Fifty-one Members put Bills forward in this year alone, so assuming a similar number did so last year, the odds were very high indeed. So I wish to place on record my thanks to the Legislation Office of the House, and to Nicole Mason in particular, for turning our scribblings into a real Bill in such a short time. I will be trying, if I am spared, for a hat trick next year.
The Bill is not mine alone. It is the brainchild of the all-party support group for the UK victims of Libyan-IRA terrorism—chaired by Romford MP, Andrew Rosindell—of which I am a member. Earlier this year, we decided to pursue our aims by attempting to change the law by introducing a Bill in Parliament. At this point, I want to set the scene for noble Lords as to why the support group exists and why it is campaigning for real change in the attitude of Her Majesty’s Government towards the Libyan issue and the environment for the numerous victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism throughout the United Kingdom.
On 23 February this year, a Westminster Hall debate was secured by Poplar and Limehouse MP, Jim Fitzpatrick. It was the nearest date he could get to the 20th anniversary of the London Docklands bombing, in which two people were killed and 39 seriously injured, some of them permanently. Mr Fitzpatrick has long campaigned on behalf of the Docklands Victims Association.
There has been a perception that Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism was primarily a Northern Ireland issue, but I assure noble Lords that this is not the case. Although most victims are located in that part of the United Kingdom, they are far from alone. If we look at the number of GB-based soldiers who were killed or wounded during incidents such as the Hyde Park bombing, the Baltic Exchange bombing and the Docklands bombing, it is clear that people across the UK have a keen interest in these matters. In the past week, we have been reminded of the tragedies that have occurred over the years, such as the Birmingham pub bombing, and it goes to show that victims of IRA terror are located all around the United Kingdom.
One must ask why it is that people have to wait, sometimes for decades, before they get an opportunity for either justice or legitimate compensation. We have witnessed the long struggle of the Hillsborough families, and that tragedy had no terrorist involvement. Is there something peculiar in our judicial system that spawns these long-running campaigns?
During the early 1970s, Gaddafi began to ship weapons to the IRA because he sympathised with their cause. He was also impressed with the 1981 IRA hunger strikes. After the Government of Margaret Thatcher allowed UK bases to be used by US war planes to attack Libya in 1986, Colonel Gaddafi began to hit back at the UK by providing training bases for IRA terrorists and others on his territory. He began to smuggle arms to Ireland on an industrial scale, with, it is believed, four massive shipments of weapons and explosives successfully getting through. Only the last of the five shipments was intercepted, when the “MV Eksund” was boarded by the French navy in the Bay of Biscay on 1 November 1987.
The sheer volume of weaponry that was supplied to the IRA, ranging from rifles, ammunition, RPGs, machine guns and missiles to tonnes of the Czech explosive Semtex, along with loads of cash, meant that at the peak of its campaign the IRA had an oversupply of weapons. However, Semtex was the game-changer for the IRA, as it is hard to detect, has a long shelf life and could detonate homemade explosives to make the threat from terrorists much more credible. There were more victims and fatalities resulting from Semtex than from all the other weapons in the IRA arsenal put together, to say nothing of the physical damage.
I submit that the actions of the Government of Libya from the early 1970s until the 1990s were a clear attack on the integrity of the United Kingdom and that Libya was prosecuting a war by proxy on the British people. In retrospect, I find it chilling that, given the widespread intelligence that we now know was available to our Government of Libyan involvement in supplying weapons to the IRA, no action appears to have been taken to prevent Libya pursuing its proxy war.
The Bill is an attempt to provide Her Majesty’s Government with the means to right the wrong that has been done to the many victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism. As the House Library note for this debate states:
“Clause 1 subsection 1 of the Bill would require that the Treasury must ‘take all actions necessary’ to prevent the release of particular assets based in the UK (outlined in subsection 3) that have been frozen under European Union Council Regulations, until circumstances described in subsection 5 have been met”.
In the debate in Westminster Hall on 23 February this year, responding for the Government, Exchequer Secretary Damian Hinds MP indicated that HMG are bound by both EU Council regulations and UN resolutions, and therefore are unable to help the victims out of the massive £9.5 billion of Libyan Gaddafi assets frozen in London.
