HL Deb 25 March 1970 vol 308 cc1465-90

5.33 p.m.

VISCOUNT AMORY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, while not forgetting the abominable inhumanities and horrors of the Nazi régime, they are aware that many people feel that the continued retention after 28 years of Rudolf Hess, an old and sick man, in substantially solitary confinement, is not in accord with this country's traditions of magnanimity and humanity, and whether they will make a statement. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I ask this Question with some diffidence, because I know that there are many noble Lords who know the circumstances of this case far better than I do.

I should also like to assure the noble Lord who is going to reply that in asking this Question I have no desire at all to criticise the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. I am only sorry, like other noble Lords, that their actions to date have not been successful; and I am sure they share our regret over that, too. I am quite sure that Ministers are influenced by the same considerations of humanity that have inspired this Question. The object really is to place on record the deep concern, felt. I am sure, by many Members of this House in a matter in which concern has been expressed on a number of occasions in another place. I think it likely that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, when he replies, may say that he welcomes rather than resents the Question that we have before us.

I understand that certain Members of another place hesitated to add their names to the list of 192 signatures to a Motion which had much the same object as this Question, on the ground that by doing so they might seem to be "whitewashing" Rudolf Hess. I am confident that there is no risk of that at all. British public opinion has never wavered in its detestation of the Nazi régime and all it stood for, and the men who inspired it and led it. Rudolf Hess was one of them and must clearly not be exonerated from a share of that odium. He was, however, adjudged by the International War Crimes Tribunal not guilty of crimes against humanity, and he was convicted of a lesser offence. My noble friend. Lord Salter, I know, was at Nuremberg at the time and has, I believe, grave doubts about the state of health of Rudolf Hess at that time. I hope very much that my noble friend may give us the benefit of a few observations on this matter in a few minutes. In passing, may I say that it fell to my lot to spend seven months, after being wounded, as an enforced guest of the S.S. It was an interesting experience, but I did not like them a bit.

The reason, I am sure, for the feeling, which I believe is widespread in this country, that the time has come after 28 years to release this sick old man is that the bestialities of Nazism afford no reason why the Western nations in our own conduct should fall short of the traditions of civilised conduct on which we pride ourselves as part of our free way of life. A desire for retribution for its own sake is surely not a principle of our way of life. The words used by Mr. George Thomson, when replying to a Question in another place on this matter, seemed to me good. He said: The time has come when humanitarian considerations should prevail". I believe that that sums up well the general view. If we are realistic, we are well aware that there are unfortunately occasions when international policies and national policies have to take precedence over considerations of individual justice and humanity. I am not advocating a unilateral breach of a Four-Power agreement, if that is involved. I should like to know from the noble Lord who is to reply whether we have a veto that can be used effectively to attain the object which many of us want.

What I am pressing the Government to do is to step up their efforts to secure re-negotiation of this agreement which prevents the termination of the ridiculous ritual whereby four military contingents continue to guard this frail old man of 75 as the sole prisoner, I believe, in Spandau Prison. As a supplementary question, if that is in order, I should like to ask whether Rudolf Hess's return from hospital to prison, which I understand has taken place, required Four-Power agreement. But the main question I want to ask the noble Lord is this. I understand that the last formal approach to the Russians was in the early summer of last year—though I may be wrong in that. But, in any case, will the Government seek to persuade the other three Powers to join them in making combined new representations at the highest level to the Russian Government to agree to the release of this man, after 28 years of confinement, now substantially solitary confinement, so that, if possible, humanitarian considerations shall prevail and, if not, the world will be clear with whom the blame lies.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, if I may refer to what my noble friend has just said, I was present at the Nuremberg trial. It so happened that on that day I sat within a few yards of Rudolf Hess. I watched him with great care for several hours, and I came to the conclusion that, whatever he might have been in the past or might again be in the future, at that time he should not have been convicted because he was not, in the strictest sense of the phrase, a sane man. I was absolutely convinced of that on that day, at that time; and when I returned home I did whatever I could to get any relevant information as to his state at that time. I am saying nothing about the earlier time. All the information I obtained afterwards confirmed entirely my own judgment, that at that time he should not have been convicted and was not a sane man.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am extremely interested to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Salter. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, has presented this issue fairly and persuasively, and the wording of the Question to which he has directed his remarks is most appropriate. I do not wish to repeat the observations of the noble Viscount, but it seems to me, putting the matter in a few words, that really three pertinent questions arise. First, is this a case where a humanitarian approach is justified? I think it is. Secondly, are there any precedents to follow in such a case? Thirdly, if the answer to both those questions is in the affirmative, what can Her Majesty's Government do about it?

