HC Deb 18 November 1986 vol 105 cc538-44

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Portillo.]

10.14 pm
Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)

The case that I raise tonight concerning Mordechai Vanunu is mysterious and disturbing. It merits being discussed in the House, as it touches on important issues affecting the law of this country. I believe that there should be a full investigation into all the circumstances surrounding Mr. Vanunu's arrival, stay in and departure from the United Kingdom. There is understandable and widespread public concern about this matter, which has been reflected in Parliament and in the press. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should now set up an investigation as a matter of urgency.

Mordechai Vanunu is an Israeli citizen who, having left his country, eventually came to London and while here, produced damaging revelations about the secret development by Israel of a nuclear strike capability, which were published in The Sunday Times on 5 October. Although the information was already known in so-called well-informed circles, the extent of the programme at Dimona came as somewhat of a surprise. In any event, it all came as a complete surprise to the general public.

Some time between 30 September and 5 October, Mr. Vanunu disappeared from his hotel, and from that moment on nothing more was heard of him or from him, either by his journalistic contacts in London or by his friends in Australia. There was a spate of rumours suggesting that he had been kidnapped and spirited back to Israel. Several stories to that effect appeared in the press. I tabled questions to the Foreign and Home Secretaries, as did several of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. The replies that we received were negative and, on the whole, uninformative: their essence being that there was no evidence to suggest that Mr. Vanunu had been abducted against his will or that he was in Israel.

At that time, the Israeli authorities were consistently denying any knowledge of Mr. Vanunu's whereabouts. Those authorities were lying, because unexpectedly, on 9 November, they announced that Mr. Vanunu was in prison in Israel, and, as it happened, he had been in prison there when they were issuing their categorical denials about him.

There were two obvious motives for the Israelis wanting to capture Mr. Vanunu and to take him back to Israel. The first was in order to punish him for what he had done, which the Israelis looked upon as an act of treachery; the second was to prevent him from continuing to publicise the damaging information about Israel's nuclear weapons programme. It was the kind of publicity that could only harm the "peace-loving image", spread with remarkable success by Israeli propaganda, in spite of being at variance with the facts.

Naturally, the possession by Israel of a nuclear bomb, Israel not being a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty, was a matter of great public interest and concern. Although it has been mooted in certain quarters that Mr. Vanunu was an Israeli agent and that the pupose of his revelations about the extent of Israel's nuclear capacity was to frighten Arab and other states in the area, these suggestions seem far fetched and improbable.

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will be aware that Zionist terrorism goes back a long way in time and that violence and violation of international law are not alien to the present Israeli leadership. More recently—since the late 1960s—there have been at least 10 assassinations, or attempted assassinations, in Europe of leading Palestinians which have been claimed by Israeli avenger squads and organised by Mossad.

One of the most elaborate incidents was in Norway in June 1973, when 10 Mossad agents were sent to track down a Palestinian, Mr. Ali Hassam Salameh. The squad was supervised by General Zamir, who had gone to Oslo for the purpose. The agents struck in Lilliehammer, where a man and a woman shot down their suspect as he walked along a road. It was the wrong man; the victim was a Moroccan waiter. Several members of the avenger squad were arrested, hut Zamir and his aides escaped.

A very recent example was the kidnapping of Mr. Dikko, the Nigerian politician who was eventually discovered in a crate at Stansted airport with an Israeli agent sitting beside him holding a hypodermic needle.

In these circumstances Her Majesty's Government should not be too complacent about the assurances that they receive from the Israeli Government, and in this respect I was disappointed with what my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had to say on the subject when he replied to the foreign affairs debate last Friday.

We know that Mordechai Vanunu was met by an "Insight" reporter at Sydney airport to bring him back to London on 11 September. He remained in London, staying at different hotels for several weeks. He was in England on 23 September when he spoke to representatives of The Sunday Times at Wapping and maintained contact with the newspaper during the following week. In one of his last calls he said that he was frightened of being kidnapped. Some time after that he disappeared. We know now that he is in an Israeli prison.

