I beg to move,
That this House calls on the Government to take steps to obtain the required international authority to use a proportion of the assets of the Libyan Government that were frozen in the UK to compensate the relatives of people murdered and injured as a result of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism and to fund community support programmes in areas affected by that terrorism.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate, and all right hon. and hon. Members, and indeed the Minister, for attending a debate on a subject that should have been finalised and closed a long time ago.
During my time as Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we had the opportunity of holding an inquiry into Her Majesty’s Government’s support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons. That was an opportunity not only to hear from the victims of those attacks and the families of those who, sadly and tragically, lost their lives, but to draw attention to a series of missed opportunities to secure compensation for those victims. Today, we call on the Government to make amends for the inaction of previous Governments by securing justice for those victims and their relatives.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that it is very timely given the Attorney General’s statement earlier, which revealed—and it may be entirely justified—that a Libyan citizen who was wronged by this Government has received £500,000 in compensation?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. As I get deeper into my speech, I will refer to other compensation awards, but the Government should certainly follow that guiding principle.
The role of the Libyan Government in bolstering the activities of the Provisional IRA should not be understated. When he appeared before the Select Committee, the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Jack Straw, stated:
“In the 1980s and early 1990s, Libya was probably the most serious state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”
Those were very strong words. From the early 1970s through to the 1990s, the Gaddafi regime in Libya supplied arms, funding, training and explosives to the Provisional IRA, which is accepted by many to have both extended and worsened the troubles.
Through a series of shipments that took place in the mid-1980s, the regime supplied the Provisional IRA with up to 10 tonnes of Semtex, a highly powerful and virtually undetectable plastic explosive. The Semtex supplied made possible a deadly bombing campaign from the late 1980s, resulting in a horrific loss of life across Northern Ireland and the mainland. These include the attacks in Enniskillen, where a bomb was detonated that killed 11 people during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony, the bombings in Warrington that resulted in the deaths of two children—Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball—and the attack at docklands in this city, where a bomb killed two people and injured about 100 more. This is to name just a few of the atrocities carried out by the Provisional IRA using the Libyan-supplied Semtex. It does not come close to illustrating the extent of the devastation caused. While that loss of life is a tragedy, those attacks also had far-reaching implications for those who were injured and for the families and loved ones of those who sadly lost their lives.
During our inquiry, many victims emphasised not only the physical effects of the attacks, but the emotional, psychological and financial difficulties caused. The testimonies of those victims have been highlighted in previous debates, but it would be valuable to the House to consider them once more, to illustrate the sheer loss, heartache and pain caused by those attacks.
Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son, Tim, died following the Warrington bombings in 1993, told the Committee:
“Describing the final moments of your child’s life is beyond words…because, as a parent, there is no greater pain or loss than the death of your child.”
Suzanne Dodd’s father was the inspector on duty on the day of the Harrods bombing. She told the Committee that, on the day of the attack, she and her siblings had been waiting for their father to come home to put up the Christmas tree when their mother told them that there had been a bomb at Harrods and that their father would be late. It emerged that her father had been seriously injured. Her mother returned from hospital on Christmas eve, telling Suzanne and her siblings that her father had died.
The urgency of this issue is possibly best illustrated by Mrs Gemma Berezzag, whose husband was left blind, paralysed and brain damaged by the docklands bombing. For 20 years she cared for her husband’s complex needs on a daily basis. She sadly passed away in 2016, before any resolution could be found. I ask the Government: how many more individuals affected by those atrocities will not see justice in their lifetime? Those cases provide only a snapshot of the suffering caused by Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism, and time is running out for many of the victims.
Losing any loved one through natural causes is bad enough. Losing someone through an accident is perhaps even more shocking, but how much worse must it be when that life has been deliberately taken through terrorism? Add to that grief the involvement of a foreign, rogue state, and the victims’ relatives and friends must suffer more than any of us could ever imagine.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard how victims have been repeatedly let down by successive Labour, Conservative and coalition Governments, owing to their failure adequately to pursue compensation on their behalf. At times, it seemed that during periods of improved relations the concerns of victims were secondary to other considerations. The Committee concluded that there had been a series of missed opportunities to raise the issue of compensation, particularly during a period of deepening relations between the UK and Libya in the 2000s.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on a sensitive and important issue. Has he any evidence that the current Government have intensified their efforts to obtain compensation from the Libyan Government for all those victims of IRA-sponsored terrorism not just in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom?
The hon. Lady is a valuable and active member of the Committee and she took part in the inquiry to which I refer. I will touch on the issue she raised in a moment because it is a very important point.
In the 2000s, compensation was secured for the families of the Lockerbie bombing victims, and in 2004 we had the first visit to Libya by a British Prime Minister for 60 years. That visit was accompanied by the announcement that Shell had signed an agreement worth up to £550 million for gas exploration rights off the coast of Libya, yet there was still no sign of compensation for these victims. For our inquiry, the extent to which the Government of the day were aware of the campaign to seek compensation is unclear. Nevertheless, I believe the UK Government missed a vital opportunity during this period of improved relations to act on behalf of IRA victims.
The situation is even more disheartening for victims when we look to the achievements of the US, French and German Governments in securing compensation for their citizens. Because of the French Government’s threat to veto the lifting of UN sanctions on Libya, Libya agreed to pay the French Government $170 million in respect of the 170 people killed following the bombing of UTA flight 772 in 1989.
The Committee also examined the exclusion of the UK victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism from the terms of the US-Libya claim settlement agreement in 2008 as another missed opportunity for UK victims. Although the then UK Government claimed they had made representations to the US for the victims’ inclusion, we received no evidence of the level at which they had been made and with what force. It was explained that the US was unable to include UK victims in the agreement for several legal reasons, including that neither international law nor US law allows the US to espouse the claims of foreign nationals. However, this was contested during Committee evidence sessions, when it was suggested that that was not a matter of law but rather a matter of US Government policy. My primary concern, however, is the actions of the UK Government and I do not believe that, on the two occasions I have outlined, enough was done to put forward the claims of victims.
As the Gaddafi regime crumbled in 2011, the UN imposed financial sanctions on several individuals and entities involved in or complicit in the commission of human rights abuses in Libya. In September 2017, it was established that £12 billion of assets from the Gaddafi regime remained frozen within the UK’s jurisdiction. Currently, the UN resolutions, and the EU regulation which enforces them in the UK, provide no option for the UK Government to use frozen Libyan assets for the purposes of compensation. Disappointingly, there is no evidence that the UK Government raised the issue of compensation at the point when the assets were frozen. This is particularly frustrating, as there are precedents for the use of frozen assets to compensate victims. For example, $225 million of former President Marcos’s assets seized in Swiss bank accounts have provided reparations for victims of human rights abuses in the Philippines.
The Select Committee asked the Government to consider the use of frozen assets to compensate victims and to contribute towards community support. At the time, we were very disappointed by the Government’s rejection of recommendations made and a number of Members, including myself and the new Chairman of the Select Committee, have continued to engage with the Foreign Secretary on this issue. However, to date, the Government have unequivocally ruled out the use of these assets for compensation, and the potential use of our veto at the UN Security Council for the purpose of securing compensation. Today, we ask that the Government take a fresh approach to this issue and explore all options available to acquire the international authority to use a proportion of the Libyan assets frozen in this country to compensate victims and to set up support projects in the communities affected.
I do, of course, recognise that there are victims of Gaddafi in Libya, as well as in the UK, and I emphasise that the assets I refer to are the assets of those involved in human rights abuses in Libya and not those of innocent Libyans. The funds seized and frozen in this jurisdiction and across others have a role to play in contributing to the rebuilding of Libyan society and in helping the people who have suffered there to rebuild their lives. However, there is still a responsibility to deal with the legacy of the Gaddafi Government and the pain and suffering caused in the UK. I believe we should pursue these funds in order to do so.
I am realistic and recognise that since the fall of the Gaddafi regime Libya has faced insecurity and political instability which has hindered progress on a number of issues, including compensation. I welcome the fact that, when the Foreign Secretary visited Tripoli in May and August last year, he raised this issue with the Prime Minister. To reply to the intervention from the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), I understand that that is the extent of what happened, although the Minister may correct me on that. I hope that this issue will continue to feature in the discussions that the Government have with the Libyan Government. I ask the Government to pursue this Government-to-Government approach where possible, rather than viewing this as a matter for individuals to deal with themselves. They simply cannot do so. The continued perseverance of the victims and their families shows strength and resolve, but they should not have to pursue this very difficult issue alone, and I ask the Government for their support in that.
When conducting our inquiry, we were repeatedly told by Ministers that it was difficult to move this issue on because there was no functioning Government in Libya to deal with, and as soon as one were established, a more determined approach would be taken. However, that has not happened, and the relatives have suffered for too long. That is why, supported by many hon. Members, we are suggesting today that the Government assess the origin of the frozen assets to determine how much of them were effectively lodged by the then Libyan Government, as opposed to being investments made by private individuals. We suggest that the Government then seek international permission to use those assets to compensate the victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism, to compensate their relatives and to support the communities where the attacks took place.
In the Prime Minister’s address to the Conservative party conference last October, she said that one of her main motivations in politics was to try to “root out injustice”, yet this example of a major injustice remains and rages. Now is the time to act.
Order. Colleagues will be aware that we have quite a short time for this debate. If they can stick to six minutes, I will not have to impose a time limit, but I will do so if we cannot get enough Members in.
I thank the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) for his work on this issue not just as the previous Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, but since then. I also thank him and the Backbench Business Committee for securing the debate, and I pay tribute to all the Members here who have put in a lot of work over a number of years on this issue. This issue is not party political; it is about justice, and the situation has gone on for far, far too long.
I am afraid that when I listened to the evidence as a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, it was absolutely apparent that something, somewhere—at the back of all this within Government—was stopping Governments of all persuasions from pushing to get compensation and from pushing the United Nations to change the way in which the frozen assets could be dealt with. It is tragic—the hon. Gentleman has outlined a number of cases—and we could go through all the evidence. I urge anyone listening or watching who wants to understand the issue more to read some of the evidence that was given to the Select Committee.
I want to add a bit more about one person—one of the victims—who has already been referred to and who submitted evidence to our Committee: Mrs Gemma Berezzag. She had cared for her husband, Zaoui, who was left severely disabled. What she said to us was particularly poignant, because we know—the family are quite happy for this to be public—that she committed suicide in 2016. Just months before, she had told the Belfast News Letter:
“We never had a nice day in our lives since. My husband was a hard worker, nice to his children and nice to me. Now I change his nappy 10 times a day. Can your friends do this? I need financial help for my husband. I cannot even afford the nappies he needs. The Government forgot about me. I am 57 but I feel like I am 80. This is still killing me, 20 years after the bomb.”
She and other people described going to the Foreign Office—they included people who had experienced the London docklands bombing, to which I know my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) will refer—to seek help. They even found someone who could speak Arabic. Time after time, they were told, “This is a private matter between you and the Libyan Government.” Now, all these years later, we have a new relationship with the Libyan Government, and the Minister has just been there. I hope he will tell us very clearly what he said and what was said to him, because, on the basis of all the evidence, I do not believe that enough has been done.
I do not accept what has been said about the frozen assets. One of the criteria in the EU regulation is “humanitarian”. If the person whose case I have just presented—and some of the other people who are suffering now. and who are getting older and older—cannot be helped on humanitarian grounds, I really do not know what “humanitarian grounds” can mean. I hope that in a year or so, if we are no longer in the EU, we may be able to change that regulation so that those people can be helped.
It seems that the push that should have come has never come. Let me give a prime example. In 2013 the G8 came to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, the site of one of the biggest and most appalling bombings, which happened on Remembrance Sunday. The victims—and some of the relatives of the people who died in Enniskillen are in the Public Gallery—had not been told that the Libyan Prime Minister was coming. They heard about it because they managed to find something out on the internet. They then asked if they could meet Zeidan—the Prime Minister—because they thought that that would be very helpful: here was someone who was against Gaddafi as well. They were refused that visit, but were told, “Don’t worry; he is meeting the leaders in Northern Ireland.” And who should one of those leaders in Northern Ireland be but Martin McGuinness, who probably knew all about how the Semtex had come from Libya. So all those opportunities were not given to them.
I say to the Minister, “You now have an opportunity.” The Labour Government and Tony Blair did absolutely nothing. He would not come and give evidence to the Committee. He gave evidence about the “on the runs” issue, but not about this issue. We believe that there is a lot more to come out about what went on during that time, and that it was not in the interests of Blair and the Government to do anything that would upset Gaddafi. Then came Gordon Brown, who actually set up a new unit in the Foreign Office to help the victims.
I am very pleased to be working with the hon. Lady on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Does she agree that when the British Government, quite rightly, condemn terrorism unreservedly —and we have experienced far too much terrorism in the United Kingdom—they have a moral obligation to seek compensation for all the victims from the Libyan Government, to whom they now refer as a friend?
