People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran

– in the House of Commons at 11:13 pm on 4th March 2008.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. David.]

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 11:14 pm, 4th March 2008

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise an issue that is of great concern to many Members. I must say immediately that it is rather sad that it is having to be raised at all. In my view, the treatment of the organisation about which I shall speak briefly tonight is perverse in every sense. I regard its members as the good guys.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. He and I do not disagree on it. He described the treatment of the organisation as "perverse"; has it gone before any courts?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. Yes, it has gone before courts, which have made a decision, and as I proceed with my speech the hon. Gentleman will become absolutely certain that it is perverse.

The issue to which I refer is the Home Secretary's refusal to lift the ban on the main democratic Iranian opposition movement, the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran. Two unequivocal court rulings—this is relevant to the hon. Gentleman's question—were made in the United Kingdom and the European Union. They stated that the PMOI, as I shall refer to it from now on, was not connected in any way with terrorism. The Government, however, are still proscribing it as a terrorist organisation, which is bizarre, particularly as it is the only Iranian movement capable of producing democratic change in Iran. I know that at least one of my colleagues hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to support what I have just said.

The Iranian regime is well known for its lack of respect for basic freedoms of speech, association and religion. A recent excellent report by the Foreign Affairs Committee received a submission which described Iran as

"the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East".

Moreover, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have revealed that in 2007, on a per capita basis, Iran executed more people than any other country on earth. That is absolutely disgraceful.

Stoning, public beheading and flogging are still acceptable practices in Iran. One man was stoned to death in 2007, and two sisters are currently on death row awaiting execution by stoning for committing the crime—in Iranian law—of adultery. The practice of stoning involves throwing stones at the convicted individual—a man is buried up to the waist and a woman up to the chest—until he or she dies from the impact of the blows. In 2007 more than 150 people were publicly beheaded in Iran, while most hangings were also carried out in public. Surely those facts, which are indisputable, could not lead anyone to support the Iranian regime in its present form rather than supporting those who want democratic, peaceful regime change, namely the PMOI.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green

Is it not also true that another part of the opposition of which the hon. Gentleman speaks—the National Council of Resistance of Iran—has resolved, as part of its home programme, not to pursue the nuclear path?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

The hon. Gentleman is right, and that is yet another matter that I hope the Government have taken into account.

On good evidence, Iran stands accused of harbouring terrorists and funding the terrorist activities of both Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon. On July 25 2006, Henry Crumpton, the US State Department's co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, said that Iran is

"clearly directing a lot of Hezbollah actions. Hezbollah asks their permission to do things, especially if it has broader international implications."

Apart from specific assistance to organisations whose sole aim is the destruction of Israel, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the Jewish state to be "wiped from the map" while questioning the existence of the holocaust. In addition, he must be the scruffiest head of state I have ever seen. I could not believe his appearance recently when he met the gentleman in charge of the regime in Iraq. I know it is fashionable in all quarters not to wear ties these days, but there are occasions when one would expect the Head of State to be smartly dressed.

With an individual like Ahmadinejad leading a regime imbued with religious zealotry of the worst kind, the Iranian regime must be viewed as a serious threat to the interests and security of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Shadow Minister (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow Minister (Wales)

On the subject of the President of the Iranian Republic, does the hon. Gentleman share the despair of many when we reflect that he was elected on a turnout of 9 per cent. of the Iranian population and owed his position to a prescribed list of candidates? Does not that question the very value of democracy in Iran?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

That certainly was not in my speech but I wish I had included it, as it is a powerful indictment of the regime. I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to that parody of democracy.

The Iranian regime must be viewed as a serious threat to the interests and security of the UK, as was witnessed last year when 15 British sailors were illegally taken by the revolutionary guard and paraded through Tehran. This again seems to have been forgotten.

The PMOI, in aid of the UK and its allies, recently exposed the fact that the Iranian regime's revolutionary guards have set up a vast network to gather intelligence on the movements of British troops in southern Iraq. This network also monitors the activities of Iraqis who co-operate with British forces.

