HC Deb 11 January 1989 vol 144 cc827-9
4. Mr. Wareing

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met a representative of the Iranian Government; and what subjects were discussed.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave)

My right hon. and learned Friend met the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Velayati, in New York on 30 September last year. I met him on 9 January this year. We discussed progress in the resumption of full diplomatic representation in London and Tehran. I raised the imprisonment of the Briton, Roger Cooper, in Iran. and the British hostages in the Lebanon.

Mr. Wareing

Does the Minister agree that, quite apart from the holding of hostages by the terrorist regime in Iran, British diplomatic recognition of that regime can be forthcoming only when it stops violating the human rights of its own people? There have been reports of up to 12,000 people being executed since the end of the Gulf war by what can only be described as the butchers in Tehran. Are we so keen to have trade relations with that country that we are willing to forget about human rights? Does the Minister agree that this is another Government who are doomed, or should be?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that we never broke diplomatic relations with Iran. Iran is an important country in the region and it is right that we should have diplomatic relations with her. When I met the Foreign Minister, I thought that my principal duty was to seek the release of the British citizen held in Iran and to seek Iran's help, which we believe it could give, in the release of the hostages in Lebanon. We have made it perfectly clear on a number of occasions that the human rights abuses to hich the hon. Gentleman referred in Iran are unacceptable to us, as are those elsewhere.

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. Friend referred to certain meetings of a diplomatic nature. Was reference made at these to the disgust and horror of the British Parliament and people at the continued execution of political prisoners in Iran? That subject must be dealt with before any high level exchange of the kind which may have been suggested at those meetings takes place.

Mr. Waldegrave

I think that the Iranian Government and Dr. Velayati are in no doubt about the feelings in this House and elsewhere about those matters. I regarded it as my principal duty in the meeting the day before yesterday to seek Dr. Velayati's urgent help in the case of Mr. Cooper and over the hostages in the Lebanon because we believe that the House and the British people will not allow us to relax in our relations with Iran while they believe that more can be done from the Iranian side.

Sir Russell Johnston

Is the Minister aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that it was also his duty to raise the matter of the executions? The matter is important. Even if 12,000 is an exaggeration, the figure is still appallingly large. I hope that the Government will not react by increasing export credits as they did when Iraq used chemical weapons.

Mr. Waldegrave

I repeat what I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braille). I regarded my duty to this House as being to put help for the hostages and our own citizens at the top of my agenda. Of course we make repeated representations on the wider human rights context as well.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Does my hon. Friend accept that, concerning the ever-continuing detention of Roger Cooper, who has been detained now for three years in the Evin prison in Iran, it is exclusively within the power of the Iranian Government to provide his release? Does my hon. Friend further agree and accept that in addition to other matters that have validly been raised, full resumption of diplomatic relations must depend on the release of Roger Cooper in the first place and on the Government's satisfaction that the Islamic Government of Iran are doing all that they can to deliver the freedom of British hostages held in the Lebanon?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend puts it most accurately. We should also recognise that a welcome step was made with the freeing of Mr. Nicola. We welcome that unreservedly and hope that it is a sign that the kind of improvement in relations with Iran that my hon. Friend wants, and which we all want, will be possible if Iran responds to the concerns of this House.

Mr. Winnick

The Minister was absolutely right to give priority to making representations about British citizens who are being held completely unjustly as hostages. However, does he not recognise that the Government have a responsibility to express the feeling of revulsion and horror in this House and in many parts of the country at the way in which the regime is carrying out executions of political prisoners on an almost daily basis? If it were a Communist regime, the Tories would be in uproar and rightly so. Why is there not the same reaction to the bloodstained regime in Iran?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman started well, but then characteristically fell off the rails. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) raised the same matters with perhaps more dignity. However, I take the point.

Mr. Robert Hicks

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is public recognition that it was correct to restore our diplomatic mission in Tehran, but since then there has been increasing impatience over the delay in the release of Roger Cooper and the role that the Iranian authorities can play in helping to secure the release of the hostages in Beirut? Will he take on board the growing impatience of the British people about those specific points?

Mr. Waldegrave

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's impatience and I sympathise even more with the impatience of Mr. Cooper's family. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the welcome release of Mr. Nicola shows that the careful and limited steps that we have been taking have paid off. We hope that there will be further steps in the same direction before too long.

Mr. Anderson

We could have made representations to the Iranian Government on the appalling mass executions as, of course we did properly about Mr. Cooper and the hostages, because we maintained a residual diplomatic link with Iran. On the other country in the region which the Minister mentioned as that important country of Syria, we cannot make direct representations about the British hostages in the middle east or generally about the middle east peace process. Have the Government now come to the point where they are reconsidering diplomatic relations with Syria?

Mr. Waldegrave

No. There is no change in the situation in relation to Syria. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we find it impossible to have relations with a regime, senior officials of which took steps which might have led to a catastrophe in the centre of London as bad or worse than that which we recently saw in Lockerbie.

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