Claims that the Foreign Office has applied double standards when dealing with victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism have been rejected.
Defending a government policy not to pursue compensation claims on behalf of the bereaved and injured, Minister Tobias Ellwood said they risked being counter-sued if millions of pounds worth of frozen assets were released.
The lack of a stable administration since the fall of Colonel Gaddafi has also made dealing with the issue more difficult, MPs have been told.
Mr Ellwood, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: “There is no administration, even today for us to have clarity.
“They have no obligation, after a revolution, to honour what a previous administration has committed itself to. That’s the reality check that we face in this situation.”
Mr Ellwood had been called to give evidence to a select committee examining the role of the UK Government in seeking compensation for the victims of IRA attacks made possible by Semtex explosive and other weapons from the former Gaddafi regime.
Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon questioned the Government’s handling of previous claims from victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which resulted in more than £1 billion being paid out by the Libyans, and the family of police constable Yvonne Fletcher who was shot and killed outside the Libyan Embassy in 1984.
She said: “If that is Government policy, explain to us that the British Government did seek compensation, quite rightly, for the murder of Wpc Yvonne Fletcher which was paid by the Libyan authorities, and did also seek compensation for the Lockerbie victims?
“Why is it that IRA Libyan sponsored terrorism has not been espoused? Why is it that the British Government appear to pick and choose which victims it is going to seek to espouse their claims?”
Meanwhile Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, was also critical of the approach taken by the Foreign Office.
“It strikes me that while there is a political decision here, there is clearly a Foreign Office view on this that this is an awkward area. It’s going to affect trade and all sorts of things.
“Do you think deep down there is something else going on here? Do you think this is anything at all to do with the fact that some of the people who actually ordered the Semtex from the Libyans are in Government now in Northern Ireland and there is a determination to protect the peace process is absolutely sacrilege and therefore perhaps it is easier to drop the thing?”
Mr Ellwood said he would provide further clarity on the Government policy but robustly refuted allegations of “double standards”.
“I do not think there is this double standards,” he added. “I am very happy to clarify exactly what the role was and to make sure that we have a consistent policy because, absolutely, correctly it needs to be consistent.”
Meanwhile, the inquiry heard more than £900 million of Gaddafi’s huge fortune has been frozen by the UK Government and an Act of Parliament could release it to victims.
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said there was a moral obligation to help them and urged MPs to act.
“Frankly waiting for the Libyan authorities to sort themselves out is like waiting for Jeremy Corbyn to sing the national anthem,” he said.