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Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : The real question is surely whether the United Kingdom should continue to be a safe haven for any monsters who have perpetrated unspeakable atrocities resulting in death. It comes as a shock to learn that at present we are such a haven because there is a defect in our machinery of justice which, had we known about it years ago, we would surely have corrected. The motion calls upon the House to correct that gap in our machinery--that is all it calls upon the House to do. It does not call upon the House to authorise any prosecution against any named suspect. That will be for the Director of Public Prosecutions, not for us.
It follows that it is not an issue, for the purpose of the motion, whether the suspects are too old or too young, whether the evidence is strong or weak, or whether identification is credible. In some cases, there will be no issue of identification or even whether video recordings or interviews or the statements of dead witnesses or other evidential matters should be adopted.
Some of the suggested changes in the Hetherington report have already been introduced by the House for the very purpose of securing convictions of the guilty. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that he did not agree that a particular category of offender should be pursued. But that is exactly what we did when we introduced the videoing of witnesses for child abuse and rape cases. Those matters are not for us to decide today but will be matters of detail for the Bill. The question of there being sufficient evidence under any rules of evidence, whether we decide to change anything or not, will be purely a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions. His will be the difficult task, but ours is relatively easy.
We have had paraded before us a number of arguments against this motion. Some say that time has passed and that it would be cruel to adopt such a procedure. But it is not a principle of British law not to prosecute because time has passed. If the Guildford Four should ever be found, will we say, "What a shame--we must not prosecute them because that offence was committed 15, 20 or 25 years ago"? Retribution is an issue that may arise after conviction. It cannot arise before or even during the trial.
Mr. Heath : The case of the Guildford Four is now frequently quoted. The legislation governing what happened in Guildford was in existence then. The difference in this issue is that the legislation was not in existence. People have been living here for 50 years without that legislation. If there were legislation, today's debate would not be necessary and nor would the proposal. It is an entirely false argument to cite the Guildford Four.
Mr. Lawrence : My right hon. Friend selects only part of the argument. But we have all heard it. We have heard hon. Members saying that it would be too cruel because it happened too long ago. That is the point which is being made and I am dealing with that. It can hardly be a change of policy if British citizens can be tried for those atrocities, or if prosecutions can still be brought under royal warrant--but that is not a desirable way of proceeding. It can hardly be a change of policy since we have already changed the law to ensure that genocide offences in similar circumstances can be
Column 896prosecuted after 1967. As for changing procedure, we do that all the time with nearly every criminal justice Act that we pass. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook says that he is against hurrying through the House legislation to convict known individuals. It would be no more "hurrying" to take a Bill through the House as a result of this motion than it is hurrying any Bill when we take it through the House in the course of a new Session of Parliament. This would be a short Bill.
There may be some known individuals, but there are many who are as yet unknown because they have not been investigated. Those who read the report will see that one matter which is taken into consideration is that we should put into position a structure which might be available for those who are not yet known.
More general legislation may be preferable to this, but is that any reason why we should not legislate now? This legislation would at least follow an independent report which has been thoroughly prepared and thoroughly thought out.
There is the alternative of extradition and deportation, but that would hardly be as fair in many circumstances. We cannot try people now before we deport them because we have changed the law so that there is no need to prove a prima facie case before they are taken back to a country that might not give them a fair trial. Many hon. Members would not extradite people back to a country where there was capital punishment.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said that there is only one case left. There are a large number yet to be investigated, but even if there were only one case left we would still have done the right thing by closing the doors to Nazi war criminals and given a signal to the rest of the world that we are not out on a limb in not caring.
I heard the moving speech by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing). He said that there would be no convictions anyway and that we would be building up false hopes. That would be for a jury to decide, as it is with all serious criminal justice in this country. As for hope, surely the strongest hope must be that the crimes perpetrated in Nazi times shall never be forgotten. Is it not necessary from time to time to remind the new generation who simply cannot believe that such horrors took place? Is it a terrible thing if a jury says, "Not guilty", but in the course of doing so the world is reminded just how despicable man can be to man?
