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Volume 300: debated on Friday 7 November 1997

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.[Ms Bridget Prentice.]

1.49 pm

For the past 30 years, Nelson Mandela has been something of an icon for the left. His prestige for what he has done is absolutely unquestioned; therefore, surely, it behoves us to listen to what he says on what might be an awkward subject.

The connection goes back to the time when Nelson Mandela wrote what I think was his only letter to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) as Prime Minister, which was about Lockerbie. I do not hide from anyone the fact that I was given a copy by Tiny Rowland. When there was a change of Government, the first meeting Mr. Mandela had with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister lasted an hour and, at Mr. Mandela's insistence, 40 minutes of it was taken up with Lockerbie.

Mr. Mandela then came to the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Edinburgh and made a much publicised statement saying that in his considered judgment no country should be claimant, prosecutor and judge in the same case and in a situation such as Lockerbie. That was his view and I do not think that I distort it. It was his opinion—tactfully expressed—that we should take seriously the idea of a trial in a third, neutral country. Indeed, that has been the view of South Africa, to whose personnel I have spoken, and of many other countries for a long time.

The purpose of this debate is to go through—I hope without distortion—the objections to such a course of action and then to try to refute them. I believe in being totally candid with the House of Commons: I am not a lawyer, so I have taken advice. That advice comes predominantly from Professor Robert Black QC, professor of Scots law in the university of Edinburgh. One of the tasks to which the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), must address himself is to say why the Government lawyers believe that their opinion is superior to that of the Queen's Counsel who is professor of Scots law in the university of Edinburgh.

There should be a serious reply to Professor Black's points. As soon as I knew that this debate was to take place, I submitted those points to the Foreign Office because it would be unacceptable suddenly to come to the Floor of the House of Commons, produce legal arguments and expect my hon. Friend the Minister to answer off the top of his head. I confess that the first part of my speech will be a little—but only a little—longer because of the good fortune of the previous debate having ended early, but I do not expect my hon. Friend to reply to the questions in the second part other than in writing and after he has had time to consider them.

In October 1993, the legal advisers to the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing announced that their clients were not prepared to surrender themselves for trial either in Scotland or in the United States. In an attempt to resolve this impasse, Professor Black formulated in January 1994 a detailed proposal for the setting up of a court operating under the law and procedure of Scotland, but sitting in a neutral venue such as The Hague. The proposal was accepted in writing by the head of the Libyans' defence team and by the Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya on behalf of his Government. Before coming to the debate, I have checked again that the Libyan Government would accept such a proposition.

If implemented, the proposal would secure six objectives: first, a trial in which the governing law and procedure will be the law and procedure of Scotland; secondly, a trial in which the prosecution will be conducted by the Scottish public prosecutor, the Lord Advocate, or his authorised representative; thirdly, a trial in which the defence of the accused will be in the hands of independent Scottish solicitors and counsel appointed by the accused; fourthly, a trial in which the jury will be replaced by a panel of judges presided over and chaired by a judge of the Scottish High Court of Justiciary with responsibility for directing the panel on Scottish law and procedure; fifthly, a trial in which, if the accused are convicted, they will serve any sentence of imprisonment in a prison in Scotland; and sixthly, a trial from which any appeals will be heard and determined in Scotland by the High Court of Justiciary in its capacity as the Scottish court of criminal appeal.

Successive Lord Advocates and Foreign Secretaries have refused to countenance such a proposal. Do the British Government really believe that the principle of having a trial within the borders of Scotland—that is the issue—is of such overriding and transcendent importance that if it cannot be achieved there should be no trial at all, even one that satisfies the six conditions that Professor Black and I have set out? Are the Government saying that the location of the trial in Scotland is more important than that there should be a trial? If so, they have a woefully distorted set of priorities. That is also the view not only of Professor Black, but of many members of the solid and careful legal establishment in the city of Edinburgh.

Over the years, Government sources have put forward six objections to the proposal. I shall set those out, along with what we believe to be the answers to them. The first objection is that the proposal to set up a non-jury court applying Scottish criminal law and procedure, but sitting outside Scotland, implies that a fair trial could not be obtained in Scotland and thus casts an unwarranted slur on the Scottish system of criminal justice.

The response of Professor Black and myself is that the only feature of the Scottish criminal justice system that those representing the Libyan accused find unacceptable is the role played in it by the jury. Each and every other facet of Scottish solemn criminal procedure is acceptable to them. They contend that, in a case that has already received unprecedented publicity in the media, including widespread dissemination of photographs of the accused, and which would undoubtedly generate further publicity once the accused surrendered themselves for trial, it would be impossible to find a jury of 15 people who could bring to the task of assessing the evidence against the accused minds that were unaffected or uninfluenced by pre-trial publicity.

