HC Deb 18 May 1950 vol 475 cc1482-508

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kenneth Robinson.]

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I am very glad of the opportunity to bring to the notice of the House a matter which, in my view, is of very considerable importance. I hope that will be a view which will be generally held after I have had an opportunity of explaining a little about the subject with which I wish to deal.

The question of the Convention on Genocide is something which strikes at the very root of the problem which is facing the world at present. It is a problem which is bound up not only with the interests of one person or a set of persons, but with the interests of groups throughout the length and breadth of the world who hold different religious or political points of view. It is particularly bound up with the future possibility of peace being established in the world. I put it on that level because the contentions that take place from time to time with regard to the use of weapons, the increased volume of weapons, the terrible nature of the weapons and the use of instruments of destruction will not alone prove effective in producing peace, in my opinion and in the opinion of those who have any reasonable hope for the world at all.

On the other hand, the United Nations, which exists for the specific purpose of trying to get the nations of the world together to argue out their cases and to iron out their difficulties, in my opinion and in the opinion of most reasonable people who understand the objects of the United Nations organisation, is the only effective method of eventually destroying the scourge of war. The General Assembly of the United Nations, on 9th December, 1948, adopted a convention to outlaw genocide. None of its members raised a voice in dissent; on the contrary, that Convention was accepted unanimously.

Genocide is the most horrible crime that can be committed. It is the crime of the destruction of a group of people solely on the ground that they happen to belong to that particular group. The Genocide Convention was universally applauded as a historic and important event in the attempt by civilised peoples to develop international law so that the law which must be built up to safeguard the international community should be consistent with civilised national laws which protect the ordinary man and woman in their daily lives. The conscience of the world has been wounded by the unspeakable brutalities that have been inflicted on innocent men, women and children within our own time. This historic Convention is a step forward which clearly indicates the determination to avoid, so far as is humanly possible, the excuses hitherto advanced by tyrants and tyrannous Governments who have had millions of men and women literally at their mercy.

All too often, sections of mankind have inflicted cruelties upon groups living within their sole and absolute control, and no means of escape has been afforded to those groups. The peoples of the civilised world, stricken with horror when they realised the glaring truth of these inhumanities, have stood helplessly by, on the assumption that they have no legal right to interfere. The vastness of the number of victims involved and the unspeakable measures taken against these victims have frequently been of such a nature that the human mind of the common man in other countries has been incapable of believing that such atrocities were actually taking place. Thus, honest accounts of those horrors have often been dismissed as exaggerated rumours and often, too, when the true nature and extent of these crimes have been revealed, it has been too late for any intervention to be made at all, even if other peoples desired to make that intervention.

It took two years of hard work for the United Nations to draw up the Convention. The Social and Economic Council discussed the matter frequently at its meetings. Special committees were constituted, some of them consisting of very learned and experienced international lawyers. I would refer, for example, to the French Judge of the International Military Tribunal, the President of the International Association for Penal Law and a former adviser to the United States Prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials who were consulted. Every point raised was carefully and minutely considered before the Convention was adopted.

Until the Convention was adopted, many different points of view had to be expressed, and were expressed; and as far as possible these were met in order that the Convention could be adopted unanimously and made as effective as possible. But to understand the importance of the Convention and of the fact that it was adopted unanimously, I think we ought to remember that genocide, although it has only recently been given that name, is a crime which has been committed throughout the centuries. It was stated in this House at one time—I think flippantly; and it is a pity that a word of that nature should be dealt with by any person or any body of persons in a flippant manner, because of its extreme seriousness—that the word itself could perhaps be improved, but it was accepted by the United Nations as a suitable term to describe what was meant by the crime to which I have referred.

It is a new name for an old crime. It means the deliberate destruction of whole groups of people just because they belong to particular groups. The group may be racial, national or it may be religious, and in some cases it may be political-trade unions and so on. It may be a particular ethnical or racial group. The destruction of the group may take the form of massacres, of executions, of subjecting the group to such conditions, for example, as lack of food or housing or not allowing it the right to work, that it cannot continue to live.

It may take the form of restricting its birth rate by, for instance, the segregation of the sexes. It may take the form of destroying the special characteristics of the group by such means as the forced transfer of its children. We have had illustrations of that in recent times. We have had the illustration of the Greek children and children of the Jewish faith who have been taken for some years and who are not being restored to the faith to which they were originally attached.

These were all techniques used by the Nazi Government of Germany as part of its deliberate policy. They were used particularly against the racial and religious group, the Jews, and against the national linguistic group, the Poles. Although this destruction was practised in a much larger and more systematic way by the Germans after the coming into power of Hitler, it was nothing new; although, of course, the scale on which it was practised then was a terrible one. Throughout the centuries, since the destruction of Carthage by the Romans, the crime of genocide has been practised. Right through the Middle Ages there were Jewish pogroms, mass killings, in various countries of Europe; more recently, in the last century, the massacres of the Armenians and the destruction of the Hereros in Africa; and in this century the persecution of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Although individuals and groups in other countries, and even foreign governments, were often roused to protest against such massacres—and I remember that on one occasion this House stood in silence, I think for the first time in its history, when it became known how terrible was the destruction of Jewish people in Germany—hitherto there was no action short of war they could take to prevent them. What action the Government of any country took, or permitted other groups in that country to take, against its own citizens was, according to some interpretations of international law, its own affair, but the systematic brutality practised by the Nazi regime shocked the conscience of the 20th-century out of this exaggerated respect for matters within domestic jurisdiction. It was recognised at Nuremberg that there were crimes against humanity for which those countries should be held responsible, and that these crimes must be punishable by law.