I absolutely agree. This is indeed a moral issue. I know that people will not like my saying this, but it sometimes seems to me almost as if there are two types of terrorism. There is terrorism, and then there is IRA terrorism. We now have to be so careful not to upset those who were once the leaders of what was the IRA. I really do think that the Government must show that terrorism is terrorism, wherever it happens.
We should not let the IRA off the hook on this. Yes, it was Libyan Semtex that was given to the IRA, but it was not Gaddafi who actually planted the bombs in Enniskillen and all those other places. I think it is very important to remember that.
I know that a number of other Members want to speak. Let me end by saying that this has gone on for far too long. There is £9.5 billion sitting in our banks, and if we and the United Kingdom Government cannot find a way to ensure that some of that money goes to those people who are, as we speak, ill and literally beginning to die off, I think that that is a shame on all of us here, and a shame on the Government. I hope that the Minister will respond in a positive way, because we have to move quickly on this issue.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on securing it. I was fortunate enough to persuade the Backbench Business Committee to grant a Westminster Hall debate on this matter in my name in September 2016. There have been developments since then, although I would not quite say that there has been progress. I want to focus on what has happened recently, which I believe means that the matter is even more pressing.
There is background to why I take such an interest in this matter. A constituent of mine, Charles Arbuthnot, is one of the campaigners; his sister was a 22-year-old WPC killed in the Harrods bombing in 1983. When I first heard about that, I wanted to help as a constituency MP, but the following really struck me about that case, and it is at the core of the matter. I found out—as finally admitted in correspondence to me from the Foreign Office—that a United States citizen who was one of the victims of that Harrods bombing was compensated to the tune of several million pounds by the Libyan Government, yet UK victims have to date received not a penny.
Indeed, I do not comment in any way on the following case and whether the money is justified, but I am bound to say that we heard today from the Attorney General that in the case of Belhaj and Boudchar, two Libyan citizens whom we failed as a country—they suffered harm as a result of the actions of this state—the wife, Fatima Boudchar, will receive £500,000 in compensation. We must look at that and ask how our own victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism would feel about that. I hope we will get an answer to that from the Minister.
I want now to look at some of the things that keep moving this issue forward. With a group of MPs and Lord Empey, I went to see the Foreign Secretary in October last year, and he promised us in a letter by return that he would be “more visibly proactive” in standing up for victims. I know the Minister is supportive and wants to see progress on this, so my key question to him is what does “more visibly proactive” mean? Does that mean more engagement with the Libyan Government? We know there is great difficulty in terms of the credibility of that Government and the lack of firm government in Libya. Does “more visibly proactive” mean we will get more regular updates, and more discussion between our Government and the Libyans? That is what I want to know: what exactly does that phrase mean in terms of coalface action?
The other point concerns the issue of assets, as set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury. It is hard to ignore the fact that billions of pounds of Libyan money is held in this very city. One of the great features of this country is the reliability of our legal system, and I understand why the Government would be reluctant to look at this issue and in any way undermine the reputation of the City by appearing to be weaker in terms of security to those who might want to put their money here. However, we must also recognise that that Libyan money is frozen under UN mandate, and there will have be a vote in the UN Security Council for those assets to be unfrozen. That would be at the request of Libya once there is a stable Administration, and they would be asking us, in effect, to vote in the UN Security Council to unfreeze those assets. We have already heard from my hon. Friend how the French threatened to use their veto to favour their victims of Libyan terrorism, and it astonishes me that we would not consider at all in any sense using that veto.
In fact in that same letter from the Foreign Secretary, he said:
“At our meeting, we discussed the feasibility of the UK using its veto in the UN Security Council, when the time comes, to prevent the unfreezing of assets until the Libyans had agreed to pay compensation to UK victims. While I sympathise with the intention behind this approach, I need to explain that I believe it highly unlikely that any Foreign Secretary would wish to do this.”
I would like to think that he is not “any Foreign Secretary”; he is a Foreign Secretary who believes in standing up for Britain, and who says he will be “more visibly proactive”, and I would like to think that, “when the time comes”, there will be discussions about that possible procedure.
Lord Empey is bringing forward a Bill again. I sponsored it when it came to the Commons last time; the Government objected and it fell. We must give that Bill at least a chance to be debated in this Chamber.
I want to finish with a really important development in the United States. This concerns a piece of legislation I referred to in the Westminster Hall debate: the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. It was vetoed by President Obama, as I was informed in that very debate, but I can tell the House that Congress overrode that and it is now an Act in America. In March 2017, 1,500 injured survivors and 850 family members of 9/11 victims filed a class action lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We have, then, a situation where a Libyan citizen is to receive compensation for what they experienced at the hands of the UK Government, while we know that an American citizen received compensation following the Harrods bombing and that the United States is empowering its citizens to take action against state sponsors. We have to ask ourselves what the British Government are doing for British citizens slain on British soil by a terrorist organisation that was aided and abetted by a brutal regime. The scales of justice have yet to weigh in their favour.
I start by thanking the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) for securing this important and timely debate. He has campaigned on this issue for years, as we know, and I pay tribute to him for bringing the motion to the Floor of the House.
I have been a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee since 2004, so I know all too well the seriousness of the issue that is the subject of the motion, which I am happy to support. Parliament must never forget the victims of violence during a 30-year conflict that claimed the lives of some 3,600 people and left many more men and women injured and maimed, with their families suffering too. Call it an insurrection, call it a civil war—call it what we want—but the troubles endured for so long in that corner of the United Kingdom, that corner of Ireland, and were so dreadful, spilling over into Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and other countries, that the suffering continues today, and it would be irresponsible to shut our eyes and ears and turn our backs on those living with the legacy of that era.
Like my hon. Friend, I fully support the efforts of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) and others on this matter. Does he agree that when we are discussing the past we need to be sensitive, measured and factual, but that the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday upset many victims by inaccurately suggesting that the only legacy cases being investigated were those involving the armed forces and that wrongdoing by the armed forces could be overlooked? Facts and justice dictate otherwise. All victims are entitled to both.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I will cover some of that later.
I wholeheartedly endorse supporting victims, whatever their community, whatever their background, and that includes adequate compensation so that their lives might be improved and we do not add poverty to the physical and mental burdens that so many bear with determination and great fortitude. To be forced to sell your house to fund care does not just add insult to injury but is officialdom showing it does not care, which adds cruel contempt to injury. Those deserving proper compensation include victims of Libyan-sponsored violence—folk who had their futures torn apart by guns and bombs flowing from Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in Tripoli.
