I beg to move,
That this House has considered compensation for victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. It is a great honour to bring forward this important debate on long-overdue compensation for UK victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism.
To set the scene of why this is such a critical and important debate, I first want to make a hypothetical case. Imagine if, in the coming weeks, the media were to report that there was strong evidence of the involvement of a sovereign state in the recent outrages in France. Imagine if we were to read that there was firm evidence that another country—not just the so-called Islamic State—had trained the lorry driver for the attack in Nice or had supplied the Kalashnikovs and the bombs for the attack on the Bataclan. There would be international outrage. Although that is hypothetical, the victims and their families in this case have had to live with such a reality for many years: throughout decades of IRA terrorism and murdering of people in this country, the weapons and explosives used were willingly and knowingly supplied by the regime of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.
Two key and timeless principles are at stake here. The most obvious is justice. Quite simply, we wish to obtain compensation for the victims of this terrorism as a way for them to get accountability from Libya, and for Libya finally to pay for its role in those actions.
The other principle is fairness. For me, the most extraordinary fact of this whole issue is that compensation has been paid, but to citizens of countries other than the one where the murders were committed. Of course, this is a long-running campaign. These outrages happened many years ago and the victims and their families have been waiting many years for justice. It is no surprise that, in that time, many of the arguments have been made time and again, but I happen to think there is good reason to look at the issue that I am discussing again.
Before doing so, I pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), and which has an ongoing investigation into the matter. I pay tribute to the debate about the docklands bomb called by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is my friend, which I attended and at which he argued most passionately. I also pay tribute to the Bill to do with asset freezing currently going through the other place, which was brought by Lord Empey.
There is a lot going on and there have been many debates, but there are three key reasons why we should be looking at this issue again today. First and foremost, it is to seek an important update from my hon. Friend the Minister about what is happening in Libya. When he appeared before the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury, he spoke of the fact that the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister will be setting up a new committee to look at the issue. It will be interesting to hear whether there have been any developments. We are hopeful but, of course, realistic and aware of the difficult situation that pertains in Libya at the moment with the civil war and so on.
Secondly, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), we parliamentarians have formed a campaign group to represent victims and their families. Many of its members are here today, including myself, and I am delighted to see them. We will continue to fight for justice for those victims, whatever happens and whatever the Government do.
Thirdly, the most important and timely point is that on Friday the House of Representatives in America voted unanimously, as did the Senate in May, to pass into law a Bill known as JASTA—the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act; it will empower private citizens of the United States to sue those involved in state-sponsored terrorism. In my view, the fact that that was passed unanimously in Congress throws open the whole issue of state-sponsored terrorism and its relation to individuals and their ability to seek redress through the courts and likewise.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this timely debate. He is alluding to the recent American experience. Does he agree with me that, although there is a fundamental issue of restitution and compensation, alongside that is an issue of sending an international message to nation states across the globe that there is no escape from their responsibilities if, at any stage in the past, present or future, they finance international terrorism? That is the message that needs to come across from the debate.
I strongly agree. The point we are trying to put across is that the past catches up with those who perpetrate these vile acts. I am told by the Minister that the President of the United States has vetoed that Bill. It remains to be seen what will happen because, as I understand it, Hilary Clinton has pledged to support it. It seems hard to believe that the Bill is going to go away quietly, given that the biggest act of terrorism in the history of the west and the biggest attack on US sovereign territory since, I believe, Pearl Harbour, is involved.
After all, it must be remembered that cases against Saudi Arabia have been ongoing for years. The whole point of the Bill was to enable those litigants to overcome the issue of immunity. I personally think the Bill will come back and that we need to be cognisant of that. The hon. Gentleman’s important point was well made and I think it encapsulates that, when states support terror, justice eventually catches up with them. We are here to ensure that that is the case.
It will be helpful if I explain my personal involvement with this issue. I was elected last May as the Member of Parliament for South Suffolk, and that summer I met one of my constituents, Charles Arbuthnot, who is a campaigner on this cause and whose sister, as a 22-year-old WPC serving her country on the frontline early in her career, was murdered in the Harrods bomb attack with explosives supplied by Libya. He is one of the key campaigners.
In the months afterwards, Charles and I exchanged letters, and I wrote to the Minister many times about the subject to probe a key point. I had been surprised, being new to the subject, unlike many hon. Members here, to hear from the Minister that a US citizen who had been caught up in the same bombing that had so brutally slain my constituent’s sister had been compensated. To me that was quite extraordinary.
I wrote to my hon. Friend the Minister and we had a long exchange of letters about it. I was shocked to discover, when looking back over all the debates on the subject, that the assumption, including by many hon. Members sitting here, was that the Government were aware of that compensation—it was a given—but that there was never any formal recognition of the fact that it had been paid out. I should say that my hon. Friend cares strongly about this issue, has served in Northern Ireland and will do all he can to help; there may be, shall we say, institutional issues at stake, in terms of the Department and successive Governments.
Finally, in March this year, I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister in which he referred to the deal made between the US and Libya, saying:
“Whilst the Commission did award compensation to a victim of the Harrods bomb, it is not possible to determine who the recipient was.”
He then went on to talk about whether that sets a precedent, which I think is absolutely key to this. He said:
“In future engagement with the Libyan Government, it may help us to mention that Libyan money has already been used to compensate victims of Qadhafi-inspired IRA terrorism. On the other hand, the Libyans may claim that Qadhafi made the decision to make payments to the US and that the decision to include US victims of the Harrods bombing within these payments was a US and not a Libyan one. They may therefore argue that this does not set a precedent for any future payments for victims of Qadhafi-inspired terrorism.”
My view is that it absolutely sets a precedent. Quite simply, money was paid to the victims—that is the bottom line. That is what our victims are seeking, because they want their redress and their justice, just as the Americans have received.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing forward this very important debate. Bearing in mind that the coalition Government took over in 2010, headed by the then Prime Minister the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment, to put it lightly, that the British Government have not espoused the claims of the individual victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA violence? Instead they have insisted that individual victims should make their own individual claims. That is quite impossible for them. The simple solution is for the Government to do the right thing and to espouse their claims.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury, the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, will be looking in detail at the issue of espousal shortly. If we go through all the documentation over the years, it is striking how there was a distinct change in tone around 2010. Let us be quite open about it—until then, the Government were proactive; they wanted to help and wanted to fight for justice. After that time, we kept getting the same line: “This is a private matter, but we will facilitate.” That has been the line ever since, and it has almost never changed. Even if we took that as the Government position, more can be done, but I will come on to that.
