HC Deb 11 June 1997 vol 295 cc1253-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mrs. Jane Kennedy.]

10.35 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Hon. Members should leave the Chamber quietly. There is an Adjournment debate, and an hon. Gentleman is attempting to address the House.

Mr. Dalyell

I refer the House to the Adjournment debate of 20 January 1992, column 153; to my initiation of a debate on the Arab world on 27 November 1992, column 1097 and the debate the following week initiated by Cyril Townsend; to the Adjournment debate of 12 April 1994, column 181; to the Adjournment debate for the summer of 20 July 1994, column 357; to the Scottish Grand Committee Adjournment debate of 13 December 1994, column 40; to the Adjournment debate of 1 February 1995, column 1056, which is the only occasion on which a Foreign Secretary—in that case, Douglas Hurd—has answered a Back-Bencher's Adjournment debate since the war; to the Scottish Grand Committee Adjournment debate of 14 June 1995, column 47; to the Adjournment debate of 29 November 1995, column 1308; to the Adjournment debate of 7 February 1996, column 443; to the Adjournment debate on WPC Yvonne Fletcher 8 May 1996, column 208; to the Adjournment debate of 24 July 1996, column 273; and to the Adjournment debate of 28 February 1997, column 598.

The previous Government's claim that the Lockerbie evidence could not be discussed for fear of jeopardising any future trial of the two Libyan accused is nonsense. When the indictments were announced in November 1991, the United States State Department gleefully released a so-called "fact sheet", which set out the evidence; and the contents of that sheet were widely reported by the press on both sides of the Atlantic and in subsequent books and television and radio programmes. Is not the real reason that the previous Government were so unwilling to discuss the evidence the fact that subsequent investigations by the media and others have found the claims in the "fact sheets" to be hugely flawed?

On the basis of the evidence that has so far come into the public domain, there are experienced members of the legal profession in Scotland—including Robert Black QC, professor of Scots law at the university of Edinburgh, and Peter Anderson of the distinguished solicitors Simpson Marwick, who represented Pan Am—who have come to the view that there is a grave risk that a trial of the two accused Libyans before a court applying Scots criminal law and procedure would collapse at the close of the case for the prosecution. That would happen as a result of the court sustaining a submission, on behalf of the accused, that there was no case for them to answer as the prosecution evidence, taken at its highest, was insufficient in law to warrant a conviction, and hence to justify further continuation of the proceedings.

Even if the Crown has evidence filed away of which we know nothing, how credible is it likely to be, and how is it likely to be treated by a court after the passage of eight and a half years? The greater the delay, the greater the damage to the Crown's case, on account of the dimming of memories and the possible death of key witnesses.

Let these issues be resolved by the setting up of an ad hoc tribunal—or, if not that, a trial conducted at The Hague, as closely as possible under Scottish rules of evidence, before a panel of judges presided over by a Scottish judge, if desired, and the case prosecuted by the Scottish Lord Advocate, if desired.

There are three main planks to the evidence. The first are documents from Frankfurt airport, which purport to show that an unaccompanied bag was transferred from an Air Malta flight to the doomed flight 103. Careful analysis by Mr. Denis Phipps, former head of security for British Airways and one of the country's foremost experts in aviation security, showed the documents to be wholly unreliable and incapable of supporting the conclusions claimed by the official Lockerbie investigation.

The second plank is the evidence of the Maltese shopkeeper Mr. Tony Gauci, who, it is claimed, recognised Abdel Basset Al Megrahi, one of the two Libyan accused, as the purchaser of the clothes that allegedly ended up wrapped around the bomb. Mr. Gauci's statements have been leaked to the media—Radio 4's "File on Four", among others—and they show categorically that he did not identify Al Megrahi, but someone much older and taller.

