HC Deb 20 April 1999 vol 329 cc688-9
8. Mr. Iain Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham)

If he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's relations with Libya. [79952]

9. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries)

If he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's relations with Libya. [79953]

13. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

When he next plans to meet the United Nations Secretary-General to discuss the handover of the Libyan Lockerbie suspects. [79957]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

I welcome the handover of the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing in response to our initiative to offer a trial before a Scottish court in the Netherlands. I would like to record our warm appreciation for the generous co-operation of the Government of the Netherlands in making that possible and of the United Nations Secretary-General in arranging the handover.

We have since fulfilled our commitment to suspend UN sanctions against Libya. Further steps in our bilateral relations will depend on satisfactory progress with Libya on the case of WPC Fletcher. In the meantime, the breakthrough in the Lockerbie bombing has ended a 10-year diplomatic stalemate and enables us at last to bring before a criminal court this case of mass murder.

Mr. Coleman

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the most important outcome of this affair is that at last the families of those who were brutally murdered at Lockerbie will be able to see the men accused of that terrible crime stand trial?

Mr. Cook

I have met the relatives in Britain on several occasions in the past two years. I met them again on the day when the two suspects were handed over, and the families expressed their immense relief. Those meetings were difficult because I was unable to share with the relatives the evidence that we hold and the information that we have gathered, because to do so would have prejudiced any future trial. A great advantage of the breakthrough that we have secured is that that evidence and information can come out in open court and be shared with both the relatives and the public.

Mr. Brown

I thank my right hon. Friend for achieving a major success for British diplomacy in ensuring that the two Libyan suspects have been brought forward for trial. The people of Lockerbie realise that, initially, that development will mean only that the town will, once again, be a focus for the world's media. What comments has my right hon. Friend received from UK business about the lifting of sanctions?

Mr. Cook

I immensely appreciate my hon. Friend's support and constant interest in this case. I am well aware of the dignity and restraint with which his constituents have handled their grief in the past 10 years.

We have not been under great pressure from business on sanctions. Business understands that any active trade promotion must wait for the restoration of full relations with Libya, which in turn requires a resolution of the case of WPC Fletcher. British companies are, on the whole, free to trade with Libya. The UN sanctions have now been lifted, as have many of the European Union sanctions. In those circumstances, I am sure that British business will be seeking opportunities for trade, but the extent to which we can help them will depend on the progress that we make with Libya in the case of WPC Fletcher.

Helen Jones

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on at last ensuring that the case will come to a fair trial, for which the families have long waited. He mentioned the case of WPC Fletcher; until further progress is made on that, normal relations, rightly, cannot be established with Libya. What is being done to make progress in that case so that we can move forward in our relations with Libya?

Mr. Cook

We have had exchanges at official level. Last week, I met a representative of the Libyan Government—the first time in 10 years that a Foreign Minister has done so—at the Stuttgart meeting of the Euro-Med conference. On the margins of the conference, I raised with him our concerns about the case of WPC Fletcher. We are pressing Libya to co-operate with the Metropolitan police inquiry, to accept responsibility for what happened and to make a fresh offer of compensation. I hope that we can maintain that dialogue and reach a conclusion on that matter, so that we can not only resume full relations with Libya, but deal with the concerns of WPC Fletcher's family and her colleagues in the Met.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

What will the Government do if, in the course of the trial in the Netherlands, it appears that the bombing of the aircraft was authorised by the Libyan Government and those who were responsible for the authority being given are still present in the Administration?

Mr. Cook

I make it clear to the House, as I have done throughout the case, that the indictment is of the two accused, whom we sought to stand trial. The charges are against them and it is for the prosecutor and the judges now to proceed with those charges. We have, of course, pressed Libya to recognise that, in the event of those two being found guilty—that is a matter for the court, not the Government—we shall look to Libya for compensation. Libya recognised that in its letter to Kofi Annan. I hope that we shall be able to proceed with the trial in due course. I stress to the House that our obligation as a Government was to secure the surrender of the two accused so that a trial could take place. That will be a free, fair trial, and the Government are not under an obligation to secure one outcome from that trial.