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Prison Deaths (Burial)

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 29 April 1954

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will review the present practice of burying convicted murderers within the precincts of the prison where the sentence was carried out with a view to an amendment of the law and the adoption of the practice proposed for the convicted war criminals in Spandau Gaol of returning the bodies to their next-of-kin.

Can the Home Secretary explain why, in the case of the NÜrnberg criminals, which, I believe, he knows quite a lot about, and who were convicted of mass murders, their next-of-kin are to be allowed to have their bodies back, while the parents of young men like Dereck Bentley are not allowed to have their sons' bodies back, though the prisoners were. convicted of a single murder? Surely if it is good enough, in the case of the Spandau prisoners, for the next-of-kin to have their bodies back, it should be good enough for people in this country.

I think the hon. Gentleman has confused two matters. The question of the Spandau prisoners, of course, is a matter for the Foreign Secretary, but the proposal that, I think, the hon. Gentleman has in mind deals with the bodies of those who die a natural death and not of those who are executed. It is already the practice in the Department of which I am in charge that the relatives of a prisoner who dies in prison here, other than by judicial execution, have the opportunity to take the body away and to make their own disposal arrangements.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that it is quite impossible to reconcile his attitude in this matter with that of the Foreign Secretary, not only in the case of the Spandau prisoners but in the case of prisoners who were executed for mass murders and whose bodies were handed over to the civil authority for reburial outside the prison? Secondly, will he bear in mind that on this whole matter of executions in this country a Royal Commission that sat for five years came unanimously to the conclusion that our present law was wrong and could not be supported? Could he tell us when he will be able to inform the House of the result of his consideration of that Report?

The first supplementary question is one for the Foreign Secretary, and the second raises a point to which I have replied previously.

Yes, but as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a member of the Government, and a colleague of the Foreign Secretary, surely he recognises the principle of collective responsibility. As he had something to do, quite properly, with the execution of the NÜrnberg prisoners, why is he not prepared to adopt in this country the same policy that is now being adopted in Germany?

I fully accept the principle of collective responsibility but I do not remember that when the right hon. Member was Minister of Defence he was particularly active in answering Questions which concerned the Minister of Health. That is the point I made. As for the further point, I said that was a matter on which I had already answered questions, and if the right hon. Gentleman will do me the honour of looking at the answers he will find that that is so.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that when I was Minister of Defence I was never asked a Question which related to the activities and responsibilities of the Minister of Health?