HL Deb 31 January 2001 vol 621 cc706-13

3.56 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement of Her Majesty's Government on the Lockerbie bombing which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"Almost two years ago, I announced that we had secured the agreement of the Libyan Government to the surrender of the two men charged with the Lockerbie bombing. That agreement brought an end to almost a decade of diplomatic stalemate. It was made possible by a unique legal innovation—a trial before Scottish judges under Scots law in a third country.

"I want to record our gratitude to the Government of the Netherlands and to their local authorities for their ready and full co-operation in making available the excellent facilities at Camp Zeist. Their co-operation has confirmed the reputation of the Netherlands as a seat of international justice. I have today written to the Dutch Foreign Minister formally recording our thanks.

"The whole House will wish to express its appreciation of the work of the police in what has been one of the longest and largest investigations in British history. Dumfries and Galloway police and the other police forces who co-operated in the inquiry are entitled to credit for the evidence brought before the court.

"The trial has been open and its proceedings have been punctilious. It is widely agreed that it has proved the fair trial which we promised.

"The panel of Scottish judges has now returned their verdict. They unanimously found guilty Mr A1 Megrahi, an official of the Libyan Intelligence Service. They acquitted Mr Fhimah.

"We accept the verdicts of the court. Mr A1 Megrahi is reported to intend to appeal. The House will understand that in the circumstances I will not comment on the substance of the legal arguments.

"However, the House will wish to know what international action the Government intend to take in the light of these verdicts.

"The initiative to hold the trial at Camp Zeist was taken by Britain and secured by agreement with the Governments of the Netherlands, the United States and Libya. But we made those arrangements in accordance with the resolution of a UN Security Council, which is binding on all member states.

"Libya has complied with some of the requirements of the Security Council, such as handing over the two suspects. In the light of the guilty verdict, we expect the Libyan Government to fulfil the remaining requirements. We therefore require Libya to accept responsibility for the act of its official who has been convicted. We also require Libya to pay compensation to the victims of the relatives.

"Before coming to the House this afternoon, I spoke by telephone to Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State. We are both clear that Libya must now fulfil the requirements of the Security Council in full. We both committed our Governments to close co-operation to achieve those common objectives. I will be able to continue that consultation with Colin Powell when I meet him in Washington next week.

"It is also in Libya's own interests to be seen to cooperate fully with the Security Council. In the light of the conviction of one of their senior intelligence officials, Libya's leaders need to take every opportunity to prove to the international community that they have definitively renounced terrorism and will abide by international law.

"The Lockerbie bombing stands among the most brutal acts of mass murder. The community of Lockerbie suffered a sudden and devastating tragedy. I spoke after the verdicts to my honourable friend the Member for Dumfries, who is today with the local people, who have borne their tragedy with great dignity.

"Every passenger and crew member of PanAm 103 was killed. That night, more than 400 parents lost a child, 76 women and men lost husbands or wives and seven children lost both parents. Nothing can repair the loss of those who were murdered that night or remove the grief of their relatives, but today, at last, those relatives know that in a fair trial before an open court, justice has been done."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Foreign Secretary's Statement. The Lockerbie bombing was, without doubt, a monstrous crime against humanity. We fully endorse the sympathy expressed for all the relatives, whose grief is unending. The trial and the verdict do not alter anything in that respect.

Nevertheless, it was a fair and well organised trial. It has produced a verdict, although there is an appeal. We also endorse the gratitude expressed to the organisers of a remarkable juridical event—a first in history—and to those who, over the years, helped to break the deadlock, including Nelson Mandela, among others, who enabled a reluctant Libya to yield up the two gentlemen who were charged, one of whom has been found guilty.

I have some questions about where we go from here. First, is it correct that the only basis for appeal under Scottish law, under which the trial was conducted, is a miscarriage of justice, or are there other possible grounds for appeal? Secondly, what is the Government's view about future inquiries? It is obvious that other people were involved in that horror. It could not all have been done by one guilty person. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the background to the horror and how it came about. At the time, the Americans said that it was in retaliation for the bombing of Libya, which in turn was in retaliation for the killing of US sergeants in a night club in Berlin. That is a long trail that needs further examination. The background events were not covered in the trial.

Thirdly, presumably there is no question of lifting the sanctions on Libya until there has been some further movement and changes. Does that apply to the other sanctions on Libya, which pre-date the Lockerbie horror and trial? I understand that Colin Powell wants those sanctions to stay in place. Do we agree?