The third piece of evidence is the fragment of circuit board allegedly from the bomb's timing mechanism. It was traced to a Swiss company, Mebo, which, according to the fact sheets, had sold the entire batch of that type of timer to the Libyan intelligence service. Not only was the timer extremely impractical for use in an aircraft bomb, but Mr. Edwin Bollier, the head of Mebo, and his chief engineer, Mr. Ulrich Lumpart, have revealed that similar timers were also sold to the East German Stasi, which had close links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command, the original suspects in the Lockerbie bombing. Mr. Bollier has never been allowed to examine the fragment allegedly used in the bomb.

I gave my hon. Friend the Minister notice of my questions as it would be quite improper to raise such complicated issues without giving his Department notice. Is it not time to review the decision on Bollier and Lumpart? Mr. Alastair Duff, the defence lawyer of the court solicitors acting for the two suspects, asks that the Crown considers releasing to him at this stage details of the evidence against the two suspects, such as names and addresses of potential witnesses; copies of Crown productions, including forensic and other expert reports; and other relevant information, so that he can investigate the Crown case and prepare his clients' defence. Could that be done?

Is it not time to consider the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in the investigation? It provided the crucial intelligence that helped to link the timing device to Libya. During the 1980s, the agency ran one of its biggest ever covert programmes to destabilise the Gaddafi regime. One of the key players was Oliver North. Another was Vincent Cannistraro, who later headed the CIA's Lockerbie intelligence investigation. Why has Mr. Cannistraro's role not been challenged, when his previous role is a matter of undisputed fact?

Should not the Government also consider the role of the four key forensic experts in the Lockerbie cases—Dr. Thomas Hayes and Mr. Allen Feraday of the Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment, and James T. Thurman and David Williams of the FBI? All those men have given highly dubious evidence in previous cases. Dr. Hayes was part of the forensic team who convicted the Maguire Seven, and whose misdemeanours were exposed by the May inquiry. Mr. Feraday came in for fierce criticism by the judge in the successful appeal of Mr. John Berry in September 1993. The recent investigation into the FBI forensic laboratory by the US justice department's office of the inspector general recommended that both Mr. Thurman and Mr. Williams should be removed from their positions.

What of the drug finds among the crash debris at Lockerbie? A number of witnesses found substantial quantities of drugs, including heroin, yet were warned not to speak, and the official line remained that no drugs were found. One of the witnesses confided in the Rev. John Mosey, who lost his daughter in the bombing. Mr. Mosey passed on the information to a very senior Scottish police officer at the Lockerbie fatal accident inquiry in 1991 and the officer assured him that the witness would be visited by the police. Why did that visit never take place?

In view of the fact that a youth was charged with looting from the site of the disaster, and tried and sentenced to a period of custody, would the Foreign Office care to ascertain why US officials who removed a case from the disaster site without the knowledge, permission or authorisation of the chief constable were not charged with a similar offence? Would the Foreign Office talk to Dr. David Fieldhouse, who was on the site, counted the bodies, and who—for heaven's sake—was the police surgeon, with 14 years' experience, at the time of the Bradford fire, the major disaster before Lockerbie?

On another tack, this matter is important not only because the relatives want to know the truth. Frankly, it is in our British national interest. Kevin Boyle, the chairman of the British-Libyan business group, tells me that, in a market traditionally dominated by British skill, technology and business, the relative success of our European competitors and our relative lack of success is particularly galling.

Within the limits of UN sanctions, Libya offers tremendous opportunities for British companies. The world's largest civil engineering project—the great man-made river project—is in Libya. The proposed Maghreb railway could offer UK companies possibilities even greater than those presented by the channel tunnel, and there still remain vast reserves of oil and gas yet to be fully realised.

Unless the Government's policy towards the UK's outstanding problems between Britain and Libya becomes somewhat flexible, Britain's participation in this market will shrink or, worse, simply disappear. There is already a partial ban on UK companies allowed to tender for phase three of the great man-made river project, on account of an obstructive visa policy that no other European nation implements. This fact alone has, we know, cost us at least £100 million in lost contracts in 1996. We believe that the real situation is worse.

