HL Deb 14 February 1994 vol 552 cc1-4

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What has been the cost to date of the administration of the War Crimes Act 1991; and how many people have been brought to trial under it.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the costs to the end of this financial year are estimated at £ 5.4 million. No prosecutions have yet been brought.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Answer he has given shows what a nonsense the whole of the operation relating to the War Crimes Act is, and how right your Lordships' House was to reject it?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is my noble friend's interpretation of the facts. The actual fact is that Parliament said that such action was to be undertaken. It passed the War Crimes Act and it has been necessary for those investigations to take place; hence the expenditure to which I referred.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, will the Minister ensure that the answers to these questions are not read in Yugoslavia? Otherwise those who are now committing war crimes might believe that, if it costs money to bring justice, the allegations against them will not be investigated.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is difficult for me to ensure that observations which are made in Parliament are not reported in Yugoslavia or indeed in the United Kingdom. Often such observations are not reported in the United Kingdom when we wish that they were I cannot give a guarantee.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, my noble friend stated— if I have riot misunderstood him— that no prosecutions have been brought. I read in the papers recently that one prosecution had been brought in Scotland and that the court had said that there was no case to answer.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I believe that that was a civil case. The information I have is that no prosecutions have been brought.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, the noble Earl stated that Parliament determined the matter. Was that not by the invocation of the Parliament Act? Does not the history of the matter show the folly as well as the constitutional impropriety of invoking the Parliament Act to override your Lordships' judgment?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord will recall, another place decided in favour of the Bill; your Lordships decided against it. When that occurred a second time, the Parliament Act was invoked. The Parliament Act decrees how Parliament shall operate. In that respect, I believe that the answer I gave was correct. It would be improper for me to enter into a discussion at the Dispatch Box about instances when it would or would not be suitable for the Parliament Act to be invoked.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, with regard to the earlier Answer given by the noble Earl, is he aware of an announcement made recently in Scotland that there were to be no prosecutions in the matter?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, yes, I am aware of that fact.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Bearing in mind the strong feelings which exist across both sides of the House on the issue, will the noble Earl state at what stage another place or the Government will consider whether it is worth pursuing the matter or coming back to Parliament for a new decision?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the law of the land is that war criminals should be investigated. If, having carried out their investigations, the police find that there is nothing further to investigate, of course the matter will die a natural death.

Lord Acton

My Lords, does the Minister recall that in 1989 the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiry reported three key cases with a realistic prospect of a conviction? Have any of those cases subsequently been abandoned? Do any remain which still have a realistic prospect of a conviction?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiry looked into 300 cases. A further 43 cases were brought to the attention of the Metropolitan Police war crimes unit. All those cases have been reviewed and at present 27 cases are under investigation.

Lord Acton

My Lords, with respect, the noble Earl's reply does not answer my question. In paragraphs 9.10 and 9.50 the report specifically picked on three key cases. The War Crimes Act was based largely on the platform of those three cases. I should be grateful if the noble Earl would answer my question.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I shall find out the information for the noble Lord, and let him know. I think that that would be best.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, did not many Members of your Lordships' House recognise that no prosecutions under the Act were likely to be successful, but nevertheless they thought that the Act embodied a principle which was worth establishing?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that was one of the many views taken on the Act which have proved quite controversial. Some people take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder; others take the view of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter; others take different views.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, will the noble Earl agree on the following three propositions: first, that to mount a prosecution for an alleged offence committed 50 years ago and abroad is fraught with difficulties; secondly, that to prosecute for a crime under the War Crimes Act will cost this country many hundreds of thousands of pounds; and, thirdly, would not the money be better spent maintaining the present level of compensation for persons who have been seriously injured— I emphasise those two words— by crimes committed within this country, rather than seriously reducing that level of compensation from 1st April this year, as contemplated by the Government?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the answer to the noble and learned Lord's first question is, yes. The answer to his second question is, yes. The answer to his third question is that, with respect, it is a total irrelevance which has nothing to do with the War Crimes Act 1991.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister gave what can only be described as a minimal answer to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. If the noble Earl is aware that no further prosecutions are to be mounted in Scotland, are the Government satisfied with the closure of the Scottish war crimes unit? Does that raise any issues of differences between England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland on the other?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it does not at all. In Scotland the Lothian and Borders police investigated the problems. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, advised by the Scottish Crown Office, assessed the situation. Seventeen cases were investigated; they were all discharged. That is why the police investigations have come to a close in Scotland. The fact that they have not done so in England has nothing to do with the position in Scotland.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that many of us in this House and outside think that in this case the Commons were right and that it is better, in the face of difficulties, to try to bring justice for horrible crimes, even those committed long ago?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is yet another view which many people hold and to which I referred the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in the answer I gave him. Many people take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie.

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