– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 31 January 2001.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary 3:31, 31 January 2001

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, 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.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 3:36, 31 January 2001

I am grateful o 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 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.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

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 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.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

In these early stages, is it the view of the British Government that Mr. Al Megrahi alone was responsible for conceiving and implementing that hideous crime?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

No, definitely not. Indeed, the charge sheet charges him with conspiring with other persons unknown to carry out the bombing. Mr. Al Megrahi was charged along with Mr. Fhimah because they were the two named and known individuals against whom we judged we had criminal evidence to bring a charge and secure a conviction. In the case of Mr. Al Megrahi, that proved a valid judgment. If we discover criminal evidence that will enable us to charge others, we will do so.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his clear and helpful statement. Does he agree—as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said today in the Scottish Parliament—that this trial has been a vindication not only of the Scottish system but of the international agreement to bring it about? Does he further agree that it demonstrates to international terrorists and all criminals that there is a system that can bring them to justice and secure a conviction and that they can no longer expect to get away with crimes with impunity? Does it not confirm the urgent need to follow that model and secure an agreement to set up an international criminal court?

Can the Foreign Secretary say a little more about how the verdict may affect relationships between Britain and Libya? Given that Colonel Gaddafi has at least, in principle, accepted the validity of the court and there has been some co-operation recently on the Yvonne Fletcher case, does he agree that this is the opportunity for Colonel Gaddafi to respond by acknowledging that Libyan officials were involved in that dreadful act; to apologise for the acts of terrorism that he says that he repudiates; and to be prepared to make recompense to those who have suffered so tragically? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Colonel Gaddafi should co-operate fully in any possible public inquiry? Understandably, the relatives are calling for that. Has not the pressure on the relatives been shown by the emotional reaction of Dr. Jim Swire to the verdict? I am glad to say that he has recovered, but that was a demonstration of that enormous emotional pressure.

Finally, can the Foreign Secretary tell us what co-operation the British Government would give the American relatives should they decide to pursue a civil action—or would he prefer the employment of some other method to ensure that the matter is resolved in a way that gives Libya an opportunity to prove that it wants to be treated as part of the international community, rather than being pushed further to the fringes?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I fully share the hon. Gentleman's view on Scottish justice. Indeed, during the past few days, it has given me some satisfaction to hear a large number of people from America and other countries who attended the proceedings paying tribute to the proceedings and to the punctiliousness of the court and the panel of judges.

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman as to the importance of an international criminal court. One of the best ways that we can prevent future atrocities is by making it clear that there is no hiding place for those who commit them. I look forward to the support—of which I am confident—of the hon. Gentleman's party when that Bill comes to the House.

On the Libyan leadership, I entirely accept—as the Libyans, too, would be wise to recognise—that, if they want to prove their new credentials and a new spirit towards the international community, the best way to do so will be by rapidly fulfilling the remaining requirements—accepting responsibility for what happened and paying compensation for it.

It is, of course, entirely up to the American relatives, or other relatives, to proceed by taking a civil action in the courts. Any initial payment of compensation must not preclude the obligation on the Libyan Government to meet an award for compensation in a future civil action.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Is it not sheer common sense to conclude that the convicted person can hardly have acted on his own initiative and that the instructions came from the very top in Libya? Does my right hon. Friend agree that justice will be done only when those who gave the instruction for that act of mass murder are also in the dock?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I have already indicated that the charge sheet explicitly recognised that Mr. Al Megrahi did not work alone. We have no criminal evidence that we could take into court with the hope of a criminal conviction against any other individual in a fair and open trial. In the fulness of time, this result may produce other leads; if so, we shall certainly follow them up. In the meantime, whether Mr. Al Megrahi acted alone or under instruction, the Government of Libya must accept responsibility for what a senior official did. That is why we require of the Libyan Government a statement accepting responsibility, and accepting responsibility for paying compensation to those who lost relatives in that terrible atrocity.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the outcome is a vindication not only of the Scottish legal system but of those relatives such as Dr. Jim Swire, who campaigned for the third-country option long before it became Government policy? Although I realise that the Foreign Secretary has not ruled out a public inquiry and I accept his point that the time is not quite right for a decision on the matter, will he at least say that he understands the strength of the arguments made by relatives—that there are wider implications to the atrocity, which go far beyond individual guilt or innocence, and that they could usefully be explored in such a forum?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

On the latter point, of course, there are issues that were not explored during the trial, because the trial focused on the particular question of guilt or innocence. However, it should be pointed out that during the trial, we paraded much evidence and information which for 12 or 10 years previously we had been obliged to keep to ourselves because it would have compromised a trial. In addition to the trial, a fatal accident inquiry took place and the President's commission was set up in the United States.

My colleagues will need to reflect on those matters when they decide whether to order an inquiry. They have not reached such a decision—nor should they until the appeal proceedings are disposed of.

I would absolutely endorse the tributes that the hon. Gentleman and others have paid to Dr. Jim Swire. I was concerned today to hear that he had collapsed, and delighted to hear that he had recovered. It has been a very gruelling 12 years for him and the other relatives. I very much believe that, when they have recovered from an undoubtedly emotional occasion, they can take some satisfaction from knowing that they have played their part in seeing justice being done for their loved ones.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West

Will my right hon. Friend take time to remind the House that at the stage when the trial was agreed on, the Libyan Government made it plain that they would accept absolutely and completely the outcome of the Scottish judicial system? It is important to remind the House and the Libyan Government of that statement.

Will my right hon. Friend thank the League of Arab States, which played such a big part not only in impressing on the Libyans the fact that, if they wanted to return to the international fold, they would have to accept requests to give these individuals up for trial, but in convincing the United Kingdom Government and the international community that the individuals would indeed be given up, enabling us to move towards establishing the court in The Hague?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend is right that the Government of Libya had indicated that they would accept the outcome of the trial, and I can inform the House that in the course of the day, three very senior figures in the Libyan Administration have gone public saying that they accept and respect the judgments of the court.

I take the opportunity to praise not only the League of Arab States and the Arab nations but the other international bodies that helped us to secure the trial.

I particularly mention the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, who worked very hard to secure the terms under which the two men were handed over for trial. I hope to speak to Kofi Annan by telephone tomorrow, and we shall see how we can follow the matter up in the United Nations.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The news that the right hon. Gentleman has just given about the three high-ranking officials from Libya is welcome. He is probably not aware that BBC News 24 was quoting, I believe, a Deputy Foreign Minister from Libya, as saying that the result of the verdict had to be an immediate lifting of sanctions and a compensation package for the Libyan people for the effects of sanctions. May I take it that that is not the view that is coming through via official channels? When does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate receiving an official response from the Libyan Government?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We are already in dialogue with the Libyan Government. We shall continue to be so, not only bilaterally but through the United Nations. We should not necessarily expect the two further steps that we require to take place before the conclusion of an appeal, and such an appeal may well take most of the rest of the year; but we do have a guilty verdict, and against that guilty verdict there can be no question of any compensation for Libya for the effect of sanctions, nor, until the Libyan Government comply with all the requirements of the resolutions, of a formal lifting of sanctions.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

Will my right hon. Friend pass on from everyone in the House our congratulations not only to the police of many countries for this incredible investigation, but to those hundreds—probably thousands—of others outside the police forces who were engaged in the investigation and prosecution?

The disaster led to many changes in airline and airport security, but one suspects that after so many years, some of the memories may have been lost and some of the improvements unmade. Will my right hon. Friend give assurances to the House that he will again contact those of his colleagues, nationally and internationally, inside and outside Foreign Ministries, to evaluate whether further improvements need to be made in airport, airline and transport security? Disasters such as that at Lockerbie could well be replicated, and we do not wish to come to the House five, 10 or 20 years from now to announce the successful outcome of an investigation into another catastrophe such as the one we witnessed at Lockerbie.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I absolutely take the opportunity offered by my right hon. Friend's question to express congratulations to all those who have assisted in any way in this outcome. Many hundreds of members of the public did assist. A key part of the jigsaw was provided by a couple walking the dog on the Northumberland moors, who discovered a fragment of the bomb and who had the wisdom to retrieve it and take it to a police station, without which effort we might not be where we are today. All those who have assisted in any way are entirely entitled to their credit for their part in having secured this conviction.

On safety, we should be clear that it is of course 12 years since the Lockerbie bombing, and enormous changes have taken place in airport and airline security during that period. I am sure that my colleagues at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will carefully consider the verdict, the trial and the evidence to find out whether any further lesson can be learned, but I assure the House and the public that the state of airport security is not as it was 12 years ago when the bombing took place.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

Three of my constituents and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Cadman were killed in the Lockerbie crash. I know from subsequent talks over many years with the Cadmans about the terrible emotional pressures that came from not knowing how the crash could have happened. The court judgment at least begins to piece together how the terrorist route worked and, at last, international justice, based on Scottish law, has brought people to account. Will the Foreign Secretary reaffirm that he and all his European Union colleagues will continue to try to find out what else went on to enable the person who has been convicted today to carry out the atrocity? Will he reassure all the relatives that there will be unceasing liaison with the Libyan Government to try to get them to understand the human catastrophe and emotional pressure that the actions caused?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to maintain that pressure, through dialogue in Libya and international forums, until we ensure that we have secured an appropriate response to the terrible tragedy and the appalling mass murder that took place that night. I also have met Mr. and Mrs. Cadman and know exactly from my meeting them and other relatives the intense emotional distress that the tragedy has caused them. I think that, in many ways, not knowing what happened is much more distressing than knowing the worst. I hope that now that some of the information about what happened is available to the relatives, it may in some way help them to come to terms with the appalling loss that they experienced.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

The Foreign Secretary mentioned the possibility of an appeal. I do not seek to trespass into that field, but can he tell me who will hear the appeal and where it will be heard, bearing in mind the fact that the trial was heard in the Netherlands? Perhaps the Foreign Secretary will take this brilliant example of Scottish justice operating abroad as a method of persuading his opposite number in the Bush Administration that the creation of an international criminal court is a necessity and that the American objections to such a court should now cease?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

First, the appeal will be held in Camp Zeist and Mr. Al Megrahi will remain in detention there pending that appeal, which will be heard by judges of the Scottish Appeal Court. It will not be a formal sitting of the Scottish Appeal Court, which of course cannot sit outside Scotland, but it will be drawn from judges of that court.

Of course I anticipate that, when I see Mr. Colin Powell next week, we will discuss the international criminal court as part of our agenda. We are strongly committed to it and colleagues in the House have drawn attention to the importance of the proceedings for an international system of justice. In fairness, I should record that the statute of the international criminal court does not include acts of terrorism, on the grounds that there is already adequate international law on that point, and already adequate international remedy.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

In recognition of the Foreign Secretary's already great involvement in securing a trial, which many people did not think possible, may I say that it brings tremendous relief to the families involved in the mass murder? I also met Dr. Jim Swire, when I was a junior Transport Minister. Will the Foreign Secretary think carefully about what the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said about re-alerting airports and ports to their security role? One of the dangers is that we become complacent, and we should never become complacent about security.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I can say, now that the trial is over, that there were moments when I wondered whether it would be possible to secure it; but, by perseverance, we got there, and today we can see why all the efforts of so many different people were worth while.

I absolutely endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks. We have made improvements and changes but, unfortunately, those who seek to threaten the safety of passengers also look for ways in which they can change the threat and examine how they can harness evolving technology. For that reason, we can never afford to be complacent.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Labour, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the steadfastness of Dr. Jim Swire and the victims' families. The fact that the trial, which took place in difficult circumstances, is seen to have been manifestly fair is a significant tribute to Scots law, to the authorities who investigated the case and to the lawyers and judges who took part in the case. I refer to the prosecuting team and, most important, to the defence team, who played their part in ensuring that the trial was seen to be fair and that the evidence was properly examined.

I remind my right hon. Friend that it was an expensive investigation and an expensive trial. The universal view is that it was worth every single penny. That has been demonstrated today. Will my right hon. Friend remember that point when this House debates the international criminal court, because those who argue that we should resist its establishment because the expense would be too great are marshalling their forces? Some of them are doing that in the other place at this very moment.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I endorse my hon. Friend's comments on the strength of Scots law, which were in no way undermined by the fact that he is a Scots lawyer. One of the exports that we identify for Scotland in the future is the Scots legal system and legal process.

I would share my hon. Friend's impatience if anybody were to criticise on the ground of cost what has been an historic legal innovation and a remarkable achievement 12 years after such a brutal mass murder. If anyone was now to say that we should not have done what we did because of the cost, the whole House would blow them out of the water. Nobody could possibly contemplate such criticism. Justice cannot necessarily be bought at a price that we can measure only in terms of pounds, shillings and pence.

