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We have never had a statute of limitations for crimes of murder in this country. Therefore, we do not regard ourselves at liberty to disregard evidence which has been or may be uncovered. As with any other case, a prosecution would be brought only if there was considered to be sufficient evidence and the prosecution would be in the public interest. Moreover, an accused person can apply for the proceedings against him to be stayed on the grounds of delay or abuse of process.
Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, will the Minister inform me whether it would be usual on the part of this Government for Ministers in the Home Office to interfere in any way with operational decisions of the Metropolitan Police or with the speed or otherwise of the Crown Prosecution Service?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what is the age of the oldest person under investigation; what is the age of the youngest person under investigation; where and when the alleged crimes took place; and whether they all involved murder?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not able to answer such a detailed question from the Dispatch Box. If I am able to answer it, I shall write to the noble Lord. So long as there are serious crimes to be pursued, it must remain a matter for the police, the Crown Prosecution Service
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is worth recording just how much progress has been made. Indeed, it was recorded by my noble friend Lord Ferrers in regard to a previous Question. In fact, 369 cases had been investigated by the Metropolitan Police War Crimes Unit. The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute in 233 of those cases; 112 persons who were subject to investigation have since died; 24 investigations remain with the police, while nine cases are with the CPS at present. It will be a matter for them--and, at the end of the day, for the Attorney-General--as to whether prosecutions should be brought against those people.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, I accept that the noble Baroness may be right in saying that the answer to the noble Lord's suggestion of a time-bar may be that a trial judge can order that a trial should not proceed because of the risk of prejudice resulting from great delay. However, is there not a real risk in this case that judges will proceed on the basis that Parliament could only have passed the Act if Parliament intended the great delay in prosecuting war crimes committed during the last war to be disregarded by the courts?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the matter as to whether the time delay should be regarded or disregarded by the courts must be for the courts. It will be for the police to pursue their normal investigations and for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether the evidence supporting those cases is strong enough for the case to be pursued. However, at the end of the day it will be for the Attorney-General to give a final judgment. It will then be up to the courts to take all of the factors into consideration. They may or may not consider that the time delay is a factor for dismissing the case.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, in view of the very satisfactory reply that she has given, does my noble friend the Minister think it appropriate for the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, not to trouble the House with further proceedings on his Bill?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it must be a matter for my noble friend as to whether he wishes to pursue the Bill. However, I believe that I have today made it very clear that we believe that these are matters for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. We believe that Parliament has had its say on the matter.
Lord Mayhew: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in addition to the powerful legal arguments against prosecutions, there are also historical reasons? Does she recall that for three years after the war the government of the day obtained the execution and imprisonment of thousands of war criminals; indeed, more than 200 from British courts in Germany alone? However, in 1948, the then government, with the support of all parties, decided
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if I may be so bold, it was Parliament that pronounced, albeit by the use of the Parliament Act, that such cases should be pursued. It must now be a matter for the courts and for the Crown Prosecution Service.
Viscount Tonypandy: My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind the fact that there was a massive majority for the course of action that the Government are now taking? When murder has been committed, we cannot have civilised living unless we pursue the murderers.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, for his remarks. It is a most important principle. To put a time limit on the pursuit of murderers and serious criminals would be a very serious action to take. The noble Viscount is also right to say that there was a massive majority in another place which I believe justified the use of the Parliament Act in the circumstances.
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, all sectors of the economy are equally important in maintaining and increasing our national prosperity. The Government make no judgments about the relative prospects of individual sectors.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, does that, or does it not, mean that the Government agree that, as we are an island living by our trade, the existence of an adequate shipbuilding industry is desirable? Secondly, can my noble friend the Minister say whether the Government have considered the impact upon the north-east economy, already not that strong, of the demise of Swan Hunter?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, my noble friend should not read into my Answer whether or not the Government agree that, as we are an island economy, a shipbuilding industry is desirable. Of course it is desirable. However, we live in an increasingly circumscribed world and there are others who are producing such ships at a time when they are required less than they used to be. In the 1930s, we had 30 per cent. of the world market for merchant
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the shipbuilding industry is rather a special case, bearing in mind that our history as a seafaring nation shows that we have only survived on the basis of being able to build ships and have men to sail in them when there has been a necessity to defend the realm? In today's very uncertain world, are we not in a most dangerous situation where we are almost down to nil capacity? What will happen if--God forbid!--war breaks out again? Who will we turn to on such an occasion to build ships for us?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. However, we are living in a competitive world. There is no way in which a government can subsidise an industry fairly when such action would put at risk other organisations which might also be competing. In fact, we do participate in some form of subsidy which was given by the Seventh European Community Directive. That enables our shipbuilding industry to be subsidised where it is subject to unfair competition from non-European Union countries. On the whole, we must recognise the fact that all our industries have to compete in the world market. We hope that they will do so.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is entirely right in her observation, but I would need to do a little checking before I could say that with great certainty. However, I have no doubt that my noble friend must be correct.
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