Libya

– in Westminster Hall at 10:30 am on 13th February 2001.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow 10:30 am, 13th February 2001

This is the 16th Adjournment debate that I have initiated on Libyan matters since 1989. The sixth was answered by Douglas Hurd as Foreign Secretary. Incidentally, I am told by senior Clerks that it was the only occasion since the war that a senior Cabinet Minister replied to a Back Bencher's Adjournment debate. That afternoon he happened to see me chatting with my parliamentary neighbMr. Cook, now the Foreign Secretary. My diary entry for 1 February 1995 reads:

"Douglas swooped down on Robin and myself in the corridor by the window opposite the Clerk Assistant's Office. He said, 'I really do ask you two to believe that as Foreign Secretary I cannot tell the Crown Office what to do, nor does the Foreign Office have detailed access to evidence which they"-- that is the Crown Office--

"say they have. You must understand that the law officers really are a law unto themselves.'" My diary entry continues:

"Robin and I agreed that Douglas Hurd was not unfriendly towards us, and was probably correct in outlining the rules. Robin said that he guessed that Hurd was being honest with us and did not know the full story. I shrugged my shoulders, and told Robin he was probably right."

I put all that on the record because I am aware that the most sensitive questions should be addressed to the Crown Office and to Lady Thatcher and her innermost advisers at the time, rather than the Foreign Office and the ministerial successors of Douglas Hurd. I am also conscious of the sub judice ruling set out in yesterday's Official Report at column 35.

First, I think that I would be wrong not to mention the dignified reaction of the British relatives who still seek truth and justice and are honouring an undertaking to hold a full independent inquiry after the conclusion of all legal processes. I have permission to quote from the letter to the Foreign Secretary dated 5 February from John and Lisa Mosey of UK Families Flight 103. The Minister has a copy of that letter. It states:

"Dr Swire put it well when he said that we must deal with the Libyans where they are today--not where they were in 1988. We hope you will stand firm against the pressures from the USA to think that we can bomb people into behaving decently. That is the route to yet more retaliation and suffering. Our daughter is, undoubtedly, dead because of someone's idea of justice based on retaliation." The letter ends rather movingly:

"Mr. Cook, I trust that all of this is of some value to you in your very difficult and important job. Our secretary, Pam Dix will be writing to you in due time with more specific thoughts on what we would like to see explored in an independent inquiry. Thank you for your kind comments in the house about Jim, myself and the group. Be assured that we do want to seen as a determined but responsible group of people."

Indeed, Pam Dix wrote on 8 February to the Foreign Secretary:

"Given your statement in the House of Commons on 31 January that of course others in addition to Abdelbaset Al Megrahi were involved in the destruction of Pan Am 103, we would be grateful if you would clarify what further steps are being considered to bring these 'others' to justice. (We are aware that the intention to appeal has been lodged.) The US State Department representative's statements seem unequivocal in their focus on further criminal investigations, yet that is not the impression we gain from the Lord Advocate's public statements." The difficulty is that the Crown Office is responsible to the Parliament in Edinburgh, but the question asked by the relatives' secretary was a genuine one.

In a subsequent more detailed letter, a copy of which has been sent to the Minister, Pam Dix says:

"We are aware that a great deal of time, effort and expense has been expended on different forms of inquiries into Lockerbie. We are not unappreciative of these efforts. However, each inquiry had its own necessarily narrow remit that did not permit the examination of many of the important questions. The superb technical investigation by the AAIB was confined by statute to establishing how the explosion took place and its effect on the aircraft. The specific purpose of the Fatal Accident Inquiry was to ascertain who died, and how, when and where they died. In addition, the FAI findings established that the disaster was preventable. Since the indictments of the two Libyans in November 1991, the criminal investigation has focused on establishing their guilt or innocence and has not addressed wider issues such as the reasons behind the bombing. The primary focus of the Report to the President by the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism of 1990 was largely on US institutions." Pamela Dix continues:

