HC Deb 28 February 1997 vol 291 cc598-606

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

2.34 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In 1993, with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), I visited Iraq; we did so at our own expense. The sanctions were cruel and counter-productive, but, as my hon. Friends the Members for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) will discuss Iraq, I shall discuss Libya, not simply because of the grave injuries to the families who lost their loved ones eight long years and two months ago, but on account of the on-going damage to British industry and our relations with the Arab world and Africa.

I do not exaggerate. I quote from Nelson Mandela's letter to the Prime Minister: I understand that Colonel Qhaddafy is prepared to allow the individuals to be tried in Europe or elsewhere and much as I respect the integrity of your courts, I wondered whether you would not give consideration to such an alternative arrangement. In making this approach, I am conscious of the policy of your Government which you previous explained to me, but do so in the interest not only of Libya but of the continent, the Muslim world and international reconciliation. The Prime Minister wrote to me on 30 May 1995: I will of course be replying to your question about my correspondence with Nelson Mandela, but I am afraid I will not be agreeing to place it in the Library". This is the ninth Adjournment debate that we have had on this subject, but it takes place in very different circumstances from those of all previous debates, because something has happened; that something is that James T. Thurman, called often Tom Thurman, who was pivotal to the whole of the Government's case on Lockerbie, has been assigned to other roles for having fabricated forensic evidence.

I ask the Minister—I warned him that I would do so—what reports the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has received from the United States of the judgment that has been made on Thurman, because he is the man who, on 15 June 1990, claimed identification of the crucial timing device. He is the man who, with Williams, interrogated Narwhan Khreesat, and I am told that, at that crucial interview, the Scottish police were not welcome, and were excluded.

For 34 years, I have dealt with and known Lord Advocates. I have high regard for Crown agents, but I must say to the Crown Office, as the longest serving Scottish Member of Parliament, that I do not believe that they now have the evidence, which they claim to have, to conduct a successful court case. Indeed, I believe that the last thing they want is a trial, either in Edinburgh or in The Hague, because the professor of Scots law at the university of Edinburgh and many others in legal Edinburgh—including Peter Anderson, the lawyer of Simpson Marwick, who has been much involved—believe that any Scottish judge would throw out the case within hours, on the grounds that there was no case to answer.

Nothing better illustrates the weakness of Washington's case against Libya than its cynical misuse of the law to destroy the character and reputation of anyone who dares to challenge its position on Lockerbie. Juval Aviv, the investigator for Pan Am until his report implicating the CIA was leaked to the press, was immediately subjected to a relentless campaign of harassment and vilification by the FBI. For five years, a squad of agents spent thousands of man hours raking through his affairs for something that might discredit him.

Charged last summer with faking a report to GEC in 1991—much to the surprise of GEC, which had not complained—Aviv was arrested by the FBI in a blaze of publicity designed to show that he was in the habit of producing fraudulent reports. The case against him was so obviously contrived, however, that a federal jury summarily threw it out. Concurring with the verdict, the judge observed that the charges had plainly been brought for another purpose—the inference, in his view, being that they were connected with Aviv's Lockerbie report.

Aviv has written to the Crown Office. I warned the Minister that I would ask whether the Crown Office is minded to apologise to Aviv; otherwise, it will find itself involved in a court case.

Still more scandalous has been Washington's systematic persecution of Lester Coleman III, the former American intelligence agent who publicly linked the Lockerbie disaster with the activities of the Drug Enforcement Agency in the middle east. Facing a similar trumped-up charge and a volley of death threats against himself and his family, Coleman sought asylum in Sweden, where he collaborated on a book, "Trail of the Octopus", with Don Goddard, in which he described what he had seen while stationed in Cyprus and mentioning its relevance to the Lockerbie inquiry.

On the eve of the book's publication, Coleman was indicted in New York on charges of perjury based on a sworn statement that he had made some years earlier in a civil suit by Pan Am against the United States Government. Clearly intended to deter the publishers from bringing out the book, the charges were not only as flimsy as those levelled against Aviv but entirely without precedent in United States' law.