In terms of the precedent, if no money had ever been paid to anybody, there would still be a campaign, but I dare say it would be slightly easier for those campaigning to live with that and swallow it. If the money had been paid to a country such as Russia that had some deal with Libya, we might not be so surprised. However, the fact that money was paid to a citizen of the United States—our closest ally, with whom we stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism—and that they hatched a deal in which they got paid off and our citizens, murdered in their own country, got nothing, remains a disgrace and a shame to this day. That is why we fight on this issue and why I will continue to do so.
As my hon. Friend knows, I represent Aldershot, and we were the victims of a response to what happened in Londonderry on 30 January 1972. IRA terrorism burns deeply in the resentment in Aldershot. He talks about people receiving nothing, but some people were compensated. I had a chat with our noble Friend Lord Tebbit, whom everybody knows suffered horrendously; his wife suffered even more horrendously than he did. He has been compensated, but the level of compensation was very pitiful indeed. It is a question not simply of those who have received none, but of those who have received some compensation being adequately compensated. I wholly support what my hon. Friend is doing.
It is a pleasure to receive an intervention from my hon. Friend. I agree with him, of course. I am not sure whether the money in that case came from Libya or from a state sponsor, so I honestly cannot comment on that point. Obviously, we want to see all victims compensated, not only in terms of accountability and the balancing of the scales, but because they will have injuries and so on and will need to use that money to support the quality of life to which they frankly are entitled.
I mentioned the actions of the United States. Despite the news in respect of the President, it is important to read the purpose of JASTA, which was passed unanimously:
“The purpose of this Act is to provide civil litigants with the broadest possible basis, consistent with the Constitution of the United States, to seek relief against persons, entities, and foreign countries, wherever acting and wherever they may be found, that have provided material support, directly or indirectly, to foreign organizations or persons that engage in terrorist activities against the United States.”
The phrase “broadest possible basis” is incredibly powerful. I am not talking about the Minister individually, because I know he feels strongly about this issue, but many hon. Members here will think that at times, it has been the narrowest possible basis for the Government here, with them looking not at what we can do but at the reasons why we cannot do the things that campaigners are pressing for.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I thank him and the people involved in the current campaign here in Westminster. I want to put on the record my thanks to Lord Brennan, who previously was involved heavily in this issue, including in the delegation we took to Libya; and to Andrew Mackinlay, who was active as a former Member of this place and continues to be heavily involved as a private citizen. Many people have been involved in this campaign.
It is important that we continue to press our own Government, as the hon. Gentleman says. He reflected on what would happen if a Government had sponsored current acts of terrorism—there would be outrage—but what if a Government were found to be colluding in denying citizens proper compensation and justice? He has our full support in ensuring compensation and justice for the victims of this terrible period in our history.
Thank you, Ms Ryan. I am coming to my concluding point of substance. I share the sentiments just expressed about all the efforts up until now. I am well aware, as a new MP, that much water has passed under the bridge.
The point in respect of the United States Congress is their proactivity in really supporting their victims. In January 2008, the US Congress passed the annual National Defence Authorization Act, which is the omnibus Bill through which it funds its military commitments every year. In 2008, special provisions were added, allowing victims of state-sponsored terrorism to collect court judgments from terrorism-sponsoring states by seizing their assets. When that happened, Gaddafi immediately realised he was looking at a fairly substantial bill of several billion pounds, which led to the settlement that capped the liability. From that amount, the money was paid out that eventually led to compensation for the victim in Harrods to whom I referred.
It is incredibly important to reflect on the fact that the measures taken in America are not gesture politics; they lead to real action. In fact, JASTA was passed precisely because those civil litigants were running up against a brick wall of immunity, and Congress passed the Bill to help them go further. I am not commenting on whether Saudi Arabia has any implication at all. It is the principled point of proactive support.
The Government can do more. The key channel here is communication with Libya and trying to reach a deal, which I fully support and understand. In the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) talked about aid. We have a huge aid budget in this country. We are going to be spending a lot of money on aid in Libya, as I understand it.
Conditionality was also discussed in that Committee. Although I am not suggesting we should involve that now, if we see no progress, that may be something we can look at. We have the power to influence transparency. I would like to ask the Minister whether there is any way we can have clearer communication, particularly for the victims—for example, a dedicated section on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website periodically informing us what is happening with the committee out in Libya and in this dialogue.
We do not expect dramatic things immediately, though we hope for them. We are aware of the reality of the position in Libya. I simply make the point that a contrast is now apparent to us, particularly given what happened in America on Friday, when it comes to the approaches of two supposed allies in the war on terror.
I conclude with a quote from Senator Chuck Schumer of New York in May, during the passage of JASTA. He said:
“The fact that some foreign governments may have aided and abetted terrorism is infuriating to the families if justice is not done. That is what they seek—justice, justice, justice.”
I would add that if families in other countries get justice and ours do not, ours also want fairness, fairness, fairness.
It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to participate in this debate and to follow what was not only a strong contribution but a very meaningful one. Those of us from Northern Ireland who listened to the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) appreciate the support that this campaign is gaining across each major party and each major part of this country. Every victim, be they from Northern Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom, appreciates the support and attendance of hon. Members from parties throughout this House today, as well as the support of those such as Andrew Mackinlay who have served this campaign and continue to serve it so well.
This is about fairness, about transparency and about justice. It is easy to read in the Order Paper that this is a debate about compensation for victims of IRA terrorism and believe it is a Northern Ireland issue only. Today, all hon. Members who have attended are putting an end to that view.
I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that the word “justice” has become almost an insult to IRA victims, because many of them will never see justice. This is one way in which they can be compensated for the loss of loved ones, but Libya has dragged it out for far too long.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.
I recognise that the problem is not solely in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) referred to the 1972 bombing in Manchester and there were others in Brighton, Warrington, Harrods, Hyde Park, Chelsea barracks and Canary Wharf, and many more atrocities at the hands of the IRA, supported by Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan regime.
Since I was elected last May, I have spent a lot of time engaging with the Minister through the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, in bilateral meetings and in supporting the private Member’s Bill in the other place. From a rocky start in those discussions, the Minister is showing a personal desire, willingness and commitment to see this through. There is a real opportunity to deliver for the victims in this country.
Aid has been mentioned. I have said privately and publicly that it is unconscionable for me as a representative in this country to give aid, to help with reconstruction, to try to build lives and to provide a positive future for people’s lives in Libya, as we should, and not to recognise that people are languishing in this country, looking for support from their Government—a Government who are here to serve, a Government who are here to protect and a Government who are here to defend the interests of people of this country. I hope that we support the Libyan people as best we can and encourage that, but doing so provides a unique opportunity to make sure Libya recognises that there are still many brave people in this country, either sitting behind me today or watching at home, who need the support of a caring and compassionate Government.
We cannot continue to talk about these issues in the abstract. They are not only a vagary of our past; they are here with us today. Not so long ago—within the last six months—the victims of the Hyde Park bombing applied to this country’s Legal Aid Agency for support in their quest for a civil claim against the perpetrators of that bombing. They were turned down because they did not meet the criteria.