The previous Northern Ireland Secretary was wrong to brush off good people with a cause telling them it was a private matter. No, it’s not; it is a matter for this Government and this Parliament. Nobody is pretending that extracting reparations from a Libya falling apart will be easy, but it would cost the Government relatively little to throw their weight behind the campaign for justice, to fund victims now, and then to use the Foreign Office to try and force Libya to settle a debt of honour.
That said, I want no hierarchy of victimhood: special compensation for some but little or nothing for others. I want every victim looked after. In Northern Ireland, I have heard people blame Libya for weapons used, and others cite South Africa in the era of white rule and apartheid. Both have a case. Most, however, do not know the national source of the armaments that changed their lives forever, and they too are entitled to ask why the Government have abandoned them.
Back in the day, many of the settlements were pitiful, the maimed and traumatised being forced to accept insultingly small compensation that today leaves them on the breadline. Quite frankly, it is a disgrace, and I for one am delighted that they refuse to be out of sight, out of mind, and it is heartening to hear people today loudly take up the challenge to win them the justice so far denied to them. The more noise we make, and the louder we argue their case, the more likely we are to shame the Government into doing what is right. I suspect that, privately, the Minister who is here today knows that.
This is not a party political battle. It is not even a question of right and left in politics. It is a matter of right and wrong. Northern Ireland has been through a lot, and the future is brighter than the past, but regrettably the scandal of inadequate compensation is a stain that we still need to wipe clean. This is a fight for justice and, along with my colleagues, I pledge my support for that cause.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn) and I agree with every word that he has uttered this afternoon. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on getting this debate on to the Floor of the House at last. It is time that this long outstanding matter was given the full attention of Parliament, and I hope that our deliberations today will prompt Her Majesty’s Government to take the action that I believe is long overdue to ensure that all victims of IRA and INLA terrorism sponsored by the former Libyan regime are fully compensated for their loss and suffering.
I am sad to say that IRA terrorism, supported by Colonel Gaddafi’s regime, is the most significant example in recent times of British citizens being failed by their own Government when seeking justice for crimes committed against them. I believe that it is the paramount duty of Her Majesty’s Government to use their power to act to resolve this issue either by making provision for the seizing of the assets of the Gaddafi family in London or by awarding compensation now and fighting for the money to be reclaimed for the UK Government later. It is not an option for our Government simply to expect the individuals and families affected to seek justice directly from the Libyan Government on their own. When it comes to state-sponsored acts of terrorism, it is surely right that the responsibility to represent the victims should be carried by the United Kingdom Government, whose duty must always be to defend the rights of British subjects.
As chairman of the parliamentary support group established to help the victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism, I am pleased to have worked on a cross-party basis alongside many colleagues who are here in the Chamber today to champion the just cause of obtaining compensation for the victims of these dreadful crimes, which they rightly deserve. We all lived through IRA bombings in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s in London, Belfast and other towns and cities throughout Britain and Northern Ireland, carried out with explosives used by the Libyan regime, yet so many years later, the victims have still not received the fair compensation that they rightly deserve.
As we have heard today, some of victims and families who have suffered this trauma are elderly or have passed away, and others might not have much longer to live, yet their justified claims have not been dealt with. As a result of these appalling and devastating events, which caused unimaginable damage and suffering, countless people died leaving widows and children behind or were left severely disabled and with life-changing injuries, yet nothing has happened to solve this issue. That is wholly wrong, and the Government really need to act.
I ask the Minister: how can it be justified that some victims have received compensation while others have not? We have heard that other countries, such as the United States of America, Germany and France, have fought for their citizens and got the compensation that our successive Governments have failed to obtain. How can this not be settled while the victims and their families are still alive? It has to be sorted out soon. It is truly terrible that British victims have been treated so differently from American victims. Their Government stood by their victims, but our Government failed to stand by ours. That cannot be right. This approach of indifference must not carry on. It remains a fact that victims who happened to have an American, French or German passport were comforted by the fact their Governments had negotiated a compensation settlement on their behalf, yet British victims still have nothing.
Each time the issue of compensation for these deserving victims is raised, we have until now received the same empty response from successive Governments. Each time, we hear weak excuses for not pursuing a way of bringing this matter to a satisfactory conclusion for the British victims of terrorism. Each time, the long-hurting victims of the IRA and of Gaddafi’s regime listen in, only to be let down and left to wait indefinitely.
Time is running out, and successive Governments have both missed and avoided opportunities to bring justice to the victims. This cannot be allowed to happen one moment longer. To settle this now, our Government should at least consider a compensation scheme to be paid now, with the money claimed back from Libyan assets in due course, otherwise many victims face the prospect of never being compensated.
The former Gaddafi regime has £9.5 billion-worth of frozen assets in our capital alone. If not now, in the future a percentage of those assets should be used to compensate the victims. Let the British Government take the lead. They have the power to do so. Her Majesty’s Government must act decisively against the perpetrators and backers of these horrific crimes and deliver justice for all those whose lives were so cruelly cut short or who suffered injury or loss. The powers lie here, and we must give hope to all British citizens who have suffered at the hands of terrorism.
I truly hope it is not too late, otherwise the consequence of this missed opportunity to secure compensation will be a stain on our nation. Now is the time to correct past failures, to hold the enablers of terrorism to account and, once and for all, to right this wrong by giving the victims the justice and compensation they deserve.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who has been so strong in his support for this campaign over so many years.
I am reassured to see the Minister in his place. He commands great respect on both sides of the House. He has heard numerous speakers say that he does not face a very high bar. We need a champion in the House, and many of us hope he will be able to deliver because we know he is supportive of the cause, to which he is sympathetic.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on leading the bid to secure this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for affording the time.
The South Quay bomb in 1996, near Canary Wharf in my constituency, signalled the end of the IRA ceasefire that had briefly prevailed. Two men died and 50 other people were injured. Hundreds of buildings were damaged or destroyed, many businesses were negatively affected and many, many people were made temporarily homeless.
I pay tribute to Jonathan Ganesh, who was badly injured in the blast. He set up and has been the driving force behind the Docklands Victims Association, which campaigns for redress for victims and their families. Inam Bashir and John Jeffries died, and some of the survivors had life-changing injuries—brain damage, blindness and paralysis—and are still awaiting appropriate compensation. Some, as has been mentioned, have died. We heard moving testimonies from my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and from the hon. Member for Tewkesbury.
The noble Lord Empey first introduced the Asset Freezing (Compensation) Bill in the other place in 2016. The Bill has since been passed by the Lords, and the hon. Member for Romford is now pushing for it to have a hearing in this House. Billions of pounds of Libyan assets have been frozen and gathering interest in UK bank accounts for years. I submitted a parliamentary question asking how much is frozen and how much interest has accrued and—this contradicts the hon. Member for Romford, with no disrespect—the Economic Secretary to the Treasury told me in February 2018:
“In 2011, the approximate aggregate value at the time the funds were frozen in the UK was £7.5 billion.
