asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they will grant asylum to Mehdi Kazemi, who is threatened with execution should he be deported to Iran.
My Lords, I cannot comment on the details of individual cases. However, I can assure the noble Lord that the United Kingdom Government are committed to providing protection for those individuals found to be genuinely in need, in accordance with our commitments under international law. Asylum applicants have access to the independent appeals process through the courts.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is not quite as full as I would expect and hope. He will be aware that, since the ayatollahs came to reign in Iran, humanitarian organisations tell us that 4,000 lesbians and gay men have been executed in that country. What representations have Her Majesty's Government made and what representations do they continue to make about that policy? Secondly, will he assure us on behalf of the Government that no one, gay or otherwise, will be deported to any country where they will be persecuted, tortured or executed?
My Lords, I have read with serious concern the human rights figures that the noble Lord refers to. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office regularly raises concerns with Iran in the context of individual cases, most often around methods of punishment used by that regime. Representations are also made through the EU, as this has been found to be the most effective way of making such representations. The Border and Immigration Agency enforces the return of Iranian gay men only when we are satisfied that they are not in need of protection. We do not seek to enforce returns to Iran unless our decision-making processes and the independent courts are satisfied that it is entirely safe to do so.
My Lords, three specific issues relate to this case. First, homosexuality is illegal in Iran and punishable by death. Secondly, this young man's partner was hanged at an early age simply for being gay. Thirdly, the Home Office's position is that gay people can return to Iran safely, provided that they are "discreet". Heaven knows what that means. Does the Minister agree with his department's advice that it is safe to send gay men to Iran if they are discreet? What action will the Minister take if that advice proves wrong and this young man is executed for being gay? If I or any Member of this House was in that position, I hope that the Minister would have a good answer to that question.
My Lords, the noble Lord raises this issue with absolute seriousness, and rightly so. The answer is that I cannot speak hypothetically. Yes, we make returns when we feel that it is safe to do so. We do not believe, however, that it would be right to make returns where it is unsafe to do so. I would argue that we are extremely cautious in how we operate returns and that that approach has proven to be very effective in the past.
My Lords, do the Government think that it is safe to return to Iran anyone who is a known gay, including not only the individual whom we are talking about but Miss Pegah Emambakhsh, whose case was also reported in the Independent the other day? Does not the noble Lord think that it would be a good example to generalise the policy followed by the Netherlands and Germany and put a moratorium on the return of all gay people throughout the whole of the European Union?
My Lords, I repeat what I said earlier. We are extremely cautious about the way in which we treat these cases. The noble Lord makes an important point about human rights in so far as gay men and women are concerned and clearly we follow that very carefully when we give detailed consideration to these cases. They go through a rigorous appeals and court process. Obviously we have to follow and respect the integrity of that process.
My Lords, did my noble friend see the report in today's newspapers of an increased incidence of homophobic insults in our schools and colleges? Does he agree that the stance that the Government take as a matter of principle on how we treat people such as this young man and take account of their human rights gives a very important message and in the long term will help to decrease the incidence of this kind of abuse?
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very good point. It is obviously right that we should take measures to tackle homophobia in schools and I think that this Government have an extremely good track record in that regard. We have done a great deal over the past 10 years. We could not have had this debate 10 years ago, talking about protecting gay men and women and ensuring that their human rights are properly upheld.
My Lords, while the Government are spending time looking after the human rights of foreign citizens in countries overseas, will they also find time to protect the human rights of young British-born Asian girls who disappear without explanation from school rolls and in whom no one seems to take any interest, when it is clear to almost everyone except the Government that they are being exported to overseas countries for forced marriage?
My Lords, we have been very active on issues such as forced marriage. I am grateful that the noble Lord now supports the Government's more aggressive approach in these policy areas. I do not recall the Conservatives being so assiduous during their time in government.