Finally, and perhaps most strongly, the argument has been put repeatedly that we should remain a safe haven because of a technical argument : that the change would be retrospective legislation. I have heard that argument in the House and in the other place. What is so objectionable about retrospective legislation? It is that someone should not be punished for an act which he did not think was wrong or illegal at the time. But that is not the case here. Mass murder cannot possibly have been right or legal whenever it was perpetrated. It was an offence to humanity and it is a cruel insult to the memory of the innocent who were slaughtered not to proceed against their slaughterers because of some gap in the machinery of the law which we recognise, and which we would fill were it not for some magic about the phrase "retrospective legislation". There is no magic about it. If an injustice is not done by changing our laws so that those who knew that they were
Column 897committing acts of inhumanity can be prosecuted and brought to justice, there is nothing wrong with retrospective legislation. The central question is whether Britain should remain a safe haven for monsters. The immediate question today is : do we just wring our hands at the horrors of those deeds and the sickening nature of their perpetrators, or do we take action? The motion is about asking the House to authorise the taking of action by bringing forward a Bill. I ask all hon. Members to support the motion.
Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool) : The passage of time causes many men and women who have experienced what happens in war to turn that experience in our minds in such a manner that in that timescale the pursuit of truth sometimes becomes elusive. What is right when one is a young man or woman and what is right when one is much older are matters that are always in contest. Sometimes in our society we have a natural dependence on case law, criminal law, international law and the views of those who are trained in the professions to interpret those laws for us.
In this House today and in the other place last week, we have had a fulsomeness of legal opinion. The fascinating point about that is that it has been divided. Those of us who are lay people have to interpret what we have heard from those legal personages in such a manner as to act as a jury. Before we do that, we must rid our minds of what we felt when we were young men or women and behave with the caution and care of cultivated minds at the ages that we have achieved. Although the ages of hon. Members vary, there is an abundance of experience to help us.
In this testing of a jury concept, there cannot be any sense of vengeance or of bitterness. I recall as a young officer on my first visit to Belsen the stench of the place, which does not leave one's nostrils even with the passage of time. The tears never seem to stop flowing whether at moments such as this or when we visit other places such as our war graves on the continent and elsewhere. It is important, therefore, that the emotions and feelings be put on one side--although not too far away from us--so that we can apply our mental abilities and experiences to make sound judgments. One point is certain. Hon. Members talk about the difficulties of retrospective legislation and, although both sides of the argument are respected, there must be an overriding consideration, which is international practice and custom in the rules of law and the customs of war. Canada, America and Australia can see that where those rules and customs of war have been breached in the form of established war crimes, they can put into their national legislation what has already been established in international jurisprudence.
According to Hetherington and Chalmers, it is quite clear that we are not proposing retrospective legislation, for we are not seeking to create an offence that did not take place at the time. It is clear that the report is saying that no one shall be held to be guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time it was committed. The report states :
"Article 7(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 states"--
Column 898that is, the provision that I have described --
" The Article shall not prejudice the trial and punishment of any person or any act or omission which, at the time it was committed, was criminal according to the general principles of law recognised by civilised nations.' "
On page 63 of the report, the authors write :
"Legal opinion at the time"--
that refers to a debate in the House of Lords in 1942--
"seems to have been that jurisdiction over violations of the laws and customs of war existed, and that there was a need to legislate only to empower the domestic courts to utilise the jurisdiction which was already available under international law."
It seems abundantly clear that we are seeking here to do what should have been done many years ago and merely to establish in our minds, as members of an international community, the provisions of international jurisprudence. That cannot be difficult for lawyers to understand.
That brings us back to the next question : should we proceed in view of the passage of time? The answer to that is simple. There is no case in the development of our law where a timescale has been placed on any offence or any state of criminality. Not so very long ago, someone was brought to court having committed murder 27 years before. If that was done for one man, what on earth are we arguing about when we are dealing with people about whom there is an abundance of evidence that they mutilated thousands of people? The conscience of the House must not be affected by the interpretation of legalities in this small Chamber, but it must show a responsiveness to what the whole nation cries out for.
If such a crime is an offence in West Germany, East Germany and other Common Market countries, as hon. Members have described today, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) is wholly wrong in suggesting that if we pursue this course we are creating some difficulty for the good relationships in the developing Common Market. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is somewhat obsessed by Europe and cannot think clearly about the matter. He can be excused on that ground.
Having dealt with the interpretation of retrospectivity and the point that the timescale has nothing to do with whether an action qualifies as an offence, we must consider the condition--in this case the age--of those whom we seek to bring to court. I tabled a question in the House in 1979 which eventually exposed Sir Anthony Blunt. I was the only hon. Member who, in the debate on 15 November 1979, remembered to express a personal regret that we caught him when he was so old, when he would have to suffer conditions such as the removal of his knighthood and removal from Buckingham palace--and, incidentally, there was the removal of a Bill on the protection of information from the House for reasons that I shall not describe now--and when he would be exposed to the world. I said that I was sorry that there had been a rejection of the law and that certain people in high places had decided to protect him for years. Hon. Members in this House who talk about the law say that the law is often an ass, but if anything has harmed justice, it has been the courts themselves because they so lack a determination to be consistent that the public is now becoming alarmed at their inconsistencies.
The age of those involved is not the business of the House. Our business is to make available legislation so that if in the judgment of others, such as the Director of Public Prosecutions, a case should be brought, it can be brought. The DPP is not in a position to decide freely
Column 899whether he should bring a case or not. He must make a prosecution possible if he is satisfied that all the evidence and all the circumstances justify it.
Do not let us talk about retribution because, again, that is not the business of the House. The House is here to provide the legislative possibility for others to pursue the just course of action and to bring people to court. The court can then take age into account. If the court retires them, having listened to the case, I could not care less, as long as they have been exposed.
The House should provide the vehicle and leave those in the legal profession who are charged with dealing with prosecutions and defence free to get on with their work. The House should not say that it will provide a law for some but not provide it for others, especially men whose record is such that they should for ever live with the stench of their wickedness, knowing full well that mankind--especially people in this country--feel them to be unclean and believe that they should not have been given citizenship in the first place.
Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : This is an important debate, and although I have always been opposed to the televising of our proceedings, I might make an exception in this case because this is one of the non-party occasions when the House is always at its best and when one feels what a privilege it is to be here. The subject that we are discussing is one that comes down to human judgment. We are all called upon to exercise our general judgment, without necessarily being lawyers. It is, of course, a subject charged with emotion, particularly for those of Jewish background, whose memories must be most painful.
Someone of my age is bound to look back on those terrible times--I still remember them extremely clearly. I served throughout the war and was wounded, although the amount of time that I actually spent fighting the enemy was quite short. I felt then no animosity towards the German people ; indeed, I admired the German army, as I still admire it. I had no contact with the Japanese, although if I had, my feelings would have been quite different.
When I first heard of the appalling massacres by the Germans, I was incredulous. Much later, we heard of the Russian massacres of Poles. At the time, I was inclined to welcome the prospect of the war crimes trials, although even then I wondered whether soldiers were the right people to sit in the seat of judgment. When the trials were held, I was quite glad, but I did not rejoice. Looking back on it, I do not entirely like the idea of the victors--sometimes the victorious generals--trying the conquered generals, even though in some cases their crimes were utterly horrific.
The report is well written and presented but sometimes, I think, clever men can make mistakes and I believe that, in this case, two able, distinguished and experienced lawyers have made a mistake in their final judgment. At a great moment in English history, the barons said--in Latin, although I shall spare the House the Latin : "We do not wish to change the laws of England."
That remains the basis of my case.
It is an important matter. To put many great wrongs right, should we commit another wrong? In my view, to change the laws of England would be wrong.
Of course, I should hate this country to be considered a haven for war criminals. I should hate to feel that those guilty of such appalling crimes had escaped, but when we come down to practicalities, we find that three old men and possibly more may be involved and one of those three old men is ill. Is it really desirable or practicable to change the laws of England and possibly Scotland to try these old men who have lived here peaceably for so many years? Above all, is it right to change fundamentally the laws of evidence of which we are so proud and on which British justice is based?
