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23 Jul 2002 : Column 962

Mr. Dalyell: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. O'Brien: We are pressed for time, but I will give way briefly.

Mr. Dalyell: I saw Megrahi for two and a quarter hours, and he explained everything. He told me that he was a sanctions buster for Libyan Arab Airlines, which is a bit different from being a mass murderer.

Mr. O'Brien: Being a sanctions buster may well be somewhat different from being a mass murderer, but it is not my role as a Minister of the Crown to second-guess the finding of a court that has heard all the evidence and looked at all the circumstances. These issues have been looked at very thoroughly and, in my view, so far as we can evaluate this, the conviction was made as a result of the evidence put before the court.

I cannot imagine how a public inquiry would compel Megrahi to set out the details of the motivation that allowed him to act as he did. Public inquiries are poorly adapted to the handling of intelligence material, particularly material obtained through liaison with foreign services. Of course, it must be accepted that those services might not agree to disclose such material. Furthermore, a great deal of time has passed since Lockerbie. Many potential participants in an inquiry will have retired, died or lost detailed recall of some of the issues of the 1980s, even if the tragedy itself will always be burned in their minds.

As the Government cannot see the potential benefit of an inquiry, it is hard to justify such a lengthy and expensive process. With regret for the disappointment that this will cause to the families, I therefore have to repeat the Foreign Secretary's message—the same has been said in the Chamber on several occasions—that we will not be calling a public inquiry.

However, as I told the House this afternoon, we remain open to other forms of review, inquiry, scrutiny or study that will add to the families' and our knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the Lockerbie bombing. We will continue to consider the options. If we can find a focused approach that offers insight, without the shortcomings that I have mentioned, this Government will pursue it. I will seek to keep the House and the families informed, as will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

This is a matter that we are deeply and seriously concerned about, but we want to consider it further. We want to ensure that, when we do make some judgments on how to take the matter forward, they are the right ones. We owe that to the families and, indeed, to all involved.

Question put and agreed to.

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