"Each one of the above inquiries fulfilled a particular objective. An independent judicial inquiry, however, could draw upon the findings of all these separate inquiries, pulling together the information that has been established, plus examining key areas that have not yet been addressed. This inquiry would provide the means that is needed to understand the overall picture of events leading up to and resulting from the Lockerbie bombing. It is only with this understanding that it will be possible to identify where the failures occurred and lessons can be learned. I know you will share our understanding, and that of many others, that the purpose of an independent inquiry is to establish the facts of what happened and to learn lessons for the future. In his Thames Safety Inquiry Final Report, Lord Justice Clarke makes the point that 'the public (and especially the survivors and the relatives and friends of those who lost their lives) has a legitimate interest in learning the truth of what happened without anything being swept under the carpet.' (Page 7, paragraph 5.3.) With regard to Lockerbie and the issues surrounding the disaster, we feel that there are a number of specific questions that need to be answered." She continues:

"It is clear that while the motivation for the bombing has been endlessly speculated on by the media and others, we remain in the dark as to what the motivation was. This is a matter which causes some of the relatives the greatest concern. 1. What is known about motivation and reasons behind the bombing? 2. What, if any, diplomatic lessons can be learned from what is known and can be established about the conduct of the countries involved in Lockerbie? 3. Is it appropriate that 'legitimate' businessmen can sell timers to organisations, individuals and countries, when it is suspected that the purpose of those timers is to blow up aeroplanes, and not be held to account?" I shall miss out some passages, but Pamela Dix also states:

"One form of possible inquiry is a judicial review that would come under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. Again in the words of Lord Justice Clarke, 'In some cases, public confidence may be undermined if there is not a perception that an inquiry is full, wide-ranging and independent of Government; for example, in cases where the regulatory functions of the investigatory body are called into question.' (Page 166-7.) It seems to us that such a tribunal of inquiry would meet these requirements." She moves on to express the considered view of relatives about the witnesses:

"Whatever the status or position of potential witnesses during the period under investigation, the most important point is that the inquiry needs to be such that it has the power to compel witnesses to come before it to give evidence and produce documents. Where possible, witnesses should come from abroad. We would not wish to see a situation where Public Interest Immunity Certificates are issued, as happened at the Fatal Accident Inquiry. It is essential that witnesses cannot use 'parliamentary privilege', for example, to allow them to escape giving evidence."

I do not expect the Minister to respond to these complex issues off the top of his head today, but having received the letter I hope that he will reflect seriously upon the matter.

I refer, too, to the sterner letter to the Prime Minister from Martin Cadman and his wife Rita, who lost their son, Bill, who was 32, which states:

"Rather than guessing we should have the facts. There are people in the UK and the US Government service who know the answers to all our questions. We doubt if any has the courage to speak out unless made to. So we'd better go for the inquiry you and Robin Cook agreed with relatives could be the way ahead. Robin Cook told us on 15 January that after the trial his would not be the lead Department on Lockerbie. He said he would talk with colleagues about his meeting with us. We have not forgotten that Transport Minister Cecil Parkinson offered us an inquiry in September 1989 subject to agreement of colleagues. He subsequently told us his request was refused at the top level. We now wait to hear from Robin Cook." I am extremely worried about that. I am sure that Cecil Parkinson offered an inquiry in good faith, and just as the relatives were going out of the door, he said, "Mark you, it is subject to colleagues." There was only one colleague who would overturn Parkinson as Transport Secretary, and the question why she did it bothers many of us.

The letter continued:

"What sort of inquiry, and who would run it? I doubt if a US inquiry could be trusted given the US is so involved. In this regard you may know that the US President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (with special reference to Pan Am Flight 103) recommended on 15th May 1990 that government resources should be prepared for active measures--pre-emptive or retaliatory, direct or covert--against a series of targets in countries well known to have engaged in state-sponsored terrorism.

Would a UK inquiry be trusted and would it have the power to subpoena witnesses from the US Government services in particular? We doubt it. We need an international inquiry with powers to subpoena, backed by UN sanctions. It should be a UN inquiry set up by and reporting to the General Assembly and not involving the Security Council." Martin and Rita Cadman deserve an answer. They state in their letter to the Prime Minr dated 6 February that they

"cannot put the case for an inquiry better than the Daily Mirror last week: 'An incident which results in a single death is often fully probed. An atrocity that kills 270 people demands a full, open and public inquiry. There must be one and it should explore every avenue, every question, every suggestion. That may raise issues that the Government does not want aired, but that is no reason for not holding one. The quest for the truth must go on.'" That expresses the urgency with which the relatives want the matter to be pursued. I suppose that the British and United States Governments have no control over Lee Kreindler, the New York lawyer who is asking for $10 billion for the American relatives, but I should like an assurance that neither Government will make demands for $700 million or any other compensation figure until the appeal has been heard. If the issue really is sub judice, are not calls for compensation from Libya at this stage out of order? We should not be quick on the draw.