The current value of frozen assets held are in the process of being finalised as part of the ‘2017 Annual Frozen Fund Review’. However, at the close of business on 30 September 2016 they were approximately £11.7 billion.”
So we are talking about £7.5 billion in 2011 and £11.7 billion in 2016, with the funds having almost doubled in that period. Many of us do not accept the Government’s contention that these funds cannot be accessed. As we have heard, in the USA, following the Libyan Claims Resolution Act in 2008, US victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism were paid substantial compensation. So the questions are, and have been for some time: can the funds be used, can the interest be used and what discussions have been taking place with the Libyan authorities? Although we all recognise the absence of a formal Government structure with which to deal, if discussions have been taking place, it would be good to know exactly where we are with those.
The second route we have been pressing, in the absence of legal access to the interest and frozen assets—and I understand that the Government have to recognise this—is at the UN, as outlined by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge). At some point, the decision to unfreeze Libyan assets in various countries has to be taken and it has to be decided by a resolution of the UN. A number of us have been calling for the UK to threaten to use our veto on the Security Council against the release of these funds. I would be grateful if the Minister responded on that proposal to say why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seems so set against it. Given the billions at stake, it might be thought to be in Libya’s interests to afford a small percentage of those assets in order to secure the bulk of the money it needs so badly to restructure the country.
This campaign has gone on for far too long. It is time for the UK Government to step up and conclude this sorry saga, whether by domestic decision, accessing frozen assets or diplomatic pressure. The victims deserve better.
In 1999, “Bandit Country: The IRA & South Armagh” a book by Tony Harnden, outlined in some detail the links between Libya and the Provisional IRA. The Provisional IRA’s campaign was given huge stimulus by the series of vessels full of weapons that arrived in places such as County Wicklow from the mid-1980s onwards. We are talking about missiles, ammunition and explosives. We make a mistake if we think it was just explosives, because people were killed by Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades and so on; they were killed by Libyan-inspired weapons. I wish to outline one shipment, in order to give colleagues an idea of what was coming in.
In about October 1986, a deal was arranged between Thomas “Slab” Murphy of the Provisional IRA, who is pretty well known to people like me, and Nasser Ali Ashour, a Libyan intelligence officer and diplomat. It took about 30 Libyan soldiers two nights to load up a converted Swedish oil rig replenishment ship called the Villa. Some 80 tonnes of weapons and explosives were put about the Villa, including seven RPGs, 10 surface-to-air missiles, a huge number of Kalashnikovs and one tonne of Semtex H, which is an incredibly powerful plastic explosive. It is far more powerful than the normal fertiliser-based bombs used up until that time. The Villa slipped through international waters and landed at Clogga Strand in County Wicklow. From there, its load was spirited away to long-term hides and then secretly distributed to Provisional IRA active service cells for use to kill indiscriminately.
It is indisputable that the Gaddafi regime—let us not say Libyans—supplied weapons and explosives used by the Provisional IRA. It is indisputable that so many innocent people died as a result of Provisional IRA activity using Libyan-supplied arms and explosives. It is indisputable that other nations have ensured compensation for victims of Libyan-backed terrorism. It is indisputable that huge sums of Libyan cash are frozen in London’s banks—we have just heard that there is nearly £12 billion of it. Surely the Government can find a mechanism that can compensate victims, perhaps in advance for those who are getting older, sometimes living in agony or in poverty. Get some money to them!
My hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. I was not even aware of the figures cited by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). Do those figures not suggest that when the request is made, we could return the assets to Libya with some kind of indexing so that it got the full value of its assets, and there would still be billions left with which it could pay recompense?
They do indeed—my hon. Friend is so right. We could use just a little of the interest. That is all it would take: just a little of the interest to compensate our citizens for this criminal terrorist activity. I am quite sure that decent, honourable Libyan citizens would want that to happen. The Government have a duty to do something about this.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart); he injects into these debates a level of knowledge from his years of service in uniform that, in all honestly, I do not believe anyone else could. I thank the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) for securing the debate.
There is a sense of déjà vu about this debate, but that is not what it should be. It is my desire that this debate will be something completely different and that it will bring about action. That has been the thrust of what all Members have said in their speeches and interventions. I want this debate to result in a change of direction and decision, not simply in platitudes and sympathetic consideration.
It is my belief that the duty that we have to our citizens supersedes the duty that we have to others. It is important that we all stand together today against the tactics of terror that cost lives and resulted in so many innocent people having to endure life-changing injuries. The Democratic Unionist party stands shoulder to shoulder with the innocent victims of terrorism who are making their case for proper recognition and support.
I am sure that other Members have been sent a letter by a very worthy and notable police officer; I presume from some of the contributions that that is the case. He was severely injured in the 1983 Harrods bombing that was carried out by the IRA. To that brave man who has carried on serving Queen and country, through physical difficulty and emotional and mental torment, I say: we salute you. I thank him for his service. I have heard what he said in the letter that I received and that I suspect others received, and I agree with and appreciate every single word that he has shared. He epitomises the suffering of victims.
One of the most startling parts of the police officer’s letter was his recollection of seeing an American gentleman —I think the hon. Member for Tewkesbury referred to this earlier—being injured and then attended to after the explosion. This police officer has looked on as the American Government ensured that there has been a form of justice for that man. They saw the part played by Gaddafi and his minions and decided that there was a price to pay, and they paid that price to their citizens.
This debate is epitomised by the fact that two people who were seriously injured in the same IRA Semtex bomb explosion in the capital city of this United Kingdom are treated in such different ways. Why would any rational person deem it acceptable that an American victim is compensated by the Libyans, but the British victims of this atrocity are not? It is little wonder that this brave police officer and so many other innocent victims feel abandoned, worth less than the American tourist who happened to be visiting their city.
This British police officer ran towards the danger—towards the bomb—yet that duty and sacrifice have not been properly acknowledged by a Government who I say with respect have failed adequately to make the case to the Libyan Administration. Along with others in this House, I pledge that I will seek justice for that police officer, his family, friends and colleagues, and for the innocent victims throughout this nation and this entire United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene.
Reflecting on the close working relationship between the Conservative Government and his party, the Democratic Unionist party, I have assumed that this very sensitive and very important issue for victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism has been raised in discussions by him and his colleagues with either the Foreign Secretary or indeed the Prime Minister. It would be very helpful if he could assure us that that in fact is the case.
