HL Deb 02 February 2000 vol 609 cc234-7

2.58 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have had approaches from the United Nations War Crimes Prosecutor for the extradition of Tharcisse Muvunyi in connection with genocide in Rwanda.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, it is government policy not to discuss whether extradition requests have been received in individual cases. I would, however, stress that we strongly support the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, established specifically to prosecute the appalling atrocities in that country in 1994. The tribunal has extensive powers to request assistance from states, and we have assisted it in the past.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, the House has just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, that the Government wish to identify any war criminals. Can the Minister say whether any investigation by the Metropolitan Police is ongoing to identify this man as a possible war criminal?

Furthermore, in the light of the Prime Minister's statement that there is no hiding place for war criminals and in so far as we are able we shall bring them to justice, what action are the Government taking to bring this alleged war criminal to justice?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we are fully in tune with our international obligations as regards the prosecution of war criminals.

It is unusual to comment on individual cases. However, I can advise the House and the noble Lord that I understand that the police are considering material submitted to them about allegations of torture by Lieutenant-Colonel Muvunyi.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, why did Her Majesty's Government allow a well-known war criminal, Lieutenant-Colonel Muvunyi—known as "the commander"—and his family to enter and live in the UK? Have they been given political asylum here until 2002, as reported?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am unable to advise on individual immigration cases. That would be wholly inappropriate for reasons that I am sure the noble Baroness fully understands. I understand that that has been the practice adopted by governments for many years.

Lieutenant-Colonel Muvunyi followed his family here. That remains the case. At that stage we were not aware of allegations against Lieutenant-Colonel Muvunyi.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, if the Minister cannot answer that question, perhaps he can answer this one. Is this man in this country on the basis that he seeks asylum?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am unable to answer that question. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on Lieutenant-Colonel Muvunyi's immigration status.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, from time to time we are advised of the number of asylum seekers in this country. Is the Minister saying that those people cannot be identified in any way?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, in this instance I am unable to provide that informatlion. I think that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, has the UN prosecutor the power himself to apply for extradition or does it have to come from government to government?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we do not have an extradition treaty with Rwanda. It is for the International Criminal Tribunal to make any applications to this country.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that there has been no request from the International War Crimes Tribunal or from the war crimes tribunal for Rwanda? If there were such a request, can the Minister pledge to the House that the request would be taken seriously and considered by the Home Office in order to uphold government policy on this matter?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, of course, we would completely fulfil our international obligations; and we would, of course, respond positively to any such request.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, what is this new doctrine: that this House cannot discuss individual immigration cases? Have there not been countless debates on the Floor of this House about individual cases?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I have outlined the situation. I understand that it is the same as it has always been.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, in the light of the escalating asylum figures, and the appalling processing figures, what steps are the Government taking to prevent war criminals entering this country as bogus asylum seekers and then living on social security?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we have an active immigration policy. We have an index and register at our ports. We properly vet people when they come to this country. We shall continue to do so to the best of our ability. That is the position. That was the position under the previous government. No doubt they were as successful as we hope to be in the future.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, can the Minister explain further why he states that it is inappropriate for him to answer those questions? Whether or not this man is an asylum seeker is a simple question which deserves a factual answer. The House deserves that.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, as a matter of course and of policy we do not usually discuss and debate individual applications that may be made to our Government. That has always been the case.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will the Minister think just for a moment? Does he accept that if judicial proceedings involve anyone concerned with immigration, of course no mention is made of that matter in this House; but does the noble Lord accept that time and again mention is made of cases, and properly so, when they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the courts?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, in the circumstances to which the noble Lord draws my attention, there is, admittedly, widespread debate about immigration and asylum matters. That is right and proper.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, what advice can the Minister give about how the House may proceed to understand the facts underlying this case if the noble Lord continues to shelter behind the doctrine that it is none of our business?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, these issues are, of course, important for public debate. The point I make is that it would be invidious to discuss personal circumstances of certain individuals. That must be right and proper.