Owing to its belief in a democratic and tolerant interpretation of Islam, its vast popular support and its three-decade confrontation with the epicentre of Islamic fundamentalism, the PMOI is completely opposed to the current Administration in Tehran.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Shadow Minister (Wales)

Is it not also the case that the PMOI revealed to the west the full extent of Iran's nuclear ambitions and, indeed, the secret installations at Natanz and Arak?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

That is in my speech, my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear, but his pronunciation is far better than I could aspire to.

Accusing the PMOI of terrorism gives credit to the fundamentalists who are perpetrating countless atrocities under the banner of Islam in Iran. The PMOI has been the unrivalled source of revelations of the regime's terrorist activities in Iraq. Last year it exposed the list of names and particulars of 32,000 Iraqis on the Iranian regime's payroll.

The Iranian Resistance, led by Mrs. Mary am Rajavi, a brave, heroic and wonderful lady, seeks to establish a secular democracy, gender and religious equality and the abolition of the death penalty and of barbaric punishments carried out under the banner of Islam, such as stoning.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

My hon. Friend has talked about the abolition of the death penalty. Does he agree that it takes some form of hideous regime not only to have the death penalty, but to execute publicly teenagers accused of being gay? Does not that indicate the type of regime that there is in Iran?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That point was raised not long ago in Westminster Hall, and it has also been raised in Question Time.

The PMOI promotes peace, security, human rights, stability, development, friendship and a nuclear-free Iran, as well as economic co-operation and development in that region of the world. It has also undertaken to abide by international laws and conventions.

On 30 November 2007, following an appeal by 35 cross-party parliamentarians from both Houses of Parliament, the UK's Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission—POAC—ruled that the Government's continued ban on the PMOI is "flawed" and "perverse" and "must be set aside". Following seven days of hearings, the POAC ruled that there was no evidence that the PMOI "is concerned in terrorism", a requirement of the Terrorism Act 2000 for inclusion in the terrorist list. Dr. Vis was absolutely right that this matter has been handled in a perverse fashion.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the president of the Iranian Resistance. Will he confirm that she is not in favour of appeasement, but also that she is not in favour of war? What she is in favour of is the PMOI being taken off that list.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I agree with everything the hon. Gentleman has said.

Having ruled that the Secretary of State had misinterpreted the 2000 Act, the POAC stated:

"Having carefully considered all the material before us, we have concluded that the decision" of the Secretary of State

"is properly characterised as perverse...We recognise that a finding of perversity is uncommon. We believe, however, that this Commission is in the (perhaps unusual) position of having before it all of the material that is relevant to the decision."

The POAC also stated that

"intense scrutiny of the material requires the conclusion" that the PMOI has not engaged in terrorist acts in Iran or elsewhere since August 2001; that the PMOI's military structure inside Iran had ceased to exist by at the latest the end of 2002; that in May 2003 the PMOI in Iraq disarmed; and that there is no material that indicates that the PMOI has obtained or sought to obtain arms or otherwise reconstruct any military capability, despite its capacity to do so, after May 2003.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

Does my hon. Friend recognise that not only do the courts say that that is perverse, but most commentators believe it to be shameful, not least because on 1 February 2006 the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Straw, openly admitted that the designation of proscription was granted to appease the mullahs in Iran? Is that not a totally shameful situation for this country to be in, and is it not equally shameful that the Government should not abide by the laws of the European Court of Justice?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

My hon. Friend has a gravelly voice tonight, but he makes the point far better than I could have hoped to.

The POAC also concludes that there is no material to suggest that the PMOI has sought to recruit or train members for military or terrorist action; that there is no evidence that the PMOI has at any time since 2003 sought to re-create any form of structure that was capable of carrying out or supporting terrorist acts; that there is no evidence of any attempt to "prepare" for terrorism; that there is no evidence of any encouragement to others to commit acts of terrorism; and nor is there any material that affords any grounds for a belief that the PMOI was "otherwise concerned in terrorism" at the time of the decision in September 2006.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that not only the UK Government are culpable but so is the EU, which has used every opportunity to deal savage blows to the PMOI?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

In the true spirit of the debate, I again agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have the point that he makes in the closing remarks of my speech.