I am quite happy to assure the House that the matter has been raised at the highest level with the Prime Minister. Everyone can be assured that we are not behind the door when it comes to pushing this matter and when it comes to talking to the Minister. For the victims, families, friends and colleagues across the whole of the United Kingdom, this is something that has been said before, but it needs to be reiterated, “You are the victims and you deserve the best that we can give.” Government at the very highest level and all of us must do better for the innocent victims of terrorism.
I asked the Home Secretary at the end of March whether she would raise the matter of the unexplained wealth orders in respect of the members of the Gaddafi family and their Libyan associates who reside in the UK, or who claim ownership of the frozen assets in the UK. The response was not particularly helpful, so I think it is time that the Minister talked to the National Crime Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office about finding some methodology on how to retrieve the £9.8 billion.
I say to the Minister, on behalf of every person affected by the evil deeds of evil men, aided and facilitated by Gaddafi and Libya, to make the change today and to step up for his constituents, for my constituents, for the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and simply for the concept of justice and for no other reason than what is right.
Albert Einstein made many statements, and I will quote one today. He said:
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
I say to the Minister that I hope that will not be the case for this Government. It is the wish of our people that we do something about this matter. Government after Government have sat and felt sympathy for victims. Northern Ireland MP after Northern Ireland MP has been infuriated by the lack of movement, as have our colleagues in Great Britain. This issue will be raised again and again and again until every victim of Libyan-sponsored terrorism knows without doubt that this institution, this Parliament and this Government, have done all they can to ensure that the men who were blown up, side by side, have parity of treatment from their separate Governments.
I am very conscious of time so let me just say that these people deserve our sympathy, our tears, our time and our promise to act. Their need dictates that we do no less; every fibre of our being should dictate that we do no less; and our position certainly dictates that we as a Parliament do no less. Wrong was done. We cannot give back lives, mental health or physical wellbeing, but we must do what we can and what we have not done thus far. It is our duty to fight against evil and fight for the victims in this way. Minister, I look to you.
I know that we want to hear from the Minister, so I will be as brief as I can be. I congratulate the hon. Members for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing this debate, especially after the Westminster Hall debate in December 2017. Once again we have heard a range of very powerful contributions by Members who have constituents directly affected by this. What we have heard from all of them is that we are dealing with a question of justice, and that there is a very real danger that justice delayed will become justice denied.
The Gaddafi regime at the time accepted that it shared some responsibility for the damage caused to so many lives by the IRA bombings. As we have heard, those affected from other countries have been able to secure compensation, but repeated delays by successive UK Governments have meant that the families and victims, maimed and devastated, are still waiting. That is despite the fact that a range of options has been put forward over the years. The proposal in today’s motion and in the Bill that has been promoted by Lord Empey and is now being introduced in this House provide a solution. If the Government are not willing to accept that, they should explain clearly why and put forward a viable alternative.
We have to hope that any decision made on the matter of compensation for victims is undertaken with the utmost sensitivity, and with respect to the privacy and dignity of the victims’ families. I pay tribute to the campaigners, some of whom we have heard about and some of whom I have received correspondence from—as all Members have. They all point out how time is passing. It is 20 years since the Good Friday agreement, and 10 years since the US Libyan Claims Resolution Act 2008. How long do these families have to wait for a resolution? If the UK Government fail to act on behalf of their citizens where it is possible to do so, they will have done an enormous and shameful disservice to the legacy of the victims of those terrorist acts. We heard from the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) that these acts do provide humanitarian grounds for the Government to take action.
There is a range of different proposals and options available to the Government. Of course we have to respect that the situation in Libya is difficult, and that there are diplomatic and legal processes that have to happen. As I said in Westminster Hall, we probably have to reflect on the Government’s role in the current situation in Libya. The fact is that they have spent considerably more money bombing Libya than they have ever done on trying to rebuild the country and bring about a stable settlement that would allow for negotiations to take place. But the idea that the families themselves should negotiate directly with the Libyan authorities is pretty concerning. It is difficult enough for the Government to do so, and these families are entitled to representation from their own Government. I am very keen to hear the Government’s response to the proposed Bill and to other suggestions. If they do not take those ideas, what opportunities do they see? Why do they think that families should otherwise be left to fend for themselves?
We have heard the Government say that they have to consider what support they need to offer victims of other terrorist attacks. I am in complete agreement with that. In fact, I led an Adjournment debate in this House on Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for victims of terrorism overseas. I have been visited by constituents who were caught up in Stockholm and in Tunisia. They were looking for basic and simple support from the Government, but found the Government lacking.
As part of my work with those people, I visited the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Centre in Warrington, which was set up in the memory of two young victims of the IRA bombing. It was one of the most moving experiences I have had as a Member of Parliament. The centre does fantastic work with victims of terrorist attacks—wherever those attacks happened and whatever the cause—and in bringing about reconciliation. Those support services should be extended to everyone who has fallen victim to a terrorist attack of some shape or form. And there will only be more. In a sense, all of us who were present in this Chamber last year were witnesses to terror visited upon Westminster.
The question of compensation is obviously more complicated, but in this instance there are clear opportunities and proposals to provide compensation, which has been awarded in other countries because of the efforts of those Governments. Now is the time for the Government to act. We have had a Select Committee report and a Westminster Hall debate. Today we are having a debate on the Floor of the Chamber, in which we have heard powerful testimonies from Members. Surely it is time for the Government to listen, to take action and, as all of us have said, to ensure that these victims get the justice they deserve.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on securing this debate. I also thank every Member who has contributed with such knowledge and such sympathy for the victims of IRA bombings, especially those bombings that were supplied by explosives from Libya. This afternoon we have heard many tragic and moving cases of victims who have still received no compensation, while they look around them and see other countries that have managed to obtain compensation for the victims of terror instigated by the Libyan regime under Colonel Gaddafi.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury called on the Government to compensate victims now. He referred to similar cases and the role of the Libyan Government in the IRA terror campaign, and quoted the comments of the former Labour Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, on Libyan-sponsored terror. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said quite clearly and accurately that this is not a party political issue, but it is one of justice. She told the House of a harrowing case. Victims were told that this was a private matter, but she does not believe that and nor should we.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) drew our attention to a 22-year-old woman police officer who was killed in the 1983 bombing of Harrods. A United States citizen was eventually compensated by Libya for that same outrage. The hon. Gentleman wants similar legislation to that which has now been passed by Congress in the United States—the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister says about that.
