Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

– in the House of Commons at 1:12 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn 1:12 pm, 17th July 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to provide an update on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have told us that she was admitted to a psychiatric ward in the Imam Khomeini public hospital on Monday. Her family have yet to be allowed to visit her or to make a phone call. We are lobbying the Iranian authorities to ensure that her family are able to visit as soon as possible, as well as continuing to lobby for consular access, so that we can check on her care as a matter of urgency. We remain in close contact with her family in Tehran and with Richard Ratcliffe in London.

The Foreign Secretary spoke to the Iranian Foreign Minister on Saturday 13 July and raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and those of other dual nationals detained in Iran. The Foreign Secretary made it clear, as he has in public, that innocent people in prison must not be used as diplomatic leverage and called for their release. I also raised the case on a recent visit to Iran. The Foreign Secretary exercised diplomatic protection in March 2019, and we will continue to do all we can to reunite Nazanin and her family. The Government lobby strongly on the behalf of all our dual national cases, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, at the highest levels. The welfare of British nationals in detention is a high priority for us. We have made it clear that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be treated humanely and in line with international standards and norms.

If I can say something on a personal note as a parent, this case has rightly gripped the hearts of the British people. I hope that this development is the first step towards a brighter future for Nazanin and her family. I hope that Iran will be generous and humane in their approach to this family, who have been separated for far too long, that we can rely on elements within Iran that we know are decent and civilised, that they will apply international norms and behaviours in respect of this sad case, and that Nazanin and her family can be brought together as soon as possible.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn

Mr Speaker, thank you for granting this urgent question and for taking the time to visit Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, while he was on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy two weeks ago. Indeed, I thank the more than 100 Members of this House who visited Richard, sending a strong message to Iran that while it may continue to abuse Nazanin’s human rights, we will be listening and protecting her. I am pleased to say that Richard is in the Gallery today.

I sought this urgent question because my constituent’s plight is urgent and desperate. On Monday, handcuffed and shackled at the ankles, Nazanin was taken from her cell in Evin prison to a psychiatric ward in the Imam Khomeini hospital in Tehran. The reason for the move has not been made clear to her family or her lawyers. She has not been allowed to update her family by phone or by visit, and we have no idea how she is being treated. Her family have been shut out, her ward sealed off, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are not allowing any human contact. The family fear that she is being drugged or tortured and may be forced to sign a confession to unnamed crimes.

Nazanin is a young mother from West Hampstead. She was on holiday in Iran when she was abducted and illegally imprisoned, spending many months in solitary confinement before her family was allowed to visit. She has lost three years of her life to this hell, and with her sentence having been increased due to extra charges brought against her, her future seems bleak.

With all that in mind, what urgent steps are the Government taking to establish what treatment Nazanin is receiving? What protests have the Government made regarding the fact that Nazanin was shackled like a caged animal on her way to receiving urgent medical care? The Government have offered Nazanin diplomatic protection—the first such case in 100 years—and have escalated her case to a country-to-country dispute, for which we and her family are grateful. What further steps have the Government taken to secure Nazanin’s freedom?

Finally, a week ago, the Royal Marines impounded the Iranian tanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar. What is the Minister’s assessment of the Iranian Supreme Leader comments that Iran’s

“committed forces will not leave this evil without a response”?

Does he share my concern that that retribution may be targeted at Nazanin? I ask those questions not because I doubt the current Foreign Secretary’s sincerity when he says that he cares about my constituent’s freedom—I know that he has made time to meet Nazanin’s husband and family and has spoken to me as well—but because the time for sentiment is over. This situation has gone on for too long, and we need decisive action right now.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The hon. Lady’s question and the way in which she has put her remarks today do her great credit, and the work she does for her constituent is admirable.