The same arguments could apply to the international criminal court, but I assure the House that the Government will take a very hard-headed approach to how the burden is shared. That is one reason why we will be anxious to ratify the treaty in the near future. If we are one of the first 60 countries to bring the court into being, we will have a very substantial say in its administration and the method of payment.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

May I invite the Foreign Secretary to join me in paying a particular tribute to the men and women of the air accidents investigation branch of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which is based in Farnborough in my constituency? They did a fantastic job in painstakingly reconstructing the remains of the Boeing 747, the nose cone of which rests in Farnborough and is a vivid testimony to the appalling act of terrorism that was perpetrated. Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the extraordinary skill and professionalism of that group of men and women, whose reputation is revered not only in this country but worldwide?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I have no hesitation in endorsing the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The work of the investigation team from Farnborough played a vital role in the overall inquiry. Indeed, it included the construction of an entire life-sized mock-up of the Pan Am flight before it was destroyed. The team played an important part in taking forward our case.

As the hon. Gentleman has referred to the investigation and rescue teams, I pay particular tribute to all those who, on that awful night and the night after, sought to recover the bodies and to deal with the appalling tragedy. A number of police officers from my constituency attended on that night; they were drafted in to provide assistance. The circumstances in which the police, the Army and other rescue services operated were appalling and harrowing. We should remember with gratitude the enormous dedication that they showed.

Photo of Michael Jabez Foster Michael Jabez Foster Labour, Hastings and Rye

Although the pursuit of justice in a matter such as this should never be compromised by cost, does my right hon. Friend have any idea of how much it will have cost to pursue the case and to hold a possible appeal? In particular, is there any possibility of recovering any of that cost from the United States, which I know is behind with its United Nations contributions? Perhaps it may want to contribute toward the costs, as this has been a joint enterprise in which it has been involved. Is this a matter that my right hon. Friend may wish to investigate?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I think that the frank answer to that is no. We had the legal jurisdiction for where the crime took place and we fully accepted our obligation to ensure that it was investigated and punished. We would not regard the legal costs of the judicial process as appropriate for international compensation. If we can share the burden or anybody else is willing to share it, we will pursue the matter. However, we should accept our obligation to ensure that justice is done, and take pride in the fact that we have now seen it done.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

The Foreign Secretary and other hon. Members have paid generous tribute to my constituent Dr. Jim Swire, whose unremitting efforts on behalf of his murdered daughter have led to today's successful conclusion of the trial. It is important at times such as these to remember the victims. Constituents who remember Flora describe her as a beautiful and talented young woman who was cut down in the prime of her life. Consequently, the Swire family must always live with a great sense of loss. Will the right hon. Gentleman continue not only to pay tribute to Dr. Swire, but to spell out his important role in efforts to bring the murderers to trial and to ensure that one of them was found guilty? Will he also wish Dr. Swire peace of mind, now that after 12 years he finally has a result and has found somebody who is going to spend 20 years of his life in prison for the murder of his daughter and others?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I endorse absolutely the hon. Lady's remarks about her constituent. I have met Dr. Jim Swire many times during the past four years and I entirely respect the enormous vigour, but also patience and perseverance, with which he has pursued the matter.

Two years ago, I attended the service that was conducted in Westminster abbey on the 10th anniversary of the bombing, in which a candle was lit for every one of those who had perished and their names were read out one by one. It was a deeply moving occasion. We should never allow those who died to dwindle into mere statistics. We must remember that each of the victims was an individual and had relatives whose emotional grief during the past 12 years we can barely comprehend.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

As the Foreign Secretary knows, President Gaddafi was head of Government and head of state in Libya in December 1998 and remains in that position now. Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that the restoration to normality of relations between the United Kingdom and Libya while President Gaddafi remains head of state could give all the wrong signals to other countries that promote and propagate international terrorism?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

Diplomatic relations with Libya were suspended by the time of the Lockerbie bombing because of the murder of WPC Fletcher. In 1999, I reported to the House that we had achieved a satisfactory conclusion with the Libyan Government, in which they had agreed to take part in an investigation, to pay compensation and to accept responsibility. Their statement also renounced terrorism. On that basis, we resumed international relations. I point out that the statement was welcomed by the Opposition, who also welcomed the resumption of diplomatic relations.

I should like to clarify that diplomatic relations with a country are not a reward for good conduct, but a basis for communication. They enable us to speak frankly and fully. To be honest, I think that that channel for dialogue might have assisted us in achieving an agreement earlier on the surrender of the two Lockerbie suspects. We will certainly use it in the months ahead, in order to secure a response to the guilty verdict.