One reason why they did not meet the criteria was a fear that pursuing the quest of civil justice in British courts for British victims would be a threat to the peace process of Northern Ireland. What nonsense. I know the Minister will be able to respond to that point, but it is an indication of how victims in this country look to our Government for an appropriate response. There are many perpetrators of violence against the state who run to the courts, who receive support and who continue to claim they need further compensation, transparency or justice from the state—perpetrators of violence against the state and our citizens. If we can stand up for them—it sticks in our craw—it is incumbent on us to stand up for the victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA violence.
I want to focus on one case in my constituency. In March this year, a constituent, Adrian Ismay, was blown up by a bomb planted by the New IRA. It contained Semtex which, as there have been no recent purchases, is presumed to be of the same origin and extraction as that sourced from the Czech Republic through Libya to the IRA and disseminated through its splinter organisations. This year, a citizen of this country—a serving prison officer who believed in his community and served not only as a prison officer but in the search and rescue service—was blown up by Semtex with origins in Libya.
The chief suspect is walking the streets of Belfast on bail. Having breached his bail on three occasions and been returned to court, he is still walking the streets today. At the weekend, I received information that Police Service of Northern Ireland chiefs sent an email to their officers telling them not to conduct bail checks because they were generating too many complaints from his solicitor and offending his sensitivities—offending the sensitivities of a man who is alleged to be the murderer of my constituent in March. The police are concerned about his sensitivities.
I am conscious of time, Ms Ryan, but this debate gives the Minister a further opportunity to respond, whether to the victims of Hyde Park, to the victim Adrian Ismay and his family, or to the victims behind me and the countless victims throughout this country who have looked to the Government for an appropriate response. Today, Minister, is the time to give it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) on taking an interest and having the motivation to introduce this debate and on the excellent way in which he presented his case. He spoke about fairness being the priority and the overriding concern of many hon. Members.
I thank the Minister for appearing before the Select Committee on two occasions to bring us up to date. He is obviously very engaged in this matter. I know that he not only sympathises with the victims and their relatives, but empathises with them. When he appeared before the Committee he demonstrated that he cares about the issue, and I thank him very much for that.
When we discuss the importance of this debate, we receive a lot of evidence from victims and their families, both orally and in writing. If anyone doubts the pain that has been caused to people in this country by Libyan-sponsored terrorism, they need only read, for example, the evidence submitted by Mr Colin Parry, who, following the attack in Warrington, had to make the heart-wrenching and unbelievably difficult decision to turn off his child’s life support machine. I will not read through all the evidence he submitted, but I urge hon. Members to read it on the website. It describes why we are all so concerned about what happened. We cannot bring those people back, of course, but we can try to recognise the pain of their loved ones—that is the first step—and then try to bring about some compensation for them or their communities.
We have received evidence from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Tony Blair said he did not raise the issue and it was not raised with him. Gordon Brown set up the reconciliation unit, which tried to move things on. We have two problems, as the Minister told the Select Committee. He talked about the difficulty of dealing with the Libyan Government when they are not a stable Government. Perhaps he will bring the Chamber up to date with the position there now and tell us whether he believes it can be moved on, now that things have moved on a little in Libya.
There is also the question of frozen assets, which the Select Committee discussed. I understand that something like £8 billion or £9 billion of frozen assets sourced from Libya are held in the United Kingdom. I do not know whether the result of the vote that the country rightly made on 23 June will change any aspect of that. The Committee has been told that those assets cannot be touched. I do not know whether Brexit, when it comes about, will challenge that decision, but perhaps the Minister will bring us up to date on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said that some people have received some compensation, but very little. Presumably that was through the statutory compensation scheme, which was set up for such victims, but as my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk pointed out, it is uncertain—and, I think, doubtful—whether that money came from Libya. That is where the money should come from, because we hear of a foreign state that was not only encouraging, but physically supplying a terrorist organisation in this country to kill our own citizens. If Libya wants to become a serious constitutional country in the future and leave its pariah status behind, it must pay compensation for the people they have murdered in this country.
We need to move this situation on. It has been going on for a long time, as we all know. The victims and relatives are getting older; some will have died. I know that the situation is difficult and that diplomatically it might be difficult because we are trying to encourage Libya to move on, but it cannot move on without first clearing up the past. I therefore ask the Minister to continue to do everything that he is doing and possibly try to push our Government that little bit further to bring about, first, recognition of the pain and, secondly, the compensation that our British citizens are due.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I commend the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) for bringing this matter to the House. It is good that when fresh eyes come to look at a subject, they see the same injustice that other people who have looked at it before see. That encourages us, and the hon. Gentleman has certainly encouraged Members in the House today. His words will serve as a real fillip to the people of Northern Ireland and to the victims across the whole of the United Kingdom.
It is encouraging that as more and more people look at this situation, they see the inequitable treatment and injustice and they want to see fairness meted out to the victims. I also add my words of support for those who have for many years demonstrated steadfastness in their support for this case. Some are in the Public Gallery; my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) has already been mentioned; and there are many others who, year in and decade out, have supported this case and worked very hard.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), who has rightly introduced this matter to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, has said that there are difficulties in dealing with the Libyan Government. There certainly are, but let me also place it on the record that there have been difficulties in dealing with successive Governments of Her Majesty.
I do not know, Ms Ryan, whether you have ever tried to fish eels from a bucket of water, but it is an incredibly difficult task. Trying to get one’s hands on some people in the FCO and on the Government—successive Governments—to get them to give a straight answer to many of the questions that victims have genuinely put on the table is like putting one’s hand into that bucket and trying to catch a slippery eel; it is practically impossible to get straight answers. I think that today’s debate starts to get us to the right point. Victims have waited long enough for answers. They are sick and tired of the dilly-dallying and delays. Many of them are coming to, let us face it, the latter years of their lives and they need answers before they pass the immortal tide. We need to face up to that, and pretty darn fast.
There have been several efforts to address some of these issues, but I want to put two matters to the Minister and I hope that in his summing-up he will address them. First, I hope that he agrees with me that life-changing injuries require life-changing levels of compensation—not the paltry sums mentioned by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), but compensation that really addresses, for the generation of people injured, their needs, the impact that terror has had on them, their loss and their sense of loss.
