HL Deb 12 February 1970 vol 307 cc1014-5

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of the inquiries by the Secretary of State for Defence into the alleged massacre by British security forces in Malaysia in 1948, whether there is no restraint on the publication in the public Press and on television of prejudicial interviews with alleged witnesses.]


My Lords, there is no legal restraint on public discussion of this matter. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has said in another place that he is calling for documents relating to the original investigation and other relevant material, and that he will consider whether to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. As the possibility of criminal proceedings cannot be ruled out at this stage, it is clearly desirable that any public comment should be circumspect.


My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord for that Answer, may I put three brief questions to him? With regard to the incident of December, 1948, do not the present accusations published by the People newspaper amount to a trial by the Press of the lawfully constituted authorities of Malaysia at that time? Secondly, is it not a fact that the officer administering the Government of Malaysia during that period carried out a personal investigation and found that no criminal proceedings were at that time justified? Finally, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether the Government are aware that there is a feeling that these Press accusations amount to a smear on former colonial administrators of that territory, which not only is causing pain but is deeply resented by them?


My Lords, as to the noble Lord's first supplementary question, about trial by the Press, there can be no contempt of court unless criminal proceedings are in being or are imminent. The objections to trial by newspaper, which have often been voiced, of course remain the same. As to his second supplementary question, may I say that to the best of my knowledge the answer is, Yes. As to the third, I think that that question is rather going into the merits of the matter, which I would rather not do.


My Lords, is it not a fact that when we ask for possible cases of miscarriage of justice to be reopened after a number of years we are always told that the recollection of witnesses is likely to be unreliable? Why is it that this is not relevant also in the case of the Army?


My Lords, that may be so.