As to the first point, I agree with the noble Viscount that here we have an old man who is sick, and who has been in prison for 29 years. Although, as I understand the Soviet Union pointed out, Rudolf Hess was responsible, at least in part, for the building up of the Nazi Party and of the S.S., he was not convicted of war crimes or of crimes against humanity. Of course I am not in a position to comment, as has the noble Lord, Lord Salter, a few moments ago, on his state of mind at the time of the trial. But, clearly, his was not found to be one of the worst crimes.

As to precedents, it is not easy to find many precedents in this kind of case. But is it not correct that Raeder and Funck, who were serving life sentences, were released with Soviet consent on grounds of age and health? Surely we there have a precedent which could be followed. In the light of that, it would be interesting to know what, if any, explanations have been given by the Russians for their objection to the release of Rudolf Hess. Can the noble Lord in reply give us any information as to whether the matter has been discussed in the light of these other two cases?

As to what Her Majesty's Government can do, I understand that representations have been made by our Ambassador in Moscow. I think it would be helpful to clear up this point as to whether Her Majesty's Government have any right of veto; that is to say, what exactly were the rights of one Government when the time came for Rudolf Hess to be returned from hospital to Spandau. In a letter which I have here, written to Mr. Airey Neave, the son of Rudolf Hess, who is naturally most distressed about this matter, refers to his hope that the British Government would exercise their right of veto.

I do not wish to say anything that would appear to belittle the importance of the case raised by the noble Viscount, but I think this should be clarified. Is this a case where all four Powers must agree before Rudolf Hess can be released from prison; or is it a case, as appears from the letter to which I have referred, that the British Government were in a position to exercise a right of veto? In other words, did it require the consent of the British Government before Rudolf Hess was returned to Spandau? There is a difference between the two views. I imagine that the true position is that the four Powers must all agree before he can be released, and that however much we may regret it, it was not within the power of Her Majesty's Government, under the Agreement, to refuse to return Rudolf Hess to Spandau. Be that as it may, this seems to be a case embracing strong humanitarian grounds, and I hope that representations can be made at an even higher level than those made by our Ambassador in Moscow; and I look for-ward with interest to the reply of the Minister.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that whatever we say to-day is going to be of little practical value. The Russians have decided that Hess is to remain in prison, and as his release four Powers, that more or less ends the matter. The probability is that he will die in Spandau as a prisoner, or die as a prisoner in hospital. His only real hope would, I think, require the consent of all is that one day a détente may produce an agreement about Berlin; but that is a slender hope for a sick man who will be 76 years of age in a few days' time.

So hopeless, I think, is the immediate situation, that we might almost be accused of indulging this afternoon in a kind of moral luxury as we deploy arguments that cannot have much utility. But I think there is one good reason that we should do so. This is the first discussion that has been held on the matter since our hopes were disappointed and Hess was taken back from hospital to prison. Until that happened it was possible to hope that some way—some fiction, some device, some pretence that he was on ticket-of-leave—would be found of keeping him out of that grim and lonely prison, so that the Russians would not lose the right that they value so highly to retain a military presence in West Berlin, as one of the guardians of Spandau. Of course the importance attached to that right is ridiculous, but it is on a number of such agreements that the fragile system in Berlin is held together.

Although I am in complete agreement with the noble Viscount who has put this Question, nevertheless I hope that the Government will not agree to this declaration or, perhaps, not in the form which the Question implies, because I think that, quite unwittingly, it implies a moral rebuke for the Soviet Union and would merely irritate the Russians, with whom we are going into conference to-morrow. The four ambassadors are meeting in Berlin to discuss questions of access to Berlin.

In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said about the action taken by the Russians in regard to Raeder and Funck, and I think von Neurath, I am not sure that we can accuse them simply of inhumanity in this particular case. I think that the treatment of Hess would be the slightest of all the charges of inhumanity that are made against the Soviet Union. I think it can be under-stood if they see the last member of the high Nazi leadership left alive as a symbolic figure, a kind of living war memorial. He is the opposite to that haunting design of Reg Butler's of an unknown political prisoner; Hess is the world's known political prisoner, and an ex-member of that criminal Government which condemned millions to a fate which makes Hess's own fate seem to be an indulgence.

Of course, the campaign waged by Mr. Airey Neave for his release is a noble one, and has brought the most remarkable examples of compassion from people who suffered all the horrors of the concentration camps. But a number of people have been trying recently to minimise Hess's offences, and I think that is an error and a wrong tactic. If Hess was one of the less heinous war criminals, his complicity in the pre-war criminality of the Nazi Government is sufficient. The case for his release does not rest on the fact that he was less black than Himmler, or that he was merely a cracked romantic, as Hitler himself was.