In its Charter the United Nations declared as one of its main purposes the achievement of international co-operation. These were the words: in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. It became clear that international law would have to be developed to deal with the international crime of genocide. There are already examples of laws for dealing with certain international crimes—the slave trade, the illegal production and trade in narcotics, piracy, trade in women and children. International Conventions have been signed on these crimes and anyone guilty of them can be tried and punished not only in his own country but in whatever country to which he escapes, provided that country has adhered to the convention in question.

It was thought that the same procedure should apply to genocide. I have said that the question was brought before the General Assembly of the United Nations. It was first brought before them in November, 1946. A draft resolution was at this time submitted jointly by certain delegations. This resolution drew the attention of the Economic and Social Council to the crime of genocide and invited it to study the problem and report on the possibilities. These were the points which were raised: one, declaring genocide an international crime; two, ensuring international co-operation for its prevention and punishment; and three, recommending that it should be treated by national legislatures in the same was as other international crimes.

The matter was discussed by the Assembly's Sixth Legal Committee and certain suggestions were made by other delegations. For instance, it was proposed that the Assembly should itself declare that genocide was an international crime for which those concerned should be punished. Another proposal was that the Assembly should call on members to see that their national laws treated genocide on an equal footing with piracy, traffic in women and children and slaves, and other crimes violating the dignity of human beings.

It was suggested that a draft protocol should be drawn up defining genocide, enumerating the cases which fell within that definition and including provisions for ensuring the prevention and repression of genocide. It was also proposed that those responsible for the propagation and dissemination of hatred against nations, racial or religious groups, as a step preparatory to the crime of genocide, should be punished.

I would point out at this stage that there is ample cause even at the present time, for urgency in this matter. In Germany today there is a recrudescence of Nazism, a recrudescence of anti-Semitism which is horrible and which tends towards repeating tragic and brutal incidents similar to those which occurred during the Nazi regime. Apparently the Allies, the occupying Powers, have not been able to suppress it, and there are strong statements—indeed, very strong statements—coming from persons visiting Germany today to the effect that the Streicheresque element is raising its ugly head again.

Even in this country from time to time we have had raised in this very House questions in respect of meetings which are held by men who have no hesitation in going into districts and advocating that the same bestial kind of thing that happened in Belsen and Buchenwald should be once again brought into effect, and urging the people of this country to take that point of view. It is true that all of those who listen at these meetings do not realise what is meant by Belsen and Buchenwald, otherwise they would hound the speakers out of the streets; but unfortunately this kind of gutter propaganda is prevalent in some districts of London, and other parts of the country. We get that Fascist element who utilise anti-Semitism as almost the only argument they have got. They try to incite men and women to commit the very acts which ultimately lead to genocide, and which are not only revolting to the national conscience in a particular country but are revolting to the conscience of the world as a whole.

Now on the basis of these proposals to which I have referred, a sub-committee drew up a resolution which was accepted —unanimously accepted: I want to bring this again to the notice of my hon. Friend —by the Committee and by the General Assembly in plenary session on 11th December, 1946. That means that the resolution to introduce this convention was agreeable to everybody who was present, including our own representatives; and it was unanimously adopted.

In this resolution the General Assembly affirmed that genocide was a crime under international law which the civilised world condemned, and that those guilty of it, whoever they were and for whatever reason they committed it, were punishable. The Assembly invited the Member States to enact national legislation for the prevention and punishment of this crime, and recommended that international co-operation should be organised for its speedy prevention and punishment. It requested the Economic and Social Council to undertake the necessary steps for drawing up separate conventions for submission to the Assembly at its next regular session.

Well now, it is clear that the legal implications—and I should like to have my hon. Friend's attention to this, because I gather there is some legal quibbling about what can or cannot be done —it is clear that the legal implications of the convention must have been known by us when the convention was agreed to and signed. I understand that the main arguments which were used against, the convention were, first, that genocide was already a crime under international law, following the precedent of the Nuremberg trials; and secondly, that if the government of any State were resolved to commit genocide no convention could deter them. In answer to these— and I anticipate the possibility of their being raised—I would point out that the Nuremberg judgment—and this has been held by highly important and knowledgable legal authorities—did not and could not establish genocide as an international crime. The Nuremberg law applied only to crimes committed during or in connection with war. It is very doubtful whether precedent can create international law. It must be considered that large numbers of countries do not accept precedent for creating law whether international or national. The Nuremberg Tribunal has been criticised by some eminent lawyers on the principle—"No punishment without law."

It is correct that no convention can prevent a Government from committing genocide if they are so determined, but the same argument could be brought forward against any convention. If a person is determined to commit piracy, to trade in women or children, in drugs or obscene publications, the existing conventions will not prevent his committing the crime, but the convention would give any country the right to apprehend and try the criminal wherever the crime is committed. The knowledge of this fact may deter the criminal from committing many crimes, though no convention, or criminal law for that matter, will prevent crime.

I hope I am not detaining the House too long, but I think it is important that the country should understand this matter and I do hope that my hon. Friend will try to help this very great and humane object which the United Nations are trying to bring into effect. The Convention itself—this Convention that has now been signed by us—contains a Preamble and 19 Articles, and I have tried to compress into as small a space as possible the gist of the Preamble and Articles. In the Preamble the contracting parties referred to in the previous declaration—to which I have already referred— by the General Assembly in December, 1946, declare that genocide is a crime under international law, recognise that humanity has suffered great losses by these crimes, and believes that international co-operation is necessary to liberate mankind from it.

Article 1 states that genocide is a crime whether committed in time of peace or war. Article 2 attempts to define this crime. It lists five kinds of acts aimed at destroying a national, ethical, racial or religious group. These are killing numbers of a group, causing them bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions on a group with the effect of its destruction, the prevention of births and the transferring of children forcibly from one group to another group. It states that certain steps directly lead to the crime, for example, stirring up people or inciting others to do so. This is one of the things I have referred to in the earlier part of my speech.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)

Can I ask my hon. Friend a question? Can we simplify this matter? Would it not be right to use the word "war" instead of the word "genocide"?

Mr. Janner

Genocide takes place, I am sorry to say, in times of peace as well as war. I should, perhaps, say a word or two on that point. I have already said, as my hon. Friend knows, that, in my view, a convention of this sort would help very considerably towards the elimination of war—if the peoples of the world only understood its implementations. They do not understand. They just take it for granted that there must be war. They ridicule, unfortunately, those organisations which are created by themselves in order to guard against war.

When the League of Nations was formed, instead of grasping the opportunity and the occasion firmly with enthusiasm, hon. Members in this House— I remember it—were asking questions such as, "Was it right that we should pay our share towards keeping up the League of Nations when China was not doing it?" And our share was in the nature of £1,000,000 or so. The same thing is happening in regard to the United Nations organisation. Instead of the people in this land—and every land— being encouraged to support it, and to support its conventions—instead of that, very often—all too often—they are induced to ridicule them.

It is an intricate Convention, but I should like to try to explain its terms, and I hope the House will bear with me. I have described the crimes. The attempt to commit genocide is also listed, for example, just as we have in our own country a law that the attempt to commit murder, or the fact of being an accessory to murder, is a crime which is punishable by the State. Article 4 makes it clear that persons guilty of these crimes are to be punished. It states that guilty persons—and these are the words used: shall be punished whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals. These have all very great bearing in view of what happened under the Nazi regime and prior to that. Under Article 5 the countries, which accept the Convention, undertake to pass the necessary laws to give effect to it, and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for those guilty of genocide. Article 6 lays down that persons charged with genocide will be tried in the country in which the act was committed by an international tribunal, the jurisdiction of which has been accepted by the countries concerned.

Article 7 makes it clear that genocide is not to be considered a political crime and—this is extremely important to a country like ours with the great traditions we have of giving asylum to people in consequence of political persecution—that those charged with committing these crimes are not to be given the right of asylum. The States signing the Convention pledge themselves to grant extradition for genocide. Article 8 lays it down that those states accepting the Convention should be ready to call upon competent bodies like the United Nations to take appropriate action under the Charter to prevent genocide. Article 9 provides that any dispute relating to the Convention shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice. Other articles of the Convention cover such matters as signature and ratification as well as an invitation to non-members of the United Nations to subscribe to it.

It was stipulated that the Convention would come into force—this is important and it is why I cannot understand why we are standing aside—90 days after 20 countries have signed and ratified or acceded to it. No fewer than 43 nations have signed it so not only did we agree, in the first instance, to the resolution which was carried unanimously, but the Convention itself was carried unanimously with our assent. Up to now only eight nations, one of which I am happy to say is the Dominion of Australia, have ratified the Convention. It requires 20 nations to ratify it before it becomes international law, and when it becomes international law it will remain in force for 10 years and thereafter for five year periods for those countries which do not denounce it. It will cease to have effect if the countries adhering to it fall below 16.

I have tried to give a picture of what it has taken years in the United Nations to bring to a head. I have been present watching the work of the United Nations on many occasions. Every argument which has been brought forward by any nation is carefully considered. The House may be assured that the Convention had been accepted after the delegations that were present had decided whether certain proposals were legally possible or not. They agreed to sign the Convention and the question of ratification in my opinion ought to be a matter of very simple procedure.

Why should not we in this country take a lead as we have done for very many years in humanitarian directions. Taking it by and large a lead has been taken on many occasions to try to prevent that kind of brutality to which I have referred. Why should our nation not take a step which other nations of the world rightly expect us to take. We have not yet ratified this Convention, and that means that other nations, particularly those of smaller dimensions, seeing us stand aside will not sign it either.

