People's Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran — Question
2:44 pm

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Lord Waddington (Conservative)

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to observe the latest judgment of the Court of First Instance of the European Communities concerning the People's Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran.

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Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, mindful of the clear judgment of the Court of First Instance of 4 December 2008 annulling the July 2008 listing of the PMOI, the UK believe that EU member states must observe and respect the court's judgment in the current review of the EU list of terrorist organisations.

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Lord Waddington (Conservative)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply, but I think that he will agree with me that so far the British Government have not covered themselves in glory, having abstained rather than supported the Court of Appeal's decision that the PMOI was not a terrorist organisation when the matter was before the Council of Ministers some months ago. Did not the European Court say in its judgment of 4 December that the British Government's excuse for abstaining on that occasion—namely, that they had to vote either for or against the whole list of terrorist organisations—was wholly spurious? Surely we are entitled to expect that from now on the Government will ensure that the judgments of the Court of Appeal and the European Court are observed and that the European Union respects the rule of law.

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Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, the noble Lord is, as always, gracious; he was kind enough, in attributing the spurious response to the Government, not to say that it was my response in this Chamber to him and others. This gives me the opportunity to say that, while the Court thought the view incorrect that it was impossible to vote against only one member of that list, I checked back with officials, who have reconfirmed that it is up to the presidency of the European Council at the time to determine how such business is dealt with. A whole list was given and there was no option but to vote it up or down. Therefore, if we had not abstained, other terrorist organisations would have been delisted.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Deputy Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to hear the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, supporting so strongly the EU Court of Justice and the importance of obeying its rules. We all recognise the delicacy of defining a terrorist organisation. I am not an expert on the PMOI, but I have some hesitation about it, which arises from the fact that right-wing think tanks, Washington, Christopher Booker and the Sunday Telegraph are among its strongest proponents. Does the Minister accept that we are concerned about the delicate line between legitimate exiled organisations in this country and terrorist organisations? For example, the last day we met in December, the VHP from India was mentioned in the context of raising charitable moneys in this country that may go through to violence against minorities in India. Are the Government looking overall at the question?

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Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, we constantly review which organisations we believe should be proscribed. It is enormously important that our reviews and the decisions that we and our European partners make are subject to scrutiny by the courts. In this case it is clear that courts both at the national and the EU levels have found repeatedly against our desire to proscribe this organisation and it is enormously important that we accept and respect those judgments.

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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton (Crossbench)

My Lords, will my noble friend reassure the House in clear and absolute terms that every future vote cast by Her Majesty's Government will aim at the removal of the word "terrorist" in relation to the PMOI?

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Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, let me be clear: at the end of this month there will be a decision on this issue by Ministers at the European level. Let me be equally clear that the UK will, both in the working meetings that precede that decision and at the time of the decision itself, urge respect for the decisions of the courts.

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Lord Campbell of Alloway (Conservative)

My Lords, will the noble Lord explain why, if one is excluded, all others are excluded? Surely there is a form of assessment on the merits of each case. What is going on?

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Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, each organisation is individually considered by the working committee that gives advice to the Council of Ministers. It is then the prerogative of the presidency to decide how a vote is taken on the list derived from those discussions. The last presidency determined that the vote should be on the list as a whole and that the list should be either adopted by consensus or rejected. It was not possible, in the view of the officials involved, to demand a vote on individual organisations on the list.

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The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham (Bishop)

My Lords, in the light of the PMOI's hopes for a Government in Iran who respect religious freedom, what action are Her Majesty's Government taking on the position of the seven leaders of the Baha'i community who have been imprisoned without trial and held in severe conditions and who are now threatened with execution for no other crime than their religious beliefs?

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Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, we are very much aware that seven leading members of the Baha'i community have remained in detention without formal charge since their arrest in the first half of last year. We received reports in December that the group had been sentenced to death and that executions were imminent, although we have been unable to confirm this and cannot therefore substantiate the reports. Since the arrests, we have made several representations to the Iranian authorities calling for the group's release and will continue to monitor developments closely. I associate myself with the right reverend Prelate in saying that this is an extraordinary attack on freedom of religion in that country.

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Baroness Turner of Camden (Labour)

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in view of the court decision that effectively removes the PMOI from the terrorist list, it would be quite wrong to seek its inclusion on the EU's asset-freeze list?

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Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, the two lists are in this sense linked. The deproscribing of the PMOI indeed has knock-on effects on the organisation as a whole.

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Lord Avebury (Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for the Home Office; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, when the decision comes before European Ministers at the end of this month, will there be an individual decision on the PMOI? Will the Government then vote for deproscription?

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Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, in the light of the court decision, we hope that the list, when it arrives before Ministers, will ideally not contain the PMOI.