Iraq: Sanctions

– in the House of Lords at 11:08 am on 17 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 11:08, 17 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Attorney-General will initiate proceedings against the Weir Group in connection with sanctions against Iraq.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers)

My Lords, the prosecution authorities in England and Scotland are reviewing the information on allegations against the Weir Group in connection with the UN's Iraq Oil for Food programme, such as those contained in the final report of the independent inquiry committee published on 27 October 2005. It would not be appropriate to speculate about any course of action that may follow such consideration.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, is it not true that sanctions against Iraq miserably failed because companies such as the Weir Group were propping up the Saddam Hussein regime with backhanders that enabled him to pay his army and also to maintain his regime based on violence? Is it not also true that if sanctions had been allowed properly to work, there would have been no war? There would have been no military intervention, and thousands of lives would have been saved. I put it to my noble and learned friend that the company has blood on its hands.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers)

My Lords, I certainly would not assent to that at this stage in the consideration of the allegations that have been made. The Weir Group itself first volunteered information about what it had discovered.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

It only volunteered when it had to, my Lords.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers)

My Lords, let us wait for the consideration to take place. As to the programme itself, the Iraq Survey Group reported in 2004 that sanctions had been successful in curbing Iraq's ability to import weapons and technology. The Oil for Food programme also succeeded in providing basic standards of nutrition and health to the Iraqi people. This country worked hard to bring about more comprehensive compliance with the programme, as the report recognises. The circumstances in which military action was taken have been well discussed over the past years, including many times in this House, but I do not agree with the proposition that my noble friend put.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, are the Government thinking more broadly about the implications for sanctions regimes in the light of the Volcker report? If I understand the report correctly more than half the companies involved in the transactions, from a range of different countries, were caught up in paying additional fees back to the Iraqi regime. If that is the nature and structure of a sanctions regime, ought we to be contributing to a broader inquiry into how future sanctions regimes should be managed?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers)

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point about learning the lessons from all the episodes and considering their implications for the present and the future.

Photo of Lord Lyell of Markyate Lord Lyell of Markyate Conservative

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General assure the House, leaving aside any details of the case referred to in the Question, that no prosecutions are brought under his aegis unless they comply with the code for crown prosecutors, which means that there must be a sufficiency of credible evidence to give rise to a realistic prospect of conviction and that prosecution must be in the public interest? Is he aware that some recent cases have caused concern on the issue?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers)

My Lords, on the noble and learned Lord's first question, absolutely. So far as all prosecutions in England and Wales are concerned, it is essential that prosecutors judge objectively the evidence and satisfy themselves that it is sufficient—as he says, that there is a realistic prospect of conviction—and that it is in the public interest to prosecute. Of course, that does not mean that all prosecutions that will be brought succeed. If we only prosecuted cases that were certain to succeed, there would be many people on the streets who had committed offences and got away with them. The fact that a case does not succeed does not mean that it was not right to bring the prosecution. I do not know precisely which case the noble and learned Lord has in mind; one relating to the Army has been referred to recently in which the Judge Advocate General, who decided the case, made it absolutely plain in his judgment that it was right to bring the prosecution because of the serious allegations made. There were other criticisms, which are being looked at, as the House knows.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that it is hypocritical to castigate governments in foreign countries for corruption if we do not put our own house in order? If so, on the basis that Kofi Annan said that there was an immediate need for national authorities to investigate their companies, can he tell us what investigations there are of the other eight British companies named in the Volcker report?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers)

My Lords, my noble friend has been a strong supporter of the OECD regime, and I understand entirely the basis on which she puts her question. As I said in my Answer, the authorities in England and Scotland are reviewing the findings of all allegations that may affect companies or individuals in both countries. I agree that we have to make a strong stand in relation to corruption. I am pleased to say that the Serious Fraud Office has now taken a lead role in relation to overseas corruption cases and has dedicated resources to that end.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend accept that while it is true that the company went to the DTI to volunteer information, it did so only when it knew that the Americans were to hold an inquiry that would identify it?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers)

My Lords, I cannot confirm that. The Volcker report itself notes that a press release was issued by the company announcing that it had conducted an internal review of its programme contracts and had learnt certain things which it then set out in the press release. It is not for me to speculate as to what, if any, motivation was behind that.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, it is of course proper that all allegations should be investigated and I am glad to hear that that is the noble and learned Lord's view. But does this not arise from Mr Volcker's UN special inquiry in which more than 2,000 firms were named, with varying degrees of allegation attached to them, and a string of politicians and officials in a number of countries? Does that not tell us that the Oil for Food programme, which many well intentioned people over the years were urging us to expand on the grounds that it would provide more help to the people of Iraq, in fact turned out to be, tragically, an "oil for kickbacks" programme, which was not helping the poor people of Iraq much at all? Is there not a big lesson for the administration of all humanitarian programmes, especially UN programmes, that should be taken to heart?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers)

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord would expect me to adopt his language; I can say that it is plainly regrettable that sanctions were not able to bring about more comprehensive compliance by Saddam Hussein. I have made the point that that was not due to any lack of effort on behalf of this country. We take the allegations in the report very seriously and that is why we are reviewing them. Obviously, we hope that other countries will take those allegations seriously and review them, too, where they concern their own companies and individuals.