There are several ways in which Mordechai Vanunu could have found himself in an Israeli prison, but one that can be ruled out is that he reached there of his own free will. It follows logically that he must have been abducted, and almost without doubt by Israeli agents.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

My hon. Friend seems to rule out any voluntary leaving. Is he aware that the "Insight" team of The Sunday Times has examined this matter and last week produced an article asking: How was Mordechai Vanunu, the man who gave The Sunday Times the secrets of Israel's nuclear arsenal, spirited 3,000 miles from London to a top security prison south of Tel Aviv? It answered the question by stating that, after its investigation, the assumption must be that Vanunu was somehow lured offshore by 'Cindy'. I am as concerned as he is about any illegality that might take place on British soil. The "Insight" team is Vanunu's sponsor and has investigated the matter. It concluded that he went because he was lured by some girl and that no blame attaches to the British authorities. Why does my hon. Friend—who is a Conservative Member—seek to make mischief not only for the Israeli Government but for the British Government?

Mr. Walters

That intervention by my hon. and learned Friend was rather long. [AN HON. MEMBER: "But very much to the point."] It was not to the point, because there have been several speculative theories and this is one of them.

Mr. Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth)

It was the "Insight" team.

Mr. Walters

The "Insight" team has put forward several speculative stories, and this is one of them. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will wish to repudiate once again the offensive slur that our security services connived at Mr. Vanunu's removal. I do not intend to pursue the various hypotheses explored in the press, because it does not seem a profitable way for me to proceed in this debate.

The Home Secretary should immediately set up an investigation with the aim of trying to discover what happened to Mr. Vanunu in London and how he left Britain. At the same time, Her Majesty's Government should firmly press the Israeli Government to come clean and reveal how Mr. Vanunu was taken from his hotel in London to a top security prison in Israel where he is now being held.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

There is an easy way for the Israeli Government to allay our fears. Could they not agree that an international jurist should interview Mr. Vanunu to find out how he left Britain and how he arrived in Israel? If the Israelis have nothing to fear, they should not be afraid of someone with an international reputation.interviewing Mr. Vanunu on this very point.

Mr. Walters

My hon. Friend, who has also taken a interest in this case, makes an interesting suggestion and no doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with it. I shall now return to the point that I was making.

We know that Mr. Vanunu is now being held in an Israeli prison and that the Israelis know what happened, without any inquiry or investigation being necessary. The facts should be ascertained and we should not tolerate being fobbed off by patronising and dismissive statements.

It is for the British Government and, if necessary, for the British courts, to decide what constitutes a violation of British law. Her Majesty's Government should not tamely accept that the Israeli Government can simply inform us that our law has not been broken. There is a strong feeling of outrage among the British public at what may have occurred, and that feeling should not be underestimated. If a kidnapping or a conspiracy to kidnap has been carried out by agents of a foreign power on British soil we are entitled to know about it and to be satisfied that appropriate action will follow.

10.28 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)

My hon. Friend the Member for West bury (Mr. Walters) has raised a topic that has attracted considerable interest in this House and in the press. The matter was discussed here only last Friday in the debate on the Address. I welcome this further opportunity to separate fact from speculation, even though in the short time that has elapsed since then there is little new to add.

Mr. Mordechai Vanunu is an Israeli citizen who claims to have been employed as a nuclear technician at Israel's Dimona nuclear plant. The circumstances of how he came into contact with The Sunday Times, the nature of his contract with that newspaper and the contents of his story as published, are not matters for the Government and I have no comment to make on those aspects.

I shall deal first with Mr. Vanunu's presence in this country and police inquiries about his disappearance. He arrived here on 12 September 1986 and then for over two weeks stayed in and around London under arrangements made by The Sunday Times. He was last seen on the morning of Tuesday 30 September when he checked out of the Mountbatten hotel in St. Martin's lane and, according to the staff in the hotel, there was nothing unusual about his departure. But The Sunday Times says that he telephoned that morning and told the telephonist who answered that he was "frightened" and was going "to the country". At that stage, the police were unaware of any concern about Mr. Vanunu, and it was not until 8 October that The Sunday Times reported his disappearance—that is, eight days after he had last been seen at the Mountbatten hotel and three days after the newspaper's article on 5 October. There was no evidence that Mr. Vanunu had been abducted or that any crime had been committed. The police listed him as a missing person and the inquiries made thereafter were as a result of that missing person report. They have not at any stage been in possession of evidence of any crime connected with this case. I shall come back to that aspect later.

The immigration service has no record of Mr. Vanunu having left the United Kingdom under his own name since 30 September 1986. There has been speculation in the newspapers and elsewhere that the absence of any such record, taken with information that Mr. Vanunu is in Israel, gives grounds for suspicion. I must make it clear that the absence of any record of departure proves nothing. Checks on persons leaving the country are selective. No attempt is made to record names of all those leaving, and I remind the House that it was not until eight days after Mr. Vanunu was last seen that he was first reported missing.

The inquiries made by the police are, of course, a matter for them. There is no doubt that they would investigate thoroughly any evidence of crime made known to them, and it was for that reason that I said on 3 November, in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), that anyone having evidence that an offence had been committed should inform the police.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

My hon. and learned Friend's comments are somewhat disturbing. The Home Office seems to be certain about when Mr. Vanunu came to this country, but my hon. and learned Friend calmly says that, once people are here, the Home Office does not know whether they have gone or whether people come and go. Is he actually saying that we solemnly mark the people who come here in and then do not care a damn whether they have left or how they have gone? How many people are here who should not be here? Why bother to mark them in if we cannot bother to mark them out?

Mr. Waddington

We know the date on which Mr. Vanunu entered this country because he did so in the company of someone from The Sunday Times who can give evidence to that effect. It would be quite impossible for us to record the departure from this country of everyone who enters. In fact, 35 million people leave this country every year. No country with that sort of traffic of persons in and out could possibly record the arrival and departure of everyone. Just as we have no record of Mr. Vanunu's departure, I doubt very much that we have any record of his arrival. We do not have to look at any record of his arrival because we know the date, for the reasons I have mentioned.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

My hon. and learned Friend has just said that he doubts whether there is any record of Mr. Vanunu's arrival. If I understand correctly, any non-EEC citizen flying to this country has to fill in a card on the aircraft. What is the point of everybody doing that if the cards are not used and there is no record?

Mr. Waddington

In this country we have always operated a system of recording those who enter on a selective basis. If we were to record on the computer everyone who entered, not only would the computer be overloaded, but the task of analysing the records that were kept would be ridiculous and out of proportion to the exercise to be carried. What has always happened is that one records entries on a computer on a selective basis, recording those whose entry it is considered should be recorded because there might be some likelihood of their not departing at the appropriate time. However, as I have said, that does not arise in this case because we know when this man arrived for a different reason.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had written in similar terms on 31 October to the editor of The Sunday Times. The fact is that no evidence pointing to any offence having been committed has been made available to the police, and no such evidence has been revealed by their own inquiries.

I refer to inquiries made by the Government. As is clear from what I have already said, nothing is known to us about Mr. Vanunu's movements from the time he checked out of his hotel on 30 September until the Israeli Government confirmed on 9 November that he was in Israel. In the early stages after the reporting of his disappearance there was much speculation that Mr. Vanunu had been kidnapped in the United Kingdom, or enticed to leave this country and then taken to Israel. Those reports were, however, entirely speculative and, until about 20 October, we had no reason to think that Mr. Vanunu was in Israel, and no other evidence to suggest that the Israeli authorities were in any way involved.

It was on about 20 October that press reports appeared to the effect that Mr. Vanunu had been remanded in custody after being brought before a court in Jerusalem. An Israeli police spokesman denied those reports, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office emphasised to the Israeli ambassador in London the need to clarify the position. It was apparently as a result of this that on 9 November a statement was made by the Israeli Government to the effect that Mr. Vanunu was under lawful detention in their country. The statement specifically denied that he was kidnapped on British soil

Mr. Walters

Does my hon. and learned Friend not find it surprising that the Israeli authorities continued to deny knowledge of the whereabouts of Mr. Vanunu when he was in an Israeli gaol and then made an announcement on 9 November? Does that not make it appear that they were being both deceitful and dishonest?

