May I start by congratulating Tulip Siddiq on her urgent question and thanking her for the passion and persistence she has brought to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case? Her constituent can be sure that she and her family have been well served by the hon. Lady as a constituency MP.
In recent weeks, we have seen further cases of unwarranted detention of foreign nationals in Iran. These cases are completely devastating for the individuals concerned and deeply and profoundly upsetting for their families. We are of course delighted to hear that Jolie King, a British-Australian national, has been released from detention in Iran. That is good news, but it invites us to think about others who are detained in Tehran.
Equating the cases of foreign nationals in detention in Iran and cases of British-Iranian dual nationals is unlikely to be helpful, as Iran perceives the two to be quite distinct, and it is Iran with which we have to deal. We want to do everything we can to resolve Nazanin’s case. We also want to see the resolution of the cases of other British-Iranians detained in Iran. The trouble is that the Iranian authorities do not recognise dual nationality; they consider Nazanin simply to be an Iranian national. Consequently, they do not grant us consular access; nor do they give us sight of legal process or changes, despite all of our efforts.
The House will be fully aware of the lengthy chronology of representations made at ministerial level on this issue. On
It is a matter of deep regret that a country such as Iran, with such a rich and proud history, is failing to uphold its basic international obligations. That this sophisticated and cultured country is arresting individuals on unclear charges, failing to afford them due process and, in some cases, committing acts of torture and mistreatment on not only dual nationals, but its own citizens is deeply disappointing, to put it mildly. Dealing specifically with dual nationals, we are absolutely clear that Iran’s behaviour is beyond unacceptable. The treatment of our dual nationals, including Nazanin, is unlawful and unacceptable, and it must end. Be in no doubt: this matter remains a top priority for the UK Government. We will continue to lobby at all levels for Nazanin’s unconditional release, so that she can return to her patient, long-suffering family in the UK.
My constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been imprisoned in Iran for three and a half years, during which time she has been in solitary confinement, she has been chained to her bed and shackled, she has been through depression, she has been suicidal, she has been on hunger strike and they have found lumps on her breast. Among all that, one of her biggest traumas is the changing fortunes of her fellow prisoners; prisoners will come in and she will become close to them, and then they will leave and go home, but she remains in prison. One such case is that of Jolie King, an Australian-British-passenger who was travelling in Iran and while she was flying a drone she was accused of spying, even though she was actually using that drone to take selfies with her fellow traveller. Nazanin was sharing a cell with Jolie and slept in the bunk above her. On Saturday
Nazanin has said to her husband Richard, who is watching from the Gallery today, that of course she celebrates Jolie’s freedom but that she wants to know why her Government, the British Government, are not doing the same to get her out of prison. During this time, while the trauma is going on, the family are having to make a decision that no family should have to make, which is on where her five-year-old daughter, Gabriella, will go. Will she remain in Iran to be near her mother, or will she come back to London to be with her father, with whom she can no longer communicate because she has lost the ability to speak English, having spent most of her life in Iran?
Bearing that in mind, I have a few questions for the Minister. I am aware that no two consular cases are identical, but can the Minister explain to me, first, how the Australian Government have been able to achieve such rapid progress for another British national, whereas Nazanin remains in jail, three and a half years on? Secondly, in recent weeks, as the Minister and the House will know, there have been notable developments in British-Iranian relations. The first was the release of seized oil tankers. The second was a £1.2 billion payment from the Treasury to a private Iranian bank. Have the Government, at any point, threatened to withhold such enormous sums unless Iran releases imprisoned British nationals?
Thirdly, if Gabriella does return to the UK, can the Foreign Secretary assure me that the Foreign Office will provide security for her while she is travelling from Iran and when she comes to the UK? Finally, with the prospect of Gabriella returning home to begin school, I have enormous concerns about Nazanin’s wellbeing. Will the Foreign Secretary update me on how the Foreign Office will step up its efforts to provide full consular support for Nazanin in this case?