I again ask the Foreign Office to approach the Swedish Government for the facts about the significant quantity of clothing that could have been bought in Malta, Cyprus or 101 other places in the Mediterranean in the flat of Abu Talb in Sweden. I sat in the court at Camp Zeist and heard Abu Talb being questioned by Bill Taylor, QC and Richard Keen, QC. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said:

"In the fullness of time, this...may produce other leads".--[Official Report, 31 January 2001; Vol. 363, c. 311.] This is another lead that was not discussed in court.

Will the Government ask the Libyan Government for a candid account of how members of the strategic centres in the 1980s used agents with coded passports and other complex documents to obtain spare parts for Libyan Arab Airlines, which bought planes that had been manufactured in the US or UK and had been subject to sanctions?

I also asked the Foreign Office about its answer to President Mandela on sanctions. President Mandela was as responsible as anyone for getting a trial in a third country. I quote from The Independent:

"Tony Blair and Nelson Mandela are locked in a diplomatic stand-off after the former South African president complained yesterday that Britain had reneged on its undertaking to press for the final lifting of sanctions against Libya.

Mr. Mandela told The Independent yesterday that Britain and the US had 'moved the goalposts' on the issue of lifting sanctions, after he played a vital mediation role with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, to secure the handover of two Libyan suspects wanted for the Lockerbie bombing.

One defendant, former intelligence agent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, was sentenced to at least 20 years jail...

Mr. Mandela said that he found Mr Blair's letter 'encouraging and very reasonable' and was responding to the Prime Minister yesterday. But he is concerned that the British may be under pressure from the US to maintain sanctions. After the verdict, Washington and London demanded that the Libyan Government pay compensation to the victims' families" --which I think was slightly premature, in view of the appeal. Is President Mandela being contacted and, if so, what is the outcome? President Mandela sent his secretary to the Cabinet, Jakes Gerwel, on a special mission that made possible the trial in a third country.

I would also like to ask the Foreign Office about a matter that has never been raised. Will it ask the US Government in what circumstances Richard Stirwell in 1991 was sent to Togoland to examine and acquire timing devices made by Ulrich Lumpart and why the CIA and Mr. James Thurman thought it necessary to replicate such timing devices for American use? We are entitled to wonder whether the timer at the centre of the whole argument was ever on "The Maid of the Seas" and whether it was replicated by someone in the United States for his own purposes.

Will the Government obtain an explanation from Colin Powell of why CIA officers cultivated a Libyan traitor, Mr. Majid Jiacha, for nearly two years, reaching serious decisions in respect of his credibility, honesty and motivation, yet were prepared to pass him to the FBI and the Department of Justice without apparently passing on their serious doubts and questions?

I also ask the Foreign Office to contact the Government of Jordan for a CV of Marwan Khreesat, including the years when he was not in the service of those favourable to the west.

Will the Government ask the retired bomb expert Peter Gurney, George medal and bar, for his opinion of the skills of Marwan Khreesat?

I refer to the Foreign Secretary's statement:

"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 the 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."--[Official Report, 31 January 2001; Vol. 363, c. 312.] I do not want to delve into private conversations, but any information about that crucial telephone call would be extremely interesting. In particular, may we have a clarification of the agreement or secret annex in which Kofi Annan apparently gave an undertaking that it had been secretly agreed in the west that if either of the accused were found guilty, no attempt would be made to implicate or indict the Libyan leadership and that there would be no other prosecutions? I genuinely do not know about the background to that, which must be clarified.

Will Her Majesty's Government seek a meeting with the Government of Malta about the security set-up at Luqa airport and in particular ask officials with knowledge of baggage reconciliation systems to discuss procedures with Mr. Immanuel Darmanin, the head loader in charge of operators? As he was not called by Crown or defence, I am entitled to ask that question, which was never asked at the trial. Many people find it concerning and confusing that, some years ago, following the transmission of a documentary made by Granada Television wherein it was alleged that an unaccompanied bag had travelled on Air Malta flight KM180, Granada Television was successfully sued by lawyers representing Air Malta, and an out-of-court settlement was reached.

