HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1308-14

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

10.1 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

This is a debate about sanctions against two countries with which the United Kingdom has, historically, enjoyed excellent relations. Many of the decision makers in Libya and Iraq were educated in this country. As we debate the issue of sanctions, we also debate our country's long-term relations with two very important areas of the Arab world.

Anyone who visits Iraq must be dismayed that a once sophisticated society should be reduced to grinding poverty in many areas. Every recent visitor to that country—including the right hon. Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the former leader of the Liberal party, and many others—is appalled, as I was, by the terrible conditions in the children's hospital in Baghdad or the conditions in another hospital at Um-Kasr on the Kuwaiti border. Infants, who cannot conceivably be responsible for any of the horrors of the past 10 years, expired in my presence—and I do not exaggerate.

The most recent visitor to Iraq with whom I have been in contact is Riad El-Taher, an Iraqi-born British subject. He is concerned about the British Government's entrenched support for United Nations Security Council resolution 986. He writes: Can I bring to your attention … the long term erosion of trust and historical ties taking root among the upcoming generation". I sensed that during my visit. The majority of UK educated Iraqis are reaching retirement age and are being replaced by a generation fed on suspicion of the West and particularly Britain's continued support of sanctions. I mentioned that issue at Question Time, and I say as gently as I can, and I hope without giving offence, that I wonder whether the Minister, his colleagues and his civil service advisers really realise the extent to which a generation is growing up about to hate the west—people who have been trading partners and friends. It is tragic. UNSCR 986 is heavily biased, being intrusive, divisive and certainly not addressing the chronic humanitarian shortages of food and medicine. These shortages are felt most strongly among the young generation … and the salaried sector in general. The financial benefit, if Iraq manages to sell the allocated oil, after deduction of the heavy burden of reparations, administration and allocation to the Northern Governorate under UN supervision, will be in the region of 7–8 US$ per person per month (outside Iraq). That places seriously in question the assertions that it is simply up to Saddam Hussein to change policy, and all will be well. I fear that the detail of what is happening shows that that certainly would not be the outcome.

One is forced to take the view that UNSCR 986 was not intended to provide humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people, in view of five factors. Both the UK and USA hold substantial Iraqi frozen assets, which could be controlled effectively for the sole purchases of badly needed food and medicine from their respective countries and for immediate release. Even if Iraq were prepared to agree to UNSCR 986, there are no guarantees that funds would be available from the sale of oil or for the purchase of humanitarian requirements, due to the complexity of the contractual demands. The reparations burden should be set aside at this stage, as Iraq can tackle that issue when sanctions are lifted. The rest of the argument is well known to the Foreign Office.

I simply say to the Minister, and through him to the Foreign Secretary, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Foreign Secretary should go to some of his constituents, the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland—he represents many of the leading members of the Church of Scotland in the Pentlands constituency of Edinburgh—and speak to them about their detailed knowledge and their knowledge of the humanitarian position.

Hansard records that, on 21 December 1988, I raised the subject of Libyan sanctions in the House. From new year's eve 1988, for reasons that I have outlined in seven previous Adjournment debates, I have had a deep interest in the subject.

Tonight, I make two requests. First, is it not time, after seven years, that the crucial timing device is produced? Let independent experts examine the timing device, because so far only photographs have been produced, and the head of the firm of manufacturers, Edwin Bollier, and his engineer, Ulrich Lumpart, have not even been allowed to see it.

I ask specific questions of which I gave notice to the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office in Edinburgh, which they undertook to pass on to the Minister. Is the Minister aware that Thomas Thurman, the Federal Bureau of Investigation officer who claims to have identified the timing device, is under investigation by the US Justice Department regarding allegations by a fellow FBI officer, Frederick Whitehurst, that he fabricated evidence and committed perjury in a murder trial in the USA? That was outlined in The Scotsman by a remarkable reporter, Stephen Breen. I have cross-checked with other sources, however.

Does the Thurman/White House situation lead Her Majesty's Government at least to question the credibility of Thurman, and the credibility of the Crown's identification of the timing device? Should Thurman be found guilty of perjury, would the Crown reassess the evidence and case against the two Libyans, given that the timing device is the key evidence linking the Libyans and the bombing?

