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Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): I support the Father of the House and congratulate him on securing the debate. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will respond to a principal issue that concerns one of my constituents, Dr. Jim Swire, who, I believe, is listening to these proceedings. His daughter, Flora, was murdered on the night of Lockerbie in the aeroplane. He has been campaigning for a long time for a public inquiry into the circumstances of that night.
I agree with Dr. Swire that, of the many incidents that have occurred in the UK, Lockerbie is the biggest mass killing that has ever taken place. There have been public inquiries into other incidents, but there has still to be a public inquiry on Lockerbie. Successive Governments have said that there should not be such an inquiry due to the legal proceedings that were taking place against suspects. Irrespective of the guilt or innocence of the individual who has been found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing, judicial proceedings are now completed and there is no prospect of anyone else facing charges. The view of the Foreign Office that there should not be a public inquiry because it might prejudice the judicial proceedings now lapses.
When the Minister answers the points raised by the Father of the House, I should be grateful if he would take up the issue of the Government holding a public inquiry into this important issue, not least in the light of the circumstances of 11 September. There is a greater need for people to feel reassured by airport security. The lessons that might have been learned from the Lockerbie incident might well be relevant a decade later. I hope that the Minister will respond to that point.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on securing the debate. I was a local councillor in the area when the tragedy happened. As time progressed and we moved towards trying to secure the arrest of two
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow had the confidence at the time to plead the case for a trial to be heard under Scottish law. That trial has been heard. An appeal on behalf of al Megrahi has also been heard. If the defence team representing that individual chose not to put forward an appropriate defence, little can be done about that. I am not convinced, however, that those in his defence team did not advance the appropriate defence to try to secure the release of their client.
Having said that, there are a considerable number of unanswered questions, to which the families need answersonly time will tell whether they will be as detailed as some of the questions that my hon. Friend has asked this evening.
I, like others, have asked about the possibility of holding a public inquiry into the incident. I have met the Foreign Secretary. On a further occasion, I met him and some of the relatives, and he clearly explained that, although a public inquiry is being called for, there is sometimes more than one way to get answers. Sometimes, public inquiries have not delivered what people have sought: truth and justice into a number of incidents that have tragically befallen families.
I hope that the Minister can give us an indication at least about whether we are moving towards a public inquiry andif not a public inquiryabout how families in this country, America and other countries who lost loved ones can, at the end of the day, get answers to some of the basic questions that arose on the evening of that tragic event.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): As the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) rightly points out, what the families want above all else is the truth. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), I represent a couple of constituentsMartin and Rita Cadmanwho lost their beloved son in this appalling murder, and what they want above all else is the truth.
There are a number of loose ends, and we have not had answers to our questions. There will be many excuses as to why they have not been investigated hitherto, but the time has now come to have a proper, full public inquiry. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to answer the questions posed by the Father of the House.
This is the first time for some months that we have discussed this subject. Obviously, until fairly recently much of what has been said tonight would have been considered sub judice because of the ongoing legal action. I congratulate the Father of the House on this debate, and we must have answers to those questions.
Secondly, the scene of the appalling crash obviously covered many square miles, but it is common knowledge that, within hours of daylight, dozens of CIA agents were crawling over the site. We have not yet had an explanation of what they were doing there, who had liaised with them, who had given them the authority to go on to the site and exactly what they were doing.
I would just add those two questions to those posed by the Father of the House. We must have answers to those questions, but, above all else, we need a full public inquiry into this appalling murderthe worst in the country's history.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I congratulate the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), on obtaining this debate on an enormously serious issue.
The destruction of Pan-Am 103 at Lockerbie, with the loss of 270 lives, was the most horrendous terrorist attack ever carried out in the United Kingdom. For everyone involved in the attack, particularly those whose loved ones were murdered, the horror and tragedy of what happened on 21 December 1988 can never go away. Dr. Jim Swire wrote to the Foreign Secretary this week:
Despite the cynicism of those who thought we would never make progress, the Government have responded to these imperatives and these questions with an unprecedented police, diplomatic and legal mobilisation. Those efforts have produced results. Last year, the unique format of a Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands convicted Abdel Basset al Megrahi, an agent of the Libyan intelligence services, of conspiracy to bomb the plane. The conviction was upheld on appeal in March.