We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), who has been a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee since 2004. He said that we must never forget the victims over so many years who are still suffering today. That was generally the theme of this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), if I may call him that, said that it was time for this matter to be debated on the Floor of the House and at last we were debating it. He also said that British citizens had been failed by their own Government. As always, his words were strong and very clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) hoped that the Minister would be the champion of the campaign for compensation for these victims. He spoke about the IRA terror attack in his constituency in February 1996 and the effect that that had on victims. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said that not just explosives were supplied by Libya. He told us the story of the 80 tonnes of weapons on the Swedish ship, the Villa, including SAM missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Of course, he should know better than anybody exactly how that happened.
Finally, we heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who stands shoulder to shoulder with the innocent victims of terror and was appalled by the different treatment of victims on UK soil, with foreign victims treated somewhat better than domestic victims.
This debate is connected to a private Member’s Bill submitted in the other place by Lord Empey. According to Lord Empey, since the lifting of sanctions against Libya in 2004, there has been a series of missed opportunities to sort out this issue of compensation once and for all. The use of weapons supplied by the Libyan Government exacerbated the violence in Northern Ireland. However, the Government—not just this Government but previous Governments—have rejected many calls from several quarters, from cross-party groups to civil society organisations, to press the legitimate Government of Libya, if we can find out who they are, to compensate the victims.
There is no doubt that the Gaddafi Government sponsored terrorism in Northern Ireland—we have heard many examples this afternoon—and in other parts of the world. From 2004, the Libyan Government have been active in processes to compensate victims of terrorism in the United Kingdom by third parties that it sponsored, such as the IRA. However, since 2011, Libya has descended into civil war, which considerably complicates matters of trying to obtain compensation. The United Kingdom Government have made it clear that compensation for these victims of terrorism should be pursued through civil proceedings. That contrasts with the Governments of the United States, Germany and France, who have intervened forcefully and directly to try to obtain compensation for victims of direct Libyan terror. The problem is that Libya is in the throes of a civil war involving competing authorities. Right now, there does not seem to be an end to that conflict, nor a clear picture of who the legitimate authorities are.
In the 1970s and ’80s, at the height of the troubles, Libya supplied the IRA with vast quantities of weapons. Many Members, especially the hon. Member for Beckenham, have talked about how much was supplied. I understand that the amount of arms was at least 1,000 rifles, with appropriate ammunition, and at least 10 tonnes of Semtex, plus all the other destructive weapons that have claimed so many lives.
I intervene briefly just to remind the House that many people were killed not by explosives but through the use of the other weapons that Libya provided, and we will never be able to ascertain exactly who they were, either.
I thank the hon. Gentleman—the hon. and gallant Gentleman—for that important contribution.
Over 3,500 people died in the troubles over many decades. To quote the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report of 2017:
“There is no doubt that the weapons, funding, training, and explosives that Colonel Gaddafi provided to the Provisional IRA over the course of 25 years both extended and exacerbated the Northern Ireland Troubles, and caused enormous human suffering.”
I want to read two further quotes. One is from the Minister, who said:
“There is no lawful basis on which the UK could seize or change the ownership of any Libyan assets. The UN Security Council resolution under which those assets were frozen, which the UK supported, is clear that they should eventually be returned for the benefit of the Libyan people. To breach that resolution would be a violation of international law.”—[Official Report, 14 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 256WH.]
The second is from the hon. Member for Tewkesbury, the former Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, who said:
“The UK Government cannot allow this litany of missed chances to continue. There needs to be direct dialogue with the Libyan Government, and if the situation there makes this impossible, the Government must begin the process of establishing a fund themselves.”
I would be interested to hear the Minister’s comments. I want to make it clear that Labour Members—like, I am sure, Members on both sides of the House—have nothing but sympathy and support for every single victim of IRA terrorism, especially when much of that bloodshed was assisted by Gaddafi’s Libyan regime.
In conclusion, I would like to ask the Minister a number of questions. First, is there incontrovertible evidence of the supply of up to 10 tonnes of Semtex and more than 1,000 rifles by the Gaddafi regime to the IRA? Secondly, have the Government compiled a list of victims of the IRA and their families who the Government have evidence were victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism—in other words, where there is a connection between the two? Thirdly, has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office spoken to whoever is currently recognised as the legitimate Government of Libya about the possibility of providing any compensation for the supply of explosives and arms to the IRA by the Gaddafi regime?
Fourthly, has the Minister had any contact with countries that have negotiated compensation deals with Libya on behalf of their citizens who are the victims of terrorism directly or indirectly perpetrated by Libya? Fifthly, is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office providing every possible assistance to the families affected by Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism? Is there any more the FCO can do to help and support those families and victims, such as the provision of translation services or access to any evidence of the connection between the IRA and the then Libyan regime? Finally, can the Minister comment on what the hon. Member for South Suffolk said about the US victim of the 1983 Harrods bombing being compensated while his constituent is still waiting?
First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) for securing the debate and echo the tributes paid to him by a number of Members for his long-standing commitment and work on this issue. I couple that with my thanks to all those who have taken part in the debate, many of whom have contributed to this issue over a period of time—for too long. Those include the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), and the hon. Members for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton).
This is a difficult debate. The ultimate justice and the basic facts are not in dispute among us. Without going into the answers to all the questions raised by the hon. Member for Leeds North East, which I will give him, the evidence is sufficient for us to speak today with confidence that Semtex and other materials supplied by the Gaddafi regime into Ireland and on to the mainland of the UK were responsible for IRA-based terror. The Government do not seek to dispute that in any way. There is also no dispute about the sympathy for victims, which has been echoed around the Chamber.
We are left with the complex issue of what to do. If this was straightforward and simple, it would have been sorted, but it is not. It joins one or two other issues that, in the past, have been considered almost too difficult to solve, and we may be getting into that sort of territory.
Let me say a little about the Government’s position, which will answer some of the questions raised, and then I will turn to some conclusions. At the end, I will give my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury a moment to wrap up.
The Government have the greatest sympathy for the victims and their families, many of whom, as we have heard it eloquently put this afternoon, continue to live with the devastating physical and emotional consequences of these attacks. They are, quite understandably, determined to seek recompense for what they have suffered. It is right that we in Government do our utmost to help them seek a solution, and we will continue to do so.
Today’s debate is timely. As a number of Members are aware, I have recently been in Libya to fulfil, I trust, that part of the Foreign Secretary’s commitment on behalf of the FCO to do what we can to be more visible and to tackle things directly. In my discussions with the Libyan Ministers for Foreign Affairs and for Justice, I explained that although victims of some other Gaddafi- sponsored attacks, such as the Lockerbie bombing, had received compensation from the Libyan authorities, victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism had not. I told them that victims, their families and the UK Government feel incredibly strongly about that, and that the Government attach great importance to finding a resolution.