I would ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State not to regard this matter as being something which ought to be set aside because of legalistic quibbles. It is not a question for legalistic quibbling. If some improvement of the terms have to be made in a legal sense let us take the lead in setting this right. Let us amend the wording, if that be the cause of delay, so that the Convention can be brought into operation. Do not let us stand aside and say that we are a country which shrinks with horror at the gruesome acts and then refuse to sign the Convention because we cannot cast our eyes further. Look what we could have done if there had been a Convention of this sort when six million people were being done to death. It may be said, "Yes, we could not have prevented that, there would have been war," but if the League of Nations had had a Convention of that sort, we should at least have been able to persuade other nations to take action with ourselves to rescue people living and dying in those conditions.

This is a matter which cannot be set aside by question and answer in the House. It is a long time since 1948. The Convention was accepted in that year but there is no ratification in 1950. I with some of my hon. Friends have raised the matter from time to time in the House. We received sympathetic answers but were told that there are difficulties in the way. If there are difficulties let us sweep them aside, and, taking our courage in our hands, give the world a lead on this. I may be speaking with some emotion, but it is because I have heard and seen some of the things with which this Convention deals. I have seen the victims of these happenings. I have met and know men and women whose whole families have been sent to gas chambers, and who have seen them tortured and afflicted. These men and women will carry with them to the grave what they have seen of their relatives' distress. We cannot tolerate that kind of thing again.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not regard what I have said as being in the nature of censure. I hope he will regard it more in the nature of an appeal which will rouse his Department, the House and the country into action which is so imminently needed, bring respect of a great nature to the name of our country and enable us to take a lead in something which will redound not only to our credit but to the credit of civilisation as a whole and to the benefit of mankind.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I am sure that hon. Members who are present will agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has done a national and international service by drawing attention to the question of genocide. "Genocide" is not a word which people usually understand. I gathered that my hon. Friend defined it as "the deliberate destruction of whole groups of people because they belong to those particular groups." This became an urgent question of international importance and consideration as a result of the deliberate attempt by the Nazi regime in Germany to destroy the Jews.

One can understand the emotion and intense feeling of my hon. Friend in raising this question, but I believe I understand the attitude of the Government in refusing to ratify the Convention. If we are to outlaw genocide we have to outlaw war, for we cannot conduct war without deliberately destroying whole groups of people because they belong to certain groups. As far as we can understand the policy of this country, we are committed to a policy of international genocide. The foreign policy of this country and the policy of all Governments at present is the mass destruction of groups and nationalities with which they disagree.

I can quite understand the attitude of the Government. If genocide is to be considered an international crime and if, after another war, we are to have another Nuremberg trial, there might be in the dock not German statesmen but our own statesmen. We might find ourselves, as a result of the Convention, committed to trying the statesmen of all the world. If we had had this international Convention on genocide, with the very wide definition given by my hon. Friend, the people who decided on the dropping of the atom bomb would be in the dock, charged with genocide. We might have had a state of affairs in which we had to put President Truman in the dock charged with an international crime against humanity. We might have had the Leader of the Opposition in an international dock charged with crimes against humanity, because, according to this definition, anybody who connives at the deliberate destruction of whole groups of people because they belong to particular groups is an international criminal. We might have had the ironical situation of some of the people with the greatest international reputations in the world being looked upon as international criminals.

What could be expected of this Government, which is committed to a policy of international genocide? It is impossible to carry on a modern war without the deliberate destruction of whole groups of people, because they belong to particular groups. I understand that we are spending nearly £800 million this year in preparing for this kind of crime—and we are all involved because genocide is, in these days, a crime against humanity.

This respectable Convention, which met on the eve of victory in the last war, now comes up against this international contradiction, and we realise that the hopes of the United Nations to end war are regarded by many people in the world as international delusions. My hon. Friend has talked about us listening to the United Nations; some of us listened to the proceedings at the League of Nations. After every great war there is a mood of revulsion against war which results in an attempt to frame an international policy. The United Nations has not achieved the building up of a new international organisation which is to end the international crime of genocide.

Mr. Janner

I am sorry my hon. Friend is diverting this Debate into channels which, obviously, are not the proper channels. I understand why he does it, of course, and I dare say the House will, but the work of the United Nations should be looked upon and acted upon seriously and then he would have the answers to all his questions about war and the conduct of war.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I am carrying the argument of my hon. Friend to its logical conclusions.

Mr. Janner

Oh, no, my hon. Friend is not.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I am pointing out to my hon. Friend that if he wishes to outlaw genocide he should be prepared to outlaw war. That should carry him on to demanding the abolition of the atom bomb and the H-bomb and the ending of the enormous expenditure of all nations on preparations for another war. Far from depreciating the United Nations, I believe it is a great organisation with wonderful potentialities. My criticism is that we do not take the United Nations as seriously as we might and that at present we are not giving the backing that should be given to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in his demand that the United Nations should work as it was meant to work. The United Nations has ceased to express the post-war hopes and aspirations of those who thought it would bring international peace; it has become the venue of conflict of international ideologists, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations is arguing, quite rightly, that the time has come when a great effort should be made to bring back the United Nations to its original purpose, which means working out a plan for the complete abolition of war.