Last October, unwilling to expose his wife and young family any longer to the rigours of life on the run, Coleman decided to return to the United States and clear his name, confident that the indictment would never stand up in court. Today, however, it begins to look as though that the charges against him will never be put to the test.

Although he was clearly subject to some risk, Coleman returned home voluntarily to stand trial. As a perjurer in a civil matter, he is hardly a threat to the community, yet bail was set at such an impossibly high level that he was left literally to rot in a federal detention centre.

In January, Coleman was diagnosed as suffering from cancer and had a malignant lump surgically removed from his left shoulder. He was sent back to prison in shackles and handcuffs with a supply of dressings, which he was left to change for himself. Inevitably, without proper treatment, he would have become grossly infected, and only the most strenuous effort on behalf of his volunteer defence attorney succeeded in getting him transferred to the prison wing of a New York public hospital, thereby almost certainly saving his life.

By returning unexpectedly to face the music, Coleman has placed his accusers in a serious quandary. To prove its case against him, Washington will be obliged to open its Lockerbie and intelligence files, which it has strenuously resisted doing for the past eight years on the grounds of national security. As it is unlikely to change its mind now, its only alternative in the long run is to drop the charges, although that would be tantamount to admitting that they should never have been brought in the first place.

Faced with that unpalatable choice, it would seem that the Justice Department has elected to confine Coleman indefinitely in conditions that would disgrace a banana republic, in the hope that his declining health will eventually spare Washington the choice of taking either course.

Coupled with the fragility of its forensic evidence, that ruthless campaign by the FBI to destroy any witness who might seriously challenge the Anglo-American position on Lockerbie serves to call the entire case against Libya into question.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I understand that those hon. Members standing have the permission of the hon. Member whose debate it is, but do they have the Minister's permission to speak?

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

If they are brief, yes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Harry Cohen.

2.45 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I am grateful to both the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whom I congratulate on getting this Adjournment debate. He will know that I tried for my own debate on Iraq.

Mr. Phillipe Heffinck, UNICEF's representative in Iraq, said: 4,500 children under the age of five are dying every month from hunger and disease". That is deeply shocking.

Three days after my parliamentary questions in December, the "oil for food" ban was lifted, but the main sanctions regime continues.

I pay tribute to UNICEF for its relief operations. In a briefing, UNICEF's UK committee says that there is a "great need countrywide" in Iraq. It goes on: The health and nutrition situation remains critical. Deteriorating living standards coupled with lack of immunity to the diphtheria toxin, in a large spread of the population over the age of five, are likely to result in a spread of the disease. Hospitals suffer from lack of disinfectants, in addition to the shortage of essential drugs and blankets needed for the cold winter. Deterioration in the quality of drinking water"— which UNICEF describes as "critical"— has resulted in an increase of diseases such as typhoid and hepatitis. UNICEF says that 6,900 severely malnourished children under the age of five were admitted to its 14 nutrition rehabilitation centres in the space of just one month, and that that is exacerbated by high food prices. In 1995, UNICEF adopted an "anti-war agenda", which insists on protecting the rights of children from the impact of wars, and demands that every effort be made to minimise the conflict's impact on the young. That is plainly not happening in Iraq.

On 19 December 1996, Mr. Shevlin, managing director of Sterling Fluid Systems Ltd. of Reading, wrote to me: We have recently visited Baghdad and were shocked to see the impact that the UN sanctions are having. The lack of food and basic medicines are hurting the citizens of Baghdad. Those in power appear somewhat protected. I was left with the impression of those who are least able to influence events are suffering most. It is shocking that the west has used the blunt sanctions weapon, with its consequences on children and the vulnerable. Other measures could have been put in place, such as suspending air links and foreign travel or freezing overseas bank accounts, targeted at the regime and the ruling elite rather than the citizenry and children. The effect of the sanctions has been barbarous.