Is there any public demand for such a change? I have not had a single letter about the matter since the war, and I represent 80,000 good British people. The practical difficulties of the trials would be enormous. Witnesses would be hard to find and remembrance of things that happened more than 40 years ago would be difficult. What would be the point of the trials? Would it be revenge? I hope not, and we are assured not. Should we now bring back, in all its stark horror, what happened so long ago? What good will it do? A few people may feel better but most people will not, I think. In 1948, we decided to discontinue war crimes trials. Can justice now be done, and, above all, be seen to be done? With all the publicity, would not juries be inclined to be biased? We know that the trials would not deter future awful crimes because we have watched so many being committed since the war, including the recent appalling examples from Cambodia.
I read carefully the account of the debate on the subject in the other place, and I was most impressed. I noted that the weight of opinion was strongly against the trials being held. Whatever people may say, there is an element of retrospection involved. Why are only these men involved and not other war criminals? As has been said elsewhere, the trials will be more of a lottery than a fair trial. Of course, I realise only too well that the judgment that we have to make is a difficult one. I should not dream of criticising those who take a different view. I believe that we should not institute this long, complicated and involved procedure, which may lead to our overturning the whole basis of English law, to bring to trial a few old men and possibly a few more people. In spite of the frightful crimes that were committed--and we do not know whether the men were guilty of them--I think that in this case mercy should overcome justice, especially given that so many years have elapsed. 7.28 pm
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme) : Two weeks ago, one of my constituents rang me up and told me, slowly and painfully, "I have never telephoned or spoken to an MP before but I must ring you about the war crimes debate. My family--85 of them--were killed in concentration camps. I am the only member of the family left." Can the House imagine how the fingers of pain have reached out over the years to hold that lady so tightly that she cannot escape living with the horrors of what happened to her family?
In 1945, a parliamentary delegation was sent from this House to Buchenwald. It was less than three weeks after the allies had liberated that camp. The delegation prepared a report to the House. The final paragraph of it states :
Column 901"In preparing this report, we have endeavoured to write with restraint and objectivity, and to avoid obtruding personal reactions or emotional comments. We would conclude, however, by stating that it is our considered and unanimous opinion, on the evidence available to us, that a policy of steady starvation and inhuman brutality was carried out at Buchenwald for a very long period of time ; and that such camps as this mark the lowest point of degradation to which humanity has yet descended. The memory of what we saw and heard at Buchenwald will ineffaceably haunt us for many years."
The report was signed by Earl Stanhope, Lord Addison, Colonel Tom Wickham, Sir Archibald Southby, Mrs. Mavis Tate, Mr. Ness Edwards, Mr. Sydney Silverman, Mr. Graham White, Sir Henry Morris-Jones, and Mr. Tom Driberg. My father was a member of that delegation. His name was Ness Edwards. He was the hon. Member for Caerphilly for 29 years. I remember him telling me about the horrors of what went on in that camp. They are engraved for ever on my mind and heart.
There has been much talk tonight about the passage of time. I was but a child on the day when I opened the door to my father on his return. He stood there, grey and drawn, and said, "Do not touch me. I am covered with lice. Everyone in the camps is covered with lice. We have been deloused many times, but I am still covered with lice." He could not sleep for many weeks, and he had nightmares for many years. It is said that Mrs. Mavis Tate never got over what she saw in the camp, for she died a number of years later.
My father spoke to me and to my brothers and sisters about what he had seen in the camp. He told us of the hanging gibbets. Human beings were put on hooks and hung from under their chins until they died. He told us that the people in charge of the camp rather liked tattoos, and they skinned people and used their skins to make lampshades. They discovered that, when people die, their skin is given to shrinking too quickly, so they tried skinning them alive. My father showed me photographs of piles of bodies on carts. Three weeks later, the allies had not had time to remove them all. He showed me photographs of men in thin clothes, photographs of skeletons, and photographs of men with haunted eyes. I will always remember the look in those men's eyes--the look of utter bewilderment and incomprehension. They had been starved and beaten, yet their spirit was still there. There comes a point when something must be done. For too long the House has ignored that delegation's report. Tonight, I hope that every hon. Member will pay tribute to our former colleagues for going to that camp on our behalf, for bringing back that report to the House, and for showing the suffering of so many people. I hope that all hon. Members will show their respect for and commitment to doing what every member on that delegation would wish them to do, and that is to support the motion.
Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) spoke with deep emotion about the victims of war crimes. All hon. Members share that emotion. The crimes that we are discussing are among the darkest in the annals of man's inhumanity to man. No unbiased person can doubt either the horror or the scale of the crimes in which 6 million innocent civilians--men, women and children, including
Column 902Jews, gipsies, Communists and homosexuals-- were herded into the gas chambers of the Third Reich. Hon. Members unanimously acknowledge and condemn those crimes.
I am a founder member of the all-party war crimes group. Together with other members, I joined because I felt a sense of deep outrage at the idea that mass murderers might be living unpunished in our midst. However, I am bound to say that the report of the war crimes inquiry led me to different conclusions from those to which it led its authors.
We must ask whether it is right to reopen this matter now. What would it achieve? If Parliament had wished to address these matters, surely the time to do it was in the late 1940s or early 1950s--not today, half a century later. Most of the witnesses are senile, infirm or dead. What hope would a defendant have of a fair trial according to the tenets of British justice as we know them?
If Parliament were to grant authority to proceed on the course recommended by this masterly but flawed report, the British Government would be required to expend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to scour the Soviet Union for witnesses and for evidence that was favourable to the prosecution. There can be no doubt that the British Government would have the full support of the Soviet Government, but what resources would be available to a defendant?
For instance, what would be the position of a Latvian living in impoverished circumstances in one of our inner-city areas, and who has been in this country for 45 years? At least if he is falsely accused of murder or misidentified by a witness in respect of a murder committed in recent years in this country, he has a chance of finding one or more witnesses who may be able to support an alibi or may be a material witness for the defence. Should that witness prove to be unwilling, he or she may be compelled by subpoena to appear before the court and can be sworn to tell the truth under pain of prosecution for perjury. However, in these war crimes cases a defendant would be deprived of their basic rights accorded by British law.
What of the evidence? The inquiry makes it clear that such prosecutions are likely to enjoy the full co-operation of the Soviet Government. Does anyone doubt that? However, were not the Soviet Government guilty of the mass murder of about 20 million of their own people in the Stalin purges and by deliberately starving to death the kulaks of the Ukraine?
Sir Thomas Hetherington records the inquiry's gratitude to the staff of the state procurator-general's office in Moscow, but hon. Members would do well to recall that the same procurator-general's office brought us the show trials of the Stalin era which condemned tens of thousands of Soviet citizens to the gulag for crimes unknown to Western democracies. In recent years it has consigned many sane men and women to psychiatric establishments, and it has formed part of the apparatus of state terror in the Soviet Union. Is that the same office that is to be Britain's partner in what I can only term an ugly charade?
What of the Soviet archives to which the inquiry refers at paragraph 9.42 and in respect of which the law is to be changed to admit documents without the defence having the opportunity to cross-examine the archivist? The inquiry is understandably coy about this matter, but could it be that it is referring to that organisation, so renowned for its love of justice and truth, the Committee for State
Column 903Security, commonly known as the KGB, or its predecessor, the NKVD, which holds the responsibility, among other things, for the massacre in cold blood of 16,000 Allied Polish officers in the forest at Katyn? While on the subject of war crimes, what steps are being taken to bring to justice the perpetrators of that outrage, or do such laws apply only to the losers of world wars?
What guarantees would the Soviet authorities be able to give that the evidence had not been tampered with or even manufactured with a view to striking back or settling old scores against anti-Communist emigre communities in this country who came from the Baltic states, eastern Europe or the Soviet republics? What pressure may have been put on witnesses, including dead witnesses, whose evidence is now to be admitted if the report has its way? I see no prospect under these circumstances of a defendant obtaining a fair trial and therefore I see little likelihood of a British jury feeling able to convict. To embark on such a mammoth task of restructuring the law retrospectively in more than half a dozen different respects to make answerable to a British court those who are not so answerable today would be to run a serious risk of achieving precisely the opposite result to that desired by those who will vote in the Lobby for such legislation.
