HL Deb 23 November 1982 vol 436 cc795-6

2.59 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells

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 is the up-to-date medical condition of Rudolf Hess following his recent spell in the British Military Hospital in Berlin; and when they last made representations to the Russians about his continued imprisonment.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, Rudolph Hess had mild pleurisy in September but after responding to treatment in the British Military Hospital returned to Spandau on the 20th September. He is in reasonable health for a man of his age. My right honourable friend the Minister of State made representations to the Soviet Ambassador in favour of Hess's release as recently as 23rd June this year.

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that Answer, may I ask whether he considers that Mr. Andropov's arrival on the scene is perhaps a good moment to test the Soviet mind further in the hope of a definite move towards ending this despicable business of keeping a sick old man in prison?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we should think about the point put by the right reverend Prelate. Of course, it was only in June, as I said in my main Answer, that my right honourable friend Mr. Douglas Hurd made representations to the Soviet Ambassador, and that was fairly recent. However, I should like to draw my right honourable friend's attention to what the right reverend Prelate said.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister not agree that if the request made to the new President of the Soviet Union, whenever that may be, is refused, it would be possible when it is our turn for garrison duty at Spandau merely to release Rudolf Hess? It is not going to cause an atomic war. Does not my noble friend agree that it is inhuman and completely without compassion that this old, old man should be detained? He should be freed to end his last days among his family. It is monstrous that he has not been released.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the difficulty with what my noble friend suggests is that all matters relating to the imprisonment of Hess are subject to agreement by the four powers. The unilateral action suggested by my noble friend to be taken by the British Government, or by the three Western powers acting together, would constitute a violation of a binding international agreement and could put in jeopardy the whole complex of four-power agreements on which the security of West Berlin is based.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, would it not be possible for the poor chap to escape?

Lord Belstead

No, my Lords.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say what reason was given by the Russian Government, when the matter was raised in June, for their insistence on keeping this very old and sick man in prison? Were they frightened of him?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we have had no formal response to my right honourable friend's approach.