Will the Government try to confirm with the Government of Malta a story that the Maltese Government applied, before 1988, for financial assistance from the United States Federal Aviation Authority to improve the security at Luqa airport, but were turned down on the basis that Malta was not a third-world country and it was believed that security at Luqa airport was satisfactory?

Another issue about Mary's House was never raised in court and needs to be clarified. Megrahi was present in Malta on 7 December 1988 but not on 23 November 1988--the only other date on which the clothes and umbrella could have been bought. Having bought the clothes, the purchaser left the shop to engage a taxi. It was raining at that time, which is why he bought the umbrella. The meteorological evidence--

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I would feel much happier if he kept away from constant references to the evidence given at the trial. I remind him of yesterday's ruling by Mr. Speaker. The case is sub judice. It is difficult to interpret what might be in transgression of a sub judice ruling, but I must err on the side of caution. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to refrain in the remainder of his remarks from any reference to the trial or to where the appellant might have been at any time. I hope that I have made myself clear.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

You have been very patient, Mr. Benton, and I, too, am extremely conscious of the appeal. Having been through the huge 81-page judgment with a fine-toothed comb, I have deliberately not asked a number of questions and have kept out of anything that was referred to in that judgment. To the best of my knowledge, the matter that I am raising was not raised in evidence to the court. It was not raised in the judgment. My question is to the Government of Malta and about geography and meteorological conditions. It was raining at the relevant time on 23 November 1988, but there was no rain on 7 December or, at most, a few drops, which would not have proved sufficient to wet the pavements.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I honestly accept the hon. Gentleman's good will, but I must point out that, if he refers in any way, shape or form during the remainder of the debate to the trial, the appeal or anything of significance to them, I will have to rule him out of order. That will be a final ruling. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that that places constraints on him, but we must err on the side of caution. I hope that he understands exactly what I am saying. I assure him that he will receive as much largesse as possible from the Chair, but I must be firm on the sub judice ruling.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I must be obedient to the Chair. I must leave out questions that I genuinely thought had not been raised. If there is any dubiety about it I am, of course, obedient to the Chair and a respecter of courts. I do not know whether it is in order to ask about American representations in the court itself. I think that I am on delicate ground in asking about Mr. Bhiel and Mr. Murtaugh. If there is any doubt about that, I had better not do so.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. The hon. Gentleman is right. I appreciate that it is a difficult situation. We are handicapped by the fact that we do not know what material might be presented in the appeal. I am afraid that once again I must stress that I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would restrain from remarking upon the trial itself and the form that an appeal might take.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

You have been very patient, Mr. Benton. I have had my 25 minutes. I just rest the case on the difficult issues of the civil test of the balance of probabilities and finding murder beyond reasonable doubt. Those are grave issues and we must wait for the appeal.

Part of the difficulty, as I said on a point of order in the House yesterday, is that this is not an ordinary trial. Potentially appalling international consequences hang on this verdict. It must be a matter of general international concern that these questions should be asked. If one had the assurance that nothing would be done by Britain or the United States in terms of sanctions, let alone military action before the appeal procedure is exhausted, I should be happy. There are various accounts of the meeting on 8 February between Colin Powell and some of the American relatives. Some of those American relatives, if the serious American press is to be believed, told Colin Powell that he should bomb Tripoli. There was also a call from people whose names I know, but will not reveal here, for nuclear weapons to be dropped on Tripoli. That has been reported in the American press. I hope that there will be none of that ever, but certainly not before the legal processes are exhausted.

I thank you for your patience, Mr. Benton, and I look forward to the Foreign Office reflections. I would not criticise the Minister if he did not address these points today, but sooner or later they must be addressed.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 10:58 am, 13th February 2001

I thank Mr. Dalyell for initiating the debate and for his continued interest in Libyan affairs. As he said, this is his 16th debate on the subject and I hope that it is productive for him. Apart from anything else, it has revealed that he has been keeping a diary all these years. I am sure that when the record is read, publishers will be beating a path to his door.

Just as my hon. Friend began with a little historical context to the debate, I should recall the background to the original rupture of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Libya. As we are all aware, for more than a decade two separate issues prevented us from maintaining normal diplomatic relations with Libya, not just Lockerbie. Diplomatic relations were broken off in 1984 over Libya's refusal to co-operate with the investigation into the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, who was shot while carrying out her duties in front of the Libyan People's Bureau in St. James's Square. The second issue, which prevented normal diplomatic relations, was the Libyan refusal to hand over the two men charged with the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988.