But even if Hess's record were worse than it is, it would still be wrong to go on playing this tragic farce of Spandau. He has been a prisoner for 29 years, deprived of his freedom—it is terrible to contemplate—since the days when our children were the age our grandchildren now are. His evil seems to belong to history. It was done at a time when most of the statesmen alive to-day were still unknown young men, and of course the battered old man in Spandau is not the same man as the one who flew to Britain in 1941. All that is asked, I think, is not an act of forgiveness, but simply that we should cease from punishing a man who has exhausted his capacity for punishment. One of the most terrible things that was reported was that when his wife and son went to see him they were not allowed to kiss him or even to touch his hand. Apparently, what lay behind this was the fear of his gaolers that so wretched was his existence that his wife or son, out of pity, might slip him something which would enable him to bring that life to an end.

I think the Russians should understand that the desire in this country for Hess's release, which I think they find difficult to understand, is not created by retrospective softness towards German Nazism; it is not created by any attempt to minimise his guilt, or even by a kind of current fashionable sentimentality. I think it may be the mark of a civilised people, or perhaps the residue of a Christian conscience, which causes us to feel that there must be a distinction be- tween imprisonment for life and imprisonment until death. Just over a hundred years ago an English Judge, Lord Wensleydale, gave these views to a Royal Commission: Imprisonment for life would be a punishment of great severity if rigidly carried into effect, but it never could be. The criminal condemned to perpetual loss of liberty would. in the course of time, become an object of pity, and the public sympathy being excited the sentence would be ultimately remitted. The British people have not changed over the last hundred years. I think we have this curious feeling, that a man who has been in prison for a long time should be allowed to breathe a little of the air of freedom before his death. Perhaps the most solid hope now is that Hess's conditions of life in Spandau, which have been very much improved since his return from hospital, could be made better still. I hope the British Government will plead that he should be allowed more visitors if he wants more visitors.

Whatever we do, we must not take any risk that would jeopardise the new hopes of humanising the general situation in this divided city; hopes that are being created largely by the meeting of Herr Brandt and Herr Stoph. The Berlin Wall divides parents from children, divides lovers and divides husbands from wives; and those who try to climb it can be shot. It is the hope of improving conditions in Berlin generally on which I think we must fasten to-day. Spandau represents a symbol, I should have thought, that is no longer needed. It is sad that the four Powers cannot agree to get rid of it; yet I think there are higher priorities for British policy in Berlin, and the Government well recognise it.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I must first thank the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, for allowing me to precede him and to make the briefest remarks. I hope that I may have the indulgence of your Lordships for not giving previous notice, and also for the fact that, on account of duties in my diocese, I have to leave this House immediately after I have spoken. I am sure that if this Question had not come up on the eve of Maundy Thursday, there would have been other speeches from this Bench.

I want simply to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, for raising this matter, and I wish to support as strongly as possible the plea that he makes. I appreciate the warning notes which the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has given in respect of the other factor (which all of us desire to see)—namely, the breaking down of that Wall. But I feel sure that the views that have been presented by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, would command the support of the Christian conscience of all nations and would, I believe, meet with the support of the conscience of the great majority of our citizens. This is surely an instance where a humanitarian approach is overwhelmingly justified and could not, in all the circumstances, be interpreted in any way as condoning the Nazi regime and Rudolf Hess's part in it.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, the trial of the war criminals at Nuremberg was carried out a very long time ago—at least it seems to me a very long time, and probably also to your Lordships. No doubt it has seemed much longer to the man who has spent these 28 years in prison at Spandau under very hard conditions. Shortly before the trials came to an end, I received a message from my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Strang, which said that London thought it desirable that he and I should be present at Nuremberg on the day the sentences were pronounced. With considerable reluctance I did as I was told, and I went there. To this day, I can still see the faces of those men, 22 of 24 of them, as they listened to the judge pronouncing the sentences passed on them.

One face that I remember with particular distinctness is the face of Rudolf Hess, who sat gazing at his boots and the floor, apparently taking no notice of what was going on, and indeed no notice of what the judge had to say to him. I am not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Salter, said he was convinced that the man was "crackers". I thought so, too, but it was not for me to judge that. The execution of those condemned to death followed shortly afterwards, and arrangements were made by the Control Council for the imprisonment at Spandau of those sentenced to imprisonment. Of those prisoners only one now remains —Rudolf Hess.

I myself had no protest, and have no protest, to make against the judgment passed on him. I accept what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, and I think it would not be very wise of us to protest against the judgment passed on Hess, or to protest against his treatment. He was fairly tried, and at that time it seemed to me that a sentence of imprisonment for life was a reasonable one to pass on a man who had done such evil things in the past. As for my colleagues on the Control Council, I speak with some confidence in saying that General Clay saw things in the way that I did.

It fairly soon became apparent to General Clay and to me that the conditions under which the Spandau prisoners were held were, to put things plainly, brutal. We made frequent attempts to have more reasonable conditions accepted, but for the most part without any success. It is good to know that now, at last, there has been some alleviation of those conditions. But that is not, of course, the whole of the story. It also became plain to General Clay and to myself that to keep this poor, silly old man in prison for the rest of his life would constitute a cruelty, an inhumanity, of a dreadful order. But no appeals made by us or by our successors through the years have made the slightest difference; and that is how things remain to this day.

