the victim had been my mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, sister or brother. I cannot answer that question, and would not attempt to. Such considerations do not bring me to this debate. What brings me is the Hetherington--Chalmers report and how I can pay my respects and best honour the memory of those who were put to death in those terrible times. I can only speak personally.
Much has been said about the retrospective nature of what is suggested in the Hetherington report. I do not intend to dwell on that subject for the simple reason that I am not a lawyer, but I have always had serious reservations and the strongest doubts about the introduction of retrospective legislation. I well remember the time when the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was in office, and the House was forced to introduce retrospective legislation to protect and cover the actions of our soldiers policing Northern Ireland. The debate went on and on. The House argued about whether it should introduce such restrospective legislation. I have always had serious reservations about it.
The Hetherington--Chalmers report has compromised any Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales and any Lord Advocate for Scotland, who would have to consider submissions put before them. Thomas Hetherington is on record as saying that he is absolutely convinced that there is sufficient evidence on which to mount a prosecution in respect of three people. He may be convinced. He is entitled to be as he has expert knowledge. But, with great respect to him, he will not decide whether a prosecution should be mounted. If that day ever comes, and the documents are presented, he will not be the Director of Public Prosecutions.
I ask the House to consider what will happen if the DPP of the day says, "In my opinion, there is insufficient evidence on which to proceed." If anybody has any doubt about what might happen, I shall try to explain what I envisage. There would be an unholy public row, with both sides of the argument lined up against each other. One side will say, "How is it that an experienced former DPP can say that there is sufficient evidence and the present holder of the office can say there is not?" Secondly, what would happen if that hurdle were crossed and the DPP said that there was sufficient evidence on which to mount a prosecution but the court returned a verdict of "Not guilty"?
Mr. Ewing : I am not being unkind to my hon. and learned Friend or anyone else, but I simply do not believe, bearing in mind the hype that has been generated on the issue, that a "Not guilty" verdict would be accepted with the words "So be it."
We are building up the hopes of relatives of people who were slaughtered in the holocaust, only to let them down. I am not certain that that is the best way in which to honour the memory of people who were slaughtered during those terrible events. I believe in all sincerity that
Column 890that would do tremendous damage to the legal system and to the immediate families of those who were killed. I accept, however, that those families might not agree.
When I think how best I can honour the memory of those who were slaughtered, I come firmly to the conclusion that no useful purpose would be served by staging show trials, for without a shadow of a doubt that is what they would be. I come firmly to the conclusion that nothing should be said or done that would disturb the sleep of those who were slaughtered.
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) is well known for his championship of many good causes, but on this occasion I believe that he has lent his name and his prestige to the pursuit of a cruel vendetta which he will come to regret.
The proposition before us, when properly understood, offends against all the basic instincts of decent British people. It asks us to set aside the normal rules of British justice and so to change the law that three old men whose identities have already been revealed in the popular press may be branded as vile murderers without having the faintest chance of defending themselves. Nothing comparable to this motion has come before a British Parliament since the Acts of Attainder which deeply disfigured our criminal justice system in the 16th and 17th centuries.
It is good to know that last week at least the other place decisively rejected the principle behind this motion. It is ill conceived. If it were passed, the practical steps needed to implement it would make a fair trial quite impossible.
The principle at stake is that we should change our law to permit the prosecution of three individuals for acts performed long ago and far away. That is abhorrent at a time when peace and reconciliation are needed rather than revenge.
Mr. Stanbrook : No good can come from reviving the stories of the wicked atrocities of the past. Why should we change the law retrospectively --every good lawyer believes that it is restrospective legislation--for such a narrow purpose? Why not pursue the perpetrators of the other heinous crimes committed during and since the war? Are not the British ashamed of sending back the Cossacks and the Chetniks to their certain deaths? What about the Americans who are alleged to have starved their German prisoners of war to death? What about the hideous crimes committed in Palestine and elsewhere in the middle east and in Cambodia?
If it is said that the malefactors in those cases have not been identified or that they do not come within our jurisdiction, what about the leaders of modern Israel, some of whom were responsible for the cold-blooded massacre of British subjects and are now received with warmth and hospitality when they come to Britain? We do not need to change the law to prosecute them. Why should they escape retribution? My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point apparently does not understand that it is not because we are soft or because we do not hate criminals, but
Column 891because the British instinct is and always has been to let the dead bury their dead and after the passage of time to forgive and even to try to forget such things, knowing with the wisdom that we have acquired in our long history that it is better for everyone that we should do so.