We are, of course, seeking consular access. We have sought consular access from the beginning of this case. We believe that, as circumstances have changed, consular access now needs to be granted urgently. More importantly, we want to ensure that Nazanin gets access to her family. The hon. Lady will be in contact with the family, as are we, and it is the best way we have of determining Nazanin’s status right now. Indeed, it would be cruel to deny this lady, in a psychiatric ward of a public hospital, access to her family, which must happen immediately.

I deplore the maltreatment of prisoners, wherever it occurs. The hon. Lady’s description is completely unacceptable, and it is completely contrary to any international norms. She will understand that the Iranian system is multifarious, and we are concerned about exactly who is controlling the situation as far as Nazanin is concerned. I appeal to the better nature of people in Tehran to do what is right for Nazanin—that is vital.

The hon. Lady touches on Grace 1, and she will anticipate my answer, which is that this is primarily a matter for the Gibraltarian authorities, who are exercising a matter of law under EU sanctions. I do not believe the two cases are directly linked. However, we certainly need to ensure there is de-escalation in relation to our interaction with Iran, in Gibraltar and in the Gulf. When I visited Tehran recently, de-escalation was absolutely my message. Were we to approach something that looks like normality in relation to our access to this particular piece, all sorts of things would be possible.

I sincerely urge our interlocutors in Tehran to approach this on the basis of decency and humanity so that Nazanin can be given the treatment that she undoubtedly requires, but in a proper setting and using proper norms and practices.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Two weeks ago I was humbled to host a conference on human rights in Iran, and Richard Ratcliffe was one of the speakers. He said that all he wanted was for his wife to be returned so they can be a family again. We also heard from the UN rapporteur on human rights in Iran, who talked about the widespread human rights abuses in Iran. This weekend I was at a conference where I heard at first hand the human rights abuses that many people have suffered in Iran.

Can my right hon. Friend therefore outline the action we can take, as a country, to restore Nazanin to her family? The reality is that the Iranians only understand one thing, which is firmness, and we are currently seen not to be taking a firm enough stance.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

My hon. Friend will understand that the tools in our toolbox are somewhat limited. Iran is an independent and proud nation that has its own view of its place in the world, and it requires us to show some respect, but we need to deplore the things it is doing in respect of the victims of human rights abuses, which are particular acute in Iran.

The UK Government clearly use every opportunity to impress upon Iran how unsatisfactory we regard its approach to human rights to be. However, we also need to ensure that Nazanin comes home, which is our principal priority in this matter. I appeal to Iran, not least because its reputation in this country is being severely damaged, to do the decent thing.

Iran must look at this in a sympathetic light and do what is right, proper and humane in respect of Nazanin, particularly as she has now been moved to the Imam Khomeini Hospital, where she is being treated. We want to know how she is being treated, and whether she is being given the right treatment and in what context. Above all, she must have access to her family, but she must also have consular access, through which we will be able to make a better judgment on where we are.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I not only congratulate my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq on securing it, but join the Minister in applauding and thanking her on behalf of the whole House for the outstanding passion and persistence she has brought to the fight for Nazanin’s freedom—she is an outstanding Back Bencher.

For all of us who have taken part in this fight, and for all of us who visited Richard Ratcliffe during his recent hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy, the developments we have seen over the past 24 hours are deeply troubling. The fact that Nazanin is back under the control of the Revolutionary Guard, being held in isolation and denied access to consular staff and to her father, has rightly raised concern that she may be being pressed to sign a false confession.

We all know that the hard-line theocrats around Khamenei who have been responsible for Nazanin’s arrest and detention, and her appalling treatment in custody, do not care about the truth of Nazanin’s case, the reality of her innocence or the mental and physical cruelty that has been inflicted on her. They care only about exploiting her and lying about her to support their doctrine of embattlement and isolationism, and to undermine the Rouhani Government’s strategy of engagement. They are the same individuals who have revelled in the collapse of the Iranian nuclear deal, and who are wilfully risking conflict with their actions in the Strait of Hormuz. On a practical level, can the Minister tell us today what is being done to engage with the figures around Khamenei, not just the Rouhani Government, on Nazanin’s case?