It is difficult, for me at all events, to understand why those who insist on this dreadful punishment do so. Certainly, the man Hess is completely harmless, and has been for a long time. Nothing is gained by keeping him in prison, and the good name of those who are responsible for doing so is besmirched. But one thing I should like to make very clear—and I suspect that when he winds up this debate the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will make the same point—is that if Hess is to be let out of prison, it can happen only in one way; that is, by quadrupartite agreement. It was often suggested to me that the Americans and ourselves should force this issue: that we should just release Hess when it is our turn to guard him. No, my Lords: I have never been of the opinion that that would be a wise thing to do. Throughout my life I have gone on the principle that you should not put your hand to a plough unless you are prepared to drive that plough to the end of the furrow. The end of this furrow might be very unpleasant, and I do not think we should put our hand to that particular plough.

In his Question, the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, has used the words: while not forgetting the abominable inhumanities and horrors of the Nazi régime". It is right to put in those words, and it is right to remember that nobody suffered more from those inhumanities than the Russians did. That is a wise thing to remember. But what, then, are we to do? When this matter was last debated in this House (in, I think, February, 1966), a visit was expected from Mr. Podgorny and Mr. Kosygin to this country, and several of your Lordships, including myself, recommended that our Prime Minister should take up this question of Hess with his Russian visitors. I do not know whether he did or whether he did not. No doubt our Prime Minister found many things to talk about, and that will always be the case. But if anything is to be done now, I am sure that it can be done only in one way.

Somehow or other, the Russians have to be convinced that their attitude in the case of Hess is completely pointless, is doing no harm to their enemies and is doing no good to themselves. They have somehow got to be made to realise those things.

What is their purpose in keeping him there—this poor, silly old man? Is their purpose to punish Hess? My Lords, you cannot punish a cabbage or a turnip, and that is what Hess is, these days. Is it their purpose to punish the German nation? How many Germans are there to-day who have ever heard of Hess? And there is certainly none who has any interest in him. Is it their purpose to score over their allies? Well, my Lords, in that perhaps they have some success; but in the process they are certainly sacrificing their own good name as a civilised nation.

If anything is to be done about this, I am sure that it must be done at the highest level. My very feeble suggestion, that our Prime Minister should talk with his Russian guests, was not in itself enough. I believe that, if anything is to be done about this, an appeal must be made to the leaders of the Russian people by the leaders of the United States of America, Great Britain and France—if France will join us. It may have no effect; that may well be so. But there is some chance in it, and if that will not succeed then I am afraid that nothing else will. I add to that, with considerable temerity, the suggestion that if the Germans could be persuaded to include in the statement which they issue after their present conversations a statement showing that Germany and the German people are not soft towards the leaders of the Nazis of the past, are not interested in softness towards Hess or anybody of his like, that might just help. That, my Lords, is the suggestion that I dare to make.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, for agreeing to switch places with me in the batting order, for a reason which may prevent my being here to hear the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, wind up, although I hope it will not do so. I am intervening in this debate in support of the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, largely for historical reasons. I was in the Foreign Office when Hess landed. Mine was the department concerned, and the matter was handled with such secrecy that in fact I kept all the Hess papers under my own hand for over a year and I have never lost interest in the case.

We were temporarily stunned by this extraordinary event. The first problem was one of identification, since the Duke of Hamilton, whom Hess had come to see, had never met the Deputy Fuehrer. Mr. (later Sir) Ivone Kirkpatrick had known Hess in Berlin, so he went up to see him and ascertain the facts, which were of course very hard to believe. But it was soon established without any doubt that Hess had come entirely of his own volition, that he had no message and no useful information, and that so little was he in Hitler's confidence that he did not even know about the German preparations to attack the Soviet Union. One of the official historians has written: No information of value was obtained from Hess. He declared that Germany had certain demands on Russia which would need to be satisfied, but denied rumours that an attack on Russia was being planned. Hess had the odd notion, derived, apparently, from Professor Haushofer that Britain was largely run by Dukes who reported to His Majesty the King. His ignorance of affairs in Eng1and as well as of the policy of the Nazi Government was in itself abnormal.