Mr. Waddington

I said that an Israeli police spokesman denied the reports that he was in custody but when the Israeli Government were approached by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office they then made the statement. The statement specifically denied that he was kidnapped on British soil.

On 10 November our ambassador in Tel Aviv was instructed to seek clarification from the Israeli Government as to how Mr. Vanunu came to be in Israel. The Government replied on 13 November in a formal statement, the terms of which were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) in the debate on Friday 14 November. The statement said that Mr. Vanunu left Britain of his own volition and through normal departure procedures, and that his departure involved no violation of British law.

Our ambassador also spoke to Mr. Vanunu's lawyer and asked him whether he could say how Mr. Vanunu left the United Kingdom. The lawyer responded by saying that he could not comment without permission from the Israeli authorities.

I understand that the Israeli Government also referred in its statement of 13 November to constraints resulting from the fact that criminal charges are pending in Israel. We recognise that this may impose some limitations on what the Israeli authorities can say about the case against Mr. Vanunu. Nevertheless, I certainly regard it as unsatisfactory that the Israeli authorities have declined to give any explanation of the circumstances, or even the date of his arrival in Israel.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

In view of the quite deplorable behaviour of the Israeli Government over the Dikko affair, will my hon. and learned Friend be a little less mealy-mouthed about their behaviour in this respect?

Mr. Waddington

I do not think that I can be accused of being mealy-mouthed, because all that I have done so far is record the facts. I have recorded the approach to the Israeli Government and the reply received from them. I have also said that I regard it as unsatisfactory that the Israeli authorities have declined to give any explanation of the circumstances or even the date of Mr. Vanunu's arrival in Israel. I do not call that being mealy-mouthed.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Waddington

I must get on.

For example, we do not know whether it is true, as reported in the press, but denied by an Israeli police spokesman at the time, that Mr. Vanunu appeared in court on 20 October. It is difficult to see how a statement on such a matter could prejudice legal proceedings in Israel. But we note what the Israeli Government have said, and I am sure that the House will expect that when any sub judice constraints are removed, the Israeli Government will make the position clear.

I thought it right to set out the facts as known to us, and our inquiries of the Israeli Government, before coming to the main point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury in his speech. He is pressing for a full investigation of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Vanunu's arrival, stay and departure from this country. I share my hon. Friend's concern about this strange case, but I am bound to say that I do not see what useful purpose would be served by any special formal type of inquiry, if that is what my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Waddington

Not for the moment, because I must watch the clock. I shall give way in a few moments if possible.

Most recent speculation has concentrated on the possibility of Mr. Vanunu having been taken to Israel after being abducted somewhere outside the United Kingdom's jurisdiction, and I cannot see how it would be productive for the British Government to try to inquire into such a possibility, of which there is in any case no specific evidence. In relation to things happening outside United Kingdom jurisdiction, such an inquiry would have no powers, and no locus: it would be an empty gesture. If on the other hand—I believe this is what my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury is after—it is suggested that the primary purpose of such an inquiry would he to look into things that might have happened within United Kingdom jurisdiction, surely such an inquiry would merely risk causing confusion. The investigation of criminal offences in this country is a matter not for the Government but for the police. The police have already conducted some inquiries into the case, and I know that they will continue to follow up anything else that may need to be investigated in connection with it. If they were to find evidence of crime having been committed here, whether in the form of a substantive offence, or a conspiracy to commit an offence elsewhere in circumstances that gave rise to an offence under our law, any further action would be a matter for the prosecuting authorities, not for the Government.

Mr. Jessel

Is it not rather surprising that my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) said that there was a strong sense of public outrage on this case, because in my constituency, which is exceptionally articulate, I have not had a single letter on it yet?

Mr. Waddington

The honourable House ought to be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury for raising the matter on the Adjournment because undoubtedly it has been canvassed at great length in the press. It is right that I should have the opportunity to try to clear up some matters.

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. The statement that the Israeli Government made on 13 November shows that they know of the circumstances of Mr. Vanunu's departure from this country, and it appears that they have accepted responsibility for the circumstances of his return to Israel. Their silence on how he returned only prolongs speculation, and I hope, as my hon. Friend does, that they will put an end to that speculation, which is damaging to their interests, as soon as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.