The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee announced in July of 2105 that it was minded to enquire into the failure of HMG to secure compensation from Libya for the supply of Semtex to Sinn Fein/IRA.
Allegations have frequently been made that Tony Blair was instrumental in brokering a deal with USA and Libya and failing to secure the rights of UK citizens , when other nationalities were compensated.
The taking of evidence began in September. The weight of evidence so far points to discrimination towards UK citizens.
In October 2015 the chairman of the Committee , Laurence Robertson, wrote to Blair ,inviting him to submit written evidence. Blair replied on 11th December 2015 admitting, as far as he was aware, that he never raised the case of Semtex victims with Gadafy. You might find that in itself surprising, Dear Reader but worse is to come.
He said that the needs of the victims were being addressed through existing structures. For those of us used to Blair whoppers this was a mega whopper.
He followed this up by saying that we were precluded from legal action in the USA. Another lie.
On 11 December Blair appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
On 6th January 2016 Robertson wrote again to Blair and invited him to give oral evidence. In an undated letter from the Office of Tony Blair, he replied saying “these continued attempts to implicate me in deliberately trying to stop IRA victims receiving compensation are, as I have made very clear, without foundation”
The Committee must now decide what to do.
Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice is the authoritative work on Parliament. Let’s take a look…
“when a select committee has the power to send for persons, that power is unqualified, except to the extent that it conflicts with the privileges of the Crown and of Members of the House of Lords, or with the rights of Commons”
[see Erskine May Parliamentary Practice 24th ED p820]
So what if the person does not attend by invitation?
The witness is formally summoned to attend as a witness by order signed by the Chairman. On the face of the summons, unlike such issued by courts on occasions. there is no penal provision.
If he neglects to appear , he will be dealt with as in other cases of disobedience.
I know that now Dear Reader , those not well disposed to Tony will have visions of Blair in chains. Not so fast!
There is no power of arrest and imprisonment.The power of committal for contempt has not been used in modern times. It was last used in 1880.
There is power, held by the House of Commons, not the committee, to punish in other ways for contempt. Nobody has been fined since 1666. The House has not punished a non member since 1978 and the tide of opinion is against sanctions.
So if he does not appear , members of the Committee may gnash their teeth , rend their garments, even wear sackcloth and ashes but Tone ain’t comin!
So much for the Mother of Parliaments.