Last week, the New Statesman referred to Madeleine Albright's campaign for the US Secretary of State's job. She responded on American television to a question about the sanctions-related deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children by saying: We think the price is worth it. That is what she said about the death of half a million children. It is revolting thinking, which should not be embraced by our Government.

It is time—indeed, it is long overdue—to lift those cruel sanctions.

2.48 pm
Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the Minister for allowing me to make a brief intervention.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), I want to speak about Iraq, but may I first add one comment to what my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said about the possibility of trial in a third country for those accused of the Lockerbie bombing? Although I agree with all the points that President Mandela made in his letter to the Prime Minister, there is another argument for holding a trial in a third country at the earliest opportunity: the interests of the families of the victims of Lockerbie.

I shall speak on the situation in Iraq on the same lines as my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton. I received a letter only this week from a constituent, Mrs. Laura Ann Sawyer, whose family has had a long association with Iraq and whose father was involved many years ago with the design and building of the bridge at Basra. Her teenage son has been staying for the past 18 months in Iraq with his grandparents, and became ill while he was there. That has brought home to his family in Thamesmead the implications of the sanctions.

In her letter, my constituent points to the lack of drugs, medical supplies and equipment, which she says is unforgivable. She states that that is hurting not the government but the person in the street. It is nearly seven years since the finish of the gulf war, and the people are still being penalised for it". She adds: To my mind my son has had to suffer purely for political reasons, purely for the United Nations and the Western world to appear as the saviours keeping down the arch enemy Iraq. Just spare a thought for the likes of my son and the thousands of children who have suffered and died within Iraq—can you imagine what it has been like in the hospitals trying to treat desperately ill or malnourished children caused by the blockade, without adequate medical facilities and medicines? My constituent cites the facts that have been enunciated by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton about the number of children who have died. Mrs. Sawyer calls that the "massacre of the innocents". She asks in her letter—I put this point to the Minister— how many countries are there in the world where the leadership is not only doubtful but tyrannical and corrupt, have they sanctions imposed on them? How many military dictatorships and juntas are there in the world where the high street travel companies send out package holiday makers to their shores? I can tell the Minister one such country: Turkey. I have been to Turkey, to Diyarbakir and to south-east Turkey. I have seen the destruction of the villages and the massacre of the Kurdish population. There is nothing that Saddam Hussein has done against his Kurdish population that has not been done by the Turkish Government against their Kurdish population. Why do we have sanctions against Iraq, but supply the arms to Turkey to persecute its Kurdish population?

Let us have an end to the hypocrisy, and let us stop the massacre of the innocents in Iraq.

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on securing the Adjournment debate—his 10th on the same subject, I believe. He asked whether sanctions against Libya are justified, in view of the doubts that he expressed about Libyan responsibility for Lockerbie.

I am grateful to the hon. Members for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) for their contributions. I shall try to respond in the time available.

What are the hon. Gentleman's doubts? Do they really undermine the position that has been taken consistently by the Government since my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate issued the petition warrants against two alleged Libyan intelligence officers on 14 November 1991?

I begin by reminding the House that those warrants were issued after the biggest criminal investigation in British history. Two hundred and seventy innocent people from 22 countries died at Lockerbie. The evidence was gathered painstakingly by investigators from the Dumfries and Galloway constabulary and the United States. It led the prosecuting authorities in Scotland and the US to conclude that there were charges to be answered before a Scottish or US court.

It is not the job of the Government to prejudge the outcome of any trial, so I will not be drawn into making assumptions about whether the evidence will be enough to secure a guilty verdict. In order not to prejudice the outcome of any trial, I shall not make any comment of substance on the evidence. I am reassured that three successive Lord Advocates, who have had access to the evidence against the accused Libyans, concluded that the evidence justified, and continues to justify, the proceedings against them. It remains the Government's position that the accused Libyans should stand trial in Scotland or the US.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow mentioned Mr. Thurman, an FBI forensic scientist. The Prime Minister told the House on 20 February that the charges against the accused Libyans did not depend on any evidence that Mr. Thurman might give.