Secondly, I want the Minister to talk about how we get compensation paid. I must commend him. He has been incredibly diligent. He reports regularly, privately and publicly, to Members of Parliament. He comes to the Select Committee and he has indicated to us the numerous conversations and efforts that are taking place with the new Government of national unity in Libya. I thank him for that, but there comes a point when we are told, “Look, we have to wait for this Government to be established and then we will put to them—we believe that they will be very compliant—the subject of compensation. At that point, compensation can more than likely be taken from the seized assets that are currently held by the Government here.” I can see why anyone who works in the City would oppose taking the assets and spending them in advance of that Government being established—because it would damage the City and the reputation of banking here. I understand all the reasons. It does not sound logical to a victim, but I understand the points that have been made. Therefore, I want to turn the subject round and present to the Minister a solution that I hope he will pick up and run with, or introduce as a Government amendment to the legislation.
My proposal is that the Government pay the victims in lieu, from British money. Given that they are confident that one day they will get an agreement with the new Government of national unity in Libya, when the agreement is in place they will take that money back. That will allow us to expedite compensation to resolve this matter, allow the victims to move on, allow us to put this situation, thankfully, behind us once and for all. It will also allow the Government to concentrate on helping to set up the new Government in Libya. On that basis, the Government will have solved the issue. They will not be spending the seized assets, but they will be recognising that one day those seized assets will be spent on the victims. I hope that the Minister will consider that and bring it forward.
Finally, I will put this on the table. For decades during our peace process, we were told, “Take a risk for peace.” I am saying to the Minister, “Your Government need to take that risk for peace now.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) for bringing this matter to the Floor of the House and for the extremely valuable contributions that he has made to the parliamentary support group for United Kingdom victims of Libyan/IRA terrorism. I thank all hon. Members for their support for this very important and worthwhile cause.
I would like to refer directly to the debate earlier this year initiated by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), in whose constituency the docklands bombing took place in 1996, and to some of the answers given by the Minister who replied to that debate, in the hope that the Minister today will consider different responses to the issue. The Minister in that debate, my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), tried to claim that the issue of compensation in this case was different from others. I would like to address directly some of his points and explain why I and members of the parliamentary support group believe that the UK should obtain compensation for the victims. I appeal to this Minister to rethink how the Government approach the issue.
The Minister in the previous debate implied that victims of bombs that contained Libyan-supplied Semtex should be somehow treated differently, as those bombings were indirect acts of state agents from Libya. Of course, the Lockerbie bombing victims were treated as victims of direct actions by Libyan agents. Why are the two types of terrorism treated differently? To me, that makes no sense, and I doubt that uncompensated victims will agree with such meaningless distinctions between the two types of terrorism.
First, I want to make it clear that this is a passionate debate and very important points have been made, but the Lockerbie bombing was directly linked to the Libyans. Where things become difficult is when a third party is involved in state sponsorship of terrorism. That is the distinction that we find. I am not saying that we should not pursue this issue. I am actively doing that and doing my best to do it, but it is not as clear-cut as when an aeroplane is taken out of the sky deliberately by the Libyans themselves. That was the link that the Americans made in seeking compensation. In addition to that, they wrapped into the compensation package other events as well, just to conclude the entire deal. That made it extremely fuzzy, but the US managed to succeed in doing that. I question why the Government of the day in this country did not do something similar.
I hear what the Minister says, but the reality is that if someone is a victim of terrorism, they are a victim of terrorism and the UK Government have a responsibility to act and ensure that there is fairness and that compensation is paid.
The reason why Gaddafi supplied the IRA was to retaliate against UK policy at the time. The Libyan regime may have used the IRA to do its dirty work, but it was a political decision by Tripoli, and Her Majesty’s subjects were harmed as a result.
The Minister at the time of the debate earlier this year, my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire, also stated that the US victims received compensation because Libya approached the US directly and Gaddafi wanted to be readmitted “to the international fold”. The facts are that in January 2008 the US Congress passed a law that allowed victims of Libyan terrorism to enforce their damages against Libyan assets held by US companies. The end result was the 2008 US/Libya Claims Settlement Agreement. Why did the United Kingdom not pursue a similar approach? Why did Britain not make it a condition of its détente with Libya that the compensation issue had to be resolved? If this gave the United States a bargaining chip with the Gaddafi regime, that begs the question why the UK did not raise this when the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, travelled to Tripoli in 2004 and 2007. Surely the UK should have used opportunities such as those visits to raise this vital issue for UK victims too, and to negotiate a settlement with Libya. Why did that not happen?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. The Select Committee needs to invite Tony Blair to stand in front of it and answer those questions. That is what I would encourage the Select Committee to do and I am aware that its Chair is here listening to this.
I hope that the former Prime Minister will make himself available to the Committee, but that is a matter for the Select Committee. I would like to address what our Government can do today to help the victims of that terrorism.
There have been multiple opportunities to raise this with the new Libyan Governments following the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Given our offer of financial and military assistance as well as trade, why has this not been pursued at the same time? My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire also said that one of the reasons the Lockerbie bombing claimants received compensation was that they had the support of a United Nations Security Council resolution, so why should the UK not be lobbying the Council for the same support?
Lastly, I refer to the point made by the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire that:
“The Libyans see themselves as victims of Gaddafi, not the bearers of his legacy.”—[Official Report, 23 February 2016; Vol. 606, c. 33WH.]
That, too, is no excuse not to proceed. The UK victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism are also victims of Gaddafi. It is clear that if the victims are to receive any kind of justice and compensation, Her Majesty’s Government urgently need to consider two options. Either Her Majesty’s Government accept that they have failed to defend the interests of their civilians and pay compensation directly to the victims, or the Government agree to pay compensation in an interim period, to prevent victims waiting any longer, with the intention of recovering that money from those responsible when the time is appropriate. The point underlying those options is that the victims should receive compensation as soon as possible.
With regard to the first option, the Government must accept some responsibility for the fact that the victims have not received compensation up to now. Nobody has received one single penny, and that should not be acceptable. It is the responsibility of the UK Government to protect UK citizens from international terrorism and, in the case of failing to secure compensation for victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism, they have failed. It is true that Libya is currently an unstable state, and that setting up negotiations with the Libyan Government would be difficult, but this is the fault of the UK Government for not having attempted such negotiations before 2011. Her Majesty’s Government must surely not miss any opportunity to raise this issue with the Government of Libya—fragile or not—today. Will the Minister assure the House that this will now happen?
The second option is for Her Majesty’s Government to espouse the claims by paying the victims compensation themselves, with the objective of recovering the money from Libya through either negotiations or the use of frozen assets. That would allow for the current instability in Libya, but address the fact that the victims have been waiting too long and indefinitely. We have a responsibility to obtain compensation for the victims as soon as possible, not years down the line when many may no longer be with us. Additionally, the UK Government should allow the UN and the EU to change the current licensing framework so that frozen assets can be used to recover the money. I understand the challenges that such a task would involve, but it would send a strong signal, at home and abroad, that the UK supports its victims of terrorism and that they will not be abandoned.