I ask you to indulge me for one moment, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am here for the fourth time before this House asking about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, because I am genuinely concerned about my constituent’s wellbeing. I want the Prime Minister and Ministers of this Government to be able to look themselves in the mirror in years to come and say that they did everything possible to ensure that my constituent did not die in prison in Iran and that they brought her back home.
I said in my opening remarks that the hon. Lady’s constituents can be proud of her, and they truly can be. Her passion shines through. I really do share her frustration, but I must resist the suggestion that the Government are in some way dragging their heels in this matter. That is absolutely not the case, and I think she probably knows that to be so. I have read out a series of diary dates on which we have made contact with the Iranian regime at the highest level, and we will continue to do so.
The hon. Lady has to understand that the tools we have in our toolbox are limited. She draws comparison with the Australians; I said in my earlier remarks that we have to accept that although Nazanin has Iranian-British dual nationality, Iran does not accept that she also has British nationality. That lies at the heart of this issue. Jolie King is a British-Australian national. That is the difference. It is invidious to compare consular cases and I am certainly not going to be drawn into doing so, not least because many of those who find themselves discommoded by the Iranian regime want us to keep their plight under the radar. That is their choice and that of their family.
In respect of any assistance that the UK Government can give in consular terms, of course we will provide that when the opportunity arises. We will do everything we possibly can to assist Gabriella if it is the family’s wish that she returns to the UK. As things stand, we do not have access to Nazanin, as we believe we should. We will continue to lobby hard; we should be able to access her and to have proper oversight of the legal machinations in Tehran so that we can assist her where we can, but we are up against a regime that has, up to this point, been impervious to our pleas on her behalf. We will continue to do that. I absolutely give the hon. Lady the assurance, which she requests, that we will continue to do all in our power to ensure that this poor woman returns to her family at the earliest opportunity.
I understand the issue relating to how the Iranian Government treat dual nationals, but is it not imperative that we send out a signal from the House that every British citizen is equal and all British citizens will receive the highest standards of support from the British Government? My biggest sadness as Foreign Secretary was not being able to bring Nazanin home. Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that the highest duty of the state is the protection of its citizens, and that nothing—no other priorities—will stand in the way of reuniting this innocent woman with her loving husband and daughter?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for the hard work that he put into this case and the cases of other dual nationals in relation to Iran. I have to say that, as a newly arrived Minister in the Department he used to lead, I was genuinely impressed by the attention that he gave to so-called consular cases. He was absolutely rigorous in the application of his time and energy to these cases, and the case of Nazanin was certainly top of his list. I pay tribute to him for that.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I thank my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq for so assiduously pursuing this issue and so eloquently explaining why warm words from the Government are no longer enough—if, indeed, they ever were. Like her, I welcome the release of Jolie King and her partner, and I applaud Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, whom I met recently in Canberra, on her work to secure their freedom. Her success shows what can be achieved, even with Iranian hardliners, when working with tact, diplomacy and dedication to the task—let us be frank: not what we got from the current Prime Minister when he was in charge of this brief.
I will not repeat the many excellent points that my hon. Friend made regarding Nazanin’s health. In the time I have, I wish to focus on one specific issue: the linking by Tehran of Nazanin’s case to the restoration of the money Iran is owed in relation to the tanks purchased prior to the Iranian revolution. I am absolutely clear, and I think we would all agree, that we cannot accept that a dual British national should be held hostage by a state power as a bargaining chip in diplomatic and financial negotiations. Those tactics will never succeed; otherwise, they will be repeated, not just in Iran but by other authoritarian countries around the globe.