After the facts were established, Hess was treated as a psychiatric case. As a potential war criminal, he had in any event to be kept in close custody. He suffered while in captivity from paranoia and, at times, hysterical amnesia. He made two attempts to commit suicide, and had bouts of acute persecution mania. He was in the technical sense a psychopathic personality. Indeed, he has been called the most interesting psychiatric case of the first half of this century. Yet when he came to stand trial at Nuremberg he was found fit to plead on the unanimous recommendation of a distinguished group of American, British, Russian, Canadian and French psychiatrists and physicians. The explanation, my Lords, is undoubtedly to be found in psychology. The only reason for Hess's rise to the position of Deputy Fuehrer was his total dependence on and loyalty to Hitler. Already demoted and pushed aside at the beginning of the war, he was deprived after his flight to England of Hitler's presence, and was indeed repudiated by him. So he went off his head. But at the trial he was once more in a position to play a leading role and to steal the limelight. He therefore recovered his memory and was able to apply his not inconsiderable intelligence to the preparation of his defence. But he suffered again during the trial from a long period of hysterical amnesia, and an ordinary person would still regard his behaviour as crazy, as indeed did his Nazi colleagues in the dock and, as we have heard this afternoon, as did Lord Salter and Lord Robertson.

Sir Winston Churchill summed up the matter superbly in The Grand Alliance. He wrote: I am g1ad not to be responsible for the way in which Hess has been and is being treated. Whatever may be the moral guilt of a German who stood close to Hitler, Hess has in my view atoned for this by his completely devoted and frantic deed of lunatic benevolence … He was a medical and not a criminal case, and should be so regarded". Yet 28 years later this wretched man is still in Spandau Prison, alone and guarded by large detachments of troops, as has been described this afternoon. He was not sentenced to death but to imprisonment for life. In any normal system of justice, as the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has pointed out, there would have been remission long before this. He must surely now be regarded as having expiated the crimes which he committed or condoned in the 1930s.

My Lords, I assume that at all events Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government have endeavoured to obtain his release and to wind up this sad affair, and I suppose their failure must be ascribed to two main causes: the attitude of the Russians and the situation in West Berlin. It has been well said that totalitarian systems claim the authority of a religion over their followers without acquiring the power of grace and forgiveness. Compassion is not a quality of Soviet behaviour, and justice tempered with mercy does not appeal to them. Furthermore, I have heard (though I do not know with what truth) that there are some grounds for thinking that the Russians have a particularly strong feeling about Hess because he was supposed to have been mixed up in the Tuchachevsky affair in the 'thirties.

But I suppose that the situation in West Berlin is probably more important. It is now some three years since I was there, though I do not suppose the situation has changed very much. Already at that time I was reminded of the typical fairy story situation in which the wicked fairy immobilises the king, the queen and the courtiers and they remain immobilised through the years until the good fairy comes to bring them all to life. So, in Berlin, I had the impression of a situation which had been frozen while events in the world moved on. It was a place where the French were collaborating with their allies in contingency planning, were taking their full part in allied affairs and were accepting orders from the NATO commander; where the irregular wire perimeter had remained immutable for 20 years; where the centre-piece was the ritual in Spandau Prison. There the representatives of the four controlling Powers paid a monthly visit to Hess and at that time two colleagues, and I believe usually turned down simple requests from these prisoners. This ritual appeared to be the remaining miserablevestige of quadrupartite control.

My Lords, I can well understand that there is a substantial case for maintaining this regime in West Berlin and that there are advantages of one sort or another for all the parties involved in keeping the situation frozen. It may well be that any attempt to change any part of this structure would bring the whole thing down like a house of cards, and that Spandau is the keystone of the arch—and what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who knows so much about these things in effect confirmed this. But I wonder—and perhaps this is only a variation of the questions which have already been put to the Minister—whether Her Majesty's Government consider that a strong pressure to release Hess and to wind up this farce at Spandau would after 25 years have serious repercussions and threaten the continuance of the present arrangements in Berlin.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I rise, not for the first time, to support the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. I do so, as I think do many others who have spoken in your Lordships' House, with some hesitation, if only for this reason. I share with Lord Ardwick a certain difficulty in identifying what really useful question anyone can expect Her Majesty's Government to answer on this matter; and I have a sense that it would be very easy to say things that would make matters worse, for small things and for great, if one was not cautious in this debate. So I certainly would not press Her Majesty's Government to say anything which in their view would endanger a delicate political balance, or might do real harm to the cause which the noble Viscount has in view.

I do not myself think that it is useful to say anything in mitigation. I share the doubts expressed by other noble Lords as to what extent Hess has ever had more than a tenuous hold on sanity. But the same doubts might be expressed about others who played a part in those events; and to re-open that question now is not, perhaps, of great help. If one looks back on those days and considers either the crimes of which Hess was convicted, the crimes against peace or the crimes which I think the Russian judge the day after the final judgments were made tried to re-open—the war crimes; the horrors which were committed then—and if one looks at the things that were done not only by Germans against Russians but by Germans against Germans, the mind recoils with horror from the contemplation of them. And if we remember, as I suppose we ought to remember, not simply that these things were done by Germans but that they were done by human beings, it may lend a certain point to the words in which we were taught to pray: Forgive us our trespasses". For, indeed, some of these things are unforgivable by any ordinary man. In the event, a handful of these men were tried at Nuremberg, and some, perhaps the most fortunate, died. Others were put into prison. Some of those have died; some, I believe, have been released, I imagine by agreement; and this one man hangs on there.