The whole story of so-called evidence from Mary's House in Valletta, and the 18 different identifications of Tony Gouchie, would be very flimsy in any court of law. Where, we ask, is this timer? Has it ever been out of the United Kingdom? Who found it? When was it found, and where? The imagination boggles. A timer supposedly in pristine condition was out in a Scottish winter for 15 months or so. I do not believe that the timer on the Pan Am clipper "Maid of the Seas" is in the possession of the authorities; I believe that they have a photograph of a rather different timer.

I have done my best in regard to my next point, and I also understand the Prime Minister's reasons. Before my question to him about the last issue that I shall raise is dealt with, let me issue a request that serious consideration, at least, be given to the Libyan suggestion of a trial in The Hague, under Scottish rules of evidence and under a Scottish judge. I feel that, after seven years, there is a strong argument for considering that as a serious possibility.

I am pleased to see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is present, because he has had a deep interest in Malta ever since we worked together when he led the Labour European delegation to the European Parliament. He had a good deal to do with Malta then. I shall not speak for my right hon. Friend, however; I shall speak for myself.

I do not believe that there ever was a Malta connection. We had hoped, yet again—along with the relatives, who have been steadfast and will not go away—to see the Prime Minister before these questions were asked. I do not believe in yah-boo Prime Minister's Question Time. The Prime Minister wrote to me: I have considered carefully whether I might meet Jim Swire, Pamela Dix and Martin Cadman before your question. Unfortunately I fear that my diary is such that there will be no possibility before then. The offer has been made, but I hope that the Government will look carefully at the possibility of a trial in The Hague to bring the matter to a head.

I suspect that the reason why the Government do not want to go to The Hague is quite simple: they realise only too clearly that a Scottish judge, under Scottish rules of evidence, might well humiliate them by saying at an early stage that there was no case to answer.

It really is unrealistic to suggest that the Libyan Government ought to send the two to Britain. If the boot were on the other foot, would Her Britannic Majesty's Government extradite two men whom her country believed to be innocent to Libya, with which Britain has no extradition treaty? I doubt whether any British Government or the House would do any such thing. After seven years, the time has come to take some action, at least to try The Hague, because, if not, the suspicion exists that the Governments of the United States and Britain do not want the truth about Lockerbie.

10.14 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

I should like to begin with a few general points on the use of sanctions. The decision to impose sanctions on a country cannot be taken lightly. Under the UN charter, if a country threatens international peace and security, as both Iraq and Libya have done, the Security Council is empowered under chapter 7 of its charter to take action. On that point, I should like to clarify why there are sanctions on Iraq and Libya and not on Nigeria. The human rights abuses in Nigeria, while abhorrent, are an internal situation and therefore cannot be classified under this chapter.

As much as possible, sanctions are tailored to ensure that they are not just punitive but counter the wrong that has been committed. The aim of sanctions is to counter threats to peace and security, and to try to get the penalised country back into line with the international community. That approach is reflected in our policy towards Libya and Iraq, in which sanctions play a central part.

Before I respond to the specific points raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I shall recall the reasons behind the sanctions against Libya and Iraq—first, Libya.

Sanctions were imposed by the Security Council in March 1992 and in November 1993 because Libya had failed to comply with the requests of the United Kingdom, United States and French Governments, following the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988 and a Union des Transports Aerien aircraft over Niger in September 1989. It is worth reflecting just for a moment on the scale of those outrages. The first involved the death of 270 innocent persons; the second, 171—a total of 441 victims.

After the biggest criminal investigation in British history, the Dumfries and Galloway constabulary had by November 1991 uncovered sufficient evidence to enable charges to be brought against two Libyan nationals in connection with the Lockerbie bombing. The UK and the US called on the Libyan Government to surrender the accused for trial, to tell what they knew of the crime, and to pay appropriate compensation.

The Libyan Government failed to do any of those things. Through UN Security Council resolution 731, in January 1992, the international community endorsed the UK and US calls on Libya in connection with Lockerbie, and the French calls regarding UTA, but still Libya failed to comply. The sanctions resolutions 748 and 883 were designed to put pressure on the Government of Libya—not its people—to surrender the suspects for trial and to meet the other requirements. We regret that Libya has still not complied. By its failure to do so, it continues to deny justice to the victims or to prove the innocence of the accused.