An increasing reluctance by the Libyans to do business with UK firms, and a halt in the issuing of letters of credit, has caused severe hardship to UK firms, culminating in one company going into receivership. There are and there will be other casualties and, in most cases, it will be European firms who benefit from a British demise.

We understand that there are substantial political considerations, but surely, after eight years of sanctions, the only losers have been the ordinary Libyan people, British business, British workers and, of course, the families of the victims of the Lockerbie air disaster.

I have given notice to the Foreign Office of a matter that is not their direct responsibility. Much of the trouble may have started with the dreadful murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, and I have sent the Foreign Office the videos made by Fulcrum Productions. If they are to be dismissed, one assumes that George Styles—the senior ballistics expert of the British Army—does not know what he is talking about on the question of the angles of bullets going into bodies.

One also assumes that Professor Thomas—a friend of mine—does not understand the physiology of what happens when bullets go into bodies; except that he was the senior consultant surgeon at the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast.

Above all, it assumes that Bernard Knight, the Home Office pathologist for 25 years, who was considered sufficiently responsible to be put in charge of the Cromwell street investigation, does not understand the pathology of what happened. All those people have said that WPC Fletcher could not have been shot from the window from which the authorities claim she was shot.

My conviction is that, within hours of Pan Am 103 shattering the Scottish countryside, the highest reaches of the American and British Governments had a pretty good idea exactly what happened. When I speak of the highest reaches, I am referring to Lawrence Eagleburger, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Charles Powell. The Americans then asked Mrs. Thatcher to play Lockerbie low key, and she did. The Lord Advocate of the day was in no position to take on the Prime Minister, least of all that Prime Minister. I trust that a Labour Government will confront the Americans and come clean—if not tonight, at least soon.

10.50 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd)

May I say, without any intention to flatter, that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has a well-deserved reputation for personal courtesy, which is matched only by his diligence in pursuing the issues he takes up. I thank him for his courtesy in giving me notice of at least some of the issues that he raised this evening. It is important to place on record, for him and for those listening to the debate in the Chamber and more widely, his tenacity over a long period. Many people are not sure that they have received definitive answers on the issue.

I well remember when, just before Christmas 1988, the first news reports began to come in about a plane disappearing. Eventually the full scale of the tragedy that took place over Lockerbie became apparent. What happened there was an outrage perpetrated by evil people. On that, the whole House would be at one.

Even after the time that has passed, I place on record my deep sympathy for those who lost family on that night. I also pay tribute to all those who assisted in and around Lockerbie on the night of the disaster and on the days following. I am conscious that the scale of the operation, from the sensitive matter of how to deal with the deceased and their distraught relatives to the collection of the debris from the aircraft, was on a scale well beyond any disaster that we have ever experienced in this country. I recognise, too, the work done by the Dumfries and Galloway constabulary, who conducted the investigation.

I understand the frustration of the bereaved relatives, who have not only had to cope with their private loss, but whose grieving process has been made more difficult by their uncertainty about the significance of the evidence and the lack of progress. Some eight and a half years on, we seem no nearer to holding a trial of those accused of the bombing than when the Lord Advocate announced the issue of warrants against the two Libyan intelligence officers in November 1991.

It is only five and a half weeks since the Government were elected. No one can come to the issue entirely fresh, but I and my colleagues in the Foreign Office and the Scottish legal offices approach it with a freshness of mind, not with preconceived notions. We are new to the scale of the detail involved. I know that my hon. Friend understands that he is ambitious in his expectations of Ministers' capacities. We must master a difficult brief that is spread over the eight and a half years since the Lockerbie disaster.

I stress that Lockerbie is not, and cannot be, an issue of low or no priority to this Government. It is an important issue which we shall continue to visit. In the coming weeks, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers will give the matter the considered attention it rightly deserves, and, together with the Lord Advocate, will consider the best way of handling its international implications.