I am concerned that His Majesty's Government have not treated this effort with the earnestness and seriousness it really deserves. How many of us really knew that Mr. Trygve Lie was in this country during his recent visit?

The Minister of State (Mr. Younger)

Anybody who read the newspapers.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The newspapers did not give a great deal of attention to his mission. The visit of Mr. Lie was dismissed summarily, in a small paragraph. When I ventured to ask the Prime Minister what encouragement he would give to Mr. Lie, I received no answer.

Compare that with the reception which Mr. Lie is getting in Moscow. Judging by the international Press, his mission to Moscow is being received there with great consideration and respect. Let us hope that he will succeed in bridging the gulf between East and West. I say to my hon. Friend, therefore, that if he wishes to defend any particular nation, or any section or race within a nation, he has to carry this argument to its logical conclusion and demand the abolition, not only of genocide, but of the atom bomb, the H-bomb and all the infernal instruments of modern war.

It may be said that other nations are preparing in this way and that we must be prepared, and as a result the old conflict will continue. This country will be piling up expenditure on armaments and saying that that is defensive policy. People on the other side of the Iron Curtain will argue in the same way; thus we shall head for the greatest international catastrophe in the history of humanity. We are asked to consider what is, I think, a very great step towards outlawing the impending conflict. All that those of us who can express an opinion on this matter can do is to support very strongly the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West, who criticises the action of the Government in refusing to go even a very small part of the way on behalf of common humanity. If Australia has ratified the Convention, why cannot Great Britain do so?

I want to see a greater initiative from the British Government in the present international crisis. I do not want to see the foreign policy of a Socialist Government in Britain dragging on miserably behind the policy of the United States of America. We want to see the sentiments which have been voiced by my hon. Friend expressed in a new international policy which will avoid, not only the minor catastrophes, but the great major catastrophes that threaten civilisation.

The Prime Minister of India made a very interesting statement following the negotiations between India and Pakistan. He said, "We have gone right to the precipice, we have looked over it, and we have decided to turn back." If the other statesmen of the world, if the Americans, the British and all those who are now lining up behind so-called defence policies, do not go to the edge of the precipice, look over it and then retreat, the outlook for humanity is very dark indeed.

8.44 p.m.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

I have listened with interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) who opened the Debate, and I have been stimulated in thought by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who spoke next and who, I thought, was very logical. Whatever hopes and ideals we may have with regard not only to genocide, but to any other things, the central factor which will help us to achieve these things will be the maintenance of peace. It is true, of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South has said, that if we allow ourselves to develop into war, many of these things will of necessity die.

Therefore, it is wise, when we are considering these matters, to get at their fullest depth. The United Nations, of course, have been considering these things and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West has brought us to a very important part of their activities. There is no doubt that his desire to bring the public gaze of this country on to this matter is very wholesome and we all applaud him in that respect. When what he spoke of so emphatically and sincerely was taking place, the whole world considered it something almost beyond the thought of humanity.

The whole question develops into this. However far we may believe ourselves to be progressing, once we get into war our viewpoint, our attitudes, our whole personalities seem to change. Therefore, if we can argue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South has argued, that whatever hopes we have of developing personality, developing fuller liberties, developing religious tolerance and developing also political liberty throughout the world—all these things depend, if we hope to maintain them, on maintaining the fundamental one of all, and that is universal peace.

How far we can succeed in obtaining that is one of the problems of today. Nevertheless, while we have that great problem before this nation and before the world, it should not in any way neutralise or weaken our efforts to put our own personalities, our own nationhood and our own rights and liberties into what we think are the right courses to develop. With my hon. Friends, I want to try to publicise the idea and bring it more into the light of day and emphasise that these two problems are inter-related. We cannot hope to maintain all of these things, or any of our ideals, until we can really solve that great world problem and get some foundation for future peace.

8.47 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Mackay) that he has put the matter too high in attempting to argue that the implementation of this Convention would bring about, or even tend to bring about, universal peace. I also think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) put the matter too high when he suggested that genocide and killing in war are one and the same thing. Indeed, I think he knew he was putting it too high because he said that he was not actually stating the fact but carrying the matter to its logical conclusion. I do not agree that he was carrying the matter to its logical conclusion. He was simply omitting to give effect to certain words which occur in the Convention, particularly those words where genocide is actually defined.

It is right for the sake of accuracy, as this matter is before the House, that we should see what genocide means. It is defined in both a general and a particular manner in Article II. The general words are: In the present Convention genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole, or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such. Then the Article gives five sets of details. Genocide and killing in war might mean the same thing if the words "as such" were not there, but my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire gave no weight at all to the words "as such." The Convention says that genocide means killing: a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: We all know that that is not a definition of war, that war is very different indeed. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire or my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend have helped the cause they seek to aid by approaching it in the way in which they did.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has, on the other hand, performed a most useful service in bringing this matter before the House. It is right that the people of Britain, and indeed the people of the world, should know where Britain stands on this question. Britain occupies a position of leadership in international affairs and in this matter in particular Britain should clearly express and define her position so as to give leadership to any other nations which may be reluctant about implementing this Convention. It is good that publicity should be given to this matter, especially in view of the horrors of genocide in the Second World War, which we hope will be the last world war. Indeed, it is right that those horrors should be brought prominently before the people of the world, that every effort of the United Nations to reduce those horrors should be made present to our minds and that those efforts should if possible be implemented.