However, regardless of the situation with Nazanin, the legal facts are clear, Iran is owed the money and the Treasury has set the money aside. All that remains is to determine the exact amount and to establish a means by which it can be paid over without breaching sanctions regulations. As has been demonstrated today, those questions are unlikely to be resolved by the courts. Does the Minister agree that it is incumbent on the Government to find a way to break this impasse without breaking our principles, so that we can take the issue of the tanks compensation off the table and then have a discussion with Tehran about Nazanin, based not on quid pro quo or diplomatic bargaining but on the simple justice, freedom and humanitarian care that are owed to this innocent woman?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her remarks. She dismisses warm words; I have to say that these are more than words. Words are important and it is correct that we get our language right in these matters. She refers to tact, dedication and diplomacy; we just had a question from my right hon. Friend Mr Hunt, and I have to say that the tact, dedication and diplomacy that he applied to this issue was exemplary. I very much hope that we all approach this matter in the same spirit.
The right hon. Lady is right to say that we appeal to Iran’s decency in this matter. That is where this issue rests and it is absolutely right that we should appeal to Iran in that way. I still hope that Nazanin will be released, because Iran is, as I said in my earlier remarks, fundamentally a decent, civilised nation. I want the Iranians to find that within themselves in order to do the right thing in this particular case.
In respect of the International Military Services debt, the right hon. Lady will know that the matter is before the courts. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran has itself specifically decoupled the repayment of debt from Iran’s detention of dual nationals. It is not the UK Government who have done that; it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran itself. The right hon. Lady seeks to join the two; Tehran says no, and that the two are separate. Given that Iran has said no, even if we were minded to do so it would be very difficult for us to proceed on the basis of, as she puts it, quid pro quo.
I commend my right hon. Friend on the way in which he is handling this distressing issue, and I again commend Tulip Siddiq on the way in which she raises it. The House is united in expressing concern and distress about the circumstances concerning Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as it has done before.
I have two questions for my right hon. Friend. First, is it not the case that even if Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is treated as an Iranian citizen, she has now served enough time to be eligible for parole, and it is therefore open to the Iranian authorities, without making any concession in relation to the charges against her, to release her? Secondly, although there are no formal linkages related to her case, Iran covers a wide front in terms of its concerns about issues around it and the negotiations it takes part in, so will he simply confirm that the United Kingdom keeps an open mind in engaging in all those discussions, which will help to reduce tensions in the region? A reduction in tension may make it easier for other matters to be considered.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, he had this file, as it were, as my predecessor, and I pay tribute to him for the time that he spent on this issue. Again, when I arrived in the Department in May, I was struck by how much the ministerial team had put into this matter. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend. The family need to know that the Government are behind them in doing everything that they possibly can to secure Nazanin’s release. I say that with my hand on my heart.
My right hon. Friend is of course right. Tehran will always say that this is a matter for its judiciary, but the longer this goes on, the more scope it has to be merciful, to do the right thing and to release Nazanin.
My right hon. Friend is right to comment on the general atmospherics. Although I have made it clear that the MFA in Tehran has decoupled the payment of any debt from the release of Nazanin and dual nationals in general, nevertheless we want to reach a position where the atmospherics are greatly improved. Clearly, those atmospherics are broad and wide right now, with recent events in the Gulf and further afield. I hope that we can move this on, and that we can, for example, re-engage Iran with the joint comprehensive plan of action, and give it something of what it needs and, bluntly, the respect that it feels—rightly in my view—is its due. In those circumstances, I think that things become easier—let me put it in those terms. To link things directly with events and actions and with the release of dual nationals will continue to be resisted by the regime in Tehran for the reasons that I have outlined.
May I again thank Tulip Siddiq for securing this urgent question and for her ongoing efforts on behalf of her constituents? I hope that she does not mind, but I should like to pay particular tribute to Mr Ratcliffe for his tireless and brave efforts on behalf of his family and the wee girl, Gabriella. I am glad that the dual nationals were released, but we can understand Mr Ratcliffe’s frustrations, which we all share. There is no reason why this innocent woman should have been imprisoned in Iran for so long—she should not have been imprisoned at all.