However, I underline the fact that I am not here tonight to raise expectations that this Government's views will differ from those of the last Government, because I think that it would be unfair to raise people's hopes at this stage. The Government are well aware that the Scottish petition warrants were obtained only after the most extensive criminal investigation known in this country. Evidence amassed from that investigation enabled the then Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie—I take account of my hon. Friend's comments—to seek the issue of petition warrants for the arrest of the two Libyans accused.

The then Lord Advocate, together with his two successors, concluded that the evidence was sufficient to justify the obtaining of, and insistence upon, those petition warrants. I confirm that my noble and learned Friend, the present Lord Advocate, has been fully briefed about the evidence forming the factual background to the petition warrants. He is also of the view that the evidence is sufficient to justify the proceedings that have been instituted against the two Libyans accused.

My hon. Friend mentioned the fact that some people may have reservations about the sufficiency of the evidence against the two Libyans accused. Such reservations are entirely understandable when those who attempt to assess its sufficiency are not privy to the totality of that evidence. I know that this is a matter of frustration to the relatives, but the prosecuting and investigating authorities have been very careful not to disclose details of the evidence in the case while criminal proceedings are pending, because of the threat that that could present to any criminal trial of the two accused.

The Lord Advocate is the appropriate person to assess the sufficiency of this case, and, as I have said, no fewer than four Lords Advocate have assessed the case. The present Lord Advocate certainly does not fear the former Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, and he does not allow his judgment to be affected.

My noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate also remains of the view that the Lockerbie investigation should not be regarded as closed. Anyone with any evidence relevant to the inquiry should make it available to the Dumfries and Galloway constabulary. My hon. Friend has raised several detailed points, and I do not think that it will assist him or the House if I try to respond to them tonight. I shall re-examine his points in detail, as I do not want to appear to dismiss them without examining them properly.

My hon. Friend described the delay in bringing this matter to trial as quite unacceptable. That delay has been occasioned by the Libyan authorities' failure to make the two accused available for trial in Scotland or in the United States—as required not by this country, but by the United Nations Security Council sanctions.

As long ago as September 1993, the Libyan authorities expressed their satisfaction with assurances given to them through the United Nations Secretary-General concerning the fairness of trial in Scotland. Indeed, the Libyan authorities said at the time that it would encourage the two accused to surrender themselves for trial in Scotland.

The Libyan Government should therefore arrange for the surrender of their two nationals for trial in Scotland, which is the proper manner of determining guilt or innocence in respect of any crime committed in Scotland. Like my hon. Friend, I have faith in Scottish law and in the Scottish judicial process. It is not acceptable to allow the accused to dictate the terms and circumstances of their trial.

My hon. Friend asked the Government to accept what he believes to be a genuine Libyan offer regarding trial in a third country. The question for us is whether such an offer is genuine. The Libyan position is not as clear as some might suggest. The Libyans say that they support ideas for trial in a third country, but they seem to have a number of variants in mind.

In a recent approach to the US relatives—which is the same approach that they made to the Organisation of African Unity at the recent conference in Harare—they speak of three options, to which my hon. Friend also referred in his speech. They are a trial in a third and neutral country determined by the United Nations Security Council; a trial by Scottish judges at the International Court of Justice at The Hague in accordance with Scottish law; or a trial by a special criminal tribunal at ICJ headquarters.

There are other suggestions also. However, the Libyans always fall short of giving any explicit undertaking—I hope that hon. Members are listening carefully—that they will ensure the appearance of the accused at any such trial. Indeed, they argue against trial in Scotland or the United States by saying that they are powerless to send their nationals to either country.

One factor that we shall need to consider extremely carefully is the extent to which this professed inability to surrender the accused applies equally to other countries—third countries—where we are asked to establish a court. It seems that we are being asked to rely on the good will of the accused themselves to present themselves to a court where they have said that they are prepared to stand trial. We shall need to consider carefully, and we will, what weight to attach to the chances of their actually doing this.