Really, the only point that I can make is the one that we have often discussed in your Lordships' House. It is concerned with the philosophy of punishment: that there comes a point where punishment begins to degrade the captor more than it degrades the captive. I think that the message that we should ask Her Majesty's Government to convey, with dignity and without recrimination (because there is no good in having recrimination in these matters) is that a very large number of people in this country, of no common political persuasion but drawn from every kind of political opinion, have reached the view that this wreck of a man has passed that point, and passed it some time ago.

As to the Russian point of view, it is, of course, in part dictated by emotion. But they are not alone in that; the emotions felt in this country about what was done in those days are probably as sharp and deep as those held in Russia. So we are not isolated from the Russians on that side. And I suppose that part of it also is this political point of having a foothold in Berlin. Indeed, in a world which is very much divided footholds are perhaps rather a good thing. But one perhaps tends to put to the Government—I do not ask them to answer it—the question: Is it not possible to find some foothold which is less macabre and rather more permanent than guarding this one, isolated, miserable man who cannot, in the very nature of things, last for very long?

I would commend the Government on what slight ameliorations they have achieved. I understand that he is awakened a little less early or allowed to go into some garden. I assume—and if it be true it might be useful to state it—that agreement was reached with the Russians on these matters on his return to Spandau; and they, too, should be associated in any commendation I make. I think that the most that we can ask is that Her Majesty's Government should seek, to the best of their ability, to extend this amelioration somewhat further —to allow him, if he wishes it (and for 25 years he did not wish it) to have some visits from a friend or relative; he is almost bound to have to remain in some kind of confinement in some hospital or something of that character—and to put our view, for what it is worth, to the Russians. It is a view put by many people in this country who believe that the growing strength of Russia in a weak and dangerous and rather divided world is probably a force for peace rather than for anything else, and with the know ledge that the stronger a country is and the greater it grows the easier it sometimes becomes to make concessions.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, there is clearly no disposition in this House to disagree with the presentation of this Question by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, or the manner in which he has asked the Government this Question. I cannot speak with such a lifetime of experience of contacts and dealing with other countries about Hess as have several other noble Lords. I simply have the poignant memory of the time when this flight to Britain happened in 1941. I happened to be the temporary editor of a weekly bulletin at the British Embassy in Tokyo, and I remember writing an inadequate epigram that the Nazi leadership had now one Hess less. Now we have the ironical situation that there is nobody left of the Nazi leaders except one Hess.

I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Ardwick and Lord Thomeycroft, in feeling that in putting this Question we should not base ourselves on any thesis that Hess was rather less bad than anybody else. This case has been proved, but for the purposes of our own arguments, and what we wish to-day, I think it is better to proceed on the basis that there is no glamour about Hess: there are no votes for Hess. The British nation owes nothing to Hess, and the German nation have no claim on his behalf since they have so long and so fully repudiated the actions of that régime. The matter is surely one of our own conscience, and that is why, when we read that Hess had been conveyed back from a British hospital to his lonely special prison, we felt a little thud of gloom inside; because what we were being made to do was to treat one of our former enemies in the way they would surely have treated us. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said that Hess was treated as something of a symbol. Yes, my Lords, precisely. We believe in treating people as people and not as symbols. That is why one feels now so grieved.

The reasons for retaining Hess in prison seem so thin and inadequate. It is ludicrous to suggest that his release presents any danger. His continued confinement is not demanded by people anywhere, unless of course they are ordered to demand it; and on the principle which the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, made clear, confinement for life in the end transforms itself into a feeling of commiseration. After all, in this case retribution—and I think that some retribution was perhaps understandable—has now turned into persecution.

May I present the story in another way. In a year or two, let us hope a little time ahead, a history will be written of this subject. One comes to a point in one's imagination where there are two possible passages. One passage will read: "Finally, after some 30 years confinement, Rudolf Hess was allowed to spend his remaining years (or months) quietly with his family … "The other, alternative, passage would read: "After some 30 years the Allies still insisted that this old man, sick in mind and body, should die in solitary confinement, in terrible loneliness". My Lords, I do not want to read that paragraph.

One is not naive about mercy. One knows, as indeed a noble Lord has said this afternoon, that sometimes individual inclination to mercy must be subordinated to public security or the public weal. The time for that has now gone; and enough is enough. So I join with noble Lords, not in any criticism of the Government, who I know have done their best, but rather in the hope that they will use all possible importunity, ingenuity, in seeing whether something cannot still be done. On this I am much less pessimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, suggested. It is possible in the practice of diplomacy to isolate one question on which there are deep feelings from the whole range of public opinion and to present it to another Government in such a way that the feelings about this individual question are understood; and this may lead, not perhaps directly, not immediately but in fact, to some kind of settlement.