Rabbi Blue said recently in a BBC radio programme that there is something of the Nazi in all of us-- [Interruption.] We are all guilty of man's inhumanity to man.
Like everyone else, I am revolted by the knowledge of what the Nazis did to the Jewish and other communities during the war, and I do not seek to condone, excuse or deny it. Those horrors arouse deep emotions, some of which were shown by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, but emotions are a bad foundation for justice. In the other place last week, as reported in the House of Lords Hansard at column 615, the Chief Rabbi said that the Jewish faith "abhors vengeance" and I withdraw anything that I may have said to the contrary in the context of this debate.
According to St. Paul, the Lord said :
"Vengeance is mine ; I will repay."
It is not for us endlessly to pursue those who may have avoided earthly retribution for their misdeeds, and certainly not in a retrospective and selective way.
Even if I were not already convinced that it is wrong in principle for us to change the law, as a lawyer I would condemn the idea because in practice it means committing a far greater injustice than allowing suspected criminals to go unprosecuted. Despite the hard knocks that it has suffered recently, British justice has always been respected and admired. The motion asks us to set aside its most important feature--the right to a fair trial. It is not simply a matter of extending the territorial jurisdiction of the court and making British citizens liable for their misdeeds before they gain citizenship. There is something to be said for such extension, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about that. However, it is objectionable that such steps should be taken specifically for three individuals and their crimes.
Although British law does not forbid trials for offences committed long ago, such trials are seldom held because the evidence is sparse, the witnesses unreliable and their memories faded. When identification is an issue, as it probably would be in these cases, all lawyers know that a witness's recollection dims after only a few weeks and is totally unreliable after a few years.
Of course, one can always put the suspect in the dock and ask a witness to identify him then and there as is done in show trials. I hope that it will never come to that in Britain. That is why my right hon. Friend is wrong to gloss over the substantial changes in the law of evidence and procedure which Hetherington says will be needed if those men come to trial.
His assessment of the sufficiency of the evidence is based upon the assumption that those changes will be made. There would be no committal proceedings. That is possible but most unusual. It would mean that the prosecution would not need to prove even a prima facie case before the matter went before a court. Evidence would be admitted in writing by statements made in Russia, and would include statements made by dead
Column 892people. There would be no chance to cross- examine witnesses at the trial, no check on the circumstances in which a statement was made, and no indication as to any inducement or intimidation before the statement was made. Documentary evidence would be admitted without the need for the maker or the authenticator to attend the court. All those changes would be retrospective and directed towards those particular cases.
The Hetherington report says that legal aid will be available, but does anyone imagine that a defendant or his representative would be able to travel freely and unmolested in Soviet Russia to gather evidence and to find witnesses to support his case?
Mr. Stanbrook : That is not so. Russia replied to a request made by one of them that it is a matter for the British Government, and of course the British Government are in no position to assist. The Hetherington inquiry took 16 months and cost £500,000. It interviewed hundreds of witnesses by courtesy of the KGB. Will the defendants be allowed equivalent time and facilities? Of course they will not. The motion asks us to perpetrate a travesty of justice. I call upon the House to reject it.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) will not be surprised to hear that I found little to agree with in his speech and that I will not follow him down the paths of hyperbole.
I should like to tell the House a little of my own experience. After the war, I was a soldier with the British Army of the Rhine and served as a war crimes investigator. Indeed, I think that I am the only Member of either House who did so. Our search section was looking for 10,000 people, and we hoped to find them and the evidence to bring them to justice. At the time, we saw no reason why such people should not be brought to justice. That was our job. There was evidence against those people of mass murder in concentration camps, of the mass killing of civilians and of the shooting of British prisoners of war who had escaped from Stalag Luft 3. They were murderers. I am not surprised to see the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) laughing ; I can see nothing laughable in this. It is one of the most serious and important matters that has come before the House, and I see nothing to laugh about in it. We can disagree courteously, as I do with my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), but neither of us regards this as a laughing matter.
In August 1948, I was called in by my commanding officer and told that the war crimes group was being packed up. I asked why, and he said, "I do not know. I can only suspect that they do not care any more, provided that these people are anti-Soviet." It is only now that we have the evidence and only now that the secret document has been revealed, showing that a Government--alas, a Labour Government--sent a note to its allies stating :
"In view of future political developments in Germany we are convinced that it is now necessary to dispose of the past as soon as possible."
We do not take that view in respect of any other murder ; we do not take the view that old age is an excuse
Column 893for being evil ; and we do not take the view that, because time has passed, murders do not count. There is no limit in our law for prosecuting a murder charge.