I say in passing to my hon. Friend the Minister that on one occasion I had to telephone BBC Scotland and ask whether it was right before any trial to refer to the two men as "the bombers". BBC Scotland admitted that it was a terrible mistake—and so it was. That is part of the background to the situation that I am discussing.

To hold, to express and to act on such a view involves no slur on the Scottish system of criminal justice but is simply a recognition of the liability of human beings to be influenced consciously or unconsciously by the deluge of information and speculation that has for years accompanied this case.

The recent conviction of Louise Woodward by a jury in Massachusetts has given rise to concern, among other things, about the ability of that jury to return a just verdict, solely on the evidence led in the courtroom, in a case that had been the subject of so much pre-trial publicity. Similar concerns are surely not self-evidently baseless in the case of those accused of the Lockerbie bombing, especially in view of the fact that Scottish criminal procedure, unlike that of the United States, prohibits the questioning of potential jurors with a view to excluding from service any who might have been influenced by what they had seen, heard or read in the media before the trial.

I appreciate that the Scottish court system is different from that of England. However, when travelling in the Arab world I have heard people ask, "What about the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four? What will happen to the Libyan Two?" That may be unfair, but that is the perception in countries with which we have no extradition treaty. I should also say in parentheses that I have been careful not to go to Libya since the charges were laid.

The second objection is that there are formidable difficulties in implementing the proposal to set up a non-jury court applying Scottish criminal law and procedure but sitting outside Scotland in a place such as The Hague.

The response of Professor Black and myself is to ask: do the Government contend that it is beyond the capabilities and expertise of the Scottish parliamentary draftsmen in the Lord Advocate's Department, in consultation with the Crown Office and the Scottish Office Home Department's criminal justice division, to draft legislation setting up such a court and providing that it shall apply all the rules of evidence and procedure applicable to High Court trials in Scotland, save only those relating to the presence and functions of the jury?

We also ask: do the Government contend that such legislation, if promoted by the Government, would be defeated in either House of Parliament? That is unthinkable.

Do the Government contend that if such a court were constituted and the Libyan accused surrendered themselves for trial before it neither the Government of Holland nor the United Nations would be willing to assume responsibility for the custody of the accused in The Hague pending and during the trial? I have no doubt that the Dutch Government would be co-operative.

Now we come to the third objection—that the fact that the proposal for a "neutral venue" Scottish court provides that the court shall operate without a jury renders it unacceptable.

The response of Professor Black and myself is that two questions arise. First, as the jury in criminal proceedings is conceived of as a safeguard for the interests and civil liberties of the accused, what overriding or compelling interest has the prosecution to insist on jury trial where the accused and their legal advisers have, as in this case, waived their right thereto?

Secondly, if the Government believe that the presence of a jury in serious criminal cases is always and without exception essential, why were non-jury courts—the Diplock courts—set up for the trial of terrorism offences in Northern Ireland?

The fourth objection is that the US Government would or might refuse to make essential evidence available to a "neutral venue" Scottish court. My response and that of Professor Black is that section 3 of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 provides a mechanism for evidence not already in the prosecutor's possession, including documents and articles, to be obtained by invoking, through the letter of request procedure, the aid of a court with jurisdiction in the country in which the evidence is located.

Section 273 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995—as you chaired that Committee, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will remember it well—provides for the evidence to be given by witnesses outside the United Kingdom through a live television link. The procedure involves invoking, again by means of a letter of request, the aid of a court with jurisdiction in the country in which the witness is resident.

Do the Government really suggest, first, that a court in the United States would not respond to such a letter of request from the Lord Advocate or a judge in the High Court of Justiciary appointed to preside over a "neutral venue" court or, secondly, that the US Government have either the constitutional authority or the desire to impede the US courts in responding to such a letter of request?

The fifth objection is short. It is simply that accused persons should not be allowed to choose or have a say in where they are tried. Professor Black and I believe that that supposed principle has already been breached by Security Council resolutions 731 and 748, which impose on the Libyan Government an obligation to hand over the accused for trial in either the United Kingdom or the United States. The choice between those venues rests with the Libyans. What principle is therefore infringed by a third choice, which the Libyans have said in writing that they would accept—namely, that the trial be held before a court applying Scottish law and procedure, presided over by a Scottish judge, but sitting outside Scotland?

