HL Deb 01 February 2001 vol 621 cc791-2

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take steps in appropriate cases to exercise their powers to remove British nationality from individuals whom they are satisfied have been personally involved in the commission of war crimes.

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

My Lords, the Government take the issue of war crimes very seriously and are seeking to ensure that the UK is not, and does not become, a safe haven for individuals involved in such crimes. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is examining various measures, including the scope for using the deprivation of citizenship provisions contained in Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and especially for his assurance that an investigation is taking place. I am sure that he is aware of the presence in this country of some 1,500 members of the Waffen SS from the regiment known as the 14th SS Volunteer Division Galicia, which includes a number of war criminals and against whom there is now new evidence. Can he indicate when the Home Secretary's investigation is likely to be completed; whether the powers of the Home Secretary to remove British nationality will be used if, but only if, there is sufficient evidence against an individual; and what other measures are being considered?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I cannot be precise as to when the review will be completed, but it is urgently taking place. The noble Lord is right to draw our attention to the recent programme "The SS in Britain". I can inform him that the Metropolitan Police are investigating allegations made as a product of that programme and forwarded by the Simon Wiesenthal centre. The police have received helpful information with regard to these allegations and have received the co-operation of the programme-makers. They are giving it very careful analysis.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, how on earth can any government be satisfied of personal involvement—that is what the Question asks—without a conviction in the courts? Is the Minister aware that the Hetherington report found many people personally involved, worthy of trial, and probably worthy of conviction, but there has been only one conviction since 1991? What on earth are the Government going to do? It is the business of the judiciary not of the Government.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, there was widespread concern about that. As a result of the inquiry conducted by Sir Thomas Hetheringon in 1989 our predecessors in government—they should be congratulated on it—brought forward the War Crimes Act. The noble Lord is right; there has been only one successful prosecution. But the police investigated—the responsibility must rest with them, it cannot rest with government—more than 300 allegations following the war crimes inquiry. We have to be satisfied that those allegations were properly and thoroughly investigated. I am sure that the police did a rigorous job in difficult circumstances.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, will the Government, whatever they can or decide to do, treat in a similar way any persons found to be involved in crimes against humanity, not necessarily in wartime, and committed against their own nationals as well as others; for example, the atrocities committed in death camps such as Belsen, which was liberated by the British Army?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, those circumstances would be covered by the War Crimes Act. But the Government have recently introduced a Bill to allow the United Kingdom to ratify the International Criminal Court statute. That will allow UK courts to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the UK or by UK nationals and those subject to UK service jurisdiction overseas, and allow the United Kingdom to surrender indictees to the court. That gives ample testament to our commitment in this policy area.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether he is in contact with Poland, which is looking into the extradition process, or with any other governments in connection with issues that he has been good enough to look at?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Lord will appreciate that I am not personally in contact, but I am sure that that the department is. I shall carry out some inquiries to find out exactly where those links and connections are. I shall write to the noble Lord and place a copy of that correspondence in the Library.