I could not understand why the war crimes group was being packed in when it had such evidence of murder committed by 10,000 people. It was murder, yes, of Jews, but also of Poles, Russians, trade unionists, gipsies, gays, people with whom they did not agree and mentally and physically handicapped people. We are talking not about something to laugh at but about murder.
Mr. Gorst rose --
Mr. Gorst : The case is much worse than the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting. In 1948 at least 20,000 cases merited prosecution. If one needs evidence for that, it comes from Lord Mayhew in another place.
Mr. Janner : Lord Mayhew unfortunately was a member of that Labour Government, and the speech that he made did not surprise me. I was talking about a list of 10,000 people for whom we were searching but had not found. Others were found, but the prosecution of all of them was aborted.
Some of the people for whom we were looking were my age and some were elderly, but the fact that they were elderly did not stop us prosecuting them if they were killers. Some of the people for whom we were looking were younger than some of us here, but their age was never regarded as an excuse for not bringing them to justice. Whenever the public are upset about an issue, there is a possibility of show trials. But we still have trials for multiple rapes and for murder. We still risk the excesses of the press ; we do not say, "People will be emotionally upset and interested, so we will not try suspects." That has always struck me as the worst argument. It was used at the Nuremberg trials. We did not believe it then, and I do not accept it now.
What about evidence? As a Queen's Counsel, I was bothered by an interesting evidential point. I talked to Kitty Hart, who is a survivor of Auschwitz and whose letter is published in The Independent today. She told me that last year she gave evidence at a war crimes trial in Germany. It has been said that we should not take action because of the interests of the new Europe, but West Germany, East Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands have all taken action against war criminals ; Britain is the only European country that has not done so. Kitty Hart told me that she could not forget the face or actions of somebody who had tortured her for a year. I spoke to another survivor. She said, "I forget the people whom I met yesterday, but I will not forget the face of the man who snatched my baby from me and threw her into a pit."
I listened to the debate in the other place and was appalled to hear Lord after Lord say that old men forget. They may forget selectively, but the people who suffered do not forget.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East, who is a very good friend, said that he cannot talk for those who lost families. I cannot talk for the people who died--
Column 894nobody can do that--but if they had survived I wonder what they would have thought of some of the speeches that we have heard. Half my family were rounded up by the sort of people we have been speaking about today--local people. My relatives were locked in a synagogue that was set on fire and they died. I do not want revenge, only justice. I do not see why people should not be prosecuted because some of my family were killed, and I would believe the same if it was anyone else's family.
I do not understand why, if there is sufficient evidence, people should not stand trial. It is not for the House to decide whether there is sufficient evidence--that is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is not for the House to decide whether a person is fit to stand trial--that is a matter for the court. I ask that these people be given decent justice, which they certainly did not accord anyone else. The law should make that possible, and whether anyone is prosecuted is secondary. What matters is that the House should not say, "We do not care", which is how it would be taken. I am sure that many good and honourable Members who have spoken against the motion care, but that is not the way that other people will feel about them.
If we are to have justice, it must manifestly be seen to be done. I could not disagree more with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who spoke of a shattering constitutional change. As a lawyer, I can recognise a shattering constitutional change, and this certainly is not one. A British citizen who kills someone abroad is liable to prosecution, and has been for many years. He may be prosecuted in our courts for committing an offence against a foreigner. It is only people who were not British citizens at the time who cannot be prosecuted. I have never understood why people who came to Britain and assumed the vast privilege of British citizenship should escape the duties, responsibilities and liability to criminal offences that go with it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) talked about complex changes in evidence, which will have to be discussed in Committee, but we can make them. Earlier, the case of the Cossacks was mentioned. In that case, statements of evidence were read out, for the defence, from people who were dead. There is nothing new about statements from people who have since died. What matters is to get on and to recognise that this is a deeply important issue.
Some of my good friends have said to me, "Do not do this because"--as the Bishop of St. Albans put it in plain terms--"it will create anti-Semitism." Earlier, I think that the Home Secretary said that it might "rekindle old feelings". I do not believe that prosecuting people for killing Jews or anyone else creates anti-Semitism--anti-Semites create anti-Semitism--and I assure the House that that argument is not accepted by people in the Jewish community, whether or not they lost relatives in the holocaust. I ask that where there is powerful evidence of personal involvement in mass murders-- the independent commissioners have said that there is against three people and perhaps another 48--we should, as a House, say : "Let us have the option to prosecute them as we would a British citizen."
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