I fully understand that the UK has to work along with our partners in the EU and via the UN to ensure that sanctions are implemented and assets seized internationally. New European Council regulations came into force on 18 January this year in view of the situation in Libya, which repealed EU Regulation 204/2011. Articles 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 14 of the regulations deal with derogations that can apply in certain circumstances. Thus the principle is well established that “frozen” does not mean “untouchable”. There is also mention of the prospect of a lien or judgment being in force in Article 9. This could be of interest to the victims as well.
My sadness through all this—and I have been writing to various Governments since 2002, when the then MP Mike O’Brien was at the Foreign Office—is at the lack of any sense of urgency on the part of Her Majesty’s Government, let alone any burning desire to seek justice and recompense for the victims. Other nations seem to have more fire in their bellies and show a greater determination to see that their citizens get the best deal possible. Why is this?
It is not good enough to hide behind a European Council regulation. What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to our European partners to encourage them to agree to a specific derogation for our victims, even if it is just for humanitarian reasons? Humanitarian issues are referred to in the regulations and Minister Hinds mentioned this in the Westminster Hall debate.
I wrote to the Prime Minister on 30 August 2011 to ask about the frozen Libyan assets being used to pay compensation. The PM replied to me on 15 November in the following terms:
“As I told the House of Commons on 5 September”—
that is, 2011—
“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. I have raised this with NTC chairman Jalil and the new Prime Minister, al-Kib. To take the issue forward, I have asked the Foreign Office to prepare detailed plans for a sustainable and effective partnership with the new Libyan government, which will provide a forum to address all outstanding legacy issues dating from the Gaddafi period and the many victims affected by his actions. Our objective is a comprehensive resolution of these legacy issues. You asked if frozen assets could be used pending a successful negotiation with Libya. I have examined the case closely and concluded that, as the assets belong to the people of Libya, we have no legal basis for withholding Libyan assets once the Libyan entities meet the conditions for unfreezing as set in UN Council Resolution 2009 … We will engage the new Libyan Government on the case for voluntarily setting aside assets as a gesture of good faith and intent while negotiations proceed”.
So it is clear that the Prime Minister was very keen at that time to ensure that a resolution to this issue was found. I subsequently went to see his national security adviser, Sir Kim Darroch, in 2013—he is now our ambassador in Washington DC—because the Libyan Government of that time collapsed and the state has become effectively a lawless area ever since.
But that was not what shocked me most. In January 2014, I asked a routine Parliamentary Question—as I have done from time to time—to see how the Libyan issue was going. On 22 January 2014, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who was the Foreign Office Minister at the time, replied in the following terms:
“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, 22/1/14; col. WA 136.]
So the Government were effectively saying that, from 2011 to 2014, they were not involved in any negotiations. That illustrates a chaotic approach. On the one hand, the Government were saying, “We’re going to pursue this vigorously”, while, on the other, they were saying, “We’re not actually engaged in any negotiations”. This was a dramatic change and the contrast with the Prime Minister’s position in 2011 is disturbing.
The question is: will this Parliament and Government tackle the issue seriously and with purpose? If not, why not? As this Bill moves through its stages, every opportunity will be provided for Her Majesty’s Government to revise their consideration of the issue. I do not believe that it is enough to say to the victims that Her Majesty’s Government will be quite happy if they take out individual legal actions against the Libyans. Some have started down that road with their legal advisers, but that does not absolve the Government of their wider and primary responsibility to protect their citizens, which I believe that successive Governments have singularly failed to do.
With a fledgling Libyan Government beginning to emerge, yet another opportunity arises to resolve these issues. One of any new Government’s requests will be for the release of frozen assets. I do not doubt for one moment that the greatest number of victims flowing from the Gaddafi years is to be found among the Libyan people themselves. Nobody can deny that many were tortured and killed by a brutal dictator. Nevertheless, Her Majesty’s Government have a responsibility to look after the interests of the people of the United Kingdom, and, with good will, appropriate arrangements can be arrived at. A condition of releasing those assets should be a resolution of the compensation issue for our victims. Now may well be the time. Will the Minister give an undertaking to take this proposal back to his colleagues?
While reluctant to pick out any individual in this campaign, I must put on record my thanks to stalwart campaigner and former Member of the other place Andrew MacKinlay for his contribution to this Bill and the tenacity that he has shown over many years of hard work on behalf of the victims.
