Ministerial Visit (Iran)

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21 March 2001.

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock 12:00, 21 March 2001

If she will make a statement on her recent visit to Iran. [153300]

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

My visit to Iran, at the invitation of the former Iranian ambassador in London, was to help to build partnerships for better co-operation between our countries to halt the flow of heroin from Afghanistan through Iran into Europe. That causes social problems on the way. This co-operation will benefit both the UK and Iran. While I was there, I signed a memorandum of understanding between Iran and the UK on drugs co-operation and pledged a further £78,000 from the UK to help Iranian drug demand reduction efforts.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

I fully endorse my right hon. Friend's endeavours to combat organised drug crime between here and Iran. Her visit was highly publicised, so can she tell us whether she had an opportunity to reinforce the United Kingdom's deep concerns about continued civil rights abuses in Iran, particularly bearing in mind the fact that her visit coincided with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's listing the Mujaheddin as a proscribed organisation? Were the right signals conveyed to Tehran during her visit for that important reason?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

I consulted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before I left. The issue was raised with me and I explained what had been done. We, as a Government, are opposed to capital punishment and the kind of human rights violations that take place in Iran. However, if we are to make progress, it is better to work with countries for change; talking to people makes change a possibility. If we just ignore and condemn, that will not bring about change. Iran has a different culture, but while I was there I raised the issue of human rights with every Minister I met and referred, in particular, to the case of the folk who went to the conference in Berlin and were imprisoned for that.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

What assessment has the right hon. Lady made of the uses to which the Iranians have put the £2.68 million contributed by the British Government to the anti-drugs effort? How does she expect the additional £78,000 to be allocated, and is she now able to throw any light on the real reasons for the sudden resignation of the head of that country's anti-drugs headquarters, General Mohammad Fallah?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

General Mohammad Fallah resigned and then took up his job again. I think the explanation of why he left now becomes a secondary issue.

The money allocated from this country goes with that from other countries to the United Nations, and the UN drugs team uses the money. I saw it being used to improve the systems for night vision on the border and to assist customs and excise. It is used to help to stop the drugs moving through.

Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone

Although I appreciate the need for the memorandum of understanding to prevent drugs from coming to Europe and to the United Kingdom in particular, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a need to strike up a dialogue with the country in which the drugs originate? Perhaps we could establish a European package so that farmers who currently grow poppies are encouraged to diversify into other crops. The poppy, which has caused so much misery, could be replaced by other crops.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

The United Nations drugs unit has a policy of co-operation between European countries to feed into the UN's efforts in Afghanistan. The Taliban are in discussion with the Iranians, so there is some communication between them on policy. My hon. Friend's suggestion that European Union countries should be involved is valid. We have just managed to do that elsewhere, and Spain is taking that approach in its relations with Colombia. The European Union has provided 105 million ecu to help to prevent the production of cocaine in Colombia. I am sure that, in time, we will begin to understand that such countries face problems partly because of the demand in Europe, so I hope that the policy that my hon. Friend described will be followed.