United Nations sanctions were imposed on Libya in 1992 as a result of its refusal to comply with the investigations into the bombings of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 and of the French UTA airliner in 1989. As my hon. Friend is well aware, the diplomatic stalemate over the Lockerbie issue was broken by the Government's initiative in offering a trial before Scottish judges, under Scots law, in a third country. Intensive and patient diplomacy produced an agreement by Libya to hand over both suspects who subsequently stood trial at Camp Zeist, and, following the surrender of al-Megrahi and al-Fhimah in 1999, UN sanctions on Libya were suspended.

That agreement did not solve the outstanding bilateral problem relating to the killing of WPC Fletcher. In the weeks following the handover of al-Megrahi and al-Fhimah we engaged in repeated exchanges with the Libyan Government in an attempt to secure their co-operation with the police investigation and that resulted in a joint statement by the two Governments.

In that statement, Libya accepted general responsibility for the actions of those in the Libyan People's Bureau at the time of the shooting and it expressed deep regret to the family of WPC Fletcher for what occurred and offered to pay compensation to the family. The Libyan authorities agreed to co-operate fully with the continuing Metropolitan police investigation and to accept its outcome.

At this point I am sure my hon. Friend will join me in paying tribute to the Fletcher family, who have born Yvonne's loss with dignity, and those police officers who have carried out and continue to carry out this long investigation. I can assure hon. Members that the Government will continue to press the Libyan authorities for their full co-operation.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I endorse that tribute to Queenie Fletcher who, like the Lockerbie relatives, behaved with great dignity.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment.

However, the immediate point in this context is the positive one that those two agreements opened the way for us to resume diplomatic relations with Libya in July 1999, and the British interest section in Tripoli was upgraded to embassy status. At the end of 1999 we appointed an ambassador and we have worked to bring the embassy up to full strength. As a result, the 4,000 or so British citizens there had full consular protection restored to them, and full diplomatic representation has the positive effect of enabling us to monitor Libyan co-operation with the police investigation into the killing of Yvonne Fletcher. As I have said, we expect Libya to honour its commitment to co-operate fully with the police investigation at all stages, and that, logically, must include the final stage if any individual is identified by the police.

I come now to the Lockerbie trial, although I am obviously mindful of what you have said, Mr. Benton, and the fact that we are all subject to the constraints that the pending appeal imposes upon us. Again, I take this opportunity to offer my sympathy to the families of the victims and pay tribute to the way in which they have dealt with this devastating tragedy. I remember being in the House of Commons on the night of the Lockerbie bombing. It is something that I will never forget, with which, in one way or another, however tangentially, we have all lived since that night. As we all know, the Scottish judges in the Netherlands--my hon. Friend has as good a reason as anyone to respect Scottish judges--returned their verdict on 31 January, and one of the two accused, al-Megrahi, was found guilty of the murder of 270 people on Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. The second, al-Fhimah, was acquitted.

The criminal investigation into the crime was the largest in British history, and the dedication of the Dumfries and Galloway constabulary and the efforts of the families in their pursuit of justice were admired by all. Without their efforts and the complex diplomatic initiatives, the Lockerbie trial would not have come about.

As Mr. al-Megrahi has appealed, hon. Members will understand if I do not comment on the substance of the legal arguments. It might be worth mentioning, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact, that if Mr. al-Megrahi's appeal is not upheld, we have given an undertaking to Libya that it will be allowed consular access to Mr. al-Megrahi in Scotland.

Following the verdict at Camp Zeist, international attention has turned to the question of whether the United Nations--I stress the United Nations--should lift sanctions in Libya. I refer my hon. Friend to the statement made by the Foreign Secretary to the House of Commons following the verdict. The initiative to hold the trial at Camp Zeist was taken by the Government and secured by agreement with the Governments of the Netherlands, the United States and Libya. However, we made those arrangements in accordance with resolution 1192 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 now expect the Libyan Government to fulfil the remaining requirements.

I can announce that the UK and the USA will begin talks today in New York with Libya. We will focus on the remaining requirements--no more, no less. Those requirements are not fulfilled simply by the trial having come to an end.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I welcome the fact that there will be talks and urge the Libyans to be as candid as possible on the questions that I have asked about the whole sanctions-busting efforts in relation to Libyan/Arab airlines. They must be candid.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I welcome that constructive response from my hon. Friend. It is clearly right to engage in the discussions that begin today.