Until now, it is clear that the UK Government have not done enough to support the UK victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office unit that was set up by Gordon Brown’s Government appears to have done little for the victims, apart from provide them with false hope. The Department holds the policy of not espousing private claims, but these are not simply private, because their cause is tied up with international politics. This is an abdication of its moral and legal responsibility and I do not believe that Members of this House should accept it for one moment longer. I say to the Minister that Her Majesty’s Government have a duty to act immediately to secure compensation for the long waiting, and greatly deserving, victims of these atrocities.
It is a pleasure to speak on this very important subject. The right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken have outlined the issues for us as Northern Ireland MPs, against the background of the massive loss of life not only in Northern Ireland but on the mainland. It is good to know of the cross-party support on this issue in this Chamber. I commend the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) for the way he set the scene. I was keen to see whether Labour, under its new leader the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), would see this as a priority, but obviously it does not. The right hon. Gentleman has shown an interest in the IRA in Northern Ireland in the past, but from a different perspective.
The IRA terrorist campaign led to the deaths of 3,750 people not only in Northern Ireland but in Brighton, London and Manchester. Each IRA bomb was Semtex that came from Gaddafi and the Libyans. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) very clearly outlined how Semtex is affecting things that are happening even today.
Sunday was the anniversary of 9/11, and we all took time to reflect, prayerfully and physically, on that occasion and on what took place. That changed the opinion of the world in many cases. It changed the opinion of the Americans as well, who in the past perhaps looked on the Irish problem as one in which so-called freedom fighters—the IRA—were doing something fanciful and maybe romantic, as they saw it. That changed with the bombing of 9/11, when they realised what terrorism was—it changes us all.
I commend my friend, Andrew Mackinlay, who is here, for the hard work that he has done in the past, and those people in the Gallery who are here to acknowledge this fact as well. Compensation and a form of justice is what we are after. The Minister has stated that he cannot speak for past Governments, and even if he could it would be unfair to ask him to do so.
The Americans are notoriously litigious—some lawyers are on speed dial—yet their Government stepped in to ensure that a compensation claim was pursued corporately and not through individual suits. The passport that we all carry in this House—I will just make this point quickly in the short time I have—contain the momentous words:
“to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”
That is demanding upon other nations, but it is also demanding upon our own Foreign and Commonwealth Minister and Government. I have read of how EU regulations do not allow for the unfreezing or use of interest of Libyan monies in British banks, but I do not feel victims should wait for us finally to be extricated from the bonds of the EU to have access to compensation. That is very important.
The fact remains that my constituents, and the constituents of many of my colleagues in this place, have a right to know that their Government are working on their behalf, most especially after having suffered at the hands of terrorists who do not have to do the time for their crimes. The Good Friday agreement, and latterly the on-the runs scheme, has meant that for many the hope of justice has disappeared. There is still hope for these victims that their pain and suffering could be acknowledged in this way, and that is what I am asking for today.
In conclusion, in memory of all those who lost lives—murdered in cold blood by the IRA over 30 years of terror aided by Gaddafi and Libya—our Government will stand up and speak out. If legislation needs changing, change it. If European regulations need altering, do so. If others in the UN must be tasked to see things from our angle—in the way that the Americans were able to do—take them to Specsavers and ensure that they can see clearly the fairness and equality that we see clearly in this Chamber. Do what needs to be done and say what needs to be said. If we do that, we will be treated similarly to our American friends and colleagues. I believe that our Government must take this opportunity to prove that by taking actions from today. I fully back the comments that have been made and look to the Minister for his response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan, and I congratulate the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) on securing this very important debate.
The many thousands of people who, during the troubles in Northern Ireland—whether in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, here in Britain or elsewhere—were subject to violence and human rights abuses are entitled to compensation, truth and justice. As other hon. Members have said this morning, violence and terrorism were never justified in Northern Ireland. It was always a political process and should have been a political process.
That violence and terrorism was never justified and it is never justified today either. Whether it involved victims of the IRA and Libyan weapons, victims of British Government agents, or victims of the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force or other paramilitary groupings, every single murder during the troubles was wrong. The rights of victims, such as those sitting behind us in the Public Gallery today, must be respected and supported by all political parties.
We in the Social Democratic and Labour party support the victims of IRA violence using Libyan weapons and believe that those claims should be worked through by the Libyan and British Governments; Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan Government supplying those weapons to the IRA was immoral, unacceptable and wrong. It created unnecessary death and destruction, which was never, ever justified. I know that Libya has conceded the principle of compensation by making payments to citizens of the United States and the Minister has been trying, through his interventions, to explain the reasons why that has not happened back in the UK. But it is important that that vital instrument and vital piece of the wider geometry is understood and resolved for the benefit of all.
In untangling the situation with the current Libyan Government, we must also try to understand the situation facing victims and survivors of all the terrorist violence that took place during the troubles in Northern Ireland. I am thinking of my debate last week about Loughinisland, where six men were tragically killed by the UVF; there has been no justice and accountability. Again, that is symptomatic of the wider feelings around dealing with the past. I ask this Minister, who is from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whether he will have discussions with his counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office on foot of this debate, because the ongoing case that we are discussing today is not only for financial compensation, but for the acknowledgement and recognition of the suffering caused, and for truth and accountability.
As hon. Members here today know, particularly the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson), who has dealt with Eames-Bradley and other such issues, the structures for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland have been downgraded since Eames-Bradley and, in fact, even since the Stormont House talks. Serious work and amendment are still required on the oral history archive, the historical inquiries unit, the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group.
In conclusion, I believe that the process on legacy matters, such as that under debate today, must be right, as must be the final product. That can be achieved only if victims and survivors are fully involved, and that includes the people who were impacted by Libya and the consequences of the supply of those illegal arms to the IRA, as well as by the arms retrieved from South Africa that caused the deaths of people in Northern Ireland.
We have only one chance to deal with legacy in the UK—particularly, from our perspective, in Northern Ireland. It must be credible and must be seen to be credible, and only full transparency from the Government will achieve that. That is what I am looking for today in the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan, and I welcome the debate that the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) has secured. He clearly highlighted the good work that is ongoing at the moment but I have to say that, in the end, it is not enough. I support his aspiration regarding what should have happened, and the Minister’s point about what should have happened under a past Government regime. I have a sense of frustration about that, just as the victims do, but we are where are we are and further work will be needed. I welcome the Bill of my colleague, Lord Empey, in the other House, but it will take work from this Government to move that forward.
I certainly do not want to pretend that I have a monopoly on the representation of victims, but I remind hon. Members of the Enniskillen poppy day bomb in my constituency back in 1987, which killed 11 people. We do not have any conclusions on that. Even though the Historical Enquiries Team promised a report four years ago, we still do not have it, and we still do not have any progress.