The document is a recipe for the establishment in this country of show trials that should have no place in British justice. I shall vote against the proposals, not because I believe that the guilty should not be punished, but because I doubt the possibility of a fair trial and believe that the likelihood of acquittal would be high. At paragraph 9.18 the report declares that
"to take no action would taint the United Kingdom with the slur of being a haven for war criminals".
That is a preposterous statement that I utterly refute. No country has a prouder record than Britain in standing up to Nazism or in making possible its ultimate defeat. This is a case where I am prepared to leave justice in the hands of the Almighty--
" Vengeance is mine' saith the Lord."
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West) : This has been a debate in the best traditions of the House. There is no question over the sincerity of any hon. Member who has taken part. There have been some moving contributions and there is no complaint about any of the anxieties that have been expressed.
One thing that has clearly emerged is that this has not been a debate about how best to secure convictions. If the proposed legislation is placed on the statute book, it will fall to the appropriate authorities in each individual case to see whether there is sufficient evidence on which a court can properly be asked to convict, whether the individual concerned is too old or too ill properly to conduct a defence, whether any other factors in the case mitigate against a fair trial and whether it would be in the public interest to prosecute. All those matters would fall to the appropriate authorities. The issue here is whether anyone should have power to direct their minds to those questions or whether the evidence should be swept aside and no one have the power even to consider it.
I add my tribute to those which have already been expressed to Sir Thomas Hetherington and Mr. Chalmers. I have heard distinguished lawyers concerned with these matters in other countries say how fortunate we are in the United Kingdom to have members of an inquiry who can
Column 904carry out so extensive an investigation, who can so clearly grasp the problems and the arguments, who are so mindful of the requirements of justice and who can put together a report of this quality in the time available. Clearly they were not unmindful of the necessity for a fair trial.
The time available to me is extremely short and I shall have to leave aside a number of points that have been raised in the debate about which I wished to speak. However, I should like to address the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). It is true that the inquiry has proposed some amendments to the rules of evidence, not to secure a conviction as my right hon. Friend suggested because that was not the purpose of the recommendations, but to assist the court in arriving at a better assessment of the case. They may well operate in favour of the defence and many of us would like to see some of them taken into our general rules of evidence. There is no time to discuss them all in detail except to say that they are limited and there is not one of them that I would not be prepared to defend. But my right hon. Friend is right that none of them is integral to the central proposal of the inquiry. At the appropriate time, all of them could be voted on separately in Committee or on Report, and the principal proposal would still remain inviolate whatever the fate of specific recommendations.
I turn now to the question of witnesses' memories. Of course, a witness may be mistaken and many of us have had occasion to remind juries of that danger. I have no doubt that it would be eloquently impressed on any jury. However, we must also have in mind the experiences about which the witnesses will be speaking. Are they experiences that the witnesses would be likely to forget? In another place, a number of their Lordships quoted Shakespeare. I believe that Lord Home was the first to say, "Old men forget." That was not a happy quotation for the proposition which he was advancing because the House will remember that Shakespeare put that quotation into the mouth of Henry V as a prelude to his saying that there are some things which one never forgets. I, too, had the opportunity of speaking to Kitty Hart, who was mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), and who said when she gave evidence in Germany :
"If a person has absolute power of life or death over you even for an instant, that face will be etched on your mind for ever." She was tested and shown photographs of various people taken during the second world war, and she was not wrong on any of them. Finally, there have been doubts about whether the necessary facilities for a fair trial can be extended to the defence by the Soviet Union. I hope that hon. Members who have doubts about that will read the reports of the deportation hearings under the Holzman Act in the United States. In the case of the United States v. Artishenko, the Soviet authorities made six witnesses available to the defence, although they were asked to do so only on the very day counsel arrived in the Soviet Union. In the case of the United States v. Kowalchuk, the Soviet authorities made witnesses available to the defence whose evidence proved decisive.