The United States authorities have told us that the FBI has transferred Mr. Thurman to other duties while the activities of the FBI laboratory are investigated by the Department of Justice's Inspector General. His report is yet to be published. There is nothing to suggest that it will reflect in any way on the Lockerbie case, but, if anything relevant emerges from it, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will evaluate the implications most carefully.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of the acquittal of Juval Aviv on charges relating to an allegedly fabricated security survey. I refer hon. Members to the answer given in the Official Report of 27 January 1997, column 70, and add that the Crown Office statement released in relation to the Maltese double cross in May 1995 did no more than set out certain matters of public record as they existed at the time.

In the meantime, the hon. Gentleman asks whether we are right to maintain United Nations sanctions against the Libyan Government. The answer is unequivocally yes. The petition warrants in respect of the two accused assert that the accused, while acting as Libyan Government intelligence officers, conspired to blow up a civil airliner, and caused the Lockerbie bomb to be placed on PA103.

It is entirely correct that the Government should look to the Libyan Government to assist with the investigation—in particular, to arrange for the two accused to be made available for trial in Scotland or the United States, and to pay appropriate compensation. Sanctions were imposed by the international community in 1992 and 1993 as a mark of its condemnation of Libya's failure to co-operate with the United Kingdom, United States and French authorities over Lockerbie, and the murderous bombing, allegedly also by Libyans, of a UTA aircraft in September 1989.

Libya's record of state sponsorship of terrorism is, rightly, a matter of deep and abiding concern. I freely acknowledge that Libya has provided some answers to our questions about its help to the Provisional IRA in the 1970s and 1980s. Libya at least offered France some belated assistance over the UTA bombing when it allowed the French examining magistrate, Judge Bruguière, to visit Libya last summer—and not before time. As a result of his investigations, the judge issued two further warrants against Libyan intelligence officers, bringing to a total of six the Libyan officials accused in connection with the UTA bombing. The French authorities have yet to declare their satisfaction with the Libyan co-operation.

I also remind the House that, in October 1996, the German authorities issued arrest warrants against four former Libyan intelligence officers in the case of the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Berlin in 1986, in which two people were killed and many were seriously injured.

Where will this sordid catalogue of Libyan involvement in acts of state-sponsored terrorism end? The Libyan Government have a lot to answer for—not least a huge stockpile of arms and explosives, including Semtex, that is still being used by the Provisional IRA. The only reasonable conclusion is that the pressure of UN sanctions must remain for as long as Libya continues to defy the will of the international community.

I do not welcome our highly unsatisfactory stand-off with Libya, but it is not of our making. Let me explain why the current Libyan campaign to persuade observers of its good intentions concerning trial in a third country is actually a smokescreen for continued Libyan intransigence, and why it would be wrong for people of good will to be taken in by Libyan so-called offers to hold the Lockerbie trial in a third country.

Accepting a trial in a third country would mean that we had bowed to the demands of suspected terrorists over the location and nature of the court that tried them. It would also imply that we accepted the argument that the accused would not get a fair trial in Scotland. The Security Council determined that the trial should be held in Scotland or the United States. Quite apart from our objections of principle to a trial outside Scotland or the US, there would be enormous practical and legal difficulties.

Frankly, we do not believe that the Libyans intend that any such trial should take place. They argue that they cannot force the accused to leave Libya for trial in Scotland or the US in the absence of an extradition agreement with either country. I ask what powers they would have to ensure their attendance if we were to set up the arrangements for a so-called "Scottish" trial in The Hague when there is no extradition agreement between Libya and the Netherlands?

I am conscious that my remarks will provide scant comfort to the relatives of the victims, and I am sorry about that. I assure them that we have looked hard for ways out of the current unsatisfactory solution, but so far we have been unable to identify a solution. We need a change of heart by the Libyan Government. If they are serious about wanting to rejoin the international community, they should surrender the two accused to a fair trial in Scotland or the United States.