Finally, on a wider level, does the Minister agree with the veteran BBC correspondent John Simpson, a man with better insight than most of us put together on matters of diplomacy and foreign policy, that there are two villains in this terrible situation? As John tweeted this morning, Nazanin is both

“the victim of a campaign by political extremists in Iran, and of the carelessness of @BorisJohnson as foreign secretary.”

Does the Minister agree with that verdict, and will he condemn the former Foreign Secretary—our next Prime Minister—for handing Iran’s hard-liners their biggest excuse, their biggest piece of propaganda, to justify this horrific injustice to one of our own citizens?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The right hon. Lady has elegantly dissected the Iranian state in a very few minutes, and she probably puts her finger on it. Of course, anybody with any experience of Iran will know that there are many Irans, as I touched on in my opening remarks.

We are, of course, concerned by any access that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has to this particular case. I would say, though, that the IRGC does care about its reputation. It certainly cares about its country’s reputation, and so does the supreme leader. That reputation hangs in the balance.

The generosity and humanity with which Iran has historically been associated would be amply demonstrated if Iran were to do the right thing in respect of Nazanin. I urge it to do that, if not on Nazanin’s behalf, on behalf of Iran’s reputation, which is rightly important to it.

The right hon. Lady asks how close we are to the supreme leader and, again, she well knows, because she is a student of these things, that access to the supreme leader is exceptionally difficult. We have spoken to President Rouhani, and we routinely engage with our ministerial interlocutors, Minister Zarif and, in my case, Minister Araghchi, and we will continue to do so.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran, of course, is somewhat separate from the IRGC, and it is important to reiterate that we are ensuring the IRGC gets the message that the eyes of the world are on Iran in respect of this case and, if it continues to behave in this way, it will trample all over the good opinion that international observers might have, even now, of Iran—it will do Iran and its people no good at all.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn on securing the urgent question and you on granting it, Mr Speaker. She and the family will know that they have the full support and solidarity of Scottish National party Members. It was indeed a privilege when I met Richard when he was campaigning outside the Iranian embassy, as did many of my colleagues, including our leader, my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford.

This move into hospital is a worrying turn of events, which raises serious questions about Nazanin’s wellbeing and a particular concern about the risk of her being forced into signing some kind of false confession. So, as other Members are asking, are the UK Government satisfied that they are exhausting every possible avenue to rectify this situation? What is the point of diplomatic protection if it cannot prevent this kind of development? Will the Minister state unequivocally that the UK Government’s commitment to freeing Nazanin goes beyond any particular set of personnel or Ministers, and that freeing Nazanin must be a top priority for the next Prime Minister, whoever that might be?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Nazanin has been transferred to a public hospital. Nazanin certainly does need medical treatment, and we have been calling for that for a very long time. If she does not get the treatment she requires, if she is abused in hospital or if the purpose of transferring her to hospital is to abuse her further than has been the case already, that would be a cause for utter condemnation, as would any forced confession. We have flagged that up pretty well today. In the event that a confession is obtained from Nazanin, the international community is perfectly entitled to question it, to put it mildly.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to establish the top priorities of the incoming Prime Minister. He can be sure that, one way or the other, Nazanin will be at the forefront of the mind of whoever is successful in this contest next week.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. Further exchanges will unfold, but at this point I would like to say that all Members who visited you, Richard, when you were outside the Iranian embassy on your hunger strike will have regarded it as a great personal privilege and honour to have done so. Although people tend courteously to say, “It is good of this Member or that Member to find the time in a busy schedule”, I do not think we view it in those terms. As I say, we saw it as an honour to visit you. I am going to say to you very publicly what I have said to others and what I said to you: I was struck by your extraordinary stoicism and forbearance, a standard to which, in such circumstances, any of us could aspire but, I suspect, none of us would attain. It really was a very humbling experience. In my case, of course, I had the pleasure of not only meeting and engaging with you for the first time, but meeting your sister and your mum to boot. I want you and all of your family, and your precious daughter, to know that you will never be forgotten. The Minister has treated of these matters already in the most sensitive terms, as have other colleagues. For as long as it is necessary for this matter to be raised, as it has been by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, with persistence and passion, it will be raised. This matter, the Iranians need to know, will not go away until mother and daughter, mother and wife and husband, are reconciled so that they can live as one.