It has been suggested that the evidence might be tampered with. I ask the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) to read the reports of Mr. Allan Ryan, the director of the office of special investigations, and of all the
Column 905lawyers who have had anything to do with these matters in the United States. The documentary evidence was tested by experts from all the American universities. They expressed themselves satisfied that there was no problem about collecting evidence in the Soviet Union and that the Moscow agreement did not operate otherwise than perfectly properly and fairly.
I do not believe that there is an obstacle, technical or otherwise, to according those accused a fair and proper trial. The only obstacle would be if we did not wish to see justice take its course. It is we who are on trial.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : The debate ends in six minutes and I have little time in which to do justice to the many points that have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. I join with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) in agreeing that this has been an excellent debate.
The House has been the scene of many impassioned debates in recent years-- on subjects such as abortion, capital punishment and war crimes--and this debate joins them as one of the highest quality which will be long remembered, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) said.
The quality of speeches for and against--on some occasions it was difficult to make out whether they were for or against until the last moment, properly so, in view of the fact that hon. Members were making difficult judgments--has been a tribute to the recognition by hon. Members generally and across party lines of the responsibility that is placed on the shoulders of Government by the need to decide on the right course of action in this most difficult of areas for any Government of any party.
Some points have been raised with which I must deal in the brief time available to me. A number of hon. Members raised the issue of what exactly were the crimes with which we are concerned today. Volume 2, which will never be published, gives the full horror, but an indication of the scale and nature of the crimes is given in paragraphs 2.23 and 2.43 of the report. They give some graphic hint of what the unpublished material contains.
The debate was opened powerfully by the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), and I confirm, if they need confirmation, the points he raised about recent changes in the administration of the law concerning
extra-territoriality, the taking of evidence by extra-terrestrial means, such as via satellite, and other circumstances, even producing the papers of the deceased, a change made by the Criminal Justice Act 1988--
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn rose --
Column 906I also confirm that we have no statute of limitation in this country from the point of view of the law on murder and homicide. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) recommended that we use the special Bill procedure, should the Government choose to take the route of legislation and should such a measure pass through the House, and I guess that any such legislation would have a rocky and turbulent passage if it were introduced. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that his suggestion has been noted and is a matter for the usual channels in the normal way. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), to whose speech I listened carefully, suggested that there should be other options for legislation. The Government have not adopted any one option for future legislation, should they decide to legislate ; no option has been ruled out and I think the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood the Home Secretary, who did not commit the Government to legislating along any particular lines, should the Government decide to legislate at some future time. The Government's mind is not made up, and I have the Home Secretary's authority to say that. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) made the important point that the Director of Public Prosecutions of the day, should legislation be introduced to change the law, might decide not to prosecute on considering the totality of admissible evidence at the time as well as all the other factors that the DPP and the Attorney-General must take into account when considering the public interest.
It would be his duty, or that of the Attorney-General, to make up his own mind, and the argument of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East about raising expectations unnecessarily that something would happen, when people might only be disappointed, should be weighed on both sides of the argument by those deciding whether it would be right to go ahead with legislation. That point, like those opposed to the prospect of legislation, all deserve to be weighed carefully by hon. Members.
Some are clear in their views. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge know exactly what their point of view is on one side of the argument, just as my hon. Friends the Members for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) come down as firmly on the other side of the argument.
There were many others who were less clear about which side of the argument they wished to be, for example, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and the hon. Member for Falkirk, East.
My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) said that he had changed his mind and that we should extend our views to look at such tragedies as we have seen from evidence from Katyn. I agree, and I hope that evidence is brought forward because there is a Polish-Soviet commission at present looking at exactly the evidence that may be turned up over allegations concerning Katyn.
I agree with the Home Secretary over the need to consider legislation, but it will be for the Government to decide, on the basis of views in the other place, in this House and in the Lobby tonight, what course of action to take in the coming months.
Column 907It being three hours after the motion was entered upon, Mr. Speaker-- put the Question pursuant to the order [8 December]. The House divided : Ayes 348, Noes 123.
Division No. 14] [7.56 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)
Beith, A. J.
Bevan, David Gilroy
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Currie, Mrs Edwina
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Fookes, Dame Janet
Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Fox, Sir Marcus
Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Glyn, Dr Alan
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)