Fourthly, was Al Megrahi an officially recognised member of the Libyan intelligence service? The Statement seems to accept that he was. I think that it is clear. If so, the state of Libya carries enormous responsibility and should be held to account. It should be more than just a question of compensation for victims. What other action will be considered against a state whose henchman, apparently with the authority of that state, has committed one of the most heinous crimes against humanity in modern times?

Can we assume that there is no question yet of diplomatic relations being restored with Libya? There have been suggestions in the press that that might be under consideration. Is it more than a rumour that, if diplomatic relations were restored, the Libyans would want to move back to their quarters in St James's Square, where they murdered Yvonne Fletcher some years ago—something that we are all reminded of whenever we walk past that tragic spot?

Answers to those questions would be helpful. There has been a trial and a verdict. Despite the appeal, that shows that the issue has not been forgotten. Tireless diplomacy and effort by many people have brought us to this point, but I suspect that there is some way to go.

4.6 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I, too, express my deep gratitude to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary in another place. The outcome vindicates the capacity of the international community for an astonishing level of co-operation. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to the intervention of President Mandela, as he then was, in helping to bring the situation about. Kofi Annan of the United Nations and, I understand, the Organisation of African Unity, also helped.

I also echo the tribute paid by both Front Benches to the Netherlands Government. As the co-chairman of the Anglo-Dutch Society, I believe that the outcome vindicates the commitment that the Netherlands Government have always made to the international rule of law.

Finally on that point, great credit should be given to the Scottish police and judges. Perhaps this is a first indication that the concept of an international criminal court may be much more viable than some people have supposed. If so, it is a great credit to Scotland. This shows that the international community can get together to an astonishing extent when faced with crimes against humanity of the enormity of the Lockerbie tragedy.

The leading representative of the victims, Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter died in the explosion and who has shown the extraordinary grace and courage that have characterised the victims in Scotland and outside, said today that, a majestic process is in motion". That is a great credit to the Scottish judiciary.

I have a couple of questions. Can the leader of Libya now be persuaded to admit his country's involvement? I very much share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the fact that the gentleman who has been condemned was an official of the Libyan intelligence agency raises large questions about who authorised his intervention. That link must be explored.

Compensation is another crucial issue. Perhaps most important of all is whether the Libyan Government will now agree to renounce terrorist activities and return to the rule of international law, which, were it to happen, might lay the basis for the possible future lifting of sanctions.

The Prime Minister is reported to have supported a full and open inquiry. Will the Government agree to that? There are very difficult questions to be addressed. The evidence of Mr Giaka, the CIA double agent, collapsed in court under cross-examination. Nevertheless, clearly he played an important role in the whole Lockerbie story. There is the question of why some FBI families cancelled their bookings at the last minute on the flight from Heathrow to New York. There is the question of the role of Mr Edwin Bollier, the Swiss businessman, whose very delicate mechanisms were involved in the explosion of the bomb and who was alleged in court to have been a master of deception. Finally, there is the issue of whether others were involved who so far have not been identified by the procedure of the court.

All those matters lead me to the question about which I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten us—that is, whether there can and will be an open inquiry. I ask that in the context of believing that it was absolutely right to pursue the criminal case first. It was right to deal first with the issue of the guilt or innocence of those identified as possible agents of the terrible actions. However, that now opens the door to the public or judicial inquiry, as the case may be, which the victims of this terrible tragedy have every right to demand.

4.11 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I start by thanking both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their words of praise for everyone who brought about the trial. I join them in again expressing my enormous sympathy for those who were bereaved as a result of this dreadful mass murder. We are, indeed, grateful for the support of many people in bringing the trial to a proper conclusion.

I shall now try to deal with as many of the points raised as I can. If I miss any, I undertake to write to noble Lords and to place a copy of my letters in the Library. I am not absolutely certain about the point that the only basis for an appeal is a miscarriage of justice. I shall require advice from Scottish legal experts and shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about that matter. If an appeal goes forward, it will be heard by five Scottish judges in Camp Zeist. As I said, I shall write to noble Lords regarding the details of what may or may not be the basis of such an appeal. At present, no one knows what grounds of appeal the lawyers for the convicted person will choose to follow.

