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House of Lords

Monday, 15th May 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Lord Netherthorpe—Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, before the commencement of business, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I have accepted an invitation to deliver the McDermott Lecture, at the Queen's University, Belfast, on Friday 19th May. Accordingly, I trust that the House will agree to grant me leave of absence for Friday 19th May.

War Crimes Act 1991

2.38 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When those under investigation (some since 1988) will be told whether they are to be tried under the War Crimes Act 1991; and whether any other such investigations are to be instituted.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the Crown Prosecution Service has received initial advice from senior Treasury counsel. Having carefully considered that advice, further inquiries are in hand in relation to certain potential defendants. It is not possible at this stage to predict whether or when any prosecution will be initiated, nor to say when those individuals who remain under investigation will be told whether or not they are to be prosecuted. If any further allegations were to be made, it would be for the police to consider whether any further investigation would be justified.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that reply. Is it not apparent from Mr. Attorney's answer in another place on 28th April that there were only seven initial references to Treasury counsel? No definitive references have been made as regards the 20 remaining persons under consideration, 14 of whom have been under investigation since long before the passing of the Act. Why is it that no definitive advice has been sought by the Director of Public Prosecutions in any one of the 20 cases? Why has not the Director of Public Prosecutions made a decision either to charge or to exclude on the available evidence, as was done in Scotland by the Lord Advocate a year ago?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate made decisions in relation to Scotland on the basis of investigations there

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which, as I understand, had been completed. The position in England and Wales is that seven cases have been reported by the police to the director, who is in consultation with my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General, as his consent is required in relation to any prosecution. The remaining 13 cases are still being investigated by the Metropolitan Police. Of the seven, certain further investigations have been requested. Your Lordships can be assured that my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General is anxious to reach a concluded view on these cases as soon as possible. But the investigations are necessarily complicated and he would wish to be sure that they were being properly conducted.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord able to assist us on the date of the oldest investigation into these matters, the ages of any prospective defendants who remain alive, and whether or not it would be fair, prudent and appropriate to set some definitive cut-off point for these investigations which have now gone on for so long?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the investigations could only proceed once statutory authority for them had been given. Therefore, so far as concerns the police investigations, none dates before the granting of the statutory authority for them to take place. The noble Lord asked about the ages of those under investigation. My impression is that the oldest is around 84 years of age and the youngest of the order of 69 years of age. One's estimate as to whether they are old or comparatively young will depend, perhaps, on one's standpoint. In relation to investigations, I think that it is quite impossible to set a time limit if investigations are being pursued. So much depends on the course that the investigations take. But I have already given your Lordships the assurance of my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General that he is anxious to complete this matter as quickly as possible. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, he has the example of my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate in Scotland to bear in mind and possibly to seek to emulate.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that, in an answer given in another place a few days ago, it was admitted that six police officers were fully employed on these investigations at a monthly cost of £77,000? Are we going to go on wasting the time of valuable officers who could be dealing with more serious and difficult questions of crime? Must we go on spending money in this way?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that I am as anxious as he is not to spend taxpayers' money unnecessarily. However, the question of precisely what investigations are required is a matter that has properly to be left to the judgment of those responsible for the investigations. These matters are serious and involve serious allegations. It is right that they should be properly investigated. I believe that those charged with the investigations are seeking to carry them out properly, as speedily as possible and with due regard to proper economy.

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Lord Mayhew: My Lords, is it not now six years since the Hethrington-Chalmers report stated that the major obstacle to fair trials was the age of the suspects and the witnesses? That was six years ago. Is it not unsatisfactory that proceedings should still be dragging on without any prosecution being taken, and without any evident end to the proceedings? Might not the Government have been much wiser to follow the advice of this House in the whole matter of war crimes trials?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as regards the Government following the advice of this House, obviously its advice was carefully considered in the other place, which had the advantage of the views of this House before the second occasion on which the Bill was introduced there. Noble Lords do not need me to tell them the result of the vote in the other place. As far as dragging on is concerned, it is a question of trying to carry out the investigations properly. Anyone who knows anything about them—and I am sure that that includes all your Lordships—will appreciate that they are not easy investigations to conduct, having regard to the nature of the allegations. I repeat, those responsible for the investigations are anxious to bring them to a conclusion as quickly as possible, always having regard to the importance of the issues at stake and the need for careful and wise decisions.

Viscount Tonypandy: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that the age of 83 years is nothing compared with the crime that has been committed? Does he agree that if I can remember what happened 50 years ago—and I am older than the oldest person whom the noble and learned Lord mentioned—other people can remember? Is the House further aware that yesterday I listened to a Jewish service in Cardiff and to a former victim of Auschwitz? She remembers, and these people remember. Murder is murder, and it does not become less because time has passed.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, if it were not for my faith in the credibility of the noble Viscount, I would have great difficulty in believing that he is as old as he claims. I am sure that your Lordships will agree with his view that recollections can be very strong in respect of certain events, even after the passage of time. Those who suffered in the events to which the noble Viscount referred, have very good reason for remembering well. Of course, in a fair trial recollections have to be tested. For example, recollections as regards identification would be important. All those are considerations to be taken into account in reaching a wise decision on the conclusion of these investigations.

Nuclear Policy

2.49 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will reconsider their nuclear policy in the light of the argument in Paper II on Nuclear Proliferation published by the International Security

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    Information Service and written by Ronald Higgins and Professor John Ziman FRS, contending for "a higher realism than present national self-absorption."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, while we welcome most contributions to the nuclear debate, we believe that we already pursue the policies which most effectively promote peace and stability.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree that there is a degree of criticism about Trident at a very significant level—indeed, even the necessity for it is now being questioned—and that similar criticisms are being raised by bodies apart from that to which I refer in my Question, which is a well-known non-partisan organisation? Is the Minister aware that Field Marshal Sir Nigel Bagnall is quoted in The Times as questioning the whole necessity for Trident? Is the Minister further aware that in this House the noble and gallant Lord, Field Marshal Lord Carver, has done the same from time to time? In all those circumstances, will not the Government at least have another look at their nuclear policy which is becoming incredible?

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