HL Deb 30 July 1998 vol 592 cc1617-8

3.23 p.m.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I should declare that, this week, I was appointed chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will introduce ECGD (Export Credits Guarantee Department) cover for Iran; and, if so, when.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury)

My Lords, Iran is a difficult market to assess, not least because of oil price uncertainty. However, my right honourable friend the President of the Council when President of the Board of Trade, announced that ECGD has reintroduced insurance cover for capital goods and services contracts concluded on cash payment terms and short-term reinsurance capacity for private sector insurers of consumer goods exports.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, while that is welcome as a first step, it falls short of the much-needed full cover which currently France and Italy offer, and which Germany will soon be offering. Therefore, will the Minister undertake to monitor the situation? Further, is the noble Lord aware that, procedurally, our visa regime is practically unworkable? That causes considerable difficulties. Is it not now high time to exchange ambassadors in what is potentially Britain's largest single market in the Middle East?

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, perhaps I may, first, congratulate the noble Viscount on his appointment. I am sure that that will do a great deal for relations and the trade that we want to build up with Iran. However, in response to the noble Viscount's two questions, it is important to point out that the cover already announced will facilitate some valuable trade and that this will be broadly welcomed by exporters. As I said, the Government are keen to encourage trade relations but there are a number of steps that we will have to take before full cover is reintroduced. That is largely to balance the interests of taxpayers and the trading opportunities. I believe that that is the right first step on the road, but it is to be hoped that there will be more to come. As regards visas, I agree that there is work to be done to smooth the procedures which are not yet what we would like them to be.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a precondition of more active relations with Iran should be the cancellation of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and repayment to this country of the costs which British taxpayers have incurred in protecting him?

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, it is quite clear that the Government have a number of issues which need to be resolved with the Iranians. Indeed, they will be part of the wide-ranging negotiations which will also affect our trading conditions and be undertaken by colleagues in other departments.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government of Iran are still sponsoring murder outside its borders, while persecuting religious and other minorities inside its borders?

Lord Simon of Highbury

No, my Lords. I am afraid that I am not in a position to comment on what the Government of Iran are undertaking. Indeed, that is a matter for the Government of Iran to answer.