Just in passing, to answer the question as to why other people got compensation, it is not correct to say that the UK Government do not and did not negotiate on behalf of victims. The Government helped to secure compensation for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and for the family of WPC Fletcher. Compensation was possible in those cases because of evidence that the attacks were planned and executed directly by the Libyans. While we are not formally espousing the claims of victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism, we do continue to impress on the Libyan authorities the importance of making progress on this issue, and we have done that where we felt it was possible to do so.
I urged the Libyan Government to demonstrate that they were taking these cases seriously, and I suggested that they consider meeting victims and their representatives to discuss a possible way forward. Both Ministers I spoke to expressed sympathy with the victims and their families. However, they also spoke of the many urgent political, security and economic challenges that Libya is facing. They made it clear that this is a particularly difficult time to discuss legacy cases and compensation.
I can assure the House, as Members would expect me to, that I made it very clear, as I and other colleagues have in the past, that this is a priority for the UK Government. I have since written to both Ministers to reiterate that, and to reiterate further the importance of a meeting between Libyan representatives and victims’ groups.
I am conscious when I ask the Minister a question that he is a Minister who wants to give us the answer. If a bombing takes place that involves Semtex, one conclusion would be that it was an IRA bomb and came from Libya. If somebody is shot with an AK-47, it would be a good conclusion to draw that that was also the IRA and that the gun came from Libya, or, if it was a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, that that came from Libya. The instruments of war indicate where these things come from.
I am not in a position in any way to dispute what the hon. Gentleman says. There may well be some issues, if we look at compensation as a whole, about distinguishing between different groups, but that is a slightly different issue. However, we are clear what we are talking about here: there is enough evidence, and there will be victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism Semtex who we can all be very clear about.
I will give way, but I need to finish at 4.57 pm to give my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury time, and I cannot make progress if I am constantly responding to interventions.
I am enormously grateful to the Minister, for whom I have the highest regard—he is a very good Foreign Office Minister. After his visit to Libya, he described the UK as
“a strong partner and friend of Libya.”
If Libya is a friend of the UK, what possible justification can there be for delaying compensation for one day more?
I do not think that the presently constituted Libyan Government is in any position to make a decision in relation to such compensation or to pay it. In answer to the hon. Lady’s question, that is one of the practical issues that we are dealing with at the moment.
I am delighted that the Minister is raising this issue. Did he discuss with Libyan representatives any aspect of the frozen assets issue? Did he remind them that, if those assets are to be unfrozen, that will require a resolution of the UN Security Council, in which we have a vote?
No, I did not raise that at this time. Our position on the frozen assets is known, but let me come back to that in a moment. If I may, I will make a little progress so that I can present some conclusions.
One or two colleagues raised the issue of visibility, which the Foreign Secretary has previously raised with the Prime Minister of Libya. As far as visibility is concerned, we will continue to raise the matter at the highest level with Libyan counterparts. However, I must say that my conclusion from such meetings and from meeting Ministers myself is that I just do not think they are in a position to deal with this or to put forward anything at present. I am not sure that we can put any timescale on this process, which means that we may have to think about it differently. Progress is likely to continue to be difficult and slow until the situation in Libya changes significantly for the better.
Hon. Members have raised the question of Libyan assets. I do not want to take too much time, but I must repeat that the advice I have been given is that there is no lawful basis on which the UK could seize or change the ownership of any Libyan assets, whether they are owned by the Gaddafi family or by the Libyan state. The UN Security Council resolution under which these assets were frozen is clear that they should eventually be returned for the benefit of the Libyan people, and to breach the resolution would be a violation of international law.
We set out our position on several of the issues that have been mentioned in the Government response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report last year, and in substance the position has not changed, but let me look towards the future. The Government will continue to help victims engage directly with the Libyan authorities in order to pursue their campaign for compensation. The Foreign Secretary and I have previously met victims groups and the hon. Members who support them, and we remain committed to keeping them and the House updated on any developments.
In view of the likely absence of any progress within a reasonable timescale, I will now write to my colleagues across the Government to explore whether there is anything else the UK Government can do to support victims, their families and their communities. Hon. Members have previously suggested the idea of a community fund to provide assistance with physical, emotional and mental rehabilitation. I will discuss this with my colleagues across the Government, and explore what further support may be available under existing Government schemes. I will strongly take into account what hon. Members have said about the way in which we must approach relationships with a friendly Government in Libya who are, at present, unable to respond.
In conclusion, I am quite clear that the concerns raised today have been raised for far too long. We have a long tradition in this House of eventually getting around to things which, under successive Governments, ought to have been done—Hillsborough, contaminated blood and the matter raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General earlier this afternoon—and, except for the victims themselves, there are very few clean hands. I and my colleagues are being urged to do more, and I will do my best to keep open all channels of pressure on the Libyan Government, as we help them with stabilisation and for the future. With other colleagues in the Government, I will also try to be as imaginative as possible in dealing with the current situation and with requests for us to do more.
I have been in the House for 21 years, and I do not think I have ever before attended a debate in which I have agreed with every single word that has been said. There is such strength of feeling on this issue, and that is with speakers from four different political parties and, indeed, an independent Member, so the debate has been quite extraordinary.
I will quickly pick up on one or two issues mentioned by the Minister. He acknowledged that the Government intervened on the Lockerbie and Yvonne Fletcher tragedies. However, given that the Government accept that Libya has been involved with supplying arms and Semtex, I do not see why they cannot take up the individual cases we have discussed today. I cannot see the difference. The Minister said that a Libyan Government are not yet in place, but we have been told that for a number of years, and time is passing, so we have to find other ways forward. I thank the Minister for saying that he will explore other avenues throughout the Government.
On the assets, we understand the position, but the motion asks the Government to seek international agreement. Nobody is suggesting that we should break international law. The motion says that we should seek international agreement and co-operation on this issue, and I ask the Minister to take that back and discuss it with his Government colleagues. I am pleased that he is taking forward this issue, and I thank him very much for his response. Finally, all I would ask is that, as far as he can, he keeps me and other Members informed of the progress he is making.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House calls on the Government to take steps to obtain the required international authority to use a proportion of the assets of the Libyan Government that were frozen in the UK to compensate the relatives of people murdered and injured as a result of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism and to fund community support programmes in areas affected by that terrorism.
[Relevant Documents: Fourth Report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Session 2016–17, HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons, HC 49, and the Government response, HC 331; and correspondence between the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and the Minister of State for the Middle East, relating to the previous Committee’s inquiry into HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons, reported to the House on 29 November 2017 and 9 May 2018.]