HC Deb 12 January 1995 vol 252 cc265-6
4. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to close down the war crimes unit at New Scotland Yard.

Mr. Maclean

This is a matter for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The unit is currently funded until 31 March 1995. It is expected that police investigations will be completed by that date.

Mr. Townsend

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he not feel that employing 11 senior and experienced detectives under a chief superintendent at a cost of £5 million to look at alleged crimes in remote corners of eastern Europe more than 50 years ago represents a rather curious set of priorities?

Mr. Maclean

No, I do not. The House voted overwhelmingly for the action that has been taken. I believe that, where alleged offences are committed, we are under a duty to investigate them and see them through to the end. If there is sufficient evidence, the decision will be made by the Attorney-General, assisted by the Director of Public Prosecutions, on whether to prosecute. To put the cost into perspective, some £5.2 million over three years compares with Metropolitan police funding equivalent to some £5 billion over the same period.

Mr. Janner

I thank the Minister for that answer, which I am sure will be accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will he kindly tell the House how many cases are currently under investigation, how many cases have reached the Attorney-General and when he expects a decision to be made as to who will be prosecuted?

Mr. Maclean

Some 369 cases have been investigated by the Metropolitan police war crimes unit. The Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to prosecute in 236 of those cases, 112 people subject to investigation have died and 21 investigations remain with the police. Nine cases are currently with the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether prosecutions should be brought. I am afraid that I cannot tell the hon. and learned Gentleman when a decision will be made on those, nor would he expect me to be able to influence, speed up or delay those decisions in any way.

Mr. Jessel

Is not the murder of 6 million people a completely different kind of crime from the murder of just 6,000, 600 or 60 people? Can my hon. Friend confirm that the overwhelming majority of the House to which he referred was in the ratio of about four to one?

Mr. Maclean

If I were one of the 60 or the six I might not necessarily take that view. However, these are more like Second Reading questions which have already been settled. The House decided by an overwhelming majority to set up the war crimes unit and to pass the legislation and we are under a duty to see that through. The task is well on the way to completion and it would be erroneous to abandon it as we approach the final hurdle.