I believe that there are people out there who could help that investigation in identifying some aspects about the weapons and support that came from Libya. Some of those people are very senior in the Northern Ireland Executive now. Indeed, I believe that the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, could give support, help and assistance, but it appears that he is not prepared to do so. If we are going to deal with the past and aspects relating to Libya, Martin McGuinness and his colleagues need to come out and be absolutely clear on where they stood, what they have done in the past, and how they assisted. I want to see progress on that.
Somebody earlier mentioned fairness. This is about fairness. We hear of the millions of pounds that are going to other inquiries in Northern Ireland and on mainland UK. Why can other victims not have a share of that, whether it comes from Libya or other places? They need that equality and support as well, and they are not getting it. I know of several police officers and Ulster Defence Regiment members who were murdered. Their families got a few thousand pounds in compensation, but that is not appropriate, and it is certainly not fair when we hear of the millions going to victims now. I want to see that addressed and the balance redressed.
I am pleading with you, Minister, please, in the lifetime of this Parliament, make sure that we resolve this matter now, so we are not coming back to it in five years’ time and having the same debate. I believe that you have the wherewithal to do it. The Libyan Government have accepted the principle in the past by giving other countries compensation. I am pleading with you now: please do it for your own citizens. Do it for the citizens of the United Kingdom, which includes those in Northern Ireland as well.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) for allowing me to take part in this debate. He stressed that although US citizens caught up in IRA bombings using Libyan Semtex have been compensated, UK citizens have not, and I hope what I say will contribute to the arguments used in this debate.
As the House will be aware, this kind of situation, in which our nationals are not compensated but others are for very serious wrongs committed against them by, or involving, another Government, is not unprecedented. I have been campaigning for many years for compensation for UK citizens taken hostage by the Iraqi Government of Saddam Hussein at the time of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990, including those on BA flight 149, and released some months later. Many of those people—I have a letter here today—were badly traumatised by their experience. Some suffered mental and physical abuse, including instances of mock executions and rape, and none, to my knowledge, has received compensation.
The issue has been raised with me again recently in the letter, the writer of which asked me to continue raising the issue. This is a historical wrong that still needs to be addressed. The UK Government should do more to assist the victims—particularly as nationals from other countries, including France and the United States, have received compensation—including those on British Airways flight 149. I will not go into the details, but I remind colleagues that BA flight 149 made a stopover in Kuwait on its way to Malaysia from Heathrow on the day of the invasion. It has since been alleged that the UK Government allowed the passengers and crew to land there, knowing that they would be endangered.
Especially galling is that 61 French passengers on board the plane won compensation worth about £50,000 each from BA. There have also been reports of undisclosed payouts to American passengers held as human shields. However, the case brought by British passengers was thrown out, essentially on a technicality, by the House of Lords. In fact, after the 1991 war, the UN Security Council ordered Iraq to compensate countries that suffered as a result of its occupation of Kuwait.
Compensation has been paid—a significant proportion to Kuwait. I am not aware of any payment by the Iraqi Government, or any other entity, to British claimants. Will the Minister clarify whether that is, in fact, the case and whether the UK Government have ever formally raised the matter with the Iraqi Government or any other relevant entity? The matter remains unresolved and the UK Government could undertake to raise it in the coming months.
Finally, I remain concerned that the UK Government have not yet dealt with the cases with sufficient resolve and urgency, including in my example, in that set out by the hon. Member for South Suffolk and many other colleagues, and in current cases where British nationals’ rights, wellbeing and security are being flagrantly treated with contempt by foreign Governments. I support the case put by the hon. Member for South Suffolk. The situation is unfair and unjust.
I am pleased to speak on something about which we all feel passionate. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) on raising the issue, and I wish that more hon. Members from this side of the water would raise the issue so that we could all work together.
I am pleased to be on the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs and to have listened to some of the ghastly evidence of those who have suffered. The driving force of today’s debate should be to get action and care for those people from now on. We are all part of the pride that is British society; yet, somehow, we have let ourselves down. We have not done what we should have done for all those people, one of whom referred to the “hell on earth” that she has been through. That sums it all up. We should be looking into how we care for them.
The Minister kindly wrote me a letter in reply to various queries. On the question of how to look after victims of post-traumatic stress disorder, he referred to going to the NHS. That made me think about the route that we are taking with the military covenant. Maybe we should produce a covenant for victims—something that everyone in the whole UK is behind—to ensure that we look after them, whether that is at a Westminster or a council level. We should look into having a system, but there should be no excuse for not doing things now. We should find a way to care for the victims.
We have heard about compensation, and we need to find a way to get that. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) suggested exactly what I had in mind. Let us do something in lieu of the £9 billion that is sitting there, and find some way of making use of the money. Whether it is buying a house or borrowing, we all find ways to talk to the banks and move forward. There must be a way—working through the UN, the EU and others—to find a solution that produces funding.
Another point that always seems to be missed out is that we do not have a database of all the victims. There is a mass of people. We need some form of publicity to build the database so that when we get the compensation—and I believe we will—we can look after everyone, especially those who need it.
Finally, could we have openness? Many, such as the Minister and all those who are here today, work phenomenally hard, but there are still so many doubts. We cannot get Tony Blair or Gordon Brown to the Committee. There are so many unanswered questions that leave a dirty feeling about what is going on. I know that many people are working hard, but can we please get out there and have openness? Perhaps we could have an open reconciliation commission here so that we can actually get to the bottom of the issue so that everyone can move on. We need speed to help those in need.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) on securing the debate. Like him, I am fairly new to the subject, so it has been a real privilege to hear from so many hon. Members who have been campaigning for so long to get justice for victims.
The issue remains extremely important and sensitive. The Scottish National party welcomes the fact that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is carrying out an inquiry into the matter of compensation for victims and the UK Government’s role. It is good to see so many members of the Committee here today. It is right that an independent inquiry into the issue should take place to fully evaluate whether all the decisions made by the UK Government on the matter were appropriate. We hope that the inquiry will be able to answer the questions that the victims’ families have been struggling with for so long, and that it may help families to find some resolution and peace.
Any decisions made would have to go through various diplomatic and legal processes, but we must ensure that any processes are undertaken with utmost respect for the dignity and privacy of the victims’ families. According to the UK Government, the avenue of using frozen assets to compensate victims’ families would place the Government in breach of their obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, EU sanctions regulations and the European convention on human rights.
In February 2016, the then Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), stated that
“the legal framework relating to financial sanctions is focused on preserving the funds for the benefit of the Libyan people”—[Official Report, 23 February 2016; Vol. 606, c. 32WH.]
However, it seems that there is still a possibility that a more personal agreement could be reached between the representatives of victims’ groups and the relevant Libyan authorities, although I was interested to hear about the Government taking those issues on. It is promising that, as reported in The Daily Telegraph in January 2016, the Minister met with the Prime Minister designate of Libya, Fayez el-Sarraj, and raised the case for compensation. It is good to see the Minister here and I am sure everybody is looking forward to his response.
