Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 12 March 1997.

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Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase , Wolverhampton North East 1:45, 12 March 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Britain's relations with Iran. [18302]

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

We have serious concerns about many Iranian policies; until those are addressed satisfactorily, there can be no question of Iran having normal relations with the international community.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase , Wolverhampton North East

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. May I remind him that a Select Committee recently completed an inquiry into arms to Iraq, during which papers that had been promised in the House were denied to that Committee? Even the Crown jewels procedure was denied to that Committee in respect of certain papers. Why do the Government intend to subject some 3,500 documents taken from the Astra files to public interest immunity certificates when it was those files that first disclosed the arms to Iran scandal and when the House has said that it will use those certificates much more sparingly? Will he explain his and other Departments' actions in that matter?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

This question is about Iran and I am not certain about the relevance of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary. Any proposals that involve the use of public interest immunity certificates are subject to well-recognised criteria. As the hon. Gentleman knows, those criteria have been reformed in the light of the Scott inquiry's recommendations. The hon. Gentleman can therefore feel satisfied that there are proper safeguards.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexleyheath

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that neither western Europe's critical dialogue nor the United States' policy of dual containment have been particularly successful in recent years? When a new course is being decided, will he resist the temptation to turn Iran into a pariah state, beyond the bounds of the international community? Does he agree that Teheran is just the sort of place where a British ambassador, with his skills and expertise, would have plenty of work to do?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

We have made it clear that we would not be attracted by proposals for economic sanctions unless they were likely to have the support of the United Nations Security Council as a whole, and that is not likely to arise. However, it is simply not possible to have normal relations with Iran. There have been significant examples, which, I am afraid, continue, of Iran assisting subversion and of the likelihood that it supports terrorist organisations. We have a particular problem with regard to the British citizen, Salman Rushdie. That continues to see no improvement whatever, and some aspects have deteriorated in recent weeks. Against that background, we regret that it is not possible to have proper relations with that country.

Mr. Patchett:

We certainly agree with the Foreign Secretary's condemnation of Iran's record on human rights and involvement in terrorism. Against that background, can he explain why, in the very week in which the regime in Iran yet again confirmed the fatwah against Salman Rushdie and increased the price on his head, the Government decided to sponsor a trade fair in Teheran? Why do the Government indulge in such actions when it is clear that the signals give comfort to the regime in Iran and condone its behaviour? Is it not clear that, rather than being tough on terrorism, the Government are prepared to trade with anybody?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

I was waiting for the hon. Gentleman to say whether any future Labour Government would break economic links with Iran and cease to trade with it. I explained to the House a few moments ago that we do not believe in economic sanctions. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman nevertheless felt that he had to continue with his supplementary. There may be a difference of view between the Government and the Opposition: we believe that economic links with Iran are sensible and should not be discontinued. If the hon. Gentleman disagrees, he should have said so and not used weasel words.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

What steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to monitor the serious build-up of weapons in Iran, far in excess of its national needs? Is he aware that the build-up is causing great concern in the Gulf states, which feel that their security is being threatened?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Foreign Secretary

Yes, I very much agree with my hon. Friend. This morning, I met the Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia, and I know that many of the moderate countries in the region are extremely concerned about the expansion of the Iranian military capability. Iran recently purchased Russian submarines, and there is concern that it may be seeking to advance a nuclear capability, so it is necessary to monitor those matters carefully and to do all that is in our power to dissuade Iran from such a course of action.