Lord Empey: Libya bill will go to MPs and it will be hard for ministers to stop it being debated

Westminster: Libya bill passed in House of Lords and then went to the House of Commons but ran out of time. Now it is back in the House
Westminster: Libya bill passed in House of Lords and then went to the House of Commons but ran out of time. Now it is back in the House

An All Party Parliamentary Support Group was formed to campaign for compensation for UK citizens who suffered as a result of the supply of Semtex and weapons to the IRA by former Libyan Leader, Colonel Gadaffi.

This Support Group, of which I am a member, decided in 2015 that a Bill to help the victims would be the best way of highlighting the plight of victims.

The 1996 IRA bomb at Canary Wharf, which was one of a number of atrocities carried out using Libyan semtex. Two people died in the blast

The 1996 IRA bomb at Canary Wharf, which was one of a number of atrocities carried out using Libyan semtex. Two people died in the blast

Members of both Houses were asked to enter the ballot for Private Member’s Bills that takes place at the beginning of each session of Parliament.

I was successful, coming No. 1 and I submitted a draft to the Public Bill Office to put the Bill into appropriate Parliamentary language.

It therefore fell to me to put the Bill forward in the House of Lords.

It was passed there and went to the House of Commons at the end of 2016, but was blocked consistently by a member ‘objecting’, resulting in the Bill having to be rescheduled.

The former Ulster Unionist Party leader, Lord Empey

The former Ulster Unionist Party leader, Lord Empey

This is a well-used tactic when governments don’t want to deal with the Bill.

It eventually ran out of time when the general election was called last spring.

However, with a new Parliament came a new opportunity.

This year I drew No.5 in the ballot and have progressed the Bill to the current stage. It will now go to the House of Commons, where the Chairman of the Support Group, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, will sponsor it. As a result of a new Parliament, there is a much longer session, up to May 2019.

This will make it more difficult for the government to use delaying tactics to stop it being debated in the Commons.

I know that both the Treasury and the Foreign Office are opposed to it, but the group are not prepared to let these victims down.

Their treatment has been awful, and successive governments have behaved inexplicably when one sees that the US, German and French governments all succeeded in getting compensation from Libya for their victims.

Was a deal done by Tony Blair that led to British inactivity on this matter?

We have met Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and while he has promised to be more proactive, his written response was inadequate.

We are meeting him again.

There is £9.5 billion of frozen Libyan assets in London, an enormous sum.

The Bill empowers the Treasury to get access to those funds to utilise for the benefit of victims, with the approval of the United Nations and the EU, who imposed the freeze.

So far the UK has not even asked for help from either to do so.

That in itself says it all.

Republicans are consistent in pursuing campaigns on behalf of people they claim have suffered an injustice; an irony as the IRA created more victims than all others put together.

However unionists have not been so consistent or persistent.

The victory this week of those who were seeking legal aid in the Hyde Park bombing case should give us all encouragement to continue these justified campaigns on behalf of victims of IRA abuse and give ‘boltcutter’ Kelly and republicans something to ponder.

The ‘On the Run’ letters and Royal Pardons cannot protect recipients from the determination of those who were the targets of their perverted version of Irish republicanism.

• Lord Empey is a former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party