As for opportunities for British firms, I share the concern of the hon. Member for Linlithgow if British firms are losing valuable export markets. I have received letters on the subject. I am sorry, too, if good friendships developed in better times with the Libyan people now seem to be stretched. The fault lies with the Libyan Government, not the Libyan people. Our difficulties go back even further than Lockerbie—to the murder on a London street of Woman Police Constable Fletcher in April 1984. We are not prepared to allow commercial considerations to compromise our position of principle on these two particularly sensitive issues.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Hanley

I do not have time to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene because of the contributions of his hon. Friends. I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon.

We should not forget why the United Nations applied sanctions. Following Iraq's illegal occupation of Kuwait in August 1990, the UN imposed measures to ensure Iraq's full compliance with the terms of the relevant Security Council resolutions. That was necessary to secure compensation for Iraq's victims, to extract from Iraq an account of the fate of those Kuwaitis and others missing since the occupation, and to ensure that Iraq would not again pose a threat to regional security.

The need for full Iraqi compliance with the relevant Security Council resolutions remains just as strong today. Saddam Hussein remains a threat to regional security and to his own people. There are articles in newspapers today about Iraq's chemical threat, even to European countries. I believe that Saddam Hussein's brutal attack on Irbil last August, by military forces including heavy artillery and tanks against civilian targets, was a clear violation of Security Council resolution 688, which demands an end to the regime's repression of the Iraqi people.

It is now six years since Iraq invaded Kuwait and UN sanctions were imposed against Iraq, yet Iraq remains far from compliance with its obligations under the relevant Security Council resolutions. Of particular concern are Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Before the Gulf war, Iraq possessed enough chemical and biological weapons to destroy the world's population several times over. Saddam Hussein's continued desire to procure and produce these lethal weapons poses a serious threat to the region.

The UN special commission was established in 1991 to oversee the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass-destruction programmes. We strongly support its work, and we welcome Ambassador Rolf Ekeus to the United Kingdom. The commission has made good progress, despite Iraq's repeated attempts to obstruct and deceive it. We must remain vigilant. The special commission's chairman, Ambassador Ekeus, has warned that he does not have the full picture. I doubt that Iraq will ever tell the whole story while Saddam Hussein remains. The prospect of him retaining these horrific weapons does not bear thinking about. Until Iraq decides to comply fully with the demands of the Security Council's sanctions, they must remain.

I share hon. Members' concern about the humanitarian situation in Iraq. Sadly, Saddam Hussein does not share this concern. It is his failure to meet the UN's demands which prolongs the Iraqis' suffering. A relaxation of sanctions would not help the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein does not care for them. Experience shows that, if he were allowed to renew uncontrolled exports of oil, he would use the revenue not for food and medicine but to rearm and threaten the region again.

I remind Opposition Members that food and medicines have never been subject to sanctions. We continue to support the efforts of the UN and non-governmental organisations in Iraq. Since April 1991, the United Kingdom has contributed over £92 million in aid, including last year £1.7 million on activities that directly benefit Iraqi children. I pay tribute to the work of the United Kingdom's NGOs in northern Iraq.

We have done much to help alleviate the Iraqi people's suffering. As I have said, we have provided over £90 million in aid since 1991, making us the second largest donor. We co-sponsored Security Council resolution 986, which allows Iraq to export $1 billion-worth of oil every 90 days, mainly for the purchase of humanitarian supplies. Saddam Hussein's failure to agree to its implementation for over 18 months has caused further unnecessary suffering to the Iraqi people.

I am delighted that the first consignment of humanitarian goods, purchased under Security Council resolution 986, is due to reach Iraq, possibly this weekend. That is good news for the Iraqi people. We want the benefit from Security Council resolution 986 to go to the Iraqi people, not the regime. The resolution contains safeguards to ensure that that happens. The UN has rightly insisted on implementing strictly the safeguards despite Iraqi attempts to undermine them. Each Iraqi should receive a significant increase in his—

The motion having been made after half-past Two o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes past Three o'clock.