The House will recall that, on 1 February this year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who was then Foreign Secretary, reported exchanges that Foreign Office officials had been having with the Libyans about the material and financial assistance that Libya had given to the Provisional IRA, at a time when it was waging a terror campaign against British interests. That was in the context of one of Libya's obligations under the resolutions: to demonstrate its renunciation of terrorism.

At the time, there remained some unanswered questions. Since then, there has been another exchange of questions and answers. As a result, on 20 November last, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a statement making it clear that, while there remained gaps and omissions in the information given by the Libyans, we were satisfied that, when the disclosures were considered in their entirety, they largely met our expectations.

In acknowledging that as a positive step towards Libyan renunciation of terrorism, a path that we hoped that Libya would follow, we made it clear that we regarded Libya's co-operation as just one step in the context of one of its obligations under the resolutions. We remained committed to the UN sanctions against Libya until such time as Libya complied with all the requirements, in particular that it surrender those accused of the Lockerbie bombing for trial in Scotland or in the United States. I can tell the House that we have no further questions to put to the Libyans about that.

At the most recent four-monthly review of sanctions by the Security Council of 22 November, the UK permanent representative to the United Nations, Sir John Weston, drew the attention of the Security Council to the statement on the Provisional IRA questions. He added that we remained committed to bringing to justice those responsible for the Pan Am and UTA bombings, and that alternatives put forward by the Libyans for trial elsewhere—including The Hague, as the hon. Gentleman said—were simply not acceptable. Sir John Weston reminded the council that all countries must continue to implement the mandatory sanctions rigorously. There was no proposal at that review for a change to the existing sanctions, and they must therefore remain in force.

We have regularly and carefully considered the various proposals that have been put forward from time to time that a trial be held in a third country, and we remain convinced that they are unacceptable and unworkable. The reasons have been stated before in the House, but since the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter, they bear repeating.

First, the practical and legislative difficulties would be enormous. They would involve secondary and possibly primary legislation in both countries.

Secondly, it would be quite unacceptable to the Government, as well as to the House, effectively to allow suspected terrorists to dictate where and how they should be tried. The Scottish and US courts both have jurisdiction. The trial should be held in one of those jurisdictions.

Thirdly, the Security Council resolutions call for a trial in the UK or the US.

Fourthly, holding the trial in a third country might imply that the Lockerbie suspects could not get a fair trial in Scotland. The Libyan Government indicated in 1993 that they accepted that the suspects would get a fair trial in Scotland.

Finally, even if it were possible to set up such a court, there is no credible guarantee that the suspects would be made available for trial. Even if all the other difficulties that I have just outlined were resolved, I would be most reluctant to set in motion a complex procedure of legislation and international agreements that could too easily lead to nothing.

The Libyan Government have never undertaken to hand the accused over for trial anyway. Indeed, they have maintained that they have no powers to force the suspects to go for trial anywhere. Against that background, the scope for further prevarication after all the arrangements had been put in place would be enormous. So for all those reasons, we have concluded that a trial in a third country remains unacceptable.

We understand that the proposal currently preferred by the Libyans, and endorsed by the Arab League, is a trial before Scottish judges under Scottish law at the seat of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. As I have said, that proposal is unacceptable, for the same reasons as any trial in a third country.

We are conscious that Libya has been under the pressure of sanctions for over three and a half years. Libya's attempts to promote so-called compromise solutions and alternatives to trial in Scotland and the US show that the pressure is having an effect, and we should not waver. The pressure should remain on Libya until it does what the international community demanded in 1992. We ask no more or less than that.

In the meantime, we must at all costs avoid prejudicing the trial. For that reason, we cannot, as has been suggested, show the timer used in the explosion to its manufacturer, or, for that matter, disclose any of the other evidence.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the activities of Mr. Thomas Thurman, an American forensic scientist. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), told the hon. Gentleman on 10 November that the forensic examination in the Lockerbie investigation was conducted by the Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment. My noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate told the hon. Gentleman on 6 October that the Lockerbie case did not depend on any evidence that Mr. Thurman might give.

What may or may not have happened in the United States to cause the FBI to investigate the activities of Mr. Thurman has no bearing on the evidence that forms the basis of the Scottish petition warrant.

