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3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about Libya.

As the House will be aware, the announcements about Libya's weapons programmes occurred on 19 December, a day after the House had adjourned for the Christmas recess. I therefore felt that the House would like an early opportunity to hear a report from me and to discuss those developments.

Libya is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to the biological weapons convention. We have long been concerned, however, about Libya's proliferation activities, which potentially could have posed a threat to the region, and might put Libya in breach of those international obligations. Furthermore, there have been profound concerns about two Libyan acts of terrorism in the 1980s: the Pan Am flight destroyed over Lockerbie in December 1988, and the murder of Woman Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher in April 1984.

For several years, we have been engaged in discussion with the Libyan authorities to resolve those two issues. The discussions led to the trial—under Scots law, but in The Hague—of Libyan citizens accused of offences in connection with the Lockerbie outrage and, much more recently, to Libya agreeing to pay compensation to the families of those killed at Lockerbie, and to the Libyans accepting full responsibility for the actions of their officials. In consequence, United Nations Security Council sanctions were lifted under Security Council resolution 1506 on 12 September last year. The Libyans have also paid compensation to the family of WPC Fletcher, although we continue our efforts to pursue her murderers.

An important aspect of the Lockerbie discussions was Libya's categorical renunciation of terrorism and its pledge to co-operate in the international fight against terrorism. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), restored diplomatic relations in 1999. In 2002, the Minister for Trade and Investment, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who was then an Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office, visited Libya and held fruitful discussions with Colonel Gadafi. Last year, we concluded a cultural and transport agreement with Libya. More recently, Libya repaid on 30 December—just a week ago—£20 million of debt that it had owed to our Export Credits Guarantee Department.

This process of engagement provided the backdrop for the discussions on Libya's weapons programme, which began with an approach to us by Libya in March last year. At Libyan request, these discussions took place in the strictest secrecy. Nine months of work by officials and experts from the United States and the United Kingdom then followed. Libya acknowledged to us that it was developing a nuclear fuel cycle intended to support nuclear weapons development. A team of British and American officials were given access to projects at more than 10 sites. Those projects included uranium enrichment. Libya had not yet developed a nuclear weapon, but it was on the way to doing so. Libya provided to us evidence of activity in the chemical

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weapons field, including significant quantities of chemical agent and bombs designed to be filled with chemical agent. The team of British and American specialists was given access to scientists at research centres with dual-use potential to support biological weapons-related work. Libya has provided access to facilities where missile research and development work has been conducted.

As a result of these discussions, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, United States President Bush and the Libyan Foreign Minister, Abdulrahman Shalgam, on behalf of Colonel Gadafi, made parallel public statements on 19 December. I am placing Foreign Minister Shalgam's statement in the Library of the House. In the Libyan statement, Colonel Gadafi committed his country

thus ridding itself of all internationally banned weapons. Our own Prime Minister, in his statement, paid tribute to Colonel Gadafi for making this courageous decision.

I have invited Foreign Minister Shalgam to visit London soon to discuss a range of bilateral and international issues. That will form part of the process of implementing Libya's decision to dismantle its weapons programmes. Britain and the United States will now make progress with the practical issues of verification and of the dismantling of the weapons, in partnership with Libya and with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. We have committed ourselves to helping with the preparation of Libya's return to those two international organisations, and to helping to dismantle the programmes that Libya has agreed to destroy. Responsibility for verifying Libya's declarations lies with the IAEA and OPCW, within their respective remits, and it is for the Libyan authorities to inform those organisations about the details of their programmes.

I have kept in close touch with Dr. Mohammed El Baradei, director-general of the IAEA, and I spoke to him again this morning. He took a team to Libya last week and visited a number of sites there. A report will be presented to the next meeting of the IAEA board of governors in March.

This agreement represents a successful outcome for the engagement by the United States and the United Kingdom with Libya over a long period. We have, I believe, established a relationship of trust, which has enabled Libya first to renounce terrorism and now to renounce the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. I applaud the remarks of Foreign Minister Shalgam, who has said:

For our part, we have recognised that we now have corresponding responsibilities to enable Libya to come fully into the mainstream of the international community.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction represents one of the most serious threats to national and international security. Tackling that threat is at the

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heart of the Government's efforts to create a more peaceful and more prosperous world. In parallel with the discussions with Libya, much work has continued with Iran following its agreement in principle with the IAEA board of governors and the Foreign Ministers of Germany and France and myself. Iran has now signed an additional protocol allowing intrusive inspections under the IAEA's regime, as agreed with the three Foreign Ministers—including me—on 20 October.

It is always, and obviously, better to resolve issues through negotiation and agreement when that is possible, but for that to happen it is necessary to have a partner with whom to negotiate. Over the last five years, we have built a relationship with Libya, through active diplomacy, which has enabled us together to take an important step towards reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction and enhancing international peace and security.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I thank the Foreign Secretary both for his statement and for allowing me to see it in advance.

Conservative Members welcome the statement of 19 December that Libya would transparently and verifiably complete elimination of its weapons of mass destruction, restrict its missile programme range to 300 km and adhere to the chemical weapons convention. That is hopeful news, and if those commitments are in due course fulfilled it will be good news. May I, through the Foreign Secretary, congratulate the skilful British public servants who, along with their American colleagues, have painstakingly—over many months—brought the Libyans to the current promising position?

It is significant that this progress has been made not through a United Nations resolution or through formal European Union initiatives, but through the firmness of purpose and deft diplomacy of the United Kingdom and the United States. I must ask the Foreign Secretary whether there are other states with extant WMD programmes where the UK and the US are undertaking similar initiatives—for instance, Syria or North Korea.

Can the Foreign Secretary be more specific about the extent and nature of the WMD programmes in Libya that are covered by the agreement? How advanced were the programmes that are now being investigated? Have experts either seen or uncovered in Libya "massive evidence" of programmes and facilities for the production of WMD of the sort claimed in relation to Iraq by the Prime Minister on 16 December?

There have been recent reports that Libya purchased a significant part of its nuclear know-how and materials from Pakistan. Has the Foreign Secretary had discussions with the Government of Pakistan as to whether those reports are true and, if so, what was the nature and extent of such transaction?

I welcome the progress confirmed by the Foreign Secretary today, but is it not wise to exercise a healthy degree of caution when dealing with Colonel Gadafi? Should not the complete lifting of all sanctions wait for the actual dismantling of the weapons of mass destruction concerned? Should not other unfinished business be completed, such as the naming and handing over of WPC Yvonne Fletcher's cold-blooded killer, before the hand of friendship is fully extended?

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Was it really wise for the Prime Minister to describe as "courageous" a past provider of weapons to the Provisional IRA for use against our people, or for the Foreign Secretary to describe one of the leading backers of Mugabe and his vile regime in Zimbabwe as a "statesman"? We know that spin is endemic for this Government, but those claims are just foolish.

The Foreign Secretary went on to say that Gadafi

Has he not almost come in from the cold before, such as in 1982 when he promised President Mitterrand of France that he would stop funding the IRA, only two years later to double his support; or in 1986, when he pledged, and I use his words, his "Arab honour" to President Mubarek of Egypt that he would stop all anti-American terrorist activity, just two years before Pan Am 103 was blown out of the skies above Lockerbie? Does the Foreign Secretary really believe, with all the evidence of irrationality, dishonesty and totalitarianism, that on this occasion Gadafi can genuinely be trusted? If so, can he tell the House what has changed?

The pudding being served up today shows promise, but the proof of it should be not in the recipe, nor even in the cooking, but in the eating—and it is a pudding that should be eaten with a very long spoon.

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