The final objection is that there is no guarantee that if a "neutral venue" Scottish court were set up the two Libyan accused would surrender themselves for trial before it.

In a letter to Professor Black dated 12 January 1994, and reiterated since, Dr. Ibrahim Legwell, the head of the legal team representing the accused, states that they would surrender themselves for trial before such a court. In a letter of the same date, the Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister states that the Libyan Government would place no obstacle in the path of such surrender. Within the past fortnight, Colonel Gaddafi confirmed that to President Nelson Mandela. We must make a judgment: is it likely that Colonel Gaddafi would renege on a commitment, publicly made, to President Mandela? In any event, what on earth could be lost by putting him to the test?

I ask the Government yet again to consider the exceptional circumstances of nine long years of argument, nine long years that have been harrowing for the relatives and extremely detrimental to our relations not only with the Arab world, but with the Organisation of African Unity, and to British industry. As I have often said in the House, the decision makers in Libya were mostly educated not in the universities of the United States, as in the case of some other Arab countries, but in Britain, and would be well disposed towards Britain and inclined to place orders, thereby creating jobs in Britain.

It is strangely poignant and appropriate that we should consider the matter of the Lockerbie disaster at this time. It was on 6 November 1991 that James T. MacDougall, procurator fiscal in Dumfries, petitioned for the issuance of arrest warrants in the names of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the two Libyans so far accused of the murder of 270 souls from 21 nations.

The right hon. Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the then Lord Advocate, read the warrants before the world's media in Edinburgh on 14 November 1991, and declined any form of detailed comment, other than to state that
"warrants have been issued, the two accused should surrender themselves for trial".
Since then, Lord Fraser and his successors, Lord Rodger and Lord Hardie, have on the whole, like Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, declined any form of comment.

Contrast that proper stance with the handling of the matter in the United States. As the Attorney General was reading a grand jury indictment in Washington, the Department of State was issuing two documents that have been described as the "most contemptuous" seen in the whole long Lockerbie story. The first is a rationale as to how the original suspects—Iran and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command—could not have carried out the bombing. The second, entitled "Additional information on the bombing of PanAm flight 103", makes various untested claims about who, how, where and why the bombing was carried out, and gives a detailed command structure of those allegedly responsible.

Those are curious documents, when hon. Members remember American assurances in the wake of the bombing of La Belle discotheque in Germany and the retaliatory bombing of civilian targets in Libya, that the Government of the United States would produce what they claimed to be incontrovertible evidence of Libyan involvement—evidence which, 11 years later, has still to be produced.

I add in parentheses that the Minister of State knows from the records that I visited Scotland Yard in September and that I have an answer, after my long, long interview with Assistant Commissioner David Veness, that an inquiry is going on into the dreadful case of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. The Home Office has not yet reported on that.

The attack on La Belle discotheque and stark threats by senior American figures after the issue of the warrants "to hand those guys over—or else" effectively guaranteed a negative response from the Libyan Government.

Over the six years, serious objective doubts have repeatedly surfaced about the case. No one doubts the honesty, integrity and professionalism of the hundreds of men and women of the Scottish police forces, led by the Dumfries and Galloway police, but many, including some highly qualified professional, legal and diplomatic figures, have posed serious questions about the involvement of US and intelligence services, which remain unanswered.

For the clarification and information of the House, I should like to put on record some important questions of which I have not given notice because I thought that the debate would begin at 2.30 pm. Nevertheless, I should like to put them on record so that, at their convenience, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Crown Office can address them.

First, why have the authorities denied the existence of an unmarked white helicopter despite numerous reported sightings of it over the first several hours and days after Lockerbie with armed crew members warning even search and rescue personnel to leave certain areas? Not only do I know of that from various sources, but I should inform my hon. Friend the Minister that my intent interest in Lockerbie began on new year's eve 1988. The Lothian and Strathclyde police—the police who serve my constituency and particularly the Strathclyde police in your constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the city of Glasgow—had the traumatic job of clearing up the wreckage and retrieving the bodies from that great airliner.

Secondly, why was no action taken in respect of American officers removing a case from the wreckage, without the knowledge or consent of Dumfries and Galloway police, and then returning it empty?

Thirdly, why were officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation allowed to travel to Jordan and interview Marwhan Kreesat, a known bomb maker, who was arrested and then mysteriously released in Germany in October or November 1988, without either German or Scottish officers being present?