Given the circumstances in which we now find ourselves and the new potential opportunities, I hope that the Government will seize the chance to resolve this issue once and for all. The Hillsborough families have been fighting for decades on behalf of the people they lost and it is disturbing that, while other countries such as France, Germany and the United States of America have resolved matters on behalf of their citizens, we, with the largest number of victims, are the only major country that has achieved nothing for our victims. We owe them all a great debt and it is our bounden duty to see that the matter is resolved. I beg to move that this Bill be given a Second Reading.
My Lords, having consulted the Clerk of the Parliaments, I wish to make the following declaration of interests. I have appeared in Northern Ireland against the Real IRA for the families of the Omagh bombing; for a group of plaintiffs in the United States against Libya in the Gaddafi period; and recently against a Libyan investment agency in respect of sanctions. None of what I am about to say affects this Bill or the content of what I wish to put to the House. In addition, I need to point out that I went to Libya in 2009 with a parliamentary delegation involving, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Bew. We negotiated for a broad reconciliation settlement for Northern Ireland but did not succeed.
I commend the Bill to the House. It is reasonable in its scope, necessary in its objectives and gives Parliament the occasion to exercise one of its ultimate duties—to protect its citizens against terrorism and its consequences.
Let me start with necessity. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, is right that the decision by Libya to supply Semtex to the Provisional IRA and other agencies of the IRA was a contributory factor to the explosions that occurred all over the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day 1987, there was absolute carnage, and there have been many more explosions in Northern Ireland since. In London there were explosions at London Bridge, St Mary Axe, the Baltic Exchange, London Docklands and the street outside Harrods. It was terrible. It is not to our advantage historically to say that that has passed. It has not.
Semtex was used by the IRA as the trigger explosive for car bombs. You could load the boot with enough fertiliser to create a major explosion. The evil of supplying Semtex was that it enlarged the area of blast damage. In the first number of metres it blew people apart; in the next number of metres there was thermal damage, which burned people alive; and shrapnel damage from the car itself was spread over several hundred metres. These days the car bomb is more controlled but suicide bombers operate the same technique. They wear a waist belt packed with explosives, nails, bullets and all kinds of projectiles which will be sent out to damage people once they have blown themselves up. This is a constant.
What should we do about it? The United States in 2008 required Libya—capital “R” required—if it wanted to come off the terrorist list, to pay American victims of bombings $1.5 billion or else it would stay on the terrorist list. It was a straightforward, tough negotiation in public and it led to a settlement. Libya was taken off the terrorist list and then resumed its protection under the American sovereign immunity legislation. My case in America, to which I have referred, ended because of that settlement, after which the President issued an executive order terminating all other foreign claims. They were simply stopped. State immunity was returned to Libya and our case died the year after. The presidential order said that negotiations for those citizens from other countries claiming compensation should be left to them or to their Governments to achieve a settlement. That was the message in 2008.
The objectives of the Bill are necessities. Something has to be done. Is it reasonable in its scope? First, unlike America, under our law states do not have immunity. If they kill, injure or destroy property they can be sued or held responsible in our courts, as might occur under this Bill in a negotiation. Secondly, although Gaddafi has gone, under the principle of successor state liability, the state takes on the obligations of the past—otherwise the world would be in chaos. In April 2011, soon after the Libyan civil war started, Mr Jalil, the head of the then National Transitional Council, issued a statement of reconciliation, negotiated by lawyers from England, in which he said that Libya would look favourably in the longer term on a settlement because it was felt to be a national obligation. Since then there has been nothing except the interregnum which the noble Lord, Lord Empey, described. The Government have admitted that they did nothing until 2014, when matters resumed with an investigation by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place. This is not your Government or my Government but every Government for the past 15 years.
I shall finish on the question of sanctions and reasonable scope. Sanctions are the product of political negotiation which is then framed in a legal text. It is open to Governments to negotiate what goes into sanctions and what can be taken out in relief, such as is contained in the Bill. The motivation, therefore, is essentially political from now on, not legal. The framework may be put into legal form, but the initiative has to be political.
What should Parliament do? The reason the Americans settled as they did was that Congress said, “If you don’t, Libya stays on the terrorist list”. Congress forced the settlement on the American side. We can do the same here in a parliamentary way; it is up to us. The Americans have been matched by France and Germany. When a French plane was shot down over Africa, the French simply punished Libya financially and they tried its head of military intelligence in absentia and gave him a jail sentence. After our explosions, nothing of that kind was even contemplated.
Forgive me for being forceful but the people we are here to represent, and represent legislatively, can expect us to act—to adapt the words in the first reading at Prayers this morning,
“from whence cometh my help”.
The Bill is short, to the point and effective. The victims of terrorism are the front line in our societies—the conscripted “military” who suffer the injuries. They are not volunteers and they take the consequences. When they do, we should look after them, and this Bill seeks to do that.
My Lords, the primary duties of a Government are to protect the life and liberty of their citizens and to ensure that justice is available to all, without favour. Sadly, the partnership of terror between the Provisional Sinn Fein/IRA and Gaddafi’s Libya and the litany of death, destruction and misery which it inflicted on British citizens both in Ireland and on the mainland has exposed a disturbing failure of Government in these duties.
Gaddafi’s affections for Sinn Fein/IRA were deep rooted and well established. In 1973, the Irish Navy intercepted a vessel, the “Claudia”, with some five tonnes of weaponry supplied by Libya and bound for Sinn Fein/IRA. However, there were suspicions that three other shipments plus considerable amounts of cash did get through. More shipments came in the 1980s, spurred by Gaddafi’s admiration of Sinn Fein/IRA and his hatred of Britain. It has been argued that these shipments contained enough materiel to equip two infantry battalions. To put that in context, the British Army today has 47 infantry battalions, so the weapons that were sent by Gaddafi could supply 5% of the British infantry. The undetected shipments are alleged to have included heavy machine guns, handguns, rifles, surface-to-air missiles, and most potently and importantly, Semtex. Both the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, mentioned Semtex several times in their speeches and I will continue to do so. Another vessel, the “Eksund”, was famously intercepted in 1986 with a cargo that included two tonnes of Semtex, but nevertheless four similar shipments had already made it through.
Even as recently as February of this year dissident republican terrorists were boasting that they have more than a tonne of Semtex plastic explosive that escaped the decommissioning process and could now be used against mainland British targets. Provisional IRA veterans who disagreed with the peace process in Northern Ireland and who have experience of handling Semtex are among those who have access to the secret weapons dumps. They claim to have tested it and confirmed that it is still viable, even though it was smuggled to Ireland via Libya in the 1980s.
Semtex, which is both powerful and easy to conceal, gave new life to Sinn Fein/IRA’s terrorist campaign. The atrocities included the Poppy Day bombing at Enniskillen, a bomb at a fun run in Lisburn in 1988 which left six soldiers dead, the Ballygawley bus bombing, the Docklands bomb, the Hyde Park bomb and the Baltic Exchange bomb. It was also a Semtex bomb which murdered Ian Gow in the driveway of his constituency home in 1990.
With such a trail of misery, one would have expected that Her Majesty’s Government would strain every sinew and muscle to ensure that those who were injured and those who were left behind to pick up the pieces of their broken lives would be better and well looked after. One would have anticipated that, apart from seeking to prosecute those who had caused such carnage, the Government would be unfailing in their pursuit of Gaddafi, the paymaster and quartermaster of much of Sinn Fein/IRA’s terror. However, unfortunately that is not the impression that many victims have been left with.
Our American allies also suffered grievously at the hands of Gaddafi, especially through the Lockerbie bombing with the destruction of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 civilians on the ground in Scotland. The Americans certainly tried their best, securing £1 billion in compensation from the Libyan regime in 2003. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, mentioned how the US obtained this compensation to help American citizens. However, one of the distasteful strings attached to the US deal with Libya was that Gaddafi’s payout would be a one-off and the regime would have immunity from future terrorism-related law suits. British claims were excluded from the settlement.
Concerns have also been raised that our former Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, helped broker this deal between the USA and Libya. One must therefore ask how strongly did Tony Blair, who was then a Middle East peace envoy, represent the interests of his fellow British citizens. It has become hard to get an answer to that question because Mr Blair has not had the time in his diary to attend the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to address some of these vital points. Seemingly, he has not had too much time either to spend responding to written questions, as the committee has described his evidence as “superficial”. What of another British Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown? Mr Brown met with Gaddafi in 2009. Naturally enough, victims of Gaddafi’s Sinn Fein/IRA-backed terror were keen to hear what the Libyan dictator had to say on the matter when pressed by the Prime Minister. The response was that it would not be “appropriate” to formally raise the issue of compensation with Libya as it was an essential partner in the fight against terrorism.
We now have the manifestly unjust situation whereby the American victims of Sinn Fein/IRA’s Harrods bomb have received up to £6 million in compensation while the British victims of the same bomb have received nothing. The UK Government are currently sitting on frozen Libyan assets of £9.5 billion. I would like an assurance from the Minister that Her Majesty’s Government are doing everything they can to think creatively and positively about how to help the victims of Sinn Fein/IRA-Libyan terror. I certainly hope that there is some substance to the recent press speculation that the Government are seeking a £300 million slice of those funds.
However, given the length of time taken, some victims believe that there has been a dereliction of duty on the part of their Government, and I have to say that I sympathise with that view. For others time is pressing on and age is exacerbating the consequences of their injuries. Now is the time to act. Failure to do so would be to perpetuate and accentuate an injustice that has been inflicted on too many who have suffered too much already. For that and other reasons, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Empey, for bringing forward this timely Bill.
My Lords, I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on having the luck to bring in a second Bill in consecutive years. I understand, of course; I have not mastered the skills myself. If I had, I would be informing some of my Back-Benchers of feats equal to his. I hope the House will offer me at least some consolation. On each occasion the noble Lord has been successful, I have had to respond from the Dispatch Box. Last time it was on transport, on airports policy. Only yesterday did it become clear that the Treasury was expected to respond to this Bill. That is why I am addressing the House. If the noble Lord is successful next year, I hope he chooses a subject somewhat distant from those for which I take some responsibility.
Nevertheless, I have encouragement for him in the official response of my party. He mentioned that my honourable friend in the Commons, Jim Fitzpatrick MP, who is also a personal friend—I helped him in the last election, so he owes me a favour or two—raised this issue, because he is very conscious of its importance and that it is time that progress is made. Of course, we will have to look to the other place in due course for strength of support, which obliges the Government to be more responsive than they have been.
We also look forward to having my noble friend Lord Brennan interested in this issue, as was demonstrated in his splendid speech. On addressing groups outside the House I often comment on the level of expertise that we experience here, as I am sure other noble Lords do. The lawyers are frequently mentioned, because we all value the contribution that many of them make. My noble friend made a speech soon after my arrival in this House and I was very impressed indeed with the way he marshalled the arguments. I am sure that the whole House has been impressed today. Those of us in favour of the Bill are very fortunate to have my noble friend with his expertise, amply demonstrated in his speech, to assist in the arguments.
My party wants to emphasise that it has enormous sympathy with the Bill and that it wants to see progress made. I am conscious of the past delays, some of which were under past Labour Governments. Not much progress has been made subsequent to 2010, so the present Government have to face up to responsibilities. But we all know what the noble Lords, Lord Empey and Lord Rogan, were reminding us of. They illustrated their arguments with those great devastating outrages that affected the British mainland, as well as Northern Ireland, during the period of maximum IRA activity. There was a time, which many noble Lords will recall, when we all found great difficulty getting to Westminster because the threats of action were enough to disrupt our transport system, particularly the Underground. We all know that the country was appalled at the level of activity then. Now it has become clear that the deadly Semtex that was so generally used was so readily available because of links with Gaddafi.
I bear in mind what was said about the progress the Americans have made. Surely we must follow that example. We owe it to the relatives of those killed and those who were injured in past devastating developments. Mercifully, we all rejoice in the fact that the politics of Northern Ireland and the position there is so much more favourable than it was during those terrible times, but we have a duty to respond to a clear and declared need. The Opposition will give every support that they can to the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute and to speak about this important issue. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Empey, for securing not just the number one slot, as others have alluded to, but this debate and for proposing the Bill, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.
The Bill seeks to prevent the release of frozen assets in the UK that belong to persons involved in supplying arms used in terrorist attacks in the UK, so that they could be used as compensation for the victims. While I have much sympathy for the noble Lord’s intentions, I have some difficulties with the legal implications of the Bill and how it would work in practice. As noble Lords might imagine, I have had considerable discussions with officials. The conclusion is that it is likely that, by using the powers that would be granted by the Bill, the UK would be in breach of its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, EU sanctions regulations and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The human rights issues relate in particular to the settlements referred to in Clause 1(5). Depending on what is meant by this provision, it could amount to the denial of a fair trial in breach of Article 6 of the ECHR, or a breach of the right to enjoyment of property in Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR. The person, entity or state whose assets are frozen may be forced to pay extortionate compensation simply to get the asset freeze lifted. They may also then take legal action against the UK to make good their losses.
It is also important to note that various EU and UN sanctions regimes freeze the assets of individuals and entities but give no power to transfer ownership of these assets. Further, these regimes also allow the Treasury to issue licences for the release of frozen assets for specific purposes, such as to meet basic needs or cover reasonable legal expenses of the sanctioned individual, but the Bill would prevent the Treasury doing so. The Bill would also allow the Treasury to release these funds to third parties. Both actions would place the UK in contravention of EU regulations and UN Security Council resolutions. This would leave the UK exposed to infringement proceedings by the European Commission, as well as domestic judicial review proceedings and claims under the Human Rights Act.
I want to be as helpful as I can to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, by going into a little more detail about the derogations, specifically on the circumstances in which the frozen assets can be unfrozen. While sanctions remain in force, access to the frozen assets can be licensed only in accordance with the grounds set out by the UN and the EU. In the UK, as the competent authority for administering sanctions, HM Treasury is responsible for licensing derogations from financial sanctions.
Seven licensing grounds are applicable in the Libya sanctions regime. To summarise, they allow for payments in the following categories: the basic needs of the designated person; the legal fees of the designated person; fees for the routine maintenance of frozen assets; extraordinary expenses of the designated person; satisfaction of judicial or administrative orders enforceable in the EU; humanitarian purposes; and obligations arising under contracts prior to the imposition of sanctions.
It is important to remember that different sanctions regimes will have different derogations. To clarify further, a Treasury licence would not compel the payment to be made but would simply provide that the payment would not be in breach of financial sanctions. In this case, it is the UK Government’s view that there are no grounds in the EU regulation and therefore no legal basis that would permit a licence to be issued for the purposes of releasing frozen funds to compensate victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA attacks.
However, the Bill also proposes to use the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010—so-called TAFA—to supplement EU sanctions regimes, although it is unlikely that this would be possible. Designation under TAFA currently involves strict legal tests, including that the use of the power is necessary to protect members of the public from terrorism. It is difficult to see how this test would be fulfilled where funds have already been frozen under EU sanctions. It is also difficult to see how TAFA would enable compensation to be paid, as TAFA provides no power to transfer ownership of funds.
I understand that the noble Lord has, with good intentions, tabled this Bill to allow Libyan frozen assets to be used to pay compensation to victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA attacks both in Northern Ireland and across Great Britain. I completely agree about the importance of taking the correct approach towards compensation for victims of these terrible attacks, but the difficulties with the Bill that I have outlined are relevant to all the sanctions regimes, including the Libya regime. Also, in relation to the Libya regime, the nearly £9.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets in the UK are largely part of sovereign wealth funds and very little belongs to individuals, for whom in any event it would be difficult to establish a direct link to IRA-related terrorism in the UK.
It is right that those whose lives were affected by these senseless attacks should be able to seek redress and compensation. This morning, I have been moved by the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Rogan and Lord Empey, who mentioned a number of atrocities as a reminder for the House—as if the House needed reminding. I was particularly moved by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, who outlined in some graphic detail the effects on the victims of these outrages. He stated that the victims were in the front line of terrorism. Of course, he is absolutely right. We will do all we can to facilitate efforts by victims and their families to seek compensation. However, the provisions of the Bill as they stand are not a suitable remedy.
The Government maintain the position that we want to see a fair solution for all victims of terrorism, including attacks perpetrated by the IRA and in particular Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism, but these compensation claims are private matters that are best pursued directly with the Libyan authorities. However, I am aware that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides facilitation support to campaign groups when requested through its Libya reconciliation unit and continues to stress to the new Libyan Government of National Accord—the so-called GNA—that legacy issues are a priority for Government. Mr Ellwood, the FCO Minister responsible for Libya, raised the issue of redress with Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj in Tunis last November, and officials reiterated this point during the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Tripoli on 18 April—quite recently.
Also, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is doing great work on legacy issues and championing the cause of victims, is currently looking into government support for UK victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism. I understand that the inquiry is still ongoing. The FCO gave evidence to it in September 2015 and in March 2016. A report will be published in due course. I am keen that the Government continue with these efforts, which I hope give some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, who raised the issue of timing. It is an important issue, but I have outlined the difficulties with the legal implications of the Bill and how it will work in practice, particularly in relation to the Libya sanctions regime.