Although the wish to have the matter resolved as soon as possible on behalf of the victims’ families is understandable, it is of utmost importance that the ongoing political instability in Libya is taken into account before any such communication takes place between victim support groups and Libyan authorities. Families have been through the terrible experience of losing a loved one in such horrific circumstances. To avoid any further unnecessary suffering and to ensure the privacy of victims’ families, it is vital to wait until diplomatic and peaceful communication between victim support groups and Libyan authorities can be achieved.
We welcome the fact that the UK Government have shown support for such a pathway, and we hope that they will continue to update victim support groups on the ongoing political situation in Libya and any progress that can be made with their cause. A number of important issues have been raised in the debate, so I will finish my remarks because I am sure that many hon. Members want to hear the Minister’s response.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) on securing the debate. I also pay tribute to the tireless work of support and campaign groups that have continued to seek justice for those who have fallen victim to terrorism, including the Docklands Victims Association, which recently commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Canary Wharf bombing. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) was in the Chamber earlier.
I appreciate that when the Minister gave a commitment back in September 2015 that the
“Government’s objective is broad and lasting reconciliation between Libya and UK communities affected by the Qadhafi regime’s sponsorship of terrorism”,
there was no stable or recognised Government in Libya, and that remains accurate today. Even in the last 24 hours the Government of national accord have lost control of three major oil ports. We know how difficult it is, but will the Minister please update us on the most recent representations to his counterparts, not just in Libya but in the USA? As Members have said today, there is a serious anomaly—I am talking not just about US victims, whom the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) underlined in his speech, but about French victims, whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) mentioned. Why should victims in the UK be any different?
Many Members have mentioned the legalities of this case, but surely the big question is the moral case. We are not here just to talk about legalities, court cases and precedents, and so on; what we care about is fairness for victims. So many years have now elapsed, and we are desperate to get a solution.
I will repeat a couple of important points so that the Minister can be forensic in his response. As I am being brief, I hope he will allow me to intervene if he does not respond to my questions. First, the hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) made a brilliant observation about having a covenant for victims. What is stopping our excellent civil servants drafting such a covenant? The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee could have a hearing on a covenant for victims, and the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) could contribute to debates within the Committee.
Secondly, what is the Minister’s view on building a database? Thirdly, the hon. Member for South Suffolk said that there should be regular updates on the FCO website. If not, why not? Tell us this morning. Let us get some certainty. Finally, I see no difference between the US and the UK. We are partners when we set out on such expeditions, and we should have a similar outcome for victims here in this country.
There has been much talk of predecessors. When Gordon Brown set up the reconciliation commission, I was probably leading the London Borough of Islington and talking about speed humps. What matters is that we are where we are. Some of us were not in the House then, and it is important that we start from today. Today we can have a fresh start. We have heard passionate speeches today from Members on both sides of the Chamber, and there is no reason why we cannot start afresh with fresh Members and fresh energy. Let us have some justice for the victims. Let us not allow this debate to get dusty on shelves again.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I begin, as others have done, by underlining the importance of this debate in the wider picture of ensuring that the Government have a better understanding of these critical matters. I am grateful that the legislature is able to continue holding the Executive to account on an extremely sensitive issue—the legislature has been tested by the length of time it is taking to resolve these important matters. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) on his contribution; indeed, I congratulate all hon. Members on their very moving and pertinent contributions today.
When I first came across this issue before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I did not know a huge amount of detail, as was evident by the types of answers that I then provided. I hope that my answers today will express a determination to stick to the course, which I would have done even had I moved away from the Foreign Office. Thankfully I continue in this post, and I endeavour to do what I can to work with fellow parliamentarians to ensure that we can push this cause forward.
As has been recognised here today, the situation in Libya is at the heart of the issue and is a cause of absolute frustration in our not being able to move this forward. The situation is testing the patience of those seeking compensation. Until Libya has a Government we can work with, we are simply not able to consider what to do with the frozen assets—we are simply not able to have those conversations. Every time I have addressed this matter in Parliament, I have been pleased to say that the situation in Libya is incrementally better, and the same is true today. However, the situation is still very delicate. The Government of national accord, under Prime Minister Sarraj, are having a tough time of bringing together societies that for 40 years under Gaddafi had no ability to flourish. Our embassy is not fully functioning, and our ability to move in and out is still restricted, as expressed by our travel advice. As has been mentioned, Daesh is moving into certain areas and towns. The situation is difficult, but it is better than the last time I spoke to the House on this issue.
The Minister has listened carefully to the evidence given to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, of which I am pleased to be a member. I have a specific point on the 2011 EU regulation governing the freezing of assets. That regulation was implemented in the UK, but the Brexit decision means that the Government are free from that regulation. As there are no additional domestic measures on the freezing of Libyan assets, will he confirm that this is part of the Brexit negotiations?
If hon. Members allow me, I will do my best to answer all the questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) also mentioned Brexit—he is characteristically on top of Brexit matters—and my direct answer is that I am afraid that that is not the case. First, many of the EU’s financial regulations have been written or espoused by Britain because we led on financial services. Secondly, we are governed by UN regulations, and those are the ones of which we would be in breach. I will come and speak to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) about that in more detail.
I met the Prime Minister-designate, as he then was, back in November 2015. I had subsequent meetings with the Foreign Minister of Libya, and I hope to meet him at the UN General Assembly next week—I will be raising this matter, too. Our new Foreign Secretary has also raised this matter, and our previous Foreign Secretary, now the Chancellor, raised it when he visited Tripoli only a few months ago. I wrote to Libya’s then Justice Minister about the formation of the committee on this very issue, but there has since been a reshuffle—that happens, as we know—and the justice post is currently vacant. I am waiting to see who the new Justice Minister is. I will be making contact to pursue these matters as soon as that appointment is made.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I will be very brief. Will he make it clear that, whatever Government emerge, we will expect them to take some responsibility? There are examples from history. Germany rejected Nazism, but the Government who were eventually formed still paid compensation to its victims.
We need to make a powerful case that there was clearly state-sponsored terrorism, with devastating effects in Northern Ireland. I will continue to make that case in New York next week, but I will also do so in further meetings as relationships with Libya become stronger.
Frozen assets have been mentioned several times. If we dip into the frozen assets based in this country, where would that take our relationship with Libya as a whole, when we are about to have the very conversations that my hon. Friend just mentioned? We need to be careful. I pose some difficult questions to the House. How much would we take? To whom would we give the money? How would we distinguish between somebody injured by Semtex, where it is very clear—Semtex has a footprint that can be identified because of the way it is made by hand—and somebody injured by ammunition provided by Libya? These are difficult questions that those involved in compensation need to start thinking about.
