HL Deb 27 June 1994 vol 556 cc525-8

2.51 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many instances of alleged war crimes are now being investigated under the War Crimes Act 1991 and whether they expect that a case will be brought to trial in the foreseeable future.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the Metropolitan Police War Crimes Unit is currently investigating 28 cases against alleged war criminals. It is not possible to say if or when a case will be brought to trial.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the noble Earl will be aware that it is now three years since the War Crimes Act was given Royal Assent without first having obtained the consent of the House of Lords. It is five years since the Chalmers Hetherington inquiry reported. Surely by now we would have expected to see some results, and some cases brought before the courts. Will the noble Earl say how much public money has been expended so far, and how much more will be spent on those inquiries?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right when he states that the Bill became an Act three years ago. However, he is not quite right when he states that nothing has happened: 369 cases have been investigated; 229 have been rejected; 112 of the people who were being investigated have since died; and 28 people are being investigated at present of whom 10 are being considered for prosecution by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The noble Lord asks when we can expect any results. I believe that he will agree that that is quite a considerable result. He asks when we can expect a trial. As he would expect, I cannot answer that question. He asks how much money has been expended. Up to the year ending 31st March 1994 the sum of £5,201,600 has been expended; and allowance has been made during the current year for the possible expenditure of £8,600,000. That will bring the total to £13,801,600.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, have all papers relevant to the decision to be taken by the Attorney-General under Schedule 1(5) to the Act been sent to the Attorney-General to enable him to take the decision as to whether any of those people are to be charged?

As the Act does not extend to Scotland, is it the intention to arrest those domiciled and ordinarily resident in Scotland and to bring them to trial in England?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Director of Public Prosecutions is considering 10 cases. If she considers it appropriate to prosecute she will seek the authority of the Attorney-General whose responsibility it is to bring the prosecution on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions. For obvious reasons I cannot tell my noble friend when or if that will happen.

Perhaps I may answer the last point with regard to Scotland. The Scottish investigations have been completed.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, while supporting the Act in principle, how many cases under investigation—I should have thought most—will turn on disputed issues of identity? In those circumstances, what is the prospect of a fair trial into these horrific crimes committed 50 or more years ago?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, those are hypothetical questions. I cannot tell him how many cases will depend on identity. I cannot tell the noble Lord how many would succeed in that regard.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, for how long is it intended to continue to spend public money at the very high rate that my noble friend has just announced on cases which never come to trial? Would it not be sensible to admit that the whole issue is a mistake and had better be dropped?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the only reason why the investigation has been undertaken is that that was the wish of Parliament by the passing of the War Crimes Act 1991. I can understand my noble friend's desire to spend the money in other directions. That may be the view of many people. However, the view of Parliament was that the investigation should be undertaken. Expenditure has been allowed up to and including the current year. However, no further provision has been made for further expenditure after the end of the current year.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is a classic example of the folly of the House of Commons ignoring the view of the House of Lords?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is a highly provocative remark which my noble friend would not expect me to answer. Parliament has the right to make the laws. Both Houses of Parliament have the right to participate in the making of the laws, and there was a provision under the Parliament Act which brought the measure into effect.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, does the noble Earl recall that when the Bill was before Parliament, its supporters, including Ministers, urged us to note the experience of Canada, Australia and Israel which had taken roughly the same line as the provisions laid down in the Bill? Is he aware that subsequent experience in those countries has confirmed the worst expectations of the opponents of the Bill?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord is right in this respect. Australia has investigated all the complaints that it has received. Two people have been acquitted, and one case has been stopped because of the defendant's health. Investigations are continuing in Canada. It is doubtful whether one can compare the legalities and so forth of different countries because different countries have different laws. We can only concern ourselves with our country and our country's laws.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Earl, but I did not hear him answer the second part of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, as to what would be done with suspects resident in Scotland and whether they would be brought to England for trial. Can the Minister repeat the answer?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, If I may say so, that is a hypothetical question. First, we need to find out whether anyone in Scotland has to be brought to England for judgment. I cannot say whether that is likely to happen. All I can tell the noble Lady is that the investigations of people in Scotland have been completed.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the noble Earl stated that the not inconsiderable sum of just over £8 million has been set aside for the current financial year in connection with war crimes investigations. Does that sum include the cost of possible prosecutions?

Earl Ferrers

Yes, my Lords, it does. The figures set aside for the current year are £500,000 allowable for police investigations, £1 million allowable for the Crown Prosecution Service and £7,100,000 for, dare I say it, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor's Department. That sum would cover such matters as legal aid, court costs etc. Of course, if no one is prosecuted, there will be no legal aid.