Fourthly, why did the Foreign Secretary say that there is no way in which a case could be heard outside Scotland under Scots law and why does he rely exclusively on the Lord Advocate's office?

It may be within recollection of the House that during the most recent Adjournment debate on Lockerbie—I fear that this is the 13th such debate—I was told by the Minister of State, Scottish Office, that it would be quite impossible to open the evidence to sundry third parties. The sundry third parties were a reference to my request that the evidence should be examined either by Judge David Edward QC, the distinguished Scottish judge at The Hague, or by one of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary—Lord Hope and Lord Clyde. I do not fancy that either Lord Hope or Lord Clyde would be enchanted at being referred to as "sundry third parties". One would like someone to look at the evidence that the Crown Office claims to have.

Fifthly, why does the Prime Minister dismiss as irrelevant a question that I asked regarding supervisory special agent James T. Thurman, discredited head of the FBI explosives laboratory? There is a general opinion that Thurman was crucial to the American side of the Lockerbie investigation; if he was not, it should be spelt out because, certainly in the public print, Thurman was greatly relied on.

Sixthly, why did my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary state in reply to my question:
"It would not be possible… to mount a prosecution without the co-operation of the US authorities, who hold part of the evidence."?—[Official Report, 28 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 701.]

From that follows another question: why do the US authorities hold that so-called vital evidence? Has it been made available to the Scottish police, and why do they not hold it?

Why, despite a categorical undertaking to the UK relatives by the former leader of the Labour party, Neil Kinnock, that a Labour Government would hold an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing, has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister not instructed the holding of just such an inquiry? That is a matter of undertaking. In opposition, Neil Kinnock made it absolutely crystal clear that, come a Labour Government, there would be a public inquiry. We ought to be told at some stage why that is now not possible.

Why has the Secretary of State for Scotland not extended the courtesy of a reply to a written communication from the United Kingdom relatives in respect of alleged remarks made during a lobby dinner? I do not want to go into the details of what was or was not said, but it should be clarified for the sake of the relatives. I ask that the Foreign Office should communicate with the Scottish Office and that the Secretary of State for Scotland should reply to the relatives.

Why, given a new Government, do we appear to be subservient to American control of the investigation, evidence and any possible trial? I fear that that is the impression being given.

Why, in his reply to my question last month, did the Prime Minister state:
"but it is important that nothing is done which undermines the perception and the fact of the integrity of the Scottish judicial process. That will be felt very strongly by people in Scotland"?— [Official Report, 28 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 713.]
Is the Prime Minister aware of a telephone poll conducted by Teletext in the Scottish Television area last weekend, in which the replies agreed with both President Mandela and the UK relatives that the two suspects should be tried in a neutral country? Is the Prime Minister aware of a deep sense of frustration in many sectors of Scottish society that the impasse continues and that compromise seems to be an unknown word?

I pay tribute to several people who have been greatly helpful. In this whole saga, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), with whom I disagree profoundly on Europe and many other matters, has crossed a political divide in the realisation that the horror and scale of the matter must not be affected by party political position.

I pay tribute to the UK relatives' spokesman, Dr. Jim Swire, who, along with the secretary, Pamela Dix, Rev. John Mosey, Martin Cadman and many others, has pursued day in and day out the inalienable demands of truth and justice. I pay tribute to the memory of the late Alan Frankovitch, who did so much through film and writing to expose the truth, and to the work of his close colleague, David Ben-Areah, who continued the work started by Alan Frankovitch.

I commend both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister for their decisions to meet the UK relatives—especially my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It seems inexplicable that neither of the two previous holders of that high office saw fit to extend such an invitation.

I respectfully repeat a comment recently made by one of the relatives:
"there are none so blind as they who will not see—none so deaf as those who will not hear".
If we do not hear the demands of the relatives and if we do not act to break the frustrating impasse, we betray their trust, the trust of the people of Scotland and, most important, the memories and souls of those who died. I hope that there will be a sympathetic reply to the debate. I thank the Minister, whose schedule has probably been disturbed yet again, for answering a debate on this sad, complex, difficult and immensely important subject.

2.23 pm

I wish to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that my attendance at the Dispatch Box today is no inconvenience. Indeed, from our conversations, he knows that I attach great importance to the need to pursue the issue with vigour. I thank my hon. Friend for setting out, with his usual vigour and courtesy, the important issues related to Lockerbie, on which he and the House require a clear view from the Government.