Widely diverging stories have appeared in the press and elsewhere on the recovery of fragments of the timer in that case. Those stories have been based on speculation, and it should therefore come as no surprise that they are indeed divergent. I can go into no further detail on the evidence, which includes recovery of any of the physical evidence, for fear of prejudicing the case.

As in the case of Libya, the aim of sanctions against Iraq is clear. It is to ensure that Iraq fully complies with its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It is simply not true to say that sanctions are not working. They have achieved a measure of Iraqi compliance with the requirements of UN Security Council resolutions—notably, Iraqi recognition of Kuwait and UN-demarcated borders.

Without the pressure of sanctions, it is unlikely that Iraq would have revealed to the UN special commission information on its development of weapons of mass destruction. UNSCOM has recently discovered the horrifying capabilities that Iraq has tried to conceal: enough chemical and biological weapons to kill the world's population several times over. UNSCOM's work on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme is essential for the security of the region, indeed the world. We give it strong support.

Nevertheless, Iraq still falls short of its other obligations. Time permits me to mention only a few. First, despite UNSCOM's recent discoveries, much remains to be done in respect of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme. Secondly, Iraq has an appalling human rights record. To hon. Members who have a strong stomach, I commend the recent report by the UN's special rapporteur on human rights, Mr. van der Stoel, which recounts nauseating acts of torture committed by the Iraqi regime, as well as denial to Iraq's population of the most basic human rights. Thirdly, Iraq has failed to account for the whereabouts of more than 600 missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and property, including military hardware, stolen from Kuwait.

Recent history shows that Saddam Hussein cannot be given the benefit of the doubt. The UN Security Council reviews sanctions every 60 days in the light of Iraq's behaviour. At the last review on 8 November, it agreed that sanctions could not be modified. There is no doubt that that was right. Sanctions must be maintained until Iraq fully complies with its international obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

We share the concern of many right hon. and hon. Members about the desperate plight of Iraqi citizens. The hon. Member for Linlithgow said that we were making enemies of a whole generation of young Iraqis, but I wonder whether it is right to make enemies of the rest of the world. It is nonsense to blame the shortages and deprivations on the UN. Food and medicines are not subject to sanctions.

Rather than buy food, Saddam Hussein has chosen to spend the regime's limited resources on military procurement, ostentatious construction projects and luxury items for his hangers-on. For example, Mr. van der Stoel notes that members of the Ba'ath party and military officers have their own food distribution network. Saddam, not the UN, bears full responsibility for the suffering of the Iraqi people.

To try to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, the UK played a leading role in the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council resolution 986, which would allow Iraq to export a substantial quantity of oil in return for humanitarian aid. The resolution was designed to accommodate criticisms of earlier offers made by the UN under resolutions 706 and 712. It increases the amounts of oil that Iraq could export and is more flexible in the arrangements for monitoring distribution of supplies. Were it to implement resolution 986, Iraq could purchase substantial amounts of humanitarian supplies. The hon. Gentleman said that this was about $6 or $7 per person per month. That is approximately $2.5 billion-worth per annum. That compares with $5 billion spent on all civilian goods before the Gulf war. Sadly, Iraq has refused to implement it. We urge Iraq to implement this humanitarian resolution, to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people.

We have also been helping the Iraqi people more directly. Since 1991, we have given more than £72 million to the humanitarian effort in Iraq. The Overseas Development Administration is also spending substantial sums on aid to Iraq this financial year. I pay tribute to the British and other humanitarian non-governmental organisations working in the area, and to the group from the Scottish churches. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State asked me to meet them only last week. I did, and I was pleased to listen to them and discuss matters, but they too recognise that resolution 986 has been implemented by a unanimous international agreement.

The recent developments in the resolution of the Bosnia crisis are an example of sanctions being effective. The promise of the suspension of sanctions was a key factor in bringing President Milosevic to the negotiating table in Dayton, and in bringing about the signing of the peace agreement. The resulting UN resolution which the Security Council adopted last week was a just reward for that achievement.

Let us pray that the leaders in Libya and Iraq rise to their responsibilities, and take the necessary steps to help their people to answer those who demand justice, and to rejoin the international community of good will whose only aim is to work for peace.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Eleven o'clock.