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Volume 730: debated on Tuesday 4 October 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in negotiations with the National Transitional Council in Libya to secure compensation for United Kingdom victims of armaments supplied to the IRA by the Gaddafi Government.

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said on 5 September, we are clear that this will be an important bilateral issue between the United Kingdom and the new Libyan authorities. The National Transitional Council’s chairman, Abdul Jalil, and Prime Minister Jibril have assured the Government that they will work with the UK to resolve bilateral issues arising from the wrongs of the Gaddafi regime.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful response. The House will be well aware that the Gaddafi regime supplied boatloads of armaments to the IRA, in particular Semtex explosive, which was responsible for the death and injury of thousands of United Kingdom citizens, as well as the destruction of many properties at enormous cost to the taxpayer. I believe that what is required now is a vigorous and determined approach by the Government to ensure that this matter is resolved, and that United Kingdom citizens who have suffered as a direct result of what was nothing short of an act of war by the then Libyan regime can be properly compensated for the suffering they have endured.

The noble Lord is quite right. I am personally well aware of the damage and horror caused. Our top priority at this moment is to ensure that Libya completes its transition to having an inclusive, stable and democratic Government. However, these matters lie just ahead and we will certainly give full support through the FCO-led unit, which was very helpfully set up by the previous Government to support the campaign for reconciliation and compensation in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and Mr Jason McCue for their work in pressing the previous Government to establish the unit to which my noble friend referred. May I seek the Minister’s reassurance that that unit will continue to operate, and that the benefits that were being negotiated—not only the victims’ compensation but benefits for the United Kingdom and its taxpayers more broadly—will continue to be pressed for? Will the current moves by the United States Government to ensure that unfrozen assets from Libya are used to compensate United States citizens mean that those benefits accrue solely on the other side of Atlantic, or will they also be available to the United Kingdom Government and citizens for what they have suffered?

Yes, I can assure my noble friend that all those matters are under close consideration. As he knows, the Government—under the previous Government and in the immediate future—are not negotiating directly with Libya. That reflects the view that the greatest chance of success is for the victims and their families to engage the Libyan Government directly, with the support of HMG. However, we will certainly take all my noble friend’s points into account.

My Lords, will the Minister advise the House of the extent to which the National Transitional Council in Libya is influenced by tribalism? To what extent will that impact on the negotiations in respect of Northern Ireland?

It is always difficult to make a precise judgment. However, all the evidence that we have is that the priorities of the National Transitional Council are to complete the liberation, to be even-handed, to avoid any pandering to extremism, and to be highly co-operative with the United Kingdom Government in dealing with these matters. That is all the reassurance that I can really give.

My Lords, it was rumoured in the press that the murderer of PC Yvonne Fletcher was killed in the conflict. Can the Minister confirm that?

I can tell my noble friend that of course we want to see justice for WPC Fletcher, her family, friends and colleagues. The Metropolitan Police are determined to bring this investigation to a close. That is a priority and we regard it as a key element in the UK’s future relations with Libya. Prime Minister Jibril has personally assured my right honourable friend the Prime Minister of the new Libyan authority’s intention to co-operate fully with this investigation. I hope that answers my noble friend’s question.

My Lords, will the Minister apprise the House of the present standing of the memorandum of understanding signed in Benghazi by the NTC representatives? I also take this opportunity to thank the Foreign Office for all the help that it has given the victims’ families, their legal representatives and members of the Democratic Unionist Party who took part in the initial negotiations in Libya.

I can advise the noble Lord that all the undertakings and understandings that have been signed with the NTC are the basis of future work. I cannot give him any guarantees on how exactly this is going to work out and at what speed. I can only repeat, as I said at the beginning, that we regard this as a high priority and we are getting full support and co-operation from the NTC in dealing with what might be described as all the legacy issues, two of which, which are of great importance, we have just discussed in the past few minutes.

My Lords, what is the most recent shipment of arms from the Gaddafi regime in Libya to Northern Ireland of which the Government are aware?