The Prime Minister’s comments when he was Foreign Secretary that Nazanin was teaching journalism were wrong. He was right subsequently to correct those comments, but they were used incorrectly by the Iranian authorities. To be doubly clear, will Ministers make available all documents showing that they were wrong, including any documentation that was sent to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, so that this can never, ever be used by the Iranian authorities again? Will the Minister—I know that he has touched on this—reflect on the fact that Nazanin is still imprisoned wrongly. She is innocent. He made remarks about consular access. It is fair to say—and we heard the remarks of the former Foreign Secretary, Mr Hunt, of the shadow Foreign Secretary, and of others—that there is unity in the House that Iran’s actions are totally unacceptable. That is felt across all levels of the House. At all levels of the House, there must be representations to ensure that she receives assistance. If possible, can the Minister give us an update on the healthcare that Nazanin is receiving?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am not interested in political point scoring. I am interested in getting Nazanin back home. I pay tribute to Richard Ratcliffe, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. I was struck by his sincerity. He has done an extraordinary job on behalf of Nazanin, and I salute him for that. The hon. Gentleman is right—Iran is acting unlawfully under international humanitarian law, which it has clearly breached. It needs to be brought back into line. My advice to my interlocutors in Tehran, if it were sought, would be, “Do so, and your reputation will increase. You will be one step closer to being shoulder to shoulder in the international panoply of nations, which is where you desire to be.”
This does Iran no good. I appeal on humanitarian grounds in relation to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I would also appeal on the basis of Iran’s reputation. While these harrowing, dreadful cases continue, it cannot possibly expect to be able to deal with the wider world in the way that, I think, it wishes.
The hon. Gentleman asked about access. He must know that our access to Nazanin is non-existent. We are forbidden by Tehran to access Nazanin in the way that we would expect to have access to British nationals. I regret that. It would be extremely helpful to move this on if we were allowed to have access to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I would strongly urge my ministerial interlocutors to consider that as a reasonable thing for us to have. That is what we require as a minimum in the near future so that we can determine for ourselves many things on which the hon. Gentleman touched.
In the middle of last month, it emerged that yet another person, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Cambridge-educated British-Australian academic, has been banged up in Iran, probably as a hostage for something as yet officially unspoken, for anything up to a year of a 10-year sentence for spying, so-called. Are there any other cases, without going into specifics, of which the Government are aware of people being held hostage in this way? Given the track record from the earliest days of the Islamic revolution in Iran of taking hostages and using them for nefarious purposes, what advice does the Foreign Office give to British dual nationals and others about the wisdom or otherwise of visiting that country?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Foreign Office advice is available on the Foreign Office website, and is updated periodically. On other cases, yes, there are number of cases with which we are dealing. I am afraid I cannot be drawn, for reasons that he will understand, either on the precise number of those cases or their identity, except insofar as they or their families wish the matter to be made public. We have to be led very much by individuals’ wishes, which is why I am being a little cautious about giving a full answer to the question that my right hon. Friend asked.
I know from working with the Minister in the past that he is a compassionate and determined man. Does he have any information at all about the medical assessment that Nazanin underwent today in prison, to judge whether she is fit enough to continue in prison? If he has that information, will he update the House on the Government’s assessment of her mental and physical health?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. The information that I have is the information that she has, as we do not have consular access to Nazanin. I read the newspaper reports, which I suspect that she has read, and I am deeply troubled by them.
The plain truth is that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was abducted and imprisoned illegally. The latest information that we have is that at the health hearing in Iran at which she appeared she complained that she had been deprived of her medication, was sometimes held in solitary confinement, and was suffering from deep anxiety. She fears separation from her five-year-old daughter, who is to return to England for schooling.
I say to my right hon. Friend—a personal friend, whose integrity is beyond question and whose determination is well known—that there are lessons to be learned from the recent Australian experience. Two Australians have been released. Will he enter into discussions with the Australian Government to discover what steps they took to ensure that release? No stone must be left unturned in the defence of British citizens at home or abroad.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks. The truth of the matter is that Iran does not recognise dual nationals—that is the difference. The case to which he referred concerns an Australian-British national. Nazanin is a British-Iranian national. As far as Tehran is concerned—we can argue the point, but it will not do us much good—Nazanin is an Iranian national, which is why it will not allow us to have access. I regret that very much, and we push back on that all the time, but, very sadly, that is the position adopted by the Iranians.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration in this regard; I really, really do. But it is a sad fact that the tools in our toolbox are limited. What we can do is continue to make it clear to our interlocutors that this is not acceptable, right or proper, and that if Iran wants to restore its reputation, the early release of Nazanin and other dual nationals will go a very long way. It is the right thing to do, and I urge Iran to get on and do it.
