HL Deb 15 January 1998 vol 584 cc1133-5

3.21 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they propose to publish their report on the assets of Nazi victims dealt with by the Custodian of Enemy Property, and what action they will take as a result thereof.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, the report is drafted. Some points are being clarified, and some further questions have also been raised by my noble friend Lord Janner, who was given an earlier version of the draft. The report will be issued as soon as possible. I can confirm that the Government will also publish a list of the names and other details of those who had their property seized under the trading with the enemy legislation. The list unfortunately will be incomplete as many individual case records have not been retained. But it will cover some 25,000 names of companies, partnerships and individuals whose property was seized.

The list and the report will give a history of the Government's handling of enemy property, which will contribute to a better public understanding of this complex issue.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, and especially his undertaking to publish the list of names of all accounts which were frozen under the trading with the enemy legislation—an action I have sought for some time. I hope that he will also undertake to publish any further information so that people who have suffered will have some chance of restitution. Does my noble friend accept that when the Custodian of Enemy Property confiscated property belonging to the enemy he also confiscated property belonging to victims of the enemy, mainly Jewish people, many of whom were afterwards murdered in concentration camps? Does he accept that that action was unworthy, unconscionable and insupportable? In the circumstances, will he undertake three things: first, when he says that he will publish the report as soon as possible, will he ensure that that will be soon? The Secretary of State was good enough to let me see the draft some two months ago. There must be time for the job to he done. We must be quick, because the survivors will not survive for much longer, and many are in need. Secondly—

Noble Lords

Too long!

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, finally will my noble friend be kind enough to undertake that the Government will do everything possible to do justice to people even so long after the event?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, work has started on the list of names. It will be published soon. There are 25,000 entries, all of which are manual. It is quite a job. With regard to the seizure of property, the trading with the enemy legislation provided for property to be seized from companies that were registered in enemy countries, and individuals who were residents of enemy countries. No distinction was drawn. The custodian was unable to make any distinction. The Government have to rely on information gathered at the time. Unfortunately, there are no means of identifying those who were victims of Nazi persecution and those who were not. The Government feel that by publishing the names of those whose property was seized some light can be thrown on the matter, and that in that way the situation can be clarified.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, what amount of assets is still held by the custodian? Why is he still holding them after 52 years?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, the custodian is not holding any more assets.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the official papers lodged in the Public Record Office indicate a legalism and lack of compassion by some Ministers and officials in the late 1940s and early 1950s when dealing with the question of restitution to Nazi victims? Will he ensure that when it is published the report will contain effective measures to make long overdue restitution to the victims and their families?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, it is difficult to judge by today's standards actions that were taken many years ago at a time of war. I cannot comment on the legal points. Values have changed. In those days, power was paramount. Today it may be valued less, and we seek to earn people's respect. I am sure that the right thing will be done in the end.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate that the longer the list takes to complete the less effective it will be in procuring justice?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, the Government are aware of the urgency of the matter. As I have said, work has already started on preparing the list.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, if the custodian does not have any assets what has he done with them?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, there is a long history of what happened, which I have written down here. In 1948 the government instituted a scheme whereby victims of Nazi persecution could make a claim for property which had been seized in the UK. The original assets were not returned. Instead, ex gratia payments were made which were equivalent to the amount of money which had been seized by the custodian less a 2 per cent. administration charge. Records show that by 1958, 84 per cent. of all applications for compensation had been successful, resulting in total payments of some £2 million, with claimants receiving on average 84 per cent. of the amounts claimed. The scheme continued in operation throughout the 1960s. In 1957, the government also donated £250,000 from liquidated assets to the Nazi Victims' Relief Trust.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, in his supplementary question my noble friend Lord Janner referred to Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. Are the Government aware that the Nazi regime also persecuted communists, trade unionists, disabled people and homosexuals? Can we be assured that those categories of victims will be included in the report to which my noble friend referred?

Lord Haskel

My Lords, I can give that assurance, although no distinction is made in the record between Jewish and any other victims.