So, my Lords, I hope that Her Majesty's Government, whose difficulties in this case I understand only too well, will feel able to press on with this matter, not waiting to be reminded by the noble Viscount or by any of us, or by the Press, but as and when they can, and that, if not at a spectacular level, certainly at a high level, to see whether our partners in Berlin cannot understand the depth and breadth of the feeling about this matter in this country. In this matter the quality of mercy has been very much strained. I hope that it may still bless him who gives and him who takes— before it is too late.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene just for a moment since I, too, like other noble Lords who have spoken, Lord Salter and Lord Robertson of Oak-ridge, was at Nuremberg. I was there in my capacity as Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and I stayed with the presiding judge, Lord Justice lawrence (as he then was: later Lord Oaksey), since he was my uncle by marriage. Perhaps, as he is not here to-day, I may be allowed to repeat what he has said in public—and I checked yesterday that this is still his view: namely that the trial was fairly con-ducted; that, as your Lordships have heard, Hess was judged fit to plead, and the judgment was a valid and fair judgment which Lord Oaksey had no reason to go back on.

At the same time, he has said, and said in public, for the last three years (or it may be four years) that he thinks the further detention of Hess in the circumstances in which Hess now is— whatever he may have been from one time to another either before or during the trial—and without contravention is point-less and (as the noble Viscount's Question puts it) against all traditions of humanity. Therefore, so far as he is concerned, he would, I am sure, share entirely the view expressed.

Beyond that there is the question: what then can we reasonably ask the Government to do? Anybody who has been Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office cannot possibly get up and ask the Government to break their word, even to the Russians; and that the noble Viscount most certainly did not do. I am sure that the sense of this House is that we do not wish to press the Government to do, or even to go on record as saying, anything which in their judgment may damage the case which we have every reason to think they would share on grounds of common humanity. Therefore, my Lords, I conclude by saying this; that the noble Viscount has only asked "Whether the Government will make a statement". I should have thought those extremely prudent words, and words which do not press the Government to go any further than they think is justifiable and reasonable in the circumstances.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I, too, may be permitted to intervene for a very short time. My excuse is that I suppose I must be one of the very few Members of your Lordships' House who not only saw Hess at Nuremberg but who actually visited him in Spandau. That was when I was High Commissioner, or Ambassador, in Bonn, getting on for fifteen years ago. I am bound to say that even then Hess struck me as being in very poor shape indeed, physically and mentally; and I would agree entirely with what the noble Lords, Lord Salter and Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said. I could get no sense out of him at all and I do not think that was altogether my fault. It was perfectly clear then that it was very inhuman to keep him in prison any longer. He could do no harm to anyone —and that is even more true now, fifteen years later. I may be wrong in my recollection, but I think that while I was there, or just before I got there, one of the other prisoners (there were several others who were sentenced to a definite term of so many years) was released prematurely, before the completion of his term, on the grounds of ill-health. So there must be a precedent for allowing prisoners to be released on grounds of ill-health.

My Lords, I would agree entirely with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Caccia. I cannot believe that the judges who sentenced Hess—he was, I think, the only one at Nuremberg to be sentenced to life imprisonment—really meant life without any possibility of remission for ill-health. I wish I could suggest some way in which the Government could lake more effective action than they have been taking. I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, that we must not get entangled in anything which might imply the breaking of the Four-Power Agreements over Berlin. It is not quite as easy as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, suggested. It is not just a question of Spandau; there are a number of other Agreements and considerations which are valuable and which must be preserved, not so much in our interests as in the interests of the Germans themselves.

I am afraid that all I can suggest is that the Government should continue to do what we all know that they have been doing for several years past; that is, to endeavour to persuade the Russians to see reason in this matter. One would like to suggest that the Russians could be convinced by public opinion in foreign countries, but that does not seem to work with the Russians. I can only urge the Government, as I am sure everybody else would, to continue to do their utmost, in conjunction with the Americans and the French, to persuade the Russians that it is really in their own interests to allow Hess out.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, in beginning these few brief concluding remarks, to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, not only for opening this short debate but for the restrained and constructive way in which he did so. He will note, I think, that the opinion of every noble Lord who has spoken has to some extent or other supported his point of view; and the fact that this Question has been put by one of such distinction, whose views carry weight far outside this country, may help to bring home to others the views that are so deeply held in this country.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has said, it is problematical whether what we say in your Lordships' House will have very much practical effect in this case. But I think it is notable that among those who have spoken to-day we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, who, like the noble Viscount himself, has had experience in Government since this problem began to come to the surface of our minds. We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oak-ridge, with his unique experience of German affairs, and particularly of Nuremberg. We have heard, also, no fewer than four diplomatists of unrivalled distinction and in some cases with personal experience of this case. So I think we should not despair that perhaps some one will listen to what we have said. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, with whom I had such a long and happy association in the Foreign Office, agrees with my view that we should not be too pessimistic about the outcome.