I thank Tulip Siddiq for constantly raising this case, and pay tribute to Nazanin, Richard and the whole family for their enormous courage in this terrible ordeal. May I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for what he, his colleagues and his predecessors have been doing? I think he is right that there is a limit to what can be done. Nevertheless, persistence in raising this case day in, day out and week in, week out is so important to show that this House and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will never forget it.
I absolutely agree. Look, we want to make progress with Iran on a whole range of fronts, but it is difficult to do that when high-profile things of this nature remain to be dealt with. My constant message is: let us deal with this; let us get this done; let us do the right thing; and let us bring Nazanin and other dual nationals home.
As a doctor, I have extremely grave concern for the mental and physical wellbeing of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. While the Prime Minister suffers from a textbook case of moral bankruptcy, I believe the Minister to be a good man who works with integrity. We are sitting on a ticking time bomb. The poor lady has depression and is suffering so greatly, and now we are looking at her being without her daughter—potentially the only lifeline she has left. I therefore ask the Minister today whether he is sure, with all his conscience, that he is doing absolutely everything he can.
I very much appreciate the hon. Lady’s remarks. Her passion does her great credit. As a doctor also—and having read what I have read in the press about Nazanin’s case—I too feel real sadness that somebody should have been brought to this pass mentally and physically. I can genuinely say to the hon. Lady that I and the Department that I have the privilege of working in have done everything we can to move this on, and we will continue to do everything we possibly can, but I do share her frustration.
The Minister has used words such as “mercy” and “clemency”, which are fundamentally, in the end, religious words. I would have thought that, to many of the people who run Iran, those words would be intrinsically interesting. I just wonder—if I can put this question to him again—whether it would not be a good idea to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York or maybe the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to lead a religious delegation to Iran to see whether there might be a way of them asking that the quality of mercy be not strained.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion. We discussed this on
I thank Tulip Siddiq for continuing to pursue this case on behalf of her constituent. I also want to say to Richard and Nazanin that the people of Glasgow Central are asking after them and hoping that they will be reunited soon.
I have had a number of constituents who have experienced significant delays in their asylum cases and in getting leave to remain in this country who are originally Iranian nationals. I also have constituents who live here with leave to remain in the UK who wish for a family member to visit them from Iran. In both cases, delays do not help those individuals. Given the particular risks of people from this country going to visit Iran, would it not make sense for the Minister’s colleagues in the Home Office to allow people to come here to visit their family, and to do so quickly and easily?
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family are going through mental and physical anguish that we cannot even begin to imagine, although we do all we can to support them. Her case and those of other imprisoned British nationals raise questions about the effectiveness of consular services provided to UK nationals in prison—particularly, for example, in supporting them through mental anguish and helping them with their mental wellbeing. Does the Minister agree that it would be helpful for the Foreign Office to conduct a wider review of the support offered to British nationals in similar cases? A constituent of mine has recently been in prison in Ghana for 18 months in a case of mistaken identity and received almost no consular support.
I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s constituent. If she sends me details of the case, I would be more than happy to look into it. I think there is very often some confusion as to what our consular services can and cannot do. It might be helpful if we were to write to the hon. Lady with an account of what our consular service can do in country and what it cannot do, since there is often confusion about the role of consular services that can cause some misunderstanding.
As has been said, one cannot imagine what Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family have gone through. Like others, I commend Tulip Siddiq for raising this issue.
The Minister talked about three and a half years of lobbying—essentially without success. As has been said, Iran has clearly breached human rights and international law, but from its point of view it has been able to do so with impunity and without consequence. Surely that is part of its calculation. I am not clear from this exchange what exactly the Government are saying to the Iranian Government will be the consequences of continuing to behave in this way—breaching international law and somebody’s human rights. From Iran’s perspective, it is able to do this and presently there is no consequence.
Well, I am open to suggestions from the hon. Gentleman. What is he proposing the British Government do beyond that which we are already doing? On a number of occasions today, right hon. and hon. Members have expressed frustration, which I certainly share. As I have said before and I have to say to him again, the options open to the UK Government are limited, but the reputation of Iran is on the line here. In my conversations with my interlocutors, I make it very plain that unless they address these issues and the general environment in which these issues arise, they are simply not going to make progress.
I would like to raise the serious plight of my constituent Robert Urwin, who is being failed by our consular services. He is being held in Ukraine after an Interpol red notice request from the United Arab Emirates for his extradition was dismissed and denied by the Ukrainian authorities—
Order. I must ask the hon. Lady to be very brief because this matter is really outside the scope of the urgent question. She needs to be able to relate her point to the urgent question.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am aware that my question is a little out of scope. Despite my constituent’s innocence, the Interpol red notice has not been removed. As a result, Ukrainian authorities are refusing to allow him to leave the country. As the Minister will know, an Interpol red notice can remain active indefinitely. My constituent has been held against his will because of what appears to be a bureaucratic error. Although no longer incarcerated in Ukraine, he has been stuck there for over a year—
Order. I think the hon. Lady has made her point. I am sure that the Minister will say that he will look into the case, but it is not within the scope of this urgent question.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker—that is precisely what I was going to say. The hon. Lady has been extremely ingenious in pushing the case of her constituent. Of course I will look into it. If she writes to me with some details, I will ensure that I deal with it.
Dr Lewis drew attention to the 40-year-long pattern of behaviour by the Iranian revolutionary regime of taking hostages. It is clear from what the Minister said that Nazanin’s case is different from that of the Australian dual national, but there are other people detained in Iran—Canadian-Iranians, Austrian-Iranians and American-Iranians, as well as our own citizens. What discussions have the Government had with other countries whose nationals are detained in Iran, and has there been any co-ordination on how we might approach these questions collectively to pressurise this vile regime?
The hon. Gentleman is correct: there are other dual nationals who are discommoded in a similar way. Of course we talk to our interlocutors in other countries where people are dealt with in this way, to ensure that we see what common ground we have and what we might do together to address these issues. But the fact remains that Nazanin is an Iranian-British dual national. That makes her case different from the other case that we have been discussing today.
I do not doubt that the Minister is doing everything within his power, despite the constraints he has laid out. Given the previous Foreign Secretary’s involvement in this case, has he committed personally to raise the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with the Iranian authorities, now that he has been elevated to Prime Minister?
I thank the Minister for his excellent responses. We know that he is a Minister with compassion and understanding, and he is the right person for this job. As other Members have mentioned, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been arbitrarily and unjustly detained by the Iranian authorities. Unfortunately, that is not an uncommon occurrence in a country where, over the past 10 years, it is estimated that more than 1,000 members of the Baha’i faith community have been arbitrarily arrested by Iranian authorities simply for holding their beliefs. Does the Minister agree that the Iranian Government must respect the rule of law and the right to freedom of religion or belief and release all those who have been imprisoned unfairly?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has been a real champion of the Baha’i people, and I pay tribute to him for that. He is right; these people should not be disadvantaged in any way by any regime, and I urge a change of heart by the Government in Tehran.
My hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq raised the safety of Gabriella’s passage from Iran to Britain in her opening question. I understand that Iran has yet to grant a visa for Mr Ratcliffe to travel to Iran to collect his daughter. What encouragement can the Foreign Office provide to ensure that a father has the right to collect his daughter?
Gabriella is a British national. We will provide her with every assistance we can to return to the UK if that is the wish of the family.