HL Deb 13 October 1994 vol 557 cc1004-6

3.32 p.m.

Lord Richard asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the allegations that commissions were paid in respect of the Al Yamamah defence contracts with Saudi Arabia are true.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley)

My Lords, Al Yamamah is a government-to-government deal. The British Government have paid no commissions.

Lord Richard

My Lords, that is as disingenuous and evasive an Answer as I have heard for many years. I ask the Minister specifically whether the Government have any information as to whether Mr. Mark Thatcher was paid £12 million in respect of those agreements negotiated and signed when his mother was Prime Minister. If the Government do not have that information, have they asked for it? If they have not asked for it, will they please now do so and let the world and this country know the truth about this sorry mess?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I answered the Question as I did because I can answer only for Her Majesty's Government. As a lawyer, the noble Lord will know, I think, that it is not for Her Majesty's Government to pronounce on the truth or otherwise of allegations made against others. It is quite extraordinary of the noble Lord to suggest that Her Majesty's Government should act as a court of law in this matter. I can say to the noble Lord that we have no reason to suppose that Mark Thatcher played any part in, or influenced, Her Majesty's Government's negotiations with the Saudi Government. Again, I must stress that it was a government-to-government deal.

Lord Richard

My Lords, that is not what I asked. Was Mark Thatcher paid £12 million? Have the Government tried to find out whether he was paid £12 million and if they have not, will they give an undertaking to try to find out?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord asks me to pronounce on certain allegations. I said that Her Majesty's Government are not a court of law. It is not for me or Her Majesty's Government to pronounce on those allegations. We have no evidence of that sort. If the noble Lord has evidence of that sort, he should give it to the appropriate authorities.

Lord Clark of Kempston

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that that contract between Saudi Arabia and this country has been extremely beneficial to the economy of this country? Will he tell the House how many extra jobs have been created and how many jobs have been preserved because of the contract? Does he further agree that from a balance of payments point of view it is a highly desirable contract?

Lord Henley

My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw the attention of the House to the benefits and advantages of the contract. It has accounted for some 40 per cent. of the United Kingdom's defence exports in recent years. The first phase alone helped to secure some 30,000 British jobs both in the United Kingdom and in Saudi Arabia. It is worth something in the order of £20 billion in defence export sales.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the "appropriate authorities". As a matter of information, who is the appropriate authority?

Lord Henley

My Lords, if an offence has been committed, then obviously that is a matter for the appropriate authorities in whichever country the offence was committed. If an offence has been committed in this country, the noble Lord should give whatever information he has to the police in this country. If that offence was committed in Saudi Arabia, then I suggest that he informs the Saudi authorities.

Lord Morris

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that accusation by innuendo, either within or without Parliament, is at the very best exceedingly unattractive?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I quite agree, and also when, by inference, those allegations are against a Member of this House and a very distinguished former Prime Minister.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, with the greatest respect, will the Minister not accept that the issue is not about the suggestion that the British Government paid commissions? In my view, it would be extremely surprising in relation to a contract of this sort if many people did not receive commissions who were not in fact members of the Government or part of the Government's team. As I understand it, the issue is a public allegation that a British subject may have received a commission on the basis that he had information, rightly or wrongly, which was not necessarily available to the general public. That must be an issue for the British Government.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I answer for the British Government. I made clear, as the noble Lord well knows, that the British Government have not paid and do not pay commissions in such cases. I made clear also that we have seen no evidence of any improper actions. We know of no reason to suppose that Mark Thatcher played any part in, or influenced, Her Majesty's Government's negotiations with the Saudi Arabian authorities. If people have information which supports those allegations, as I suggested, that should be given to the appropriate authorities.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, in terms of the Minister's answer, is it not the case that the Public Accounts Committee of another place may investigate only the role of the Ministry of Defence and has no powers to investigate the role of private individuals? When it meets again next week, it will not be able to go any further in that sense. I make no comment as to whether that is right or wrong. That is how I understand the situation.

The question still arises in relation to all the allegations about the role of individuals in this case which I read plastered in the newspapers of Europe last week and which I have re-read this week. The Minister says that it is not the job of the Government to investigate those allegations. Whose job is it to investigate them, because they are very serious? Also, in terms of what I have been reading since I returned, whose responsibility is it to investigate whether there has been any breaking of the protocol of ministerial responsibility?

Lord Henley

My Lords, it must be for the Public Accounts Committee to decide what it wishes to investigate. It would not be right for me to comment on that at this stage. I can only repeat what I said earlier. We have seen no evidence of anything improper about Her Majesty's Government's negotiations with the Saudi Arabian Government in relation to those contracts. I do not believe that I can take the matter any further.

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