This Convention on genocide was discussed by the General Assembly of the United Nations during five meetings. It was fully and amply discussed. It was passed on 9th December, 1948, by 55 votes to none. Not only were there no dissentients, but there were no abstentions. The Convention now awaits ratification or accession by the nations of the world.

Under Articles 11 and 12 the position is that the Convention was open to signature until 31st December, 1949, and since that date it may be acceded to on behalf of any Member of the United Nations or any non-member State which has received an invitation. … The great question now is, should Britain accede to it? Should Britain ratify it? One has only to read Articles 1 to 3 to see that the answer is, "Yes." Article 1 defines genocide as an international crime. It states: The contracting parties confirm that genocide whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and punish. Why should Britain not undertake to prevent and punish this international crime? Why should Britain not play her part in giving leadership to the nations of the world in this crucial matter, which affects not only the peace and happiness but the very existence of civilisation itself? It is provided that the Convention shall come into force on the ninetieth day after 20 states have deposited with the Secretary-General their instruments of ratification or accession. I can see no reason either in war, or politics or humanitarianism why this Convention should not be acceded to promptly.

I do not rely on my own views of this Convention. I would like to refer to what was said by Dr. Herbert Evatt, the President of the General Assembly about this Convention. He said: In this field relating to the sacred right of existence of human groups we are proclaiming today the supremacy of international law once and for ever Then, again, he said: Today, we are establishing international safeguards for the very existence of such human groups. Again, he said: Our approval of this Convention marks a significant advance in the development of international criminal law. Those are the words of Dr. Evatt, President of the General Assembly, a great world leader.

I would, with respect, add that we all know that formerly the basic human We all know that the civilised nations of the world have advanced greatly during the past 50 years. If ever any good thing comes out of war one of the good things that came out of the two world wars was a higher and nobler conception of human rights, of national rights and of group rights. This convention expresses that higher and nobler conception with regard to the duties of human beings, and nations, towards groups.

This is a great step. As I have said, Britain occupies a position of leadership in international affairs and here is an opportunity for her once again to demonstrate that leadership. I hope she will do so, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he replies, will be able to give us an assurance that that implementation will take place at an early date.

8.58 p.m.

The Minister of State (Mr. Younger)

Since my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) raised this question of the Genocide Convention in a very sincere and moving speech we have ranged a very long way. I hope the House will not expect me to follow up all the points which have since been made. I wish to deal, I hope in a way which will give my hon. Friend some satisfaction, with the matter of which he gave me notice. I do not wish to go into the very much wider question of international peace raised by subsequent speakers.

There is one thing which was said by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) which I really cannot allow to go by unchallenged. It is by no means the only thing which he said with which I disagree but, I think it is one which I cannot allow to go by unheeded. He said that when Mr. Trygve Lie, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, recently passed through here on his way to visit other places in Europe very little notice was taken of him, very much less notice than was taken of him in Moscow.

The hon. Member asked how many people knew that Mr. Lie was here, and I interjected, "Anybody who read the newspapers." I think everybody who was interested in this subject knew perfectly well that Mr. Lie was here. In fact, Mr. Lie saw a number of important people. He saw the Prime Minister. I think he had long conversations with everybody he wished to see, and I would remind my hon. Friend that there are few people in political life of any party complexion in this country whom Mr. Lie does not know. He saw everyone he wished to see, and he had private discussions.

If there was not much comment in the Press about this it was partly because these were confidential talks, and partly because we are well known to have been supporters of United Nations in the past and to be in broad agreement with Mr. Lie, among others, about the way in which United Nations should function. Therefore, talks of this kind do not make news in the same way as it makes news when Mr. Lie goes to Moscow and is known to be discussing the future of the United Nations, whose progress has been so signally obstructed over the past five years by the Government of the Soviet Union.

From a journalistic point of view it was, perhaps, a matter of greater interest to try to ascertain what sort of reception Mr. Lie may have had in Moscow. Even there, I would point out to my hon. Friend that these conversations, too, are still confidential, and all that is known about them is what Mr. Lie has seen fit to say. I really could not let go by a comment which seemed to suggest that we were more backward in our support of the United Nations and all that it stands for than any other Government. The contrary is the case.

Mr. Emrys Hughes rose——

Mr. Younger

I cannot give way to my hon. Friend. He took up a very long time in discussing a matter which most of us did not think was to be discussed. We respect his views, he has given them to us, and I do not think I need give way at this stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West, described the Convention. He gave some indication of what it contained and how it came into existence. I assure him that the Government share, and always have shared, his abhorrence of the type of crimes which this Convention is designed to meet. It was for that reason, of course, that His Majesty's Government and our delegation supported the original resolution quite soon after the war, when it was proposed that something of this kind should be devised. We also took our full part throughout all the discussions in the United Nations which led up to the adoption of this Convention by the General Assembly in December, 1948.