I again set out the requirements that remain outstanding. The Security Council--I stress that it is the Security Council that imposes these requirements rather than individual countries--requires Libya to accept responsibility for the actions of its officials and to pay appropriate compensation. Libya also needs to satisfy us that it has renounced terrorism and disclosed all that it knows of the Lockerbie crime.

Hon. Members may ask how the Security Council can expect Libya to accept responsibility for the actions of its officials. If an internationally wrongful act is committed against a state or its nationals by the agents of another state acting as such, that state is responsible, in international law, for the wrongful act. The Scottish court found al-Megrahi guilty of the charge in the indictment that:

"Megrahi, being a member of the Libyan Intelligence Service ... while acting in concert with others, formed a criminal purpose to destroy a civil passenger aircraft and murder the occupants in furtherance of the purposes of the said Libyan Intelligence Services" The opinion of the court stated:

"The clear inference which we draw from this evidence is that the conception, planning, and execution of the plot which led to the planting of the explosive device was of Libyan origin" We shall be discussing with Libya how we can achieve compliance with all the requirements and I can confirm that, once satisfactory arrangements have been made, we will agree to the lifting of sanctions. It is important that those who wish to see the issue resolved successfully and quickly should not upset the delicate, diplomatic discussions.

To lift sanctions before all the requirements have been met would be premature and it would send a worrying message to countries that are subject to sanctions about the Security Council's determination to ensure that necessary conditions are met before sanctions are lifted.

My hon. Friend referred to the comments of Nelson Mandela and recognised that the Prime Minister had been in touch with him and reassured him that the requirements for the lifting of sanctions had not been changed and were set out in UN resolutions that represented the collective will of the international community. My hon. Friend acknowledged that the response from Nelson Mandela to that letter recognised the Prime Minister's good will.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I am very glad to hear that the Government are in touch with ex-President Mandela.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.

I come now to the demand for an independent inquiry. My hon. Friend fairly referred to that at length, as well as to the views of the relatives on the type of inquiry that they want. The detail is secondary to the fundamental question of whether there should be such an inquiry. As the Foreign Secretary said in his immediate post-trial statement, it would simply be inappropriate to reach a view on an inquiry at this stage. That is because al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence official found guilty by the Scottish court, has submitted an appeal, and no inquiry can start until it is concluded. It is right that my hon. Friend has put the views of the relatives on the record, but it is equally right, as I am sure he recognises, that I cannot comment, beyond saying that it would be inappropriate to reach a view on an inquiry at this stage.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Hindsight is a marvellous thing, but it is a pity that Mr. al-Megrahi was never put in the dock by the defence.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. Any reference to Mr. al-Megrahi and to the previous court sitting is out of order. I have already explained the position.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend asked for an assurance that the views of the relatives would be the subject of serious reflection. I give him that assurance.

In addition to our engagement with the Libyan Government in international, multilateral forums on issues of international concern, since 1999 we have had the opportunity to conduct a full bilateral dialogue. We welcome the Libyan Government's appointment of a senior ambassador to London, which will allow our exchanges to deepen further. The best way to handle our differences is through such a dialogue--both critical and constructive.

My hon. Friend must also be aware, not least because of his remarks regarding the comments made in the United States, of the criticism of the Government for developing our relations with Libya too quickly, without due regard for the past. That is misplaced. The restoration of diplomatic relations does not mean that we give up on the difficult issues. On the contrary, on a wide range of issues of concern--UN sanctions, Libya's human rights record and its attempts to acquire enhanced missile technology--we can engage with Libya with greater frequency and to greater effect as a result of the dialogue that those exchanges have promoted. We are convinced that we cannot expect to influence Libya's behaviour without such engagement. That is the context in which it should be understood.

Our long-term aim is to have a Libya that co-operates with the international community and that respects international law. That will not only ensure that there is no return to support for international terrorism, but encourage the emergence of a responsible partner willing to devote its many assets and energies to the positive promotion of prosperity throughout the region. We look forward to a future in which Libya plays a full part in the European-Mediterranean community and in the Barcelona process. As I am sure my hon. Friend will agree, that will be in all our interests.

I shall look carefully at the record of my hon. Friend's remarks to see if there are any matters on which I can usefully write to him. I recognise the diligence with which he has pursued these issues and the spirit in which he has raised them.

Sitting suspended.