HL Deb 21 July 1971 vol 322 cc961-4

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 what grounds, negative or positive, did the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, aver, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government on June, 17 (Hansard col. 773), that"Her Majesty's Government have absolutely no standing in the matter "; the matter being the assassination, within Soviet Russia, of 14,500 Polish officer prisoners-of-war, at a time when Poland was an active, loyal and valued ally of this country.]


My Lords, as I told the House on June 29, I meant that we are speaking of the murder and disappearance of Polish officers on Soviet territory. Her Majesty's Government are not unaware of the widely held conclusion which many people have chosen to draw from the evidence. We do not consider, however, that another investigation of this most grievous crime against prisoners of war would shed any further light unless it were carried out with the full co-operation of all the Governments concerned, which is not to be expected in the circumstances.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for a rather more understanding and sympathetic reply than we have had heretofore, I have two separate supplementary questions, both requesting purely factual replies and not asking my noble friends to advance by so much as a millimetre further than he may wish in the matter of judgment or opinion. First, setting aside the inquiry at the Nuremberg trial, which was designed to implicate the Germans in the crime and for which no evidence was found, is my noble friend aware of any inquiry subsequent to the discovery of the crime in 1943 which did not conclusively attach the guilt to the Soviet authorities and, if so, which was that inquiry?


My Lords, my noble friend was going to ask me two questions, but he asked only one. So far as I am aware, there have been in all three inquiries: one was made by the Germans, one by the Russians, and one was an American Congressional inquiry. Those are the three inquiries of which I am aware, apart from the Nuremberg war crimes trial.


My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that, at a time when both the Soviet Union and the Nazis were capable of the crime of the Katyn Wood massacre, it is not inconceivable that the Germans, who were beginning to murder some 4 to 6 million people, might have been the guilty people in this?


My Lords, I am aware that Her Majesty's Government have in no way been associated with any of the three investigations that I have mentioned, nor have we accepted any of their various conclusions.


My Lords, is it not a fact that the understanding is clear that the events occurred in the spring of 1940, when the Germans were not at war with Russia? Secondly, is my noble friend able to throw any light on to the reason why at the Nuremberg trial this investigation was suddenly dropped?


My Lords, we went into this matter in very full detail on an Unstarred Question. I do not think we ought to debate it fully again.


My Lords, while recognising that it is undesirable to go into these old issues, and without accepting all the charges which have been made on the question, is the noble Lord aware that the Poles suffered from both sides at this time, and that some of us are deeply aware of Socialist comrades of ours who were assassinated during the unfortunate period of the Soviet Union at that time? Would the Minister, in giving this routine reply, at least express some sympathy with the Poles who suffered on both sides in that period?


My Lords, I gladly rise to say"Yes"to the noble Lord; I have the deepest sympathy with the sufferings of the Polish people in the last war.


My Lords, is it not a fact that Her Majesty's Government know perfectly well who committed this crime and are not willing to say so? Are they, or are they not, interested in the establishment of justice?


My Lords, I have been waiting to get in my second supplementary question, even though I am bound to say that I did not think my first supplementary was at all completely answered by my noble friend, as I think he will realise when he studies the two together. My second supplementary question is this. Setting aside the Nuremberg inquiry, with its false premise, can my noble friend look again at the reply, and look into the question of whether there was not any instance of an inquiry by British officials, for instance, in May, 1943, regarding this crime? Was any such inquiry, if made, conclusive; and if so, in what way? And when are the relevant documents due to become public property under the 30 year rule, supposing, that is, that such an inquiry took place? As my noble friend appears to have come, through no fault of his own, inadequately prepared this afternoon, I wonder whether he could reply to my question?


My Lords, I must interrupt my noble friend. I know that he has deep feelings on this matter, but he must restrict himself to the Question.


My Lords, I very much resent the implication of my noble friend that I came inadequately prepared. I tried to help my noble friend in the course of an Unstarred Question; I have tried to answer him once before on a Starred Question, and I think he will agree that I helped him in some small way to see my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I really cannot go any further. In answer to his question as to whether any inquiry was held in May, 1943, I am not aware of any such inquiry but naturally I will look into the matter and let him know.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that before any of us jump to categorical conclusions, it would be wise to consider the example of the Pentagon Archives, in that they have demonstrated the fact that some truths we have believed up till only a few months ago are absolutely and categorically wrong? May this be the case here, without any of us becoming too emotional?


My Lords, may I ask whether these were not the secrets of the Rand Corporation and as such have nothing to do with the question?


My Lords, I think we are getting on to another subject.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, while I recognise the difficulties of the Government in this matter, the fact that it has been raised in your Lordships' House, even if there has been no satisfactory conclusion, will give a great deal of satisfaction to the Polish exiles in the United Kingdom?


My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord and I very much hope that that is the case.

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