HL Deb 12 March 1990 vol 516 cc1323-7

4 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to a Private Notice Question being given in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State on the sentences imposed on Mr. Farzad Bazoft and Mrs. Daphne Parish by a court in Iraq. The Statement is as follows:

"The whole House will join me in expressing dismay and horror at the unjustified sentences which Mr. Bazoft and Mrs. Parish received from the Iraqi Revolutionary Court on Saturday. These sentences are out of all proportion to any offence which may have been committed. In particular, we deplore the death sentence passed on Mr Bazoft.

"Before the trial opened last Thursday, we had made over 50 separate representations to the Iraqi authorities making clear our concern for the wellbeing of Mrs. Parish and Mr. Bazoft. Our major concern at that stage was to try to secure a fair trial for Mrs. Parish and Mr. Bazoft.

"In addition to this constant pressure on the Iraqi authorities, the Prime Minister wrote to President Saddam Hussain on 21st February, before the trial took place, to express her concern about the two cases. President Saddam Hussain replied to the Prime Minister on 28th February assuring her that the trial would indeed be a fair one. From the account we have received, it is clear that no evidence was presented which would justify such harsh and disproportionate sentences.

"Our immediate aim is to save the life of Mr. Bazoft and to secure a review of the sentence imposed on Mrs. Parish. As soon as the outcome of the trial was known on Saturday, the Prime Minister wrote again to President Saddam Hussain asking for both sentences to be reduced on humanitarian grounds. At the same time we summoned the Iraqi ambassador and made clear to him the Government's reaction.

"We have asked our friends and allies in the Middle East and elsewhere to approach the Iraqi Government and support our call for clemency. The European Community has already taken action. The Irish, French and Italian ambassadors in Baghdad, on behalf of the Twelve, delivered a message to the Iraqi authorities urging them to reconsider the sentences.

"In all this, we should not forget the plight of Mr. Ian Richter, another British prisoner serving an unjustifiably harsh sentence in a Baghdad prison.

"Iraq has recently shown herself to be concerned about what she would call the misrepresentation of her policies abroad. She can be in no doubt about the damage which would be done to her standing in the world, let alone her relations with the UK, if these unacceptable sentences were to be confirmed."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement in response to the Private Notice Question asked in another place. We fully support the Prime Minister's plea to the President of Iraq, and the other diplomatic measures taken by the Government. We also thank those who have made representations to President Saddam Hussain, including King Hussein of Jordan as well as the Irish, French and Italian ambassadors acting for the Community, as the noble Lord just said, and other organisations.

We are deeply dismayed and shocked to understand that the Government of Iraq have rejected the pleas made to them, but I hope that the President may be persuaded to exercise his prerogative even at this stage and stay the execution of Mr. Bazoft. This is not the moment to go into detail as I do not wish to prejudice the position. I say only that the evidence against Mr. Bazoft and Mrs. Parish does not begin to justify the findings or the sentences of the Iraqi revolutionary court.

Does the Minister agree that the consequences of carrying out the sentence against Mr. Bazoft could cause grave and lasting damage to relations between Britain and Iraq? Can he say whether the Government have in mind any further steps, for example through the United Nations or indeed through the United States Administration? Is he aware that the Government have our total support in any effort made to avoid this tragedy taking place?

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, we also are most grateful to the Minister for making this Statement. It is very right and proper that this House should express its total abhorrence of what happened in Iraq over the weekend. I am grateful that the Minister explained so clearly what has been done by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office and also our allies and friends in Europe.

It is a horrifying sentence that has been passed on this person. Innocent or not, he was invited there as a journalist by the Iraqi Government. He was carrying out his journalistic tasks. Yet he has been treated as though he were a horrendous spy, which a reading of the weekend newspaper will make clear to everybody is not the case. If the Iraqi Government wishes to be treated as a civilised member of the community of nations, it must take steps to commute that sentence.

I hope that the Government, without wishing to say at this stage what further steps could be taken, will make it quite clear to the Iraqi Government that if this sentence were to be carried out, Iraq would not only isolate itself from the opinion of people in this country and their ability to carry out diplomatic relations with a country that has behaved in such barbarian fashion, but also isolate itself from the rest of the community of nations.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am most grateful for the reception given by the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Tordoff, to the Statement. It shows that the House is united in its condemnation of what the Iraqis propose to do. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, I do not wish to go into too much detail this afternoon. Our main, primary and perhaps sole consideration at the moment should be to do everything possible to work for the release of Mr. Bazoft and Mrs. Parish or for having another look at the sentences passed on them.

As I think both the noble Lords said, if in particular the death sentence were carried out, it could cause grave and lasting damage to our relations with Iraq. I also believe that it would cause grave and lasting damage to Iraq's relations with many other countries. That is why we have enlisted the support of the European Community and other friendly powers. Regarding the United Nations, the Secretary-General is personally concerned and is doing all he can to help.

4.7 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister this question. What representations were made before and immediately after the arrest of these people and during the so-called trial? There was no democratic trial whatever but a totalitarian trial by military men who had to do what they were told. They were probably instructed to find those people guilty and no doubt to say what the sentences were.

In view of that, this whole matter becomes an appalling crime against humanity. It does not affect only the two people involved. Despite the endeavours of the Prime Minister, which frankly have revealed that the President of Iraq treats our Prime Minister with contempt—as also the Irish and other ambassadors—does he think that it would now be right for our Government to mount a worldwide campaign to ensure that such things can never happen again; to ensure that two people brought up in a democratic way of life should not have to suffer in this way when as journalists they are following the normal procedures of their profession?

This cannot be allowed to remain just a matter between Great Britain and Iraq. It is now a matter for world opinion to be garnered to defend the fundamental principles of democracy.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I said, we have enlisted support from the world community and in particular, the European Community. The EC troika made that representation on behalf of the whole Community.

The noble Lord suggested that the trial was not a fair one. It is certainly true to say that the Iraqi revolutionary court does not provide for the same full consideration of a case that would be expected here in a British court. However, I do not think that I can add much to what I have already said. We shall consider all options as events unfold, but our prime objective at this moment must be to save the life of Mr. Bazoft and to have both sentences reduced.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, I hope that the House will not object if I underline what my noble friend Lord Cledwyn said; namely, that the whole country will be united behind whatever steps the Government find themselves able to take and that the President of Iraq should understand that there is a united view in this country that to carry out this sentence would offend—and deeply offend—everyone in this country. We wish the Government well in their efforts.

Perhaps I may finally ask this. We do not press the Government to say much, but will he convey to the Prime Minister that she should bring Mr. Kinnock into her discussions about these matters so that whatever cannot be said publicly should at least be conveyed privately to the Leader of the Opposition. I am sure that she would find that a help and not a hindrance.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, for the remarks that he has made. As I said earlier, it is not only the condemnation from all sides of this House and from the whole of the United Kingdom, but by others also which is important. I shall certainly relay the remarks of the noble Lord about the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister to my right honourable friend.