I finish with an important point that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, raised. He stated that the Governments of the US, France and Germany have had some success in acting on this. I think he was claiming that the UK had not. I do not agree with him on that. I should also point out that the US, French and German Governments’ claims were for direct atrocities, of which Lockerbie and the dreadful Berlin discotheque bombings are part. Those were highlighted in UN resolutions, where the responsibility could be assigned to the Libyan state. I should stress to the House that there has been no such UN resolution in relation to the IRA bombings. With that, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Empey, once again for securing this important debate.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the participants in this debate. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, for his vivid and chilling explanation of the actual effects of Semtex, and his dealing with the stance of the United States in 2008, the successor-state liability principle and of course the fact that Congress forced the settlement. The words of my colleague and noble friend Lord Rogan, with his considerable experience and knowledge of the outworkings of Semtex in our own part of the United Kingdom, and his concern that a certain volume of that material still exists in the hands of dissident terrorists, are also something to be worried about. Of course, his reference to the difference in treatment between victims of the Harrods bombing illustrated why we have this Bill before the House today. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, for expressing his, as he put it, enormous sympathy with the Bill, his reference to the United States example, and to his friend Jim Fitzpatrick, who, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, has been in the trenches on this one for many years, and continues to be, and who represents his constituents to the very best of his ability.
I must say that the Minister, on behalf of the Government, shocked me to some extent with his reply. Only we, in this part of Europe let alone anywhere else, could come up with the European Convention on Human Rights as an obstacle in the path of getting funds for the victims. What about the rights of the people who were blown to smithereens? Have we got the world on its head that that is a defence for doing nothing? We are talking here about the state of Libya, the successor to Gaddafi, whenever it emerges from whatever struggles it is having.
I understand and quoted from the articles from the European Union’s decision of 18 January and the EU resolutions. I asked in my speech whether we have asked our European colleagues for help with this. Have we just asked them? Have we put forward proposals to amend this or put in another derogation? Have we gone to the United Nations and asked it for help or put forward proposals? Have any of these people turned us down? That is what we need to find out. We are not asking for anything so why not? Is there a hidden hand somewhere, or a deal in the background that we know nothing about? Why not? Our responsibility is to the people of the United Kingdom first and last. What happens to the rights of individuals named in the United Nations list is not our primary concern. Our primary concern is our own people.
I must say to the Minister, with the greatest respect to him—I have enormous admiration for him—that it is precisely that approach that is the root cause of the failure to make progress on this issue. It is not a private matter between individuals and the Government of Libya. As the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said, the United Kingdom Government plc should be up front and centre dealing with this matter—and fighting.
I thank the noble Lord for his, as usual, helpful intervention. As a former long-serving chair of the Northern Ireland Select Committee in the other place, he knows the subject well. I have it absolutely clear, and we all know the rules as regards Private Members’ Bills. We know what we are doing and we know what it is about. I would be delighted to sit down with the Minister and look at this, and so would all our colleagues in both Houses and in all parties. He knows, as well as I do, that a Member is limited in the amount of help that he or she can obtain for a Private Member’s Bill. A few weeks ago, the Legislation Office was crammed with all the other Bills, is very short-staffed and can do only a certain amount. I accept that a lot of the technicalities of the Bill are not perfect. That is why we have a parliamentary process. That is why we go through different stages. I entirely agree with the noble Lord and would be delighted to do what he suggests. We cannot simply leave things as they are. They are totally unacceptable.
If we are talking about human rights, what about the rights of the people who have had to live with the consequences of these actions throughout their lives? The legal niceties about the European Council regulations, or resolution this and resolution that, are secondary: we are dealing with people, individuals and families. Our task is to ensure that they get a fair deal out of all this. We are not asking to plunder the people of Libya. I said earlier that the vast majority of the victims are the Libyan people themselves, and we know that, but we have a specific group of people who have been left to fall down the grating and slip through the cracks on this issue. I appeal to the Minister to go back to his colleagues and revisit some of those issues. Those of us who are behind these proposals would be very happy to sit down with him, or anybody else, and discuss any amendments, or anything we could do, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggested. We would be delighted to talk to both Front Benches on this issue to see whether we can get a consensus.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.