My hon. Friend has raised a number of points that I shall at least place on record in the form of a partial response. He referred to Mr. Vincent Cannistraro and suggested that the investigation might have been manipulated effectively by Mr. Cannistraro, formerly of the CIA. The investigation proceeded on the same basis as any other criminal inquiry—that is, by interviewing witnesses and recovering evidence, albeit on an enormous scale. The notion that all these inquiries could be manipulated in such a way that a particular result would be arrived at is fantastic. It would be a fantastic coincidence or a fantastic conspiracy.

No fewer than four Lords Advocate and four chief constables would have had to be party to such an attempt to pervert the course of justice. I must place that on record, because serious implications follow on from the view that a conspiracy could have taken place.

My hon. Friend talked about a suitcase full of drugs at Lockerbie not being fully considered. He asked specifically why the witness who recovered those drugs was not interviewed. I am advised that no significant quantities of drugs were recovered in the course of the Lockerbie investigation. Only small users' quantities of cannabis were found.

My hon. Friend asked about the possibility of evidence being released to Mr. Alastair Duff of the defence lawyers. He asked whether this would not give them the opportunity to investigate and prepare their case. I am advised that that is not possible. The Lockerbie criminal investigation has throughout been conducted in the same manner as any criminal inquiry. In any other criminal case, details of the evidence to be led in proof of the charges are given to the defence once the accused has appeared before the court. There is no reason for departing from normal practice in the Lockerbie case.

I am conscious of the fact that this is the first opportunity that I have had to answer a debate on the issue before us. My hon. Friend has asked for details, and he requires answers. I know that tonight I cannot do justice to every query that he has raised. I can say with sincerity that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, other ministerial colleagues in the Department and I have entered into the question of Lockerbie with fresh minds and no preconceived notions. There has certainly been no attempt to cover up, if that has been the allegation in the past.

I shall ensure that the issues that my hon. Friend has raised during the debate and others will be considered properly. My ministerial colleagues and I intend to be fully briefed on the matter. Not one Minister, but all concerned, should have proper knowledge, and that will be gained. We shall perhaps be in a position to answer his questions more fully.

Mr. Dalyell

May I make it clear that I would have wished to give my right hon. and hon. Friends more time to go into the complexities of the issue? The Minister will understand, however, that parliamentary life is such that it is not every day of the week that one secures an Adjournment debate. With 300 Labour Members trying to secure Adjournment debates, one must count oneself extremely lucky to get such a debate at all. Beggars cannot be choosers. I appreciate, of course, my hon. Friend's position.

Mr. Lloyd

I make no complaints about my hon. Friend using the mechanisms that Parliament gives us all as Members to pursue a case, and he has pursued the Lockerbie case for many years. I have no complaints about that. Perhaps I have the problems, however, and not him.

We have already received a number of representations from relatives in the case, along with those made by my hon. Friend. Generally, the Government have been asked to find a way to unblock the impasses with Libya, as my hon. Friend has done tonight. The motive of the relatives is to bring about the long-promised trial of the accused or to find some other way in which the evidence might be revealed, so that they might fully understand the case against the accused Libyans. I can understand that. I have tremendous personal sympathy with my hon. Friend's motives, along with those of the relatives. It would be premature, however, to say how we will address them.

I can assure my hon. Friend and the House, and all those concerned, that we shall take into consideration all the views that have been expressed to us since taking office. We shall give proper weight to those deliberations.

11.4 pm

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

Before my hon. Friend the Minister resumes his place—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Does the hon. Member have the permission of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) to intervene?

Mr. Dalyell

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Grant

I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Minister would consider having some sort of discussions with the Libyans for him to ascertain their position? He has stated that the Libyans were putting forward a number of proposals. I think that he said that the Libyans had three positions. I think that it is incumbent on my hon. Friend not to accept the propaganda that has gone on in the past but to speak to the Libyans, either through an intermediary or someone else, so that he can at least ascertain—

The motion having been made after Ten 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 five minutes past Eleven O'clock.