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House of Lords

Tuesday, 11th June 1996.

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

Prayers--Read by the Bishop of Worcester.

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 am to undertake a long-standing engagement to address the Windmill Business Group in Lytham St Annes on Friday 14th June. Accordingly, I trust that the House will agree to grant me leave of absence on Friday 14th June.

War Crimes: Investigations

2.37 p.m.

Lord Mayhew asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many suspected war criminals were identified by the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiry in 1988; and how many suspects are now under police investigation.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiry identified 301 cases. Of those original 301 allegations, six remain under investigation by the Metropolitan Police. Three other cases that subsequently came to the attention of the Metropolitan Police also remain under investigation. In addition, proceedings have commenced in one case.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that this demonstrates a very long and drawn out process? Does he recall that, after the war, some 200 war criminals were sentenced to death by British courts, thousands were sentenced to imprisonment and that in 1948, with general consent, prosecutions ended? Will he say what we are gaining today, 48 years later, in this long, drawn out attempt to start the trials again? Will the noble and learned Lord bear in mind that attempts to bring suspects to trial have now been abandoned in Scotland? Would it not be sensible to follow suit in the rest of the United Kingdom?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, my understanding is that as regards Scotland, my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate decided that, in the light of the investigations that had been carried out there, it was not right to instigate any prosecutions. The noble Lord asked the fundamental question to which the attention of Parliament was directed when the legislation on which these investigations are based was passed into law. I well understand the noble Lord's feelings about

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that. I believe that he expressed them eloquently at the time, but the views of another place ultimately prevailed.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords--

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords--

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, this Campbell is coming first!

Noble Lords: Order!

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, far be it from me to intervene in inter-tribal matters. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, may speak first. I am sure that we shall have time for his clansman in due course.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful. Does my noble and learned friend know why war crimes legislation was not enacted in this country in 1948, when the international tribunal at Nuremberg was closed down, since that tribunal tried only the major figures, including Goering and Hess, and the British courts, which have just been mentioned, were military government courts in Germany? The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, may know the answer because he was a Minister at the Foreign Office at the time. Other countries have been prosecuting in their own courts ever since. Have not any war criminals, who entered this country after the war disguised among the many thousands of refugees, been able to enjoy immunity? Now, nearly 50 years later, is it not very difficult to find conclusive evidence?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, some of your Lordships are much better equipped than I to know what the position was in 1948. My understanding is that on the information available at that time, it was believed that no war criminal had entered the United Kingdom, and that it was unlikely that sanctuary would be sought in the United Kingdom as one of the victorious nations. That being the belief at the time, there was no requirement to extend jurisdiction for murder committed outside the United Kingdom by persons who had entered the United Kingdom from Germany or German-occupied territory and who were then citizens or resident within the United Kingdom. Of course, there are difficulties inherent in the passage of time; but these are matters that have to be dealt with on an individual basis as regards the instigation of prosecutions.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, perhaps I may trouble the noble and learned Lord to give a rather more detailed progress report? In May last year we were told that 13 cases were under investigation and that seven cases had been reported by the police to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Will the noble and learned Lord be good enough to tell the House, first, whether there have been any new cases in which investigation has started since then; secondly, of the 21 cases that we were told

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about last year, how many have been resolved and how many are still outstanding? Of those that have been resolved, are any to result in prosecution?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, my understanding is that there are nine cases under investigation by the Metropolitan Police about which decisions have not yet been reached by the prosecuting authorities. As I understand the position, the only case where such a decision has been taken in favour of prosecution is where that has commenced. So if the noble Baroness will subtract these figures from those that she had on the last occasion, I believe that she will find where it has been decided not to carry investigations further or not to instigate prosecutions.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend confirm that, according to his two Written Answers, the continuation of these investigations is an operational matter for the police, who never close the file on a murder inquiry? Does that mean that as long as these men may live the investigations shall continue? If so, compared with the sane approach north of the Border where investigations were ended some years ago, is this considered satisfactory?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the point at which investigations are concluded is a matter for the police. Once investigations are concluded, a decision whether or not to prosecute will be taken. The question of files remaining open indefinitely is perhaps not to the point. The practical question is when the investigations are completed. My understanding so far as concerns Scotland is that such investigations as were required were completed and my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate was able to take a decision. In respect of England and Wales, the Director of Public Prosecutions will take decisions as and when the investigations are completed. One decision in favour of instigating a prosecution has been taken. The committal proceedings have been held and the accused has been committed for trial.

Lord Renton: My Lords, what has been the cost to the taxpayer up to now of this long-delayed and mostly unproductive exercise?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, my recollection is that the cost to the Metropolitan Police is in the order of £6 million. When one thinks of the nature and complexity of the investigations, it is perhaps not surprising that such a figure should be involved. My noble friend says that the investigations are largely unproductive. In a sense, any investigation which does not lead to a prosecution by the prosecuting authorities or the police is of that character. On the other hand, part of the system of justice is that matters in respect of which there is an allegation should be investigated appropriately. To that extent, the expenditure is productive; namely, it is used to carry out a proper investigation of matters which are subject to the jurisdiction of the courts under the Act of Parliament.

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For the same period, expenditure by the Crown Prosecution Service stood at approximately £1.8 million.

Noble Lords: Order!

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I know that this is a matter of great interest to your Lordships' House, particularly in view of the history. I am mindful of the fact that, in view of the final Question today, your Lordships will require full answers upon it. I am in your Lordships' hands, but your Lordships may feel that perhaps the time has come to move on.

Gulf War Medical Information: Disclosure

2.45 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the strict application of the Official Secrets Act takes precedence over the disclosure of information which would assist in the diagnosis of the health problems reported by members of the Armed Forces who were involved in Operation Granby.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, no. It is our practice to release available information which would assist in the treatment of health problems experienced by members of the Armed Forces who served in Operation Granby. Clearly it is important that relevant information is made available to medical practitioners for their professional use.

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