HC Deb 13 June 1921 vol 143 cc32-4
50. Sir F. HALL

asked the Prime Minister what is the number of Germans included in the lists of war criminals drawn up by the Allies who are accused of sinking hospital ships; whether the Allies will be precluded from proceeding further with these, in view of the acquittal by the Leipzig court in the only case of this kind that has so far been tried, on the ground that the officer concerned was acting under orders; and whether, in view of this decision, the crime rolls will be revised so as to include those responsible for giving such orders?

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Gordon Hewart)

I have been asked to reply. The number referred to in the first part of the question is four. As to to the rest of the question, what has taken place at Leipzig does not impair the rights of the Allies under the Treaty. Their further action will be jointly resolved upon when the present series of trials is concluded.

51. Sir F. HALL

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether Captain-lieutenant Neumann, who was charged at Leipzig with the crime, of torpedoing the hospital ship "Dover Castle," was acquitted partly on the ground that such action is justified in the case of a ship used for the conveyance of soldiers wounded in a land battle; and whether, in view of the gravity of the position which this decision creates by legalising such an act of inhumanity, the Government proposes to take steps for the question to be considered by the League of Nations, with a view to an international agreement being come to on the subject?


I have been asked to reply to this question. Until the full report of the judgment is received, it is not possible to say whether the ground of acquittal suggested in the question was relied upon by the court. Before the judgment has been received and considered, it would be premature to decide upon the course suggested by the hon. Member.


Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman personally satisfied with the manner in which these trials have been conducted, and if he is not, will he take steps to see that these higher authorities have proper indictments brought against them and that the trials are conducted in accordance with the ordinary custom recognised in this country?


My hon. and gallant Friend is, I know, the soul of fairness, and he will not ask me to answer the question as to whether or not I am satisfied, when he knows my information is incomplete. I do not think I should in fairness to this House, express an opinion upon insufficient information.


In view of the importance of this matter, and the number of times we have been told that these trials should have taken place under the jurisdiction of the British Government, if I put down a question in a fortnight's time, does he think he will be able to give a reply?


I certainly hope so. I shall give a reply at the earliest possible moment.


Has the right hon. Gentleman received reports from the Solicitor-General, the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir E. Hume-Williams), and the other representatives of His Majesty's Government who went to Leipzig?


I have received several reports, but I have not yet re- ceived the full report of the evidence and the judgment.

Viscount CURZON

May I ask whether the British Government accepts the ruling made under the German Penal Code in reference to the sinking of the hospital ship?


It is not a question of accepting or not accepting any ruling. I understand from the reports that, according to German law, it is a good answer to a charge, even where some act containing the element of crime has been committed, to say, "I acted under superior orders." In our law that is not the case. Under our law, in such a case, everybody concerned is liable—


Is that so in Ireland?


But that is not, as I say, the German law. The question of accepting German law does not arise. What has happened here is that a number of cases have been, by request, submitted to the German courts, in order that they may give an indication of their good faith. Whether they have succeeded or not is a matter for consideration.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Would that apply in Cork?


Can the right hon. Gentleman say how soon we may expect the report of the evidence and judgment in the Neumann case, and whether, in view of the importance of the question, he will bring it before the House as soon as possible.


Is he aware that the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in answer to a question a few moments ago, said that in Ireland military necessity decided such cases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order, Order!"]


That does not arise out of the question on the Paper.


I beg to give notice that I shall repeat the question this day fortnight.

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