HC Deb 29 October 1952 vol 505 cc1910-2
15. Miss Burton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what instructions have been given to the British High Commissioner in Germany concerning the review of sentences passed on war criminals in the British courts.

Mr. Eden

A decision was taken in June, 1951, that the delegation of the power of clemency should be withdrawn from the United Kingdom High Commissioner in Germany and exercised on the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The High Commissioner was at the same time instructed to submit for consideration cases in which there is a prima facie case for the exercise of clemency. These instructions are still in force.

Miss Burton

While thanking the Foreign Secretary for that answer, may I ask him if he is aware that, while there is no nation less vindictive than the British, there is at the moment a feeling of great bewilderment and indignation at the treatment meted out to convicted war criminals, and would he feel able to assure the House and our friends in all countries that it is not the intention that war criminals convicted in the British courts should not only be given their freedom but have compensation as well?

Mr. Eden

I think there is considerable misunderstanding about this, and I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her supplementary question. Perhaps I may give the House some figures—it will take only two minutes—in order to show what the position is.

In June, 1951, when the new rule was introduced, there were 200 prisoners in our custody. Of those, 42 were released in December last year as the result of a decision—of which I informed the House and of which there was no criticism—that pre-trial custody should count towards the sentence. Twenty-six were released this year on the normal expiry of their sentences. Prima facie cases for clemency have been submitted by the High Commissioner in 43 cases, and, of these, in 26 a decision was taken in favour of clemency, in 24 of which the decision was taken on my responsibility. In 17 cases, appeals for clemency have been refused.

The hon. Lady will therefore see that the figures are small.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does not the Foreign Secretary think that the time has really arrived when we should extend to those in prison in this country for crimes arising out of the war the same measure of clemency?

Mr. Eden

I do not think that quite arises. I am anxious that the House should realise that there is no question of any alteration of the basic legal position. This clemency review had been initiated for some time, and the chief reason why a large number of cases has come forward is that, last summer, it was impossible to deal with any cases at all, because of the negotiations then going on at Bonn regarding the contractual relationship.

Mr. Elwyn Jones

Would the Foreign Secretary indicate on what basis clemency is being exercised? Does it, for instance, bear any relation to the nature of the crimes for which these people were sentenced?

Mr. Eden

These cases are only sent forward by the High Commissioner when there is a prima facie case. They are examined by legal officials there, and again by legal officials here, who give me advice. I do my best in each of these cases to arrive at a just conclusion, and I really do not think that I can be asked what my reasons are in a particular case.