BAE Systems: Al Yamamah Contract

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:33 pm on 14th December 2006.

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Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers) 5:33 pm, 14th December 2006

My Lords, I first thank both noble Lords for welcoming the fact that the Statement has been made. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for what he said. He is absolutely right: this is a decision by the prosecutor. It is not a political decision, as he rightly said. In his final words, he took the view—which I strongly endorse—that there the matter should rest.

Given the speed with which everything has happened, the noble Lord is not in any sense to be criticised for this, but I should draw a distinction: he said that the SFO had taken a view about the likelihood of success. The SFO has taken the view as set out in the Statement that there is no guarantee that there would be a successful prosecution, that there are real issues to be determined and that it would take a long time to reach that point. However, the assessment of whether it is likely to happen is mine, not the SFO's, which made the decision on the basis that is set out.

I turn to what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said. I absolutely agree that the fight against international corruption is a very important issue, and I imagine that everyone in this House would agree with him. We do not in any sense want to permit or condone corruption; I want to make that plain. As the end of the Statement says, the particular company involved has denied any wrongdoing. Nothing that I say should be taken as a different view. However, the prosecutor has a tough decision to make. It is unrealistic to say that, faced with the risk of serious damage to UK national security and wider international security issues, it would be right to wait for 18 months and see all that damage take place, when at the end of the day there might not even be a prosecution.

I have wanted to go further, because I have wanted to look very carefully at the matter. I have spent days with the investigators and lawyers, examining the detailed briefing in trying to form a view, as best one can at this stage, on whether it is likely that there would be a successful prosecution at the end of the day. That is an exercise that I thought it was important for me to undertake to help in this assessment, and the view that I reached is there set out.

I understand the importance of what has been said. The decision has been taken by the director, having very carefully examined the matter and not under pressure in any sense. Yes, the views have been conveyed in terms of what has been said—and the director and officials were able to talk and listen directly to our ambassador, whose assessment helped to form their judgment on the balance that is being struck. At the end of the day, it a very difficult balance to strike. The short statement from the SFO makes that clear by saying that it has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest.