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House of Lords

Thursday, 1st February 2001.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

War Crimes

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take steps in appropriate cases to exercise their powers to remove British nationality from individuals whom they are satisfied have been personally involved in the commission of war crimes.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Government take the issue of war crimes very seriously and are seeking to ensure that the UK is not, and does not become, a safe haven for individuals involved in such crimes. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is examining various measures, including the scope for using the deprivation of citizenship provisions contained in Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and especially for his assurance that an investigation is taking place. I am sure that he is aware of the presence in this country of some 1,500 members of the Waffen SS from the regiment known as the 14th SS Volunteer Division Galicia, which includes a number of war criminals and against whom there is now new evidence. Can he indicate when the Home Secretary's investigation is likely to be completed; whether the powers of the Home Secretary to remove British nationality will be used if, but only if, there is sufficient evidence against an individual; and what other measures are being considered?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I cannot be precise as to when the review will be completed, but it is urgently taking place. The noble Lord is right to draw our attention to the recent programme "The SS in Britain". I can inform him that the Metropolitan Police are investigating allegations made as a product of that programme and forwarded by the Simon Wiesenthal centre. The police have received helpful information with regard to these allegations and have received the co-operation of the programme-makers. They are giving it very careful analysis.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, how on earth can any government be satisfied of personal

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involvement--that is what the Question asks--without a conviction in the courts? Is the Minister aware that the Hetherington report found many people personally involved, worthy of trial, and probably worthy of conviction, but there has been only one conviction since 1991? What on earth are the Government going to do? It is the business of the judiciary not of the Government.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there was widespread concern about that. As a result of the inquiry conducted by Sir Thomas Hetheringon in 1989 our predecessors in government--they should be congratulated on it--brought forward the War Crimes Act. The noble Lord is right; there has been only one successful prosecution. But the police investigated--the responsibility must rest with them, it cannot rest with government--more than 300 allegations following the war crimes inquiry. We have to be satisfied that those allegations were properly and thoroughly investigated. I am sure that the police did a rigorous job in difficult circumstances.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, will the Government, whatever they can or decide to do, treat in a similar way any persons found to be involved in crimes against humanity, not necessarily in wartime, and committed against their own nationals as well as others; for example, the atrocities committed in death camps such as Belsen, which was liberated by the British Army?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, those circumstances would be covered by the War Crimes Act. But the Government have recently introduced a Bill to allow the United Kingdom to ratify the International Criminal Court statute. That will allow UK courts to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the UK or by UK nationals and those subject to UK service jurisdiction overseas, and allow the United Kingdom to surrender indictees to the court. That gives ample testament to our commitment in this policy area.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether he is in contact with Poland, which is looking into the extradition process, or with any other governments in connection with issues that he has been good enough to look at?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord will appreciate that I am not personally in contact, but I am sure that that the department is. I shall carry out some inquiries to find out exactly where those links and connections are. I shall write to the noble Lord and place a copy of that correspondence in the Library.

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Interception of Postal Items

3.11 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

What bodies are entitled to intercept items carried by the Royal Mail; in what circumstances; and under what powers.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the powers to authorise the interception of communications are to be found in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Under that Act, there are nine bodies which may seek authorisation to intercept items carried by the Royal Mail. These are the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, Government Communications Headquarters, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Metropolitan Police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Scottish police forces, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise and the Ministry of Defence.

The grounds on which a warrant can be granted are strictly limited. It can be done only when the interception is necessary for one of the three following purposes: first, in the interests of national security; secondly, for the prevention or detection of serious crime; and, thirdly, for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that on 20th January on the "Money Box" programme, the National Criminal Intelligence Service said that it had intercepted 10,000 letters from Nigeria concerning a financial scam asking people to move lots of money? Can he tell us exactly what is meant by "interception"? Can he further say what is the position about private mail, as a good deal of mail now comes via couriers and other means rather than via the Royal Mail?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the information given on that programme. I was not aware of it. Postal interception plays a very small part in interception operations. I am advised that out of 2,000 warrants issued in 1999, the latest year for which we have figures, just 130 authorised the interception of postal items. Interception is a vital intelligence gathering tool for law enforcement and national security purposes.

As to the noble Baroness's final point, the fact is that an interception warrant may be served on a person who provides a "postal service". A "postal service" is defined in the legislation as any service which assists in the distribution and delivery of postal items. A "postal item" is defined as any letter, postcard or other thing in writing as may be used by the sender for imparting information to the recipient. That covers private courier services as well as the Royal Mail.

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London Underground: Financing Structure

3.14 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they remain committed, in the future financing of the London Underground, to separating responsibilities for operating the system from providing for its infrastructure.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, yes. The Government remain committed to securing the best option for the Tube that combines value for money with maintaining and improving safety. We believe that our proposal for a public private partnership is the right one. We are also in discussion with the Commissioner for Transport of London, Bob Kiley, on his proposals. Building on the work already done, we aim together to work out how best to accommodate his thinking within the PPP framework.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I have carefully noted what the noble Lord has just said. I am glad that discussions are still going on with Mr Bob Kiley. However, in view of the difficulties which have arisen on the railways as a result of divided responsibilities, is it not important to see whether private sector participation, with which many of us agree, could be obtained on the Underground without dividing responsibility between operations and the infrastructure?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, safety is paramount and has been at the forefront of thinking on the PPP. I should make clear, however, that the Underground is not a fragmented system like the railways. The PPP is much more unified in its structure than anything that is involved in the national railway. The public sector London Underground will retain primary statutory responsibility for the whole network and the unified structure that we propose avoids separation between train maintenance and track maintenance.

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