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Libya: Arms to the IRA

Volume 753: debated on Tuesday 25 March 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to discuss with the Government of Libya the question of compensation for United Kingdom victims of arms supplied to the IRA by the Gaddafi regime.

My Lords, the Government will continue to encourage the Libyan Government to engage with UK victims seeking redress, including those seeking compensation and their legal representatives. More broadly, we will continue to promote wide and lasting reconciliation between Libya and UK communities affected by Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism. We have raised these issues with the Libyan Government repeatedly and the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend Mr Cameron, raised this most recently with the Libyan Prime Minister in September last year.

My Lords, on 15 November 2011, the Prime Minister wrote to me, saying:

“As I told the House of Commons on 5 September, the issue of compensation for UK victims of IRA terrorism will be an important priority for a revitalised relationship between Britain and the new Libyan authorities”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, in a Written Answer to my Question HL4664, said, on 22 January this year:

“The Government is not involved in any negotiations with the Libyan government on securing compensation payments for the British victims of Qadhafi sponsored Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorism”.—[Official Report, 22/01/2014; col. WA 136.]

The noble Baroness will see at once that there is a contradiction between the position of the Prime Minister and that adopted in her Written Answer to me. Will she assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government will vigorously pursue this issue with the new Libyan authorities to seek redress for the many hundreds and thousands of victims of this terrorism throughout the United Kingdom?

I thank the noble Lord for having given me the opportunity to discuss the matter with him briefly yesterday. I know that he has been involved in this matter for much longer than I have. As he is aware, the Minister with responsibility for Libya has written to him, informing him that we are currently assessing all these matters, including the very specific ones to which he referred. I was involved in discussions on this matter earlier this week. I assure him that we will write to him in due course to provide much more clarity on the issue. The Government’s position has been, and will continue to be, that we want to develop a sustainable and effective partnership with Libya to enable us to resolve all issues, including that of the horrendous terrorism which resulted in huge tragedy for individual families.

My Lords, the previous Government set up a small unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to facilitate the discussions that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and others were having to try to address this question not just in respect of specific victims in Northern Ireland but of economic benefit for the whole of the United Kingdom from the Libyan sovereign fund. We now have even more to offer than at the time of Gaddafi, when we could offer economic co-operation in exchange for reparations. Now, there is the opportunity to help rebuild civic society, democratic structures and the proper administration of justice in Libya. We have much to offer the Libyan Government. I trust that my noble friend will look again at the revitalising of that small unit in the FCO to facilitate these kinds of discussions.

As the noble Lord will be aware, some progress was made in relation to this matter at a time when Gaddafi was coming in from the cold, as it were. The noble Lord will be aware—as will other noble Lords—that Libya has been through a horrendously difficult period in its history. There has been huge change in Libya and there have been two national transitional Governments. Only two weeks ago, there was a further change in the leadership at the top, with Prime Minister Zeidan standing down, marking another transitional period in Libya’s history. We are working with Libya while it is going through this incredibly difficult period, but I will bear in mind the noble Lord’s comments.

My Lords, the First Minister of Northern Ireland—my party leader—recently raised the issue of compensation from Libya once again directly with the Prime Minister. Does the Minister agree that, in the wake of the hurt done to innocent victims as a result of recent revelations of secret deals with republicans, it is vital that the Government move urgently to address this outstanding issue and to bring it to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible?

Indeed, as the noble Lord will be aware, the First Minister had an opportunity to discuss these matters with the then Libyan Prime Minister Zeidan earlier last year—I think in June. I suppose that the noble Lord is probably referring to the Telegraph allegations. We have issued a strong statement denying the accuracy of that report.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness not right, though, to stress to the House the fact that the Libyan authorities are essentially transient? The problem is the frequent changes in those authorities and those who hold government office. Has that not been further complicated by the law of political isolation that has been introduced in Libya, whereby one group of Ministers do not speak to—or, indeed, have anything to do with—the group of Ministers that they have just seen out of office?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. Libya is going through an incredibly difficult period and we need to be realistic about what is actually possible on the Libyan side. There is very little chance at the moment of securing a Libyan payment for compensation. The Libyan Government see themselves as victims of the Gaddafi era, and it is therefore important that we try to build a political space, which is what we are doing, to allow the Libyan Government to engage on these and other issues.

My Lords, do we not have to be careful that we do not visit the sins of the previous regime upon a very shaky one? Is it not fundamental to all our interests that there should be a stable and prosperous Libya?

It is, and my noble friend makes an important point. It is when we have that stable and prosperous Libya that we can deal with the legacy issues, including the tragic killing of WPC Fletcher, the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing and, indeed, the Gaddafi support for terrorism.

Libya’s Semtex brought death and destruction to many parts of our country, including the Baltic Exchange and Warrington. Is it not incumbent upon the Government to give a clear undertaking to pursue claims for compensation with the utmost vigour, in fulfilment of the Prime Minister’s own pledge of 2011?

I refer my noble friend to what I was saying. Of course it is one of our priorities, and it is important for us to have a stable Libya where we can discuss these matters. In fact, I had the privilege of visiting Wendy and Colin Parry at the Warrington Peace Centre only a few weeks ago. I am delighted that the Chancellor was able to support the funding of that centre in the Budget. It is for that reason and because these tragic circumstances have left these families still grieving that we must continue to press to have these matters resolved.