Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

8.10 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I echo the noble Baroness's final comments about the horror of these crimes. However, I am perhaps one of the youngest Members of your Lordships' House and I believe that we must bear in mind that the majority of any jury may be in the same position. They will not have been alive when these offences were supposed to have been committed.

Difficult moral and ethical questions are posed. I read the Second Reading debates of the original War Crimes Act in Hansard. I found them interesting but the content was heavy. The arguments against the War Crimes Act appeared to be stronger.

I have also listened to many Starred Questions in your Lordships' House and have been dismayed at the reluctance of the various Ministers to give an indication of the age of the youngest suspect. That cannot conceivably be due to a poor brief; it must be possible to anticipate such a simple and obvious question. Clearly, many suspects will be too old or too feeble to plead. Will the Minister say how old the youngest suspect is?

I support the noble Lord's Bill because I do not believe that anyone will be convicted or even prosecuted under the Act. I do not rely upon my own judgment but that of your Lordships' House when debating the original Bill.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Dacre of Glanton: My Lords, after the debates on the War Crimes Bill in 1991 I read in the press about those Peers who believed that time carried away guilt. I do not believe that anyone here today holds that view. We all agree that the crimes to which we are referring should be neither forgiven nor forgotten. They are unexampled in modern history and it is most important that we should remember them. Our generation will never forget them because they passed through our consciousness. But we want them to be remembered by later generations. If we are to achieve that we need an

7 Dec 1994 : Column 997

emphatic gesture. Several noble Lords have spoken as though these trials will be that gesture. I do not believe that. I believe that the trials will send an indistinct message. Perhaps they will never take place; as we know, none has taken place yet. Time is passing and perhaps none will take place.

I believe that a true history is the proper means of recording these horrible events. The true history is being constructed, I may say, to a large extent by the Germans themselves. When I say that the crimes should never be forgiven I refer to the authors of them and not their descendants who are guiltless in that respect. I should like the real record of this awful period to be in a correct and accurate history and not in muddled trials leading nowhere.

There are enemies of a true history. We all know about the historical revisionists in France, in America and in this country. There were none in Germany but perhaps the situation has changed. Such people wish to argue that these crimes did not take place. There are also well-meaning people who, through failure to understand their true nature and to distinguish between extermination camps and concentration camps, sometimes play into their hands. I wish to ensure that the historical record is clear and emphatic and that it is passed on to the next generation. I do not believe that the lesson will be conveyed by trials if, in fact, they ever take place.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has made many of the comments I intended to make. I take the liberty of emphasising one point. We heard about the trials which foundered in America, Canada and Australia. But the classic case is that of Ivan Demjenjuk. He was identified as Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. Inquiries into the case began in 1975. The process dragged on. He was denaturalised in America in 1981 and after a further five years he was extradited to Israel. Two years after that he was sentenced to death. Three years later, in 1991, new evidence was produced which totally destroyed the case that had been based on the evidence of 13 Israeli witnesses. They saw him not on a television screen but face to face in Israel. They all swore, allegedly independently, that he was the man whom they knew. What is the use of people saying that if one has once looked into the eyes of an extermination camp guard or torturer one will recognise him wherever one sees him? Here were 13 Israeli subjects who had looked into the face of Ivan the Terrible in Treblinka and said that they recognised him. In fact, they had "recognised" a man who had never been in Treblinka in his life.

I do not believe that there will be any effective trial. By the time the evidence has been collected, the defence has had time to prepare its cases and the trials have been mounted, all such people will be dead. What will be gained? I do not believe that justice or even the monumental record which people want will be achieved. What will be left will be a fuzzy impression and, to a great extent, acquittal, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

The monument that I should like this generation to leave to the next generation, in order to show how thin is the crust of civilisation and how easily, if the rule of

7 Dec 1994 : Column 998

law, accepted morality and international order are allowed to lapse, the beast in man can emerge, will not result from the kind of justice that well-meaning people are seeking through trials which will not be effective. The trials may achieve condemnation but they will not leave an effective impression on the next generation. That is what really matters. We need to make an emphatic gesture which will last and make an impression. We do not want a muddle such as will emerge from the trials which are envisaged.

Noble Lords have referred to previous debates in this House and the other place and have said that Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority in favour of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, said that, as did other noble Lords. But this House is part of Parliament and this House voted the other way by a substantial majority. Therefore, Parliament did not vote in favour of it by a substantial majority. The House of Commons did but that is only half of Parliament, whatever the respective powers conferred by the constitution. We know that votes in the other place are subject to more discipline and are less independent than they are in this House. That is the message I should like to leave. I support the Bill of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway.

8.20 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I have never questioned the heinousness of the crimes, the perpetrators of which the War Crimes Bill was designed to bring to trial. I have never questioned that they took place because on the morning after the press got into Belsen, I saw the newspapers before my parents could hide them from me.

Having said that, I support the Bill. There is very little that I can add to what the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway, Lord Mayhew, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, Lord Dacre of Glanton, Lord Shaughnessy and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich, have said. I support it because I believe that it is very doubtful, after the passage of so much time, whether it is possible for any of the suspects to receive a fair trial.

If we had a statute of limitation in this country we should not be discussing this matter now. I do not know why we do not have that. It may be because Article 4 of the Magna Carta says that justice should not be prolonged, meaning postponed. Since we disregard that, perhaps we should consider introducing a statute of limitation in this country for murder cases. Meanwhile, Clause 1 would provide such a statute in this particular context.

Clause 2 introduces one of the most sensible and practical procedures of the Scottish judicial system in the context of prosecutions under the War Crimes Act. I wonder whether those procedures could not be adopted usefully in England as a general rule.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Cochrane of Cults: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for introducing this Bill. It seeks to rectify a situation which he has described in detail, all the problems which it engenders, and the injustices that it may cause. It is doubtless causing anxiety among many people who, as

7 Dec 1994 : Column 999

matters stand at present, are innocent and elderly. I do not know whether or not they are innocent but I do know that when I first spoke in your Lordships' House in April 1991 I found it a terrifying experience. I spoke on this subject for the first time in your Lordships' House after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross. The House was packed, unlike now, and I did not know whether I should be able to cope with a problem of this complexity in the presence of so many experts.

But with the passage of years—and how the years have gone by—the difficulties which I tried to address then about ensuring a fair trial have not diminished. The problem remains intractable and I can see no solution.

In replying to my noble friend on 28th November, my noble friend Lady Blatch said, quite correctly, that there is no limit on the time which needs to elapse before a charge of homicide or murder can be laid. As I see it, that is perfectly true. But what was not said was that it derives from common law and I believe that common law never assumed that anybody would try to lay a charge some 55 years or thereabouts after the events are alleged to have taken place. There is no doubt that a great many of those crimes did take place. But the passage of time is a great impediment.

Perhaps I may remind my noble friend Lady Blatch of another circumstance for which the law made no provision—the opening of shops on a Sunday in Scotland. That was never considered necessary but, with the passage of time, shops opened in Scotland. It was not provided for earlier because it was deemed to be unthinkable. I believe that the same applies to the laying of charges of murder or homicide after very many years. That is why I do not find that particular argument very convincing.

On the last occasion on which this matter was debated, my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone said that he knew of no case where a charge of murder had been preferred after 27 years. Earlier today I had an opportunity to speak to the noble and learned Lord, who confirmed that as far as he knew—with the qualification that he had not researched it in detail but nobody had complained in the interval—27 years still remained a fair answer.

We are a long way from 1st September 1939. Unlike the noble Lord to whom I was speaking at dinner, on 1st September 1939 I was 12 years, 11 months and one week old. I can remember it. But because of that distance of time there are problems of identification: whether the chap was there, if it happened, and whether he did it.

That was brought to my mind the other day at a dinner given for the former pupils of the prep school which I attended. The first year that was truly represented was 1935 and there were four of us. I had not seen three of them since 1939, as far as I can tell within the limits of evidence and recollection. I did not recognise them and, indeed, I hardly recognised their names until they added a few supporting details. One of the four I had seen once. It is an awfully long time ago. Okay, we were young then and we have matured. If people want to know how I have matured, they can look at my picture in Dod's, which was taken in 1957. It is the best one that I have. Again, a chap may confess and

7 Dec 1994 : Column 1000

say, "Yes, of course I did it", but has he gone dotty, has it been screwed out of him, or does he want to get his name in the Sun? I do not know.

On the day to which I alluded earlier noble and learned Lords remarked, as they have again this evening, on the retrospective enlargement of the jurisdiction. Is that right? I do not think that it is. If we count back, we are now some 55 years from September 1939. Let us go back, those of us who were alive then. I made this argument in my maiden speech and it attracted a modest degree of approbation and I hope that I shall be equally favoured tonight. We can perhaps go back to 1884, the year after my father was born. I looked it up and saw that, in February of that year, General Gordon was sent to the Sudan. In November the Mahdi occupied Omdurman. The annual Army Act was passed which set the billeting allowance for an ordinary soldier at tuppence halfpenny.

I am now convinced, as other noble Lords and other noble and learned Lords have said, that it is time to leave the problem alone. All that can be said has been said. For my part, I believe that it is now time to leave this awful affair for judgment by a greater power than ourselves, as we in time will face in death.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page