I am assured that the conviction answers many of the key questions. How did it happen? A bomb was loaded on to a plane at Frankfurt, concealed inside a cassette recorder. The bomb was set to explode while the plane was en route from Heathrow to New York
In response to those sanctions, Libya has, since the early 1990s, radically changed the basis of its foreign policy. It no longer uses terror as a tool. The UK has responded to thisand particularly Libya's surrender of Megrahi and another suspect for the Lockerbie bombingby re-establishing diplomatic relations and agreeing to the suspension of the UN sanctions regime.
However, it remains essential that Libya makes amends for Lockerbie by satisfying the requirements that the United Nations Security Council has set out. Libya took a crucial step by releasing two suspects for trial, but only when all the requirements have been met will we support the final lifting of sanctions.
The four requirements are that Libya should renounce terrorism, agree to co-operate with further police inquiries into Lockerbie, pay compensation and accept responsibility for the actions of its official. We are talking diplomatically, at senior official level, with the Libyan and American Governments about those requirements. Our discussions are progressing well, but are not yet finished.
We wish to see our relations with Libya improve and to see United Nations sanctions lifted as soon as possible. However, realising these benefits will be possible only once Libya has wholly satisfied the requirements. We will, of course, keep the relatives and this House informed of future progress on the diplomatic track.
That is our current approach to Lockerbie. I now turn to the two specific questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow asked during Foreign Office questions this afternoon. First, he asked whether British security and intelligence services have any knowledge of an $11 million payment, having been received by the PFLP-GC on 23 December 1988.
Various reports of PFLP-GC funding emerged after the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103. The intelligence agencies investigated all those reports and found none to have any relevance to the attack. I am informed that there is no connection between the payments and Lockerbie. Indeed, I have been told that the intelligence services are not aware of any payment that corresponds with the details given in the question.
I am informed that a similar amount was paid 18 months before the Lockerbie attack, but that there is no connection between the two. The Government's view is that the PFLP-GC did not carry out the Lockerbie bombing. If that payment was related to other issues, we do not know precisely what they are, but it is our view that the lapse of time between the making of the payment and the eventual outrage suggests that the two were not linked.
My hon. Friend's second question was whether the security and intelligence services had any knowledge of a payment of $500,000 to Mohammed Abu Talb on 25 April 1989. I am advised that the answer is no; the services have no such knowledge. There were references to money in Talb's evidence given at the Lockerbie trial$5,000 in relation to the Copenhagen bombings, a bank loan of 45,000 krone that Talb secured to start a video business, and a sickness benefit payment of 4,000 krone
I am aware that during the intelligence services debate on 11 July, my hon. Friend raised a number of other detailed questions. It remains the Foreign Secretary's intention to write to him with a full reply to those and the further questions that he has raised. I would say to my hon. Friend that the Lord Advocate is responsible for the Turnbull matters, and I understand that he will write to my hon. Friend about them. In relation to any possible further charges, Dumfries and Galloway police have complete freedom to investigate and bring charges as they see fit. Part of our diplomatic effort is to ensure Libyan co-operation with these inquiries.
I would like to address one other issue that my hon. Friend raised on that previous occasion, namely, the role of Eliza Manningham-Buller. The Security Service announced to the press at the time of Ms Manningham- Buller's appointment as director-general that she had previously been head of the section responsible for counter-terrorism. She held that role at the time of the Lockerbie attacka time when that section's work was, of course, dominated by that awful event. She was head of counter-terrorism and worked on the Lockerbie case. So what? What else would she have done?
I turn finally to the important issue of a public inquiry. The Foreign Office has had regular contact with the relatives in recent years. The Foreign Secretary has met them twice in the last year to brief them on the progress of diplomatic talks with the Libyans and to discuss their interest in a further inquiry. I say "further inquiry" because there have been several inquiries already. There has been a hearing of the air accidents investigation branch, a fatal accident inquiry, an inquest, a criminal trial and an appeal. The Select Committee on Transport has reviewed aviation security in the light of Lockerbie. Numerous Departments and agencies of government have reviewed their workings to ensure that the lessons of Lockerbie have been learned. Much has been learned and many procedures have been changed. Aviation security has been entirely overhauled since 1988.
On 21 May, the Foreign Secretary met the relatives and ran through the reasons why the Government do not favour a public inquiry. Above all, we cannot see any areas of uncertainty that such an inquiry could effectively address. The trial has, as I have explained, clarified a great deal. The exact motivation for the attack is something that perhaps only Megrahi can fully explain. I hope that he will do so at some point.