I am also grateful to my hon. Friend for providing me with a copy of the paper prepared for him by the distinguished professor of Scots law, Robert Black, on the subject of third-country trial. I also am not a lawyer, but I will attempt to deal partially with some of the issues raised. In one sense, this is not an appropriate forum for me to examine that paper point by point, because of my lack of ability to go into detail. I assure my hon. Friend that the paper is being considered by my colleagues in the Crown Office who are responsible for the prosecution, and they will respond in detail. They are much more competent than I am to do so.

Will the paper also be considered by the Foreign Office lawyers, because some of us are desperate to have a second opinion on the Crown Office view?

The lawyers in the Foreign Office are, of course, actively engaged in the debate. My hon. Friend will know that, during the recent consideration of the location of the Lockerbie trial by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Foreign Office lawyers were present, together with the Lord Advocate. However, I do not wish to pretend to my hon. Friend that there is some mechanism under which the Foreign Office would even seek to interpose itself above the Lord Advocate in his legitimate and undeniable constitutional role as the legal authority in Scotland.

I do not name civil servants in the House, but two civil servants in the Crown Office who have given key advice have been there for a long time, and I understand that both have been honoured by the American Administration. That causes some of us to raise our eyebrows. All I am asking is that either the distinguished lawyers in the Foreign Office, or the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, or Judge David Edwards QC, consider the issue. After all, the issue involves the British national interest, apart from anything else.

There is no distance between us on the fact that this matter is of considerable national interest. Perhaps the best way to respond to my hon. Friend is to say that, since the Government came into office six months ago, and since I first responded to an Adjournment debate prompted by my hon. Friend, I—and every relevant member of the Foreign Office team and the Scottish Office and of the Scottish legal system—have spent much time looking at the evidence. I make no criticism of the time we have spent, because it was right and proper that we should do so.

I emphasise that we approached the issue with no fixed agenda or preconceived views, except a wish to examine the evidence afresh. The Lockerbie bombing is, rightly, of fundamental importance, not only in terms of my hon. Friend's concerns and the interests of the families involved—desperately important though those are—but because the issue affects the whole nation and its role in the world. We know that we are considering global issues, and I emphasise that we came to the issue with real determination to look at it afresh.

The Lord Advocate has gone through the evidence, and has shared it with members of the Foreign Office. As my hon. Friend knows, the Lord Advocate is firmly of the view that the evidence against the two accused Libyans justified the legal proceedings taken against them.

The Lord Advocate was a very controversial counsel in the original and highly controversial fatal accident inquiry. And is it known to the Foreign Office that senior officials of the Crown Office have had honours from the United States Government?

I am not in a position to comment on that. I must honestly tell my hon. Friend that the Lord Advocate is not only a lawyer of considerable expertise but somebody who, in the light both of his background and of the care and patience with which he has reviewed the present situation, should not in drawing the same conclusions as his predecessors be accused of initial bias. He was aware of the pressure that existed; indeed, he is the third Lord Advocate to examine the evidence afresh, and each one has a responsibility not only to himself—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Ms Bridget Prentice.]

I was saying that the Lord Advocate, both because of his background and professional training, and because of the office that he holds, made it his business to come to the issue anew. I understand what my hon. Friend says about his previous role, but there was a gap of some years after his initial involvement—a distance not only of time but of separation of responsibilities.

It is hardly for me to say this, but I believe that, personally, the Lord Advocate is a man not only of considerable talent but of rectitude. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that he approached the task with precisely the kind of interest and vigour that my hon. Friend would wish, and came to the conclusion, as others had done before, that the evidence justified the legal proceedings against the accused.

I repeat to my hon. Friend that the authorities' only interest is in ensuring that we identify and prosecute the perpetrators of that terrible act of murder. I have no hidden agenda, and the Foreign Secretary has none, either. We fully accept the view of the men and women who have diligently and tirelessly worked on the case—indeed, my hon. Friend paid tribute to them.

We believe that the evidence firmly supports the case against the accused. Inevitably, many alternative theories have been propounded by those who, unlike the Lord Advocate, have not had access to the evidence—but none of those stands up to scrutiny.

For example, it is worth noting that one of the theories spread abroad concerns the evidence of Lester Knox Coleman, whose account formed a large part of the television film, "The Maltese Double Cross". I think that my hon. Friend knows that Mr. Coleman has now confessed to an American court that his story was false. That is just one example of the inevitable speculation that has surrounded the case.

I use the word "inevitable" because I understand that, for those who seek the truth, the fact that the evidence will not be made available until there is a trial means that their knowledge of what is there is restricted. It also means that other theories will be suggested, and those are bound to be examined.