Were we ever to get any form of compensation from Libya, I suspect that we would need to get our heads around the idea that it will be a single sum that is slid across the table. It will be for the victims’ organisations to assess how the compensation is divided up, as those in authority in Libya would not want to be involved in the detail. I share that now because these are awkward, difficult questions.
One Member talked about the mental scars that have been caused. People who have not necessarily come forward yet are subject to these issues, which raise difficult questions. When we speak about frozen assets and so forth, let us also ask ourselves exactly what the mechanisms will be if we go down that road—let us do the homework—so that we are prepared if such questions are asked of us.
However, I do not want to raise any expectations at all. Ultimately, we still need to convince the necessary authorities that they will speak for what a previous Government under Gaddafi did by putting their hand up and saying that they sponsored terrorism through the IRA. I am also aware that a private Member’s Bill is coming through from the Lords—my hon. Friend the Member for Romford might be involved in that as well—so we will undoubtedly explore such issues in due course.
On asset freezing and Brexit, as I said, maybe I can write to the hon. Member for North Down in more detail, but the issues are subject to myriad regulations, some of which involve the EU, from which we might be liberated if article 50 passes. Nevertheless, the reputation of the City of London is also involved, which is significant as well. If we are seen to dip into assets, where does that place Britain as a safe place to do business? Morally, we might say, “Absolutely. Let’s go down this road and take those assets.” I simply suggest that there will be consequences if we do so.
As I said, that is an option that we can consider, but it has severe consequences, which is why I would not recommend it when we are about to embark on discussions. If there is any whiff that we are about to dip into frozen assets to the tune of £9 billion, where will that take our relationship with Libya? There would be consequences. I will make it clear: our objective is to gain compensation, but our strategy to gain that compensation should take us to the best possible place, rather than making us enemies along the way.
It is not for me to do that. I am the Minister in the Foreign Office. When I visited Northern Ireland, it became apparent to me that there were cases in which those subject to violence and terrorism there by the IRA were perhaps not receiving as much compensation as they should. I pass on such matters, but they are not for me as a Foreign Minister to pursue. I am helping with the link with Libya.
There are various schemes in place. I am involved in supporting those affected by the Sousse terrorist attacks to ensure that they receive the necessary compensation. There is a criminal injuries compensation scheme, as well as one tailored to Northern Ireland. If they do not meet the support needs of those affected, that is a domestic matter that must be pursued, and I will encourage that, but it is not for me to pursue it. However, I will discuss it with the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
To be frank, it is a bit of a red herring to be arguing in this debate about dipping in. That is part of the drive of the Bill in the other place. We argued for something very separate: Her Majesty’s Government should make a payment in lieu. That would involve the Minister at the Foreign Office having a discussion with Her Majesty’s Treasury and coming up with some way to underwrite that payment. Is that a possibility?
Again, time is limited. There is a Bill coming through, and it will have its Second Reading on the Floor of this House. We can have that debate then; it would be the most appropriate time to do so. The frozen assets do not belong to the Gaddafi family; they belong to the state and the people of Libya. That is the international law by which we abide. We can release, unfreeze or touch those frozen assets only when there is a secure and stable state to return them to. To do anything else would be unlawful. I want to make that clear.
Moving on to some of the other points made, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) covered the issue of frozen assets, but also spoke about the strategy. Let me make it clear: if we go down the road of using frozen assets, we are basically saying that we do not want to have the conversations with Libya that we are about to embark on. We must be clear about where to focus our energy. We have made it clear that the Government will not espouse individual claims, but I will lead a delegation to knock on the Justice Minister’s door to pursue compensation. If Libya and Tripoli are not safe enough, let us ask them to come to London so we can have those conversations here. That is my commitment to ensuring that we pursue and continue the dialogue. I think and hope that that strategy will meet with the agreement of all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford also spoke about comparing the aid budget, as is often done in such cases, suggesting that we should hold it back to encourage compensation to be paid. Again, that would have huge consequences. He will be aware, as are others here, of what is happening on the Libyan sea front. Criminal gangs are using rickety boats to bring people across the sea. Our aid budget assists in preventing that from happening. There would be direct consequences for other aspects of Libya, including support for the fight against terrorism, so it might be unhelpful from that perspective. However, I absolutely agree that there should be a quid pro quo to encourage things to happen. I am being careful while saying this, because there are civil servants looking at me with big eyes, but our genuine further commitment should be based on what progress we see, not least on this particular issue. I will leave it at that for the moment.
The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) talked about justice and accountability, which are an important part of this issue. It is about ensuring that Libya not only recognises the need for compensation but puts up its hands, in the way that we have seen with the United States. I am conscious of the time, so I will just touch on the United States. That was a political agreement, not a financial package of compensation. It was about bringing Gaddafi in from the cold. That is why, in my earlier intervention, I suggested inviting Tony Blair to make a statement on the matter. Clarity is needed on what happened in 2008 and why we did not pursue something similar. That was our opportunity, and I believe that that opportunity was missed.
I will wind up my speech, if I may, because there were many more questions to be answered. In my usual style, I will write to hon. Members with more details on the questions they have asked, but I hope that I have exhibited some passion and determination in saying that I absolutely want to ensure that this Government do what we can to hold Libya to account and give it the opportunity to do the right thing by recognising the case for compensation. Perhaps it can be tied to when the assets are released. That would be a major step forward in strengthening the bond between our two countries. Much hinges on the progress made in Libya. It has been very slow indeed, much to the frustration of everyone.
This has been an excellent debate. I thank all hon. Members, from all parties and all parts of the United Kingdom, for participating. In this short time, I will highlight some of the key points made. Different proposals have been made on the subject of assets. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) talked about payment in lieu. The key thing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) mentioned, is Lord Empey’s Bill, which unless I have misunderstood—I will check Hansard tomorrow—we will have Government time to discuss. We would be grateful if that Bill could be debated fully in the House of Commons so we can explore the details. I welcome that.
On the subject of aid, I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson). To me, it is hard to defend paying large amounts of aid to Libya without any discussion of compensation. We should pursue that point. On Tony Blair, we would all like to see him before the Committee; I think that is unanimous. We want to discover what happened in those negotiations. It is a mystery to us, and we hope to explore it.
The Minister asked how we might determine how much compensation is due. As I understand it, in the US-Libya deal in 2008, a tariff was set up for the victims. Otherwise, how would payments have been awarded? It was not done on a random throw of the dice, so there is a precedent in the US for the people of the United Kingdom. The point is that compensation was paid—in some cases, millions of pounds. Either way, there is a precedent. That is what we should look at, and it is a key point in this debate. Compensation has been paid, and we want it for our victims in this country.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).