On 14 December, the Government lost their attempt to seek leave to appeal the POAC judgment, yet they continue to defy the courts and have thus far refused to de-list the PMOI. They presented their grounds for appeal at a preliminary hearing from 18 to 20 February. Their argument appeared to be that the POAC did not have the authority to annul the PMOI's proscription as a terrorist organisation. Such an argument fails any test of scrutiny, as Parliament set up the POAC to allow for a de-proscription process.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I am sorry to dampen the debate. The Government's ruling was based on an assumption that the PMOI had been engaged in terrorism at the time of proscribing, which it had not, and that is why the court or tribunal ruled it perverse, but it is widely accepted that before 2000-01 the PMOI had been engaged in terrorism on behalf of, or in conjunction with, Saddam Hussein's regime. Have we not learned the lesson that if we accept that the PMOI should be allowed to ignore its past, members of the IRA would be allowed to sit in this House because they are no longer engaged in terrorism?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I am sorry that I do not agree with my hon. Friend's argument for many reasons.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green

It was suggested in a previous intervention that the PMOI was a terrorist organisation. I would not wish to talk about the intervention in a negative way, but I ask the maker of that comment to suggest whether anything took place outside Iran.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

The point has been made, and perhaps it would be best if I just moved on.

The Foreign Affairs Committee's annual report on Iran, which was published last Sunday, highlighted the treatment of the PMOI by the UK Government. I am delighted that Andrew Mackinlay, who is a member of that Committee, is present. The report stated:

"We recommend that the Government in its Response to this Report sets out fully why it has resisted the decisions of both the High Court in the UK and the European Court of Justice that the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI)...should no longer be listed as a terrorist organisation".

On 23 January, the Assembly of the 47-nation Council of Europe adopted resolution 1597, describing the POAC's verdict on the PMOI case as a "slap in the face" for the UK Government and calling on the EU/UK to

"implement immediately the decisions of competent European and national judicial institutions affecting the status of the listed persons or entities."

Condemning the Council of Ministers' decision to ignore the European Court ruling, the resolution stated:

"By these actions, the Council is no longer following the rule of law...The Council has not only breached its obligations under the EC Treaty, but defied the Court of First Instance as well. The PMOI's fundamental rights continue to be violated."

On 31 January, the European Parliament adopted a similar resolution taking note of the

"decision of the British Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission of 30 November 2007 calling on the UK Home Secretary to remove the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) from the list of proscribed organisations immediately" and the

"judgment of the Court of First Instance of the European Communities of 12 December 2006".

The pre-eminent jurist Lord Slynn of Hadley said on 13 December:

"To keep the PMOI on the list was thoroughly unjustified, was perverse and was unlawful. In my view, in the view of POAC and in the view of the European Court of Justice the law is on the PMOI's side".

The Home Secretary should de-proscribe the PMOI and conduct dialogue with the true representatives of the Iranian people, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock 11:35 pm, 4th March 2008

I shall be brief. I have had a word with the Minister and he kindly agreed to let me add a few words to the views of Mr. Amess, whom I congratulate on initiating this debate. I draw attention to my entry on the Register of Members' Interests, because I am proud to be one of the Members of Parliament of both Houses who took this case to the POAC. I am proud of that because it is a distinguished list from across the political spectrum, including Lord Waddington, a Home Secretary under Margaret Thatcher; Lord Fraser, a former Conservative Solicitor-General; Lord Archer, a former Labour Solicitor-General; Baroness Boothroyd, a former national agent of the Labour party; and Lord Corbett, the leader of the Labour peers.

We say that the proscription by the Government is wrong, and we have gone to the courts. We now come to the highest court in the land—the House of Commons—to appeal to the Minister to reflect again. I hope that he will discuss with his ministerial colleagues whether it would be more dignified, just and appropriate—as well as good politics—to take the initiative and to de-proscribe the PMOI before they are made to do so by the ultimate decision of the courts in the Strand. That is the issue tonight.