My starting point is that the Government come afresh to the issue, and are satisfied both that the evidence justifies the criminal charges brought against the two accused, and that the place to test that evidence is in a court of law.

I do not know whether the Minister will remember this, but the late Alan Frankovitch, the film maker, said that he was always extremely careful about Lester Coleman, who was peripheral, not central, to the film.

My hon. Friend makes the point for himself. There is no doubt that Mr. Coleman has now come out with a version of events different from that which he held firmly before.

The way to put an end to such speculation is to bring the matter to trial, and that is what the Government seek to do. I think that my hon. Friend will accept the fact that, since the general election, the new Government have come to the issue with a vigour that was not there before. He referred to the fact that not only the Foreign Secretary but the Prime Minister will meet the relatives; that is a courtesy that it is proper to extend to them. This offer to meet is not a guarantee to take the issue on to a different plane, because we believe that we must make sure that we bring the accused to trial.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow began by talking about the role of President Mandela, and he will have noted that the Prime Minister had an exchange of views on Lockerbie with President Mandela during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary covered the same ground with the South African Foreign Minister. As my hon. Friend said, President Mandela is an exceptional statesman, whose views are welcomed by the whole world, and he shares our desire to make progress in many areas, particularly Lockerbie.

President Mandela offered his thoughts to the Prime Minister on a third-country trial, but my right hon. Friend explained for our part why a trial by jury in Scotland would be fair and impartial. We explained the formidable obstacles to a third-country trial, and how instead we should make progress through inviting international observers to a trial in Scotland. We will pursue that with vigour.

Our position has always been that there should be a trial in Scotland or the United States. President Mandela has not sought to mediate, and he is fully aware of the great importance we attach to Lockerbie and our views on how we must proceed. During his last visit to Libya, he emphasised the importance of respecting the United Nations. The Government believe that the Libyans should respect the UN by complying with the UN Security Council resolutions, which, among other things, insist upon a trial in Scotland or the US.

We have had discussions with many other leaders on the subject of Lockerbie in recent weeks. We have asked those who may have influence with the Libyan Government to seek to convince Libya that it should submit the accused to a fair and transparent trial in Scotland. Libya, for its part, has exerted great efforts in trying to have the sanctions against it eased.

We have made it clear, as we will do again today in a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York, that we cannot countenance such a move until Libya meets the requirements of the Security Council resolutions. But we have made it equally clear that, when Libya does comply, we will support the suspension of sanctions. There is no hidden agenda—we want the issue to be resolved as much as anyone.

What Libya has done over the past six years is to prevaricate and put up smokescreens to disguise why it has failed to comply precisely with the requirements of the Security Council resolutions. In 1993, Libya said that it was satisfied with the assurances it had been given over the fairness of a trial in Scotland. It said that it could not force the suspects to present themselves for trial in Scotland, but it would urge them to do so. Nothing happened. Now it is alleged that the suspects would not receive a fair trial in Scotland. We think that that is absolutely preposterous.

We are asked to believe that Libya would hand the accused over for a trial in another country. But if it is unable to force the suspects to attend a trial in Scotland because of the absence of an extradition treaty, why should it be any more able to deliver them for trial in another country? My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow made the point that the Libyans have said that there was no obstacle to the accused appearing in a third country. It is very hard to hear that a trial by Scottish judges under Scottish jurisdiction outside Scotland would be acceptable, while the same process with the added safeguard of an independent Scots jury in Scotland would be such a bad thing.

What on earth, then, is the objection to an incoming Labour Government offering to meet those people and talk to them, to find out face to face exactly what their position is? Is it not high time that we talked to them?

We have made it clear that we would welcome independent observers from the Arab League, the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations if they came to Scotland to discuss the trial process and satisfy themselves that a Scottish trial would be conducted impartially, independently and fairly. We believe that that is the way forward.

That invitation has been accepted by the United Nations, and we look forward to pursuing precisely the question of the independence and acceptability of a Scottish trial with those who are themselves independent. It is important for us not to give the false impression that we can accept some form of negotiation with those who claim to represent those accused of crimes of the utmost seriousness in this country.

Propounding his own views and those of Professor Black, my hon. Friend asked why only the Lord Advocate—or at least the Scottish legal establishment—took the view that there was a difficulty about a third-country trial. I refer him to the conclusions of Professor M. Cherif Bassaouni of the international human rights institute of De Paul university, Chicago, who was the keynote speaker at a conference organised by the International Bar Association in conjunction with the Arab Lawyers Union, and who concluded that there would be insurmountable practical difficulties in establishing a trial in a third country.

