HL Deb 09 December 1980 vol 415 cc639-41

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether direct representation continues to be made to the Ayatollah Khomeini so that he personally is aware of the distress and concern of Christians and those of other religions in this country at the continued detention in Iran of the missionaries Dr. and Mrs. Coleman and Miss Jean Wadell and the businessman Mr. Andrew Pyke.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are profoundly concerned at the continuing detention of four British subjects in Iran. But direct representations from a foreign Government to the Ayatollah Khomeini himself would, in our judgment, not be effective or indeed helpful. We believe the best way to bring our concern to his attention is to continue our persistent representations to the Iranian authorities and to senior Iranian figures, with help wherever possible from other intermediaries. These efforts will continue until we succeed in obtaining the release of all those detained.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, may I thank the Minister, the Foreign Secretary, for that reply which, I am sure, will bring, at any rate, some comfort to the families, to the friends and to the many people known to the four who are detained in Iran at the moment. May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he agrees that Ayatollah Khomeini bases his life, and the life of his nation, on his religious beliefs? Therefore, would it be possible for a group of Christians from this country to make representations personally to the Ayatollah, so that he will understand that the Christians in this country have a deep concern for those and other people held in Iran?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think we all share my noble friend's concern about this matter, and anything which anybody can do to make possible the release of these British subjects should be done. I think it really is up to the leaders of the Christian Churches themselves to decide whether a move of that kind would be helpful.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford

My Lords, we all, I am sure, feel this deep concern for the four people mentioned in the noble Baroness's Question. But may I ask the noble Minister, the Foreign Secretary, a further question about the harassment and detention of other members of the Episcopal Church, and of other Christians in Iran who are Iranian citizens? They, also, are of deep concern to us. Could the Foreign Secretary inform us whether these matters were discussed when an Iranian delegation recently visited this country, and what transpired as the effect of that?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, in answer to the right reverend Prelate, the Iranian delegation which came over the other day, with the intention of seeking our support in respect of the Tran/Iraq conflict, was told by me in very specific terms of our anxiety at the fate of the four British subjects who had not been allowed consular access. Indeed, we do not even know where they are, and this is a state of affairs which is very far from satisfactory. I made it plain that there could be no question of an improvement in relations between Britain and Iran until this matter had been settled. The response that I received was that they were worried about our attitude and they would do what they could to sort this matter out legally, as soon as possible. We must wait and see, but so far there has been no indication of any movement.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the presence of these four people in Iran was solely for the purpose of serving their religious faith, and had not the remotest connection with any political purpose of any kind?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, three of them are missionaries and one, I think, is a helicopter pilot. There have been no charges levelled against these British subjects, but there have been accusations that they have been engaged in espionage. Anybody who knows the four people concerned will know that these accusations are wholly ludicrous.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, pending the release of these detained prisoners, will the Government try to arrange for regular visiting of them by the International Red Cross?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the Red Cross have visited them and we have had reports, though of course necessarily second-hand through the Red Cross, that all four British subjects are well. I hope very much that they will continue to be visited.