I would point out to him that in the Legal Committee, where the working out of this Convention had taken place before it was finally presented to the Assembly, we had very many misgivings about the practicability of some of the legal provisions of this Convention. Many of our suggestions were accepted, but not all of them, and so far were we from being reassured—not about the purpose, on which we had no dispute with anybody, but about the effectiveness of this instrument—that in the final vote in the Legal Committee we felt obliged to abstain. When the matter went to the Assembly it was much more a broad political than a legal issue.

Mr. Janner rose——

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend will please allow me to explain, because, clearly, he does not understand this part of the argument. On purely legal grounds in the Legal Committee we expressed our misgivings, but when it came to the General Assembly, as we were in complete accord with the purpose for which this Convention was designed, we voted, as did everybody else present, for the convention; but we were obliged even then to accompany our vote by the reservation that we could not, without further examination, be taken to be committing ourselves to changes in our own domestic law. In particular, we said that we could not commit ourselves, at that stage, to action which would prejudice our long-established and traditional right to grant asylum to persons who were charged with political offences.

That was the position at the time when this Convention was voted unanimously by the General Assembly. The conditions in which it will come into effect shortly after 20 ratifications have been lodged, have been described by my hon. Friend. I think that the fact that, despite that unanimous resolution in which we took part, only seven ratifications and three accessions have so far been received, indicates that other countries besides ourselves have found that there are difficulties when we come to the legal application of this Convention, and that they, like ourselves, feel the necessity for very careful study. I will not put it higher than that, but it is significant that out of the whole body of nations who voted as we did, so far there are only that small number of ratifications.

I now come to the legal aspect, because it is—and I should like to assure my hon. Friend of this—the legal difficulties which have so far held up our ratification and, I should imagine, that of many of the other States who also have not ratified. Genocide, as such, has not previously been known to the British criminal law, but it is, of course, in most of its aspects, already covered by existing law. The great part of the crime of genocide would be covered, either by the law relating to murder or by the law relating to grievous bodily harm, and by various aspects of the existing criminal law. The terms in which the definition of genocide is expressed are terms which are, in certain of the clauses, unfamiliar to English law, and it is a matter of some difficulty to be quite sure how far they are covered and how far, on the other hand, they are perhaps too vague even to be readily put upon the Statute Book as criminal offences in this country.

This is a matter which has given us very considerable difficulty. We have not felt it right to rush the studies of the legal experts in this matter because—and I think my hon. Friend will agree with me —there is really no danger of the crime of genocide being committed in this country and we feel that our law in the spirit is generally adequate to deal with this matter.

Mr. Janner

I hope my right hon. Friend has not misunderstood me. I have not suggested that the law in our country requires much alteration to cope with anything that happens in this country. The important matter is that we should take a part in stopping this from happening elsewhere, and not merely say that it is the internal affair of the other country. It is happening today.

Mr. Younger

If my hon. Friend will just wait and let me explain this, I am coming to precisely that point. I think that the importance of this Convention from the point of view of British accession is not for any effect it might have in relation to offences of this kind committed in this country. With the exception of certain phrases which, as I say, are very vague, and which I would hesitate to say could be readily put upon the Statute Book as crimes, it is broadly true that the English criminal law is already well adapted to deal with most crimes of genocide.

The practical importance turns, firstly, upon the obligation which this might impose upon us in respect of genocide committed abroad, and also of course, on the estimate of the effectiveness which we think this instrument would have in preventing genocide abroad. On that last point I take a much less optimistic view of the effect this Convention would have upon the sort of offences my hon. Friend enumerated than does my hon. Friend, but the main point I want to make is the obligation which might be imposed upon us in respect of genocide committed abroad.

That brings me to the Article to which my hon. Friend referred and quoted as being especially important. It is Article 7, which relates to extradition, and reads: Genocide and the other acts enumerated in Article 3 which is the definition of genocide— shall not be considered as political crimes for the purpose of extradition. The Contracting Parties pledge themselves in such cases to grant extradition in accordance with their laws and treaties in force. It is particularly the first part of that Article to which I draw attention: Genocide and the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall not be considered as political crimes for the purpose of extradition. That Article is in direct conflict with our own Extradition Act of 1870, which precludes the surrender of a fugitive criminal if the offence in respect of which his surrender is demanded is one of a political character. The question whether or not it is of a political character is open to decision either by the courts or, in the last resort, by the Secretary of State. What we are required to do under Article 7 is to lay down by Statute that in no case is it open to the courts or to the Secretary of State to refuse the surrender of the person accused of genocide on the ground that the offence is political. Therefore, I think there can be very little doubt that if we were to accept that as it stood we should have to amend our existing law. I think there is very little doubt indeed that that would be the case.

Mr. Janner rose——

Mr. Younger

Perhaps my hon. Friend will let me continue. He had a very good innings, if I may say so.