With regard to the question of sanctions, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, it appears that the United States bilateral sanctions will remain in place. The UK has no bilateral sanctions against Libya. The European Union arms embargo stays in place because that is connected with missile technology and is therefore a completely different issue. UN sanctions against Libya were suspended in 1999 when the two accused were handed over for trial. Those sanctions were only suspended and will not be lifted until the UN is satisfied that the results of the US and UK discussions with Libya about fulfilling the requirements of the UN resolutions have progressed. Therefore, a decision will be taken in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also asked whether the Libyans would wish to return to their previous embassy premises in St James's Square. Obviously, if Libya were to open an embassy in this country, it would be a matter for that country to consider where that should be. However, I am sure that Libya would want to consider sensitivities in the United Kingdom in relation to their returning to an embassy in the square in which WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot and killed. I believe that Libya should take that into account.

I believe that we should await the outcome of the appeal before considering the question of a public inquiry. Over the years, many things have been said and written about this affair, and many theories have been voiced and put forward in the press. So far as concerns the evidence in the case, it is a matter for the Lord Advocate, not the Government, to decide whether any further prosecution or action should be pursued. However, we shall wait until the appeal process has been completed before considering the question of a public inquiry.

I believe that at present that is as much as I am able to provide in the way of detailed answers. I shall write to noble Lords if I have missed any of the points raised.

4.16 p.m.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I, on behalf of many other noble Lords, echo the tributes paid to the families of those who lost their lives in the Lockerbie disaster. I also echo the tributes to the police and to those in the judicial system who have brought this trial to a conclusion—in so far as it has been drawn to a conclusion at present.

Given that we have known the verdict for less than five hours, I understand that it is difficult to comment on the wider questions of the case and to come to definite conclusions. However, I wonder whether my noble friend can clarify a point which may seem trivial but which, nevertheless, I consider to be important.

During the one o'clock news bulletin on the BBC today the whole issue was introduced by stating that one of the accused had been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 20 years to be served before parole could be considered. Three minutes later, in introducing a discussion, the very same newscaster, reporter or commentator at the BBC said that the accused had been sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. There is a huge difference between a life sentence with a minimum of 20 years before parole and an actual sentence of 20 years. I believe that people who perhaps do not follow these matters closely need to be assured that the BBC can report news items accurately. That affects people's judgment of how far justice has been achieved.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I did not hear the broadcast to which my noble friend refers. Again, everyone will agree with his words of sympathy for the relatives of those who were killed. With regard to the sentence, the position was very clear: it was stated to be mandatory life imprisonment for murder. Twenty years was specified as the minimum sentence that would be served. However, that is a matter for the judiciary.

Perhaps I should make clear a point which I dealt with earlier in relation to St James's Square. Perhaps inadvertently I gave the impression that at present we do not have diplomatic relations with Libya W e do. However, the question related to whether the Libyans intend to move into St James's Square. That is the matter with which I dealt. If I gave the wrong impression in relation to that matter, I apologise.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us whether Libya has offered 10 cooperate in investigating the death of Yvonne Fletcher?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, we reached an agreement with Libya on that question and compensation was paid. That case, for better or worse, has been closed. That was why diplomatic relations were resumed with Libya. Although diplomatic relations were broken with Libya, they were not broken over Lockerbie. The breaking pre-dated that. We broke diplomatic relations with Libya because of the death of WPC Fletcher, and we resumed them only when the Libyans agreed to pay compensation and to take responsibility for her death.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield

My Lords, a moment ago, the Minister referred to closure—I believe that that was the word she used—in relation to the Yvonne Fletcher case on the payment of compensation. Although I am sure that all noble Lords understand her point, I hope that in relation to Yvonne Fletcher, whose family I knew, and the Lockerbie case., she accepts that although compensation may be paid, we must stress—I am sure that all noble Lords agree—that there is no way in which any compensation can represent any kind of justice for the horrors that were perpetrated.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely correct. I am sure that we all agree with his comments. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in the other place in the Statement that I repeated, nothing can repair the loss of those who were murdered. That is true of Yvonne Fletcher and of the Lockerbie victims.

Lord Wilberforce

My Lords, I have a question about the possibility of appeal. First, the Minister said that that appeal would be heard by five judges, including the existing three judges. Does that imply that the procedure will be in accordance with Scottish law as that is normally applicable in criminal cases, or is there an international agreement relating to the case, such as that which was necessary to set up the court in the first instance? Secondly, will the noble Baroness give an indication of the length of time that is likely to elapse before an appeal is decided?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the appeal will be heard in front of five Scottish judges of appeal, and the procedure will be conducted entirely under Scottish law. There have been discussions about how long it will be before an appeal is heard and decided. I understand that the best estimate is between nine and 12 months.

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