HC Deb 21 July 1998 vol 316 cc893-4
1. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Pursuant to his answer of 6 July—Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 6 July 1998; c. 6—what assessment he made of the implications of his description of the Libyan suspects in respect of the Lockerbie bombing as the perpetrators of that bombing for the conduct of any court proceedings in Scotland. [49914]

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish)

On 10 July, I wrote to my hon. Friend explaining that that was merely a slip of the tongue on my part in failing to refer to the two Libyan accused as the "alleged perpetrators". The Government are committed to a fair trial for the two Libyan suspects.

Mr. Dalyell

I have no supplementary question as I have an Adjournment debate on the subject tonight.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Can the Minister comment on today's reports that the Government are about to change their policy on the locus of any trial? As a lawyer, I have reservations about such a precedent, but does he agree that it is in the interests of the victims' families that the accused should be brought to trial and that that may overcome concern about where that trial should be held?

Mr. McLeish

We are dealing with an act of mass murder. The Government are determined to bring those responsible to justice, and that has always been our objective. It remains our view that a Scottish or a United States court is the place for the trial. We do not accept criticism of the Scottish judicial system and its procedures, in which we have every confidence. However, we are willing to explore any option that will bring justice for the families, and discussions on such options have taken place from time to time.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

May I ask for clarification of that answer? Is today's story in The Guardian true? Have the Foreign Secretary and the American Secretary of State discussed the matter, and is a statement forthcoming shortly? If so, when will the Lord Advocate—the independent prosecutor—make a statement in the House of Lords, to which he is responsible, as he promised to do on 25 June?

Mr. McLeish

It is no secret that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in close contact with his American counterpart on issues of mutual interest, of which Lockerbie is a major one. Options are always being explored, and nothing has ever been ruled out. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish me to speculate on this morning's press comment.

Dr. Fox

Given the Government's record of leaking and speculating to the press before coming to the House, we have an absolute right to know that the Government are not considering a change of policy. I asked the Minister a simple question. Is the essence of the story in The Guardian this morning true, or is it not true?

Mr. McLeish

The House will accept that this is a serious issue. Let me repeat that discussions have taken place—and are taking place—about important subjects, of which this is one. No prudent Government would wish to rule out any option. We are dealing with an act of mass murder, and we owe it to the families to bring those responsible to justice. That is our key objective, and I hope that the House can unite around it. It would be foolish to speculate on press comment. All options are being considered, and the House should have confidence in my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who will do his best for the families and for justice.

Dr. Fox

As we approach the summer recess, is it reasonable to assume that there will be no change in policy while hon. Members will be unable to ask appropriate questions of Ministers? Will the Minister continue to defend the principle—defended by the Government and their predecessors—that there will be no caving in to political expediency? We must not open up the possibility of years of litigation in a foreign court rather than the achievement of the swift resolution of the Lockerbie case that the relatives, Members of the House and the people of Scotland all want.

Mr. McLeish

The hon. Gentleman is simply not listening. I said in my opening comments that our view remains that a Scottish or United States court is the place for this trial. We do not accept criticisms of the system, and we continue to have every confidence in the Scottish judicial system and procedures.

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