The professor proposed what he called a Scottish solution, which he considered the only way forward. His agenda was very similar to that of the Scottish legal authorities.

I was at that conference, and a lot of other things were said. As I recollect, one of the objections was the difficulty of moving a jury. That objection, at least, I would have thought, had been met by Professor Black.

A jury is there not only to protect the rights of a defendant but to protect the Crown and the wider public interest; it is there precisely because it is not the professional legal officers, of whom my hon. Friend complains, who are able to dictate the pace and the conclusions of the trial process; the jury establishes some independence. I feel strongly—this is a personal view—that the jury system may not be perfect, but it is the best of all the systems devised in legal circles.

I would be most reluctant to go down the road that my hon. Friend suggests. He mentioned Diplock courts in Northern Ireland, where juries were dispensed with; they were justified by the then Government on the basis that there was a severe risk of intimidation of witnesses. Neither he nor I would want to pretend that there would be witness intimidation in a trial in Scotland, were the accused to appear there. I know that he would accept that.

Perhaps I am venturing beyond my legal competence, but, in response to my hon. Friend's point that any appeal of a third-country trial would take place in Scotland, I can only reply that the same appeal structure would apply to a trial conducted in Scotland. I can refer him to instances when judges in both England and Scotland have discharged juries—as, recently, in the case of those accused of IRA activities—on the basis that a trial would have been prejudiced by the publicity.

There are safeguards in the Scottish and the general British legal systems for a mistrial such as might take place under those circumstances. We hold to the view that a jury trial is acceptable, offers protection for all sides, and would not easily take place outside the confines of the Scottish system.

Those matters, however, are not the real issue. The real point is that Libya wilfully refuses to make the suspects available for trial, and shelters behind the alleged views of the two accused. Few serious cases would ever be brought to trial if the accused were allowed to decide whether or where the case should come to court.

The Libyans suggest that publicity in Britain would prejudice that trial. I have already said that we do not accept that. We are proud of our judicial system and the legal safeguards that it provides for the defendant—as well, of course, as the desire to pursue the guilty. That is why we have no hesitation in inviting international observers to a trial of the suspects in Scotland.

As I have said, we have now invited the United Nations, the Arab League and the Organisation of African Unity to Scotland to see the system for themselves. We will be glad to answer their queries, and to meet any concerns that they may have. At the request of my hon. Friend, the Government's invitation to the United Nations, the Arab League and the OAU has been placed in the Library of the House. I know that he will have seen it. We are grateful to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, for accepting that invitation.

While we will not negotiate with the Libyans, we talk with them on an on-going basis through the British interest section in Tripoli. It is always possible for them to put to us any areas of difficulty or concern that they have about a fair trial in Scotland on that basis. We would seek to answer those questions, but without accepting a priori that we feel that there is anything faulty or prejudicial about the Scottish legal system.

The worst possible outcome would be a trial that collapsed on technicalities. The truth might then never emerge, and that would be a real risk in a trial without precedent, set up by a new instrument to allow a Scottish court to sit in a third country. It cannot be right that those accused of a savage crime should dictate the form and venue of their trial.

To be honest, my hon. Friend is being slightly casual—I say that in kindness, as I do not normally accuse him of anything other than the utmost thoroughness—in suggesting that the choice of a trial anywhere in the world is comparable to the forced choice of a trial either in the United States or in Scotland, when there is a clear judicial criterion by which both those places are determined.

It is simply not the same to say that the accused ought to have unlimited choice as to where the trial should take place. That would set a precedent for the trial of other suspected terrorists accused of killing innocent people both here in the United Kingdom and more generally, and the horrific nature of such a crime means that we must in the end insist on a trial in one of the two places where there is a clear judicial locus.

Casual or not, the difficulty is that we will whistle in the wind. My hon. Friend talks about "in the end". When is there going to be an end? This has gone on for nine long years. Is it to go on for another nine, beyond the life of this and many other Governments? When will it be brought to an end? The difficulties with the Germans were brought to an end at least five years after 1945.

Of course, in the end I, like everyone else, recognise the terrible frustration, particularly of those most directly concerned—

Of course. They are the ones most directly concerned. I also recognise the frustration felt by everyone else on the issue.

