By Jonathan Isaby
Two Conservative backenchers raised the case of the Lockerbie bomber, al-Megrahi, at Foreign Office Questions yesterday, in the wake of the leak of documents suggesting that the Labour ministers had secretly advised Libya how to secure release of Lockerbie bomber.
Pauline Latham and Rober Halfon both pressed the Foreign Secretary to comment on the latest revelations, but he opted to keep his counsel in advance of the Cabinet Secretary's report into the matter, as the exchanges below demonstrate:
Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire): Following the premature release of al-Megrahi, do the Government have any plans to send more NHS cancer patients to Libya, given the better survival rate there? How does the Secretary of State feel this disgraceful leak will affect our relationship with the United States of America?
WIlliam Hague: I detect from my hon. Friend's question that she did not agree with the release of Mr Megrahi. Nether did I, and nor did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, it was a decision taken by the Scottish Executive. On the question of relations with the United States, the Prime Minister undertook to have the Cabinet Secretary look at past papers on this case, and his report will be published shortly.
Robert Halfon (Harlow): Following the Secretary of State's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on the release of the Lockerbie bomber, does he not agree that the previous Government hid behind the fig leaf of devolution in order to release a mass terrorist on dubious commercial grounds? Will he take steps to ensure that such a thing never happens again?
Mr Hague: As I have said, the Cabinet Secretary's report on that will be published in the not-too-distant future, so it would be wise to wait for that, rather than trying to anticipate it.
Meanwhile, Robert Halfon has also tabled the following early day motion (EDM 1387) on the issue:
That this House sincerely regrets the decision of the Foreign Office under the last administration, when it reportedly wrote to Libyan officials offering them detailed legal advice on how to use Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's cancer diagnosis to ensure that he was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds; notes thatit has been reported in the Daily Telegraph that the Libyans closely followed this advice from the Foreign Office, only a few months after this letter, and that this led to the controversial release of al-Megrahi, the terrorist and Lockerbie bomber, who was convicted by a British court in 2001 for the murder of 270 innocent passengers on Pan Am flight 103; and concludes that this new information seriously undermines the last Labour administration's claims that there was no double-dealing in the release of al-Megrahi and that the decision was solely the responsibility of the devolved Scottish Executive.