I also want to mention what I have just been told by Christina Rees, which is that 13 of her constituents, 13 wonderful women, who, it is said, wholly implausibly to me, are of an average age of 80—I cannot see any such people in the Gallery–have made a special visit to the House today to observe our proceedings. They, together with everybody else, should be warmly welcomed. I hope you are witnessing the House at its best, treating of an extremely serious matter, on a cross-party basis, because it is not about party politics; it is about humanity and the requirement for the display of humanity in the conduct of public affairs.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn on securing this urgent question and on the powerful way in which she has been an advocate for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her constituent. I thank the Minister for his efforts and those of the current Foreign Secretary in trying to secure Nazanin’s release. We can only imagine the anguish caused by the way in which this mother is separated from her daughter, and we hope this can be swiftly resolved so that the family can be reunited. What can the Minister do to bring that about? I also want to ask him about the wider issue of the disturbing trend of Iran arresting people on trumped up charges, with them effectively becoming hostages to geopolitical disputes they have nothing to do with. That behaviour is entirely unacceptable as a tactic. As the Minister says, it risks huge reputational damage to the state, so what more can this Government, perhaps through the auspices of the United Nations, do to raise that wider issue, and to crystallise to the Iranian state and any others that wish to undertake this tactic that it is counterproductive and not acceptable?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

We have made it very clear that this is not acceptable, to put it mildly. I do not think the international community can be left in any doubt as to the importance we place on this and the views of like-minded countries in respect of it. I appeal to Iran just to consider what this is doing to its reputation. Nazanin has been wrongly imprisoned. She has been maltreated in an extremely serious way, as have her family. The right thing to do now is to reunite her with her family, as a minimum, to ensure that they have immediate access to Nazanin and that they are able to make phone calls to her, so that we can try to get to the bottom of exactly what is happening and whether she is getting the treatment we have long been calling for. Of course, other issues prey on the minds of those in the UN right now in respect of Iran, and its behaviour and destabilising actions in the wider Gulf region, and I rather suspect that in further questioning this morning we might return to those.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

I thank the Minister in advance of tomorrow’s meeting with me on behalf of a constituent who is in a similar position to Nazanin. On the wider implications question, is there any movement on the issue of the deal and the notion that the European Union could help with the INSTEXInstrument in Support of Trade Exchanges—approach in providing some kind of outlet for some of this frustration, so that there is a way for Iran to fix some of its economic problems and therefore have more of a dialogue with countries such as the UK?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I look forward to meeting her tomorrow. I hope that the JCPOAJoint Comprehensive Plan of Action—is capable of being advanced; I hope that we are not seeing the end of it. It is a credible mechanism for encouraging Iran to trade properly with the west, and a lot falls from that. She will know that the special purpose vehicle, INSTEX, created by the E3, which was discussed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with our interlocutors at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, is about to go live. I discussed it when I was in Tehran recently with my interlocutors. They have a sense of frustration in respect of this needing to be up and running, so that we can start doing business through it and they can get some of what they want, based around the necessities of daily life, which people in Iran at the moment are being deprived of because of sanctions. I am hopeful that this will work and that in the next few days and very few weeks INSTEX will be up and running. Iran will therefore see that good behaviour can be rewarded and in the fullness of time this can be used to perhaps reintroduce, in a small way, Iran to a proper international discourse and dialogue, which at the moment I am afraid is severely bruised.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I think you, Mr Speaker, spoke for many of us, if not all, who visited Richard Ratcliffe during his hunger strike and met possibly even more of his family than you did—I think his brother was there on the day I was there. I thank the Minister for the tone he has adopted in tackling this issue, and I obviously congratulate Nazanin’s Member of Parliament, Tulip Siddiq, on raising the issue again.

Surely the difficulty is that this case is wrapped up in a complicated scenario that involves so many different things that have nothing to do with the particular issues that Mrs Ratcliffe’s case involves. My right hon. Friend the Minister will of course know that she is not the only British prisoner currently in Iran, nor are there only British prisoners in Iranian jails. Will he confirm that, in respect of the widest possible issue, the way in which some elements in Iran appear to be damaging that country’s reputation—not just with us but with other countries—by using hostages as a sort of political weapon is very sadly letting down Iran’s reputation around the world?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He refers to other dual nationals whom we are concerned about; we have to be a little careful, because not all the families of those dual nationals seek to advance cases publicly, and we must be led by them and their desires in how we approach this issue. It is a sensitive and individual matter, and we need to ensure that our approach to each of those cases is bespoke. That is what we will continue to do.

On Iran’s overall reputation not only in this country but in other countries, because this will involve other countries, too, I would say that now is the time to take a different approach to this particular case. It is very high-profile—much more so than the other cases we are currently dealing with—and if Iran can make progress with this case in the way I have described, its reputation, which is sadly not great among the international community at the moment, will improve significantly. It can do itself a whole lot of good by adopting a far more positive and humane approach to this particular case, and I urge it to do so.

Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Shadow Minister (Education)

Occasionally, people say, “What do MPs actually do for the money we spend on them?” May I say that this is exactly what MPs should be doing? I congratulate my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq on continually raising this case. I, too, had the privilege of spending time with Richard and his mum and sister. After speaking to them, I can only understand that every hour that goes by when your child is separated from you, undergoing who knows what, must feel like a week.

The Minister has given a reasoned and determined reply to the urgent question. Will he reassure us that the changes at the very top—in respect of the Prime Minister—will not affect his Department’s determination? Will he reassure us that, with the long recess approaching, work will continue at the pace at which he wishes it to?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I do not anticipate moving—touch wood—and she can be absolutely sure that this issue is right at the top of my list of priorities. Like the Vicar of Bray, come what may I hope very much that I will be here ensuring that this remains absolutely top priority, along with other dual national cases. For the reasons I have described, this case has particular poignancy, and the hon. Lady can be sure that I will continue to do what I can with my Iranian interlocutors to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I am not sure that the Vicar of Bray is the right person to cite, because he changed his religion whenever the regime changed, as I remember it, and the Minister has proved himself so far to be remarkably measured and sensible in everything he has said today.

Despite all the human rights abuses in Iran, the truth is that Islam at its best can be a religion of phenomenal humanity, generosity and magnanimity, and I think that is what we are hoping for at the moment, is it not? I just wonder whether there are not other envoys that we might send from this country—perhaps from the Church or on an interfaith basis—who might be able to speak of that humanity, compassion and magnanimity and be able to bring about the result that we all earnestly hope for.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I’m sure that’s a compliment.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Believe me, it is a compliment; I am paying the hon. Gentleman a compliment, noting his previous occupation. He makes a serious suggestion that is worth considering by all involved in this case. We have lost no opportunity to raise these dual national cases with those to whom we have been given access, at ministerial level and other levels, over the course of this sorry saga, and we will continue to do so. Of course, people need to articulate their concerns, and that is not confined to Ministers. National leaders of various sorts have commented on this case, and if they used any influence they can with their contacts in Tehran, that would be a very positive thing. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

The Minister might not know that I am a man of faith—I have personal faith, and in days gone by I have been the parliamentary churchwarden, a lay canon at Wakefield cathedral and an active member of Christians in Parliament. I do not want to say anything that would give Nazanin any more problems than she has. I snuck into the constituency of my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq the other day, and I just stood, as a silent vigil, outside the Iranian embassy. I found that useful for me, but I would like other Members of Parliament to join me and go back to do that regularly, in a quiet, respectful way, just to keep it going after the hunger strike has finished.

