Previous SectionIndexHome Page


3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the result of the Lockerbie bombing trial.

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 widest investigations in British history. The Dumfries and Galloway constabulary and the other police forces that co-operated in the inquiry can take credit for the evidence that was brought to court.

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

The panel of Scottish judges has now returned its verdict. The judges unanimously found guilty Mr. Al Megrahi, an official of the Libyan intelligence service. They acquitted Mr. Fhimah. We accept the verdicts of the court. Mr. Al 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. However, we made those arrangements in accordance with the resolution of the UN Security Council--a resolution that 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 will 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 relatives of the victims.

Before coming to the House this afternoon, I spoke by telephone to Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State. We both are clear that Libya must now fulfil the requirements of the Security Council in full, and we both committed our Governments to close co-operation to achieve those common objectives. I shall 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 co-operate fully with the Security Council. In the light of the conviction of one of their senior intelligence officials,

31 Jan 2001 : Column 308

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 hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), who is today with the local people who have borne their tragedy with dignity.

Every passenger and crew member of Pan Am 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 a fair trial in an open court has seen justice done.

3.36 pm

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his statement. Today, the whole House and, I suspect, the whole country will have had in its thoughts the families who lost beloved relations and friends when Pan Am 103 was casually blown out of the sky--those who perished in the air and those whose lives ended on the ground when the name of Lockerbie became synonymous with terrorism. For those families, the intervening 12 years must have seemed an endless struggle to come to terms with the brutal and savage attack conducted for a cause 1 million miles from its victims. We should honour those families for their fortitude in loss and their tenacity in never giving up the pursuit of justice. It will be, as the Foreign Secretary says, of some limited comfort to them that today at least one of the murderers has been brought eventually to justice.

This has been from the outset a massive investigation, carried out in conditions of immense difficulty. I join the Foreign Secretary in congratulating the police and all the other authorities for what they have done and thanking the Netherlands' authorities for allowing the trial to take place there.

A number of important questions remain. Although everyone will appreciate the difficulties of reinstating sanctions against Libya, will the Foreign Secretary agree that it would be wrong at this stage to lift them? It is clear that Libya has not fully complied with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. We all want Libya to become a respected member of the international community, but before there can be reconciliation there must be a full acceptance of responsibility and guilt. A Libyan official has been convicted of this atrocity. It follows inescapably that the Libyan Government are implicated. For Libya to re-enter the community of civilised nations, it must unequivocally accept specific responsibility for the bombing of flight 103 as well as for the killing of WPC Fletcher. Libya, as the Foreign Secretary has said, must pay whatever compensation is ordered by the courts.

Can the Foreign Secretary be confident that the Gaddafi leopard really has changed his spots and set his face against the sponsorship of international terrorism?

On the issue of a possible public inquiry, I hope that the Foreign Secretary will tell us today that he has not finally ruled that out. Are there any serious prospects for

31 Jan 2001 : Column 309

further criminal proceedings? If not, surely it could help the process of reconciliation for there to be the fullest scrutiny and disclosure of these hideous events.

Will the Government undertake that Al Megrahi will neither be released early as part of some deal with Libya, nor permitted to serve part of his sentence in Libya?

This is an important step towards the conclusion of a tragic and bitter story. Of course, life will never be the same for the families of Libya's victims, but we stand ready to support the Government in their endeavours to bring about a finality that will enable those families, as much as they can, to move on, and eradicate the continuing threat of international terrorism.

Mr. Cook: May I first welcome the tone and substance of the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks? In response to his questions, I assure him and the House that there is no question of sanctions being lifted until Libya has complied in full with the requirements of previous United Nations Security Council resolutions. The sanctions cannot be lifted without the agreement of the Security Council, which requires the assent of all the permanent members. We will work closely with the United States to progress this matter within the Security Council. The two key steps that Libya must take to comply with the requirements are to accept responsibility and pay compensation. We secured both a statement of responsibility and a payment of compensation in the case of WPC Fletcher two years ago. We will be seeking to make the same progress on the Lockerbie bombing.

On Libya's actions on external terrorism, in 1992--in a statement that was made during the previous Administration--the Libyan Government renounced terrorism, but the requirement placed on them by the Security Council is to show by concrete actions that they mean that statement of renunciation. Libya's response to the verdict of guilty and the remaining requirements placed on it by the Security Council will be an important test of its commitment to abiding by international law, of which the Security Council resolution is part.

There has been no decision to rule out a public inquiry. Indeed, it would be inappropriate to reach a view on such an inquiry at this early stage, in particular, as an appeal is pending. No inquiry could commence before an appeal was concluded.

I have met relatives of those who died in Pan Am flight 103 and I am well aware of the strength of feeling among them. I have conveyed that to my colleagues the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, who would have to decide on an inquiry. They will have to reflect on the strength of those feelings as against the many inquiries and the full criminal trial that have already taken place and decide whether useful information could emerge from any further inquiry at this stage.

I can give the right hon. Gentleman and the House an absolute assurance that there will be no deal with the Libyan Government on the sentence of Mr. Al Megrahi. I do not believe that any Scottish court would wear such a deal, even if we remotely contemplated striking one. As part of the terms of the agreement in 1991, it was agreed that the full sentence would be served in a Scottish prison. At that stage, we rejected the proposal that the person responsible might be sent to a prison in a third country. The United Nations will have access to his prison, because

31 Jan 2001 : Column 310

we have nothing to hide or to fear about the standard of Scottish prisons. I suspect that they will be better than those of Libyan prisons.

Finally, I join the right hon. Gentleman in expressing our sympathy and respect for the relatives. I pay tribute to Dr. Jim Swire and Rev. John Mosey, who have led the campaign for the relatives. It is fair to say that, without their vigilant and determined efforts, we might not be where we are today.

Next Section

IndexHome Page