In response to Mr. Wallace, it is a matter of fact that there has been no military activity—some might call it terrorist activity—since 2001. That is not only my view, because the Government have, reluctantly, acknowledged that the PMOI sat out the war with Saddam Hussein. Lord Corbett went to the Government and told them the co-ordinates of the PMOI's location, and he confirmed that it made no attempt to fight in that conflict. Subsequently, the coalition forces spent 16 months examining the conduct of the PMOI and found that it had behaved properly. It had not been involved in any combat.

The PMOI members are protected persons under the Geneva protocols, and I wish to use this occasion tonight—especially in view of the visit by President Ahmadinejad, the dreadful man, to Iraq in the past few days—to ensure that the coalition will stand by the people in Ashraf who have disarmed and are extremely vulnerable. We need a reaffirmation by the UK and US Governments that we recognise the protected status of those people and that we look to the Iraqi Government to honour that too. That is the issue for us tonight.

It was not our Government's proudest moment when they tried to sit it out and hoped that they might win in the courts. They are heading for an acute embarrassment and it would be much better, both domestically and internationally, if they recognised that they made the wrong call while they still have the opportunity to remedy it. It would be a matter of justice and it would send the right signals to Tehran that we will no longer appease that dreadful regime. It would show that we will stand by people in exile who are bravely standing against injustice. They look forward to the liberation of their land and the creation of a pluralistic parliamentary democracy. May that be soon achieved.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office 11:39 pm, 4th March 2008

I start, as is traditional, by congratulating Mr. Amess on securing this debate, and on engaging in discussion before the debate, which was very courteous of him. I further congratulate him on the debate's timeliness. Sadly for the hon. Gentleman and the House, that very timeliness means that my interjection at the Dispatch Box will be brief, perhaps unusually. My verbosity is legend, but it will not be forthcoming this evening. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the issue is being considered by the Court of Appeal—I note that there is potentially a further avenue of appeal to the House of Lords, which either party may choose to take up once the judgment is handed down—and so it simply would not be appropriate or wise for me today to touch on any of the details of the specific case.

However, let me touch on one aspect of the process. The Terrorism Act 2000 states that the POAC will allow an appeal if it considers that the decision to refuse an application was flawed when considered in the light of the principles applicable on an application for judicial review. As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, on 14 December the Government lost their attempt to seek leave to appeal against the POAC judgment. However, either of the parties may bring a further appeal on a question of law to the Court of Appeal or its equivalents in Scotland or Northern Ireland. That is where we are now. Ultimately, an appeal can be taken to the House of Lords. The Secretary of State is not required to take any action until the final determination of an appeal, up to and including an appeal to the House of Lords.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's saying that the Government defy the courts is not an accurate characterisation of the position. When the pre-eminent jurist whom he quoted—

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

I shall, not least because the hon. Gentleman had the courtesy to inform me that he would like to have a little word. I am more than happy to give way.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

I thank the Minister; he has been very generous. Is it not true, in respect of the comment that he has just made, that the court that we are discussing is the European Court of First Instance? It is that court that the Government are defying. It defeats me totally how we can argue tonight that we should take note and give more powers to Europe, when in truth we disregard an order of a European court that says that the proscription should be as though it had never happened. Will the Minister comment on that?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

Probably not, is the short answer. I am describing, as is more than appropriate, the Terrorism Act 2000, and where we are in the course of our own jurisprudence. It is not for the European court to pre-empt a process that has been firmly laid down by this place in that aspect of the 2000 Act.

I repeat—it is important to say it—that whatever people's views on the respective merits of the case, that process, underlined by our law, has not yet been exhausted. Any notion that we are seeking to defy the courts, as the hon. Member for Southend, West courteously suggests, is not the case. The matter is before the Court of Appeal, and it may or may not go up to the House of Lords. Once the matter is settled one way or the other, I do not doubt that there will be a fuller, more substantive debate about the issues. That cannot be the case now.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

Members have run out of time; I apologise. We have about 30 seconds left.

That, I am afraid, is an unusually brief speech from me. As I say, the challenge that the hon. Member for Southend, West has set by securing this timely debate is met by other matters, because of its timeliness and because the subject is before the court. I look forward to a subsequent substantive debate on the serious issues—

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at sixteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.