We must appeal to the Iranians in terms of faith. Why do we not persuade the Archbishop of Canterbury to lead an all-faith group to Iran, to appeal to the better natures of very religious people to see that this is a travesty of faith and a travesty of justice?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I hope very much that the Archbishop of Canterbury is listening to the hon. Gentleman, and that perhaps he might consider whether he or other faith leaders have a role to play in this matter. I am not sure whether the established Church is the best vehicle, but it is universally recognised as being positive and capable of talking to people of all faiths and none. My view on this matter is that dialogue is necessary, notwithstanding the nature of the individuals who we know are intimately connected with this case in Tehran and who have not in the past shown themselves to be the masters of dialogue.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I commend my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq for securing this urgent question and for the way she champions her constituent’s case.

My hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) both made a really important point about looking at other ways of trying to put pressure on the Iranian authorities. The Minister is a very good Minister, but what more can the Foreign and Commonwealth Office do to co-ordinate not just the diplomatic pressure that needs to be applied, but the wider pressure that can come from society, the Churches and other faiths? Why is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office not doing that? From the answer that the Minister just gave, it sounded like that co-ordination was not under way.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I am always open to suggestion; however, having considered the matter in respect of the Church of England in the few minutes I have had to do so, I think we need to be a little bit careful, because Iran is inherently suspicious of this country. If the hon. Lady doubts that, perhaps she might like to refer to Jack Straw’s excellent book that has just been published; I commend it to all right hon. and hon. Members who take an interest in these matters. There is a long-standing suspicion of this country in Tehran, and there will be a suspicion of any initiative that is prompted or engineered by the UK Government. It would certainly be open to organisations that are held in some esteem in Tehran to speak to any interlocutors they are able to identify and have access to in Iran, in order to put pressure on where they can and to bring their good counsel to bear in respect of this case and other cases relating to dual nationals.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

This case is clearly of deep concern to the whole country, particularly the developments we have heard about in the last 24 hours. It is particularly heartbreaking for Richard Ratcliffe and his family. I can describe Richard only as a very gracious individual after meeting him. I ask the Minister not just what his office is doing, but how the Prime Minister’s office is responding. She has just one week left in office. Will she mobilise all the forces of her office, including, if necessary and if possible, making a diplomatic visit to Iran in the time that she has left, and make it her priority to see the release of this mother and wife?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I am confident that the issue has been a high priority for the Prime Minister. She has spoken to President Rouhani about it. It is a high priority for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is frequently in touch with his interlocutors in the matter. It is also, and will continue to be, a high priority for me, as I have explained.

Often, the issue with Iran is getting access. It cannot be taken for granted that access will be automatically welcomed, or indeed provided. I very much hope, however, that we will continue to be able to press the case with those who are in a position to influence the outcome. I have described how it is sometimes difficult to identify those who are in a position to make a decision or determination on the matter. It is not as if one were approaching a western liberal democracy; I fear things operate very differently in Tehran.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I send my solidarity, and that of my constituents, who contact me regularly about the issue, to Nazanin and her family. I have a number of constituents who are Iranian nationals awaiting decisions from the Home Office on asylum and other issues. I ask whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given any updated advice to the Minister’s colleagues in the Home Office about how those cases should be treated, in the light of the serious situation emerging in Iran. I would not want any of my constituents to be returned to Iran by the Home Office to face a situation similar to the one that Nazanin and others have faced. If he has not, I ask him to speak to his colleagues in the Home Office to make sure that something is in place to protect everybody in those circumstances.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

As the hon. Lady will know, each asylum case is treated on its own merits in the light of prevailing circumstances, so I obviously cannot comment, because I do not know the individual cases to which she refers. I do know, however, that each one is treated individually by the Home Office and that a determination is made according to the perceived risk that they face, which will clearly alter with time.

Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Mental Health)

I, too, thank the Minister for his tone this afternoon, but may I press him to agree, no ifs or buts, that when the incoming Prime Minister joins us, he must make Nazanin’s release an absolute priority? I ask, gently and genuinely, should that Prime Minister be Boris Johnson, how we can ensure that he is appropriately briefed on Nazanin’s situation. I hope the Minister agrees that it is imperative that we avoid any repeat of earlier blunders.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I know that my right hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) are greatly exercised by this case. I assure the hon. Lady that they are extremely well read into it now. I am absolutely confident that, whatever the outcome next week, the Prime Minister will treat the case with the priority that I think it deserves. I reassure her, however, that I shall be there, inshallah, prompting them to ensure that the matter has the highest priority.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West

I, too, stand in solidarity with Richard and his family, and all hon. Members in the House today, to say that we need Nazanin home now.

When Nazanin’s father rushed to see his daughter in her hospital bed, his access was blocked by the revolutionary guard, which is a shocking turn of events that has affected us all. All of Nazanin’s family, including her sister-in-law Rebecca, who lives in my constituency, are going through hell as her situation deteriorates. When will the Government explore new ways to get Nazanin home safely as quickly as possible?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I share the hon. Lady’s frustration—I really do. I want this brought to a conclusion as soon as possible. She has to appreciate, though, that the United Kingdom has a limited number of tools in its toolbox, which is part of our frustration. I would love to be able to resolve it tomorrow, but all we can do is what we do diplomatically, which is to put pressure on our interlocutors and try to explain to them what the benefits are, not only for the individuals concerned, but for the country concerned, of bringing it to a satisfactory resolution. It is truly a win-win situation—it is clearly a win for Nazanin and her family that she should be released as soon as possible, and it is a win for the reputation of Iran.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Conservative, Ludlow

I congratulate the Minister on the manner in which he has conducted his response to the urgent question. There is widespread support across the House for the humanitarian challenge that is before us, and particularly before the Ratcliffe family.

Does the Minister agree that this is not the time or place for any attempts across the House, however gently put, to seek party political advantage or division as a result of the changes to the Conservative leadership? We should all focus on ensuring that Nazanin can be returned to this country and on doing whatever we can to make representations to the right people in Iran to secure her release, irrespective of other political events surrounding our relationship with Iran.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Of course I agree with my right hon. Friend. I recall the remarks that you made a few minutes ago, Mr Speaker, about how this sort of issue sees the House is acting at its best, that we are not being partisan and that we are clearly focused on the interests of Nazanin and other dual nationals. That is where we need to be focused. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to approach these matters in that light and in the manner to which you rightly alluded, Mr Speaker.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

It is good to know that the Minister feels secure in his post. With all respect to him, however, Nazanin’s fate has been tied to the person of the Foreign Secretary, current and previous, for good or ill. I am not asking him to predict who will be the Foreign Secretary in a week’s time, but will he assure us that all eventualities are being planned for in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that the matter remains at the top of the agenda and we do not have any more confusion and delay?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I am not sure I would associate myself with the sense of security to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I assure him that the matter is right at the top of the priorities of the Department that I have the honour of being a Minister in. That will endure. I have sought to explain to the House that, whatever the outcome next week, I am confident that it will continue to be a high priority for No. 10.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have already indulged me today, so I hope you will indulge me a little further while I read out a message from Richard Ratcliffe, my constituent. He says:

“On behalf of Nazanin’s whole family, I want to thank the Speaker and the House from the bottom of my heart for the support, compassion and empathy that you have shown us in these troubled times. We won’t stop fighting for her release, and I hope the House won’t stop either.”