That perhaps would not matter if, in the definition of genocide as it stands in the Convention, it was on the face of it clear that genocide could not be a political act, and if the definition was such as to make it quite obvious that in no circumstances could there ever be this particular difficulty arising. I do not think that this is the case. I think that one could easily conceive cases where the surrender of a person on the ground of having committed genocide was demanded, and where under our Extradition Act a court or the Secretary of State might well decide that this was an offence of a political character.

I am sure that everybody will agree that it is most important that we should look at this matter with the utmost care. We have had cases quite recently, and they have happened from time to time during the last 50 years, in which we have been asked to surrender people who were fugitives from their own countries as the result of disturbances, civil war and all sorts of disputes. There have been cases when we refused to do this under this part of the Extradition Act of 1870, because we were not prepared to give up a political refugee to the other side in his political quarrel. I do not think anybody on either side of the House would wish me to suggest that we should lightly decide this without being quite sure where we stand on the matter. If it were really the case that genocide could not in any circumstances be a political crime, there would not have been any need for Article 7. It is precisely because there is a danger that it might have political implications that Article 7 has been put in, in the hope that, in that way it would not be possible for the State to refuse extradition on that ground.

I am not saying that this is a matter which is yet quite clear, but that it certainly is the most important of the rather numerous legal points which arise and which require to be very fully studied. There is one other fairly recent complication which we had not anticipated and which must come under discussion with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and with the other persons who took part in framing this Convention. The Soviet Union has now purported to sign this Convention with reservations, and that, I understand, raises an exceptionally difficult question of international law—the question whether we, were we now to ratify it, would be taken to accept the Soviet reservations. I understand that the balance of opinion is that we should be taken to have accepted it, and this would affect the position of the International Court in this matter. That comes under Article 9, and the possibility under the Convention of referring disputes and questions relating to the responsibility of statesmen or parties is, in fact, almost the only part of the Convention which contains any teeth.

It is perhaps one of the inevitable effects of a Convention like this that whereas it might well prove to be fairly effective in cases where private citizens commit genocide, it is certainly very much less effective, though not wholly ineffective, where it is a State or a Government that is concerned. It has usually been a Government, because, in the nature of things, it has nearly always been a question of a State or Government being guilty of this offence. Article 7 of this Convention sets up an international authority which could exercise some useful if not direct control over a State conniving at or responsible for these offences, but this, is the very Article upon which this reservation has been lodged.

We are entering into discussions upon this question with the United Nations and other parties, and it is not unreasonable to ask that we should have some time to consider this. As I said in my opening remarks, we have always agreed with those who put forward this Convention in the purpose they have in mind, and we share their detestation of the crime of genocide and have many times expressed it. We believe in a principle, in relation to international Conventions, which, I may say, is not by any means universally accepted—that if we ratify a Convention, we mean to implement. We do not think we should ratify this Convention until we are satisfied how it is going to affect, in particular, this right to grant asylum to which we attach very great importance as, I am sure, does my hon. Friend, and until we are quite sure, in regard to the question of these reservations, just what it is we are ratifying. That does not seem to me an unreasonable point of view. I hope we will be able to clear up this matter.

I would repeat to my hon. Friend that all but a very few States who were just as keen about it as anyone else, are finding something of the same difficulties. These legal difficulties are not, as he seemed to think, just legal quibbles. If he were a refugee, I am sure he would not regard asylum as a matter of a legal quibble. Therefore, I would only ask him to preserve a little patience in this matter, and I give him the assurance that if we can solve these difficulties, as we hope to do, we then hope to be able to ratify this Convention.

Mr. Janner

Would my hon. Friend answer two points? First, how much longer does he think it will take before this matter will be sufficiently considered so that we may be able to discuss it in this House again if there happens to be any difference of opinion on the legalistic side? Second, on the question of political asylum, will he say——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is not entitled to make another speech; he is only entitled to ask a question.

Mr. Janner

What I was saying was in the nature of a question. With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I was asking my hon. Friend whether he would say, on the question of political asylum, if he thinks that asylum should be given to a person or persons who have been accused, and against whom there is a prima facie case, or a case of genocide?

Mr. Younger

I must say I am rather surprised that a lawyer should think it possible for me to say when lawyers will reach a conclusion. We are, as I say, in discussion. We have been considering the question of our own domestic law for a rather long time, as my hon. Friend knows, but this question of Soviet reservations is a matter which affects all the other parties, including those who have ratified, and whose ratification might be brought into doubt thereby. We are in communication with them and with the organisation itself. That is, I think, a recent development, so I cannot give my hon. Friend a promise on that matter.

His second question was whether I would expect anyone to get political asylum if a prima facie case has been made out against them. I thought I made it clear that the definition of genocide may well include cases which have a political nature, and which are of the type for which, traditionally, we have always given asylum. One thing which might amount to genocide is the causing of serious mental or bodily harm, or, indeed, killing members of a national group with intent partly to destroy the group. That is something which might arise in many a civil war, not to mention the international wars to which my hon. Friend has referred. I think he will see that it covers just the sort of case in which, in the past, we have always insisted on withholding the surrender, as it might be, of the defeated party to his enemies in his own country. I think that answers my hon. Friend's question.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Nineteen Minutes past Nine o'Clock.