We are pursuing this matter with real vigour. That is why we have issued the invitations to the world community and why we are asking it to involve itself in a way that we have not done previously. It is why we are asking that the United Nations Security Council resolutions be applied. They are not the resolutions of the United States—suspicious as my hon. Friend is of the United States—or even of Britain, but resolutions put forward by the United Nations as a community of the world.

It is those resolutions that we insist should be complied with. That is why we are inviting the world community to join us in that venture. That is the vigour that we want to apply to the present debate, because we also want to bring the matter to an end. The only way that we can put an end to the speculation and pain is by pursuing the matter in that way. We will continue to push that as hard as we can.

My hon. Friend says that I am suspicious of the United States. I was once a member of the executive of the British American parliamentary group, and would consider myself in many ways friendly to the United States, but I am extremely suspicious of them on this because they have been brutally critical of their forensic scientist, James Thurman. Many of the doubts about this whole issue are coming out of the United States.

I remind my hon. Friend that the then Lord Advocate wrote to him in October 1995 explaining that the proof of the Lockerbie case did not depend on the evidence of Mr. Thurman. The allegations against him were made by a former colleague, Dr. Frederick Whitehurst, and related to criminal investigations other than Lockerbie. It was alleged that he had committed perjury, obstructed the course of justice and fabricated evidence.

The allegations were investigated, and found to have no validity. A report published by the inspector general found that there was no evidence to support them. The report criticised lapses in Mr. Thurman's supervisory procedures, in recognition of which he was reassigned to other duties. He was not dismissed, as has been widely reported, although Dr. Whitehurst was dismissed from his post. Mr. Thurman's centrality to the case is not what my hon. Friend may believe it to be.

We believe that the role of the United States in the investigation to date, and in any future prosecution, has been, and will continue to be, one of the fullest co-operation. We have shared the evidence that has been collected with them, and their co-operation has, in turn, earned our deep gratitude, just as the work of the Scottish investigators has earned American praise. Any prosecution will entail further co-operation. There is no disagreement between us that the prosecution should proceed. We intend to continue to act in the same spirit of consultation and co-operation that has characterised the pursuit of the case so far.

In this instance, let me assure my hon. Friend that there is no question of United States dominance of the process or of the evidence. The Lord Advocate's decision to continue the prosecution was made on the basis of the evidence presented to him. It is in our national interest, not that of anyone else. It is part of our duty to those who died at Lockerbie and to their relatives that we proceed on that basis. The question of the dominance of one country over another in this case is peripheral, a non-starter. It is Britain's interest that determines the way we act.

My hon. Friend raised several other issues, some of which were very technical. I have taken notes of what he raised. He knows that others will have taken more careful notes, including the Official Report. I will ensure that those issues are raised elsewhere, and, as far as it is in my power, I undertake that he will receive a reply from me or, where more appropriate, from others.

I do not want to raise any expectation in my hon. Friend that the answers he gets will take some of his points further, because one or two of them are matters that are for others to answer. I cannot at this stage, for example, go beyond referring him to what the Prime Minister said to him in the Commons. His remarks were self-evident. I do not suggest that there is anything further to be said.

My hon. Friend has been extremely patient with me in answering questions but having listened to all this, forgive me if I say in an exasperated way—on behalf, I think, of the relatives and certainly of sections of British industry and exporters and of quite a number of other people—where on earth do the Government see this ending? This is a situation without an end in sight. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Are we to go on and on and on with such relations with one of the states of north Africa that is not overcome by the Islamic problems that afflict Algeria? Is there any hope of getting them on to a correct basis? It is all so pessimistic. I really am dismayed.

I must say clearly and unambiguously to my hon. Friend that the mass murder of British citizens and many others could never allow us to make commercial considerations our primary national self-interest. Our national interest must be to pursue the matter until we draw legitimate conclusions about the guilt or otherwise of those accused. We owe that to those who died, and to their relatives.

My hon. Friend's plea on behalf of those relatives is creditable, because I readily understand their frustration. The problem can be resolved by the international community exerting pressure on Libya, and when the Libyan Government accept the need to comply with the Security Council resolutions. I urge Colonel Gaddafi and those in the Libyan regime who want to establish a normal relationship with the rest of the world to ensure that they comply. That would cut through all the speculation. I accept that that will not take away the pain and the grief, but it will allow us to move on to the trial that should take place to establish guilt or innocence.

Although we can never draw a line under the matter, at least we can put an end to the frustrating confusion that I share not only with my hon. Friend but with the relatives who are here today, who have had to bear that burden for such a long time.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Three o'clock.