Her Majesty's Government are indeed aware that many people in this country outside your Lordships' House feel that the continued detention of Rudolf Hess is not in accordance with the conception which this country has of humanity and compassion. Her Majesty's Government share those feelings and have done so for a long time. We have considered for some time now that the right course would be for Hess to be released, to return to his family. I do not wish to dwell on the arguments about Nuremberg and the trial of Hess and his colleagues: as the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, has said, it would be unproductive to do so. Nor do I feel like dwelling too much on the mental or physical condition of this unfortunate man, if only because he has a wife and son, who will follow with great care the words we use in this House. Like all of us, they have feelings. There- fore, if I may paraphrase a modern American playwright: no attention must be paid.

I think that the argument is one of simple humanity. And, together with the French and the Americans, we have repeatedly appealed to the Soviet Government for Hess's release on humanitarian grounds. Noble Lords have asked about a new approach. The most recent appeal to the Soviet Government was made at the end of last month by Her Majesty's Ambassador in Moscow, and he made it not only on our behalf but also on behalf of the French and American Governments. I regret to have to say that the Soviet Government have rejected this last appeal, as they have rejected the previous ones, and they rejected it as recently as March 13, the day on which Rudolf Hess was returned to Spandau Prison. I must say that I think it would be fruitless now to engage immediately on any new appeal. It would clearly meet the fate of all previous ones.

The noble Lord, Lord Wade, and other noble Lords mentioned the question of precedents. It is true that other prisoners have been released from Spandau for various reasons, but the operative words were those used by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, "with Soviet consent". I am afraid that those words have to run like a thread through everything we say and think about this problem. Some people have asked, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said, why in these circumstances should not Her Majesty's Government or the French and American Governments take (the law into their own hands and release Hess at an early moment when it is the turn of one of them to be responsible for his physical custody? As the noble Lord said, the answer is quite simply that it would mean breaking a solemn international obligation, and that we could not contemplate.

Apart from the question of international obligations, which we regard as being made to be honoured and not to be broken, the Four Power agreements relating to the detention of Hess at Spandau are part of a whole complex of Four Power agreements (the noble Lord, Lord Inchyra, mentioned this point) relating to Germany and Berlin as a whole; and we simply cannot, whether we should like to or not, isolate the problem of Hess from the wider questions of Four Power responsibility. I am sure that the House will be particularly conscious of this last consideration at the present moment, when the French, the Americans and ourselves are on the eve of opening talks with the Russians in Berlin about improving the situation in and around the city.

So, without taking back a word of what I said at the outset about Her Majesty's Government's earnest desire to get Hess released as soon as possible, I share the thought which has been expressed several times this afternoon that we should not forget the general and historical perspective. There is also the important fact that as well as the Four Power talks which I have mentioned, Herr Brandt, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, to whom we had the pleasure of listening when he address us earlier this month, is now engaged in the historic task, in which he has certainly the full support of Her Majesty's Government and, I should suppose, of your Lordships' House, of improving the Federal Government's relations with her Eastern neighbours and thus hopefully helping to erase some of the tragic effects in Europe which arose from the very period with which Rudolf Hess's name is associated.

Finally, let me say a word about Hess's return to Spandau from the British Military Hospital. The essential consideration here was not a question of a Four Power agreement or of veto. Hess was transferred from prison to the British Military Hospital for the purpose of medical examination and observation, and, by implication, for treatment, if treatment were necessary; and once the stage had been reached when the medical advice was that the hospital treatment was complete and that there was no serious risk, medically speaking, of returning him to the prison, we had no grounds whatsoever for contending that the purpose for which he had been removed to hospital had not been achieved. We could not refuse to agree to his return to prison without exposing ourselves at once to the charge that we were in breach of the agreement with the Soviet Government.

Besides—and I think this is an important matter—it was the unanimous opinion of the doctors concerned with his case in the hospital that in Spandau, even that grim and gloomy fortress, with some important improvements conditions would be better for Hess as an active convalescent than the Military Hospital, which has physical restrictions and lacks facilities for exercise. So the doctors prescribed certain improvements to both Hess's accommodation and his régime, and, as your Lordships have heard, these have been agreed upon and have all now been put into effect. As the result, Hess now has a larger room with an open door, is able to spend more time in the garden, has an improved diet and is under constant medical supervision. And, if I may allude briefly to what has been said several times in this short debate because it is perhaps not generally realised, visits have always been allowed. The fact is that it was only when Hess went into hospital after more than 25 years in prison that he himself agreed to the visit of his family. Let me make it plain that Her Majesty's Government regard these modest improvements in the condition of this man as palliative only. I can assure your Lordships' House that we will continue to take every appro- priate opportunity to secure the release of this wretched man.