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British Prisoners in Iran

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:16 pm on 18th July 2017.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 5:16 pm, 18th July 2017

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. May I begin by congratulating Tulip Siddiq on securing this debate? I thank all Members who have spoken—principally my hon. Friends the Members for Henley (John Howell), for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) and for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) and Alex Sobel. I also thank the Front-Bench spokespeople, particularly Fabian Hamilton, for an appreciation of some of the politics behind this.

I certainly recognise the intense interest in this issue, not only across the parties in this House but among the public in the United Kingdom and beyond. Of course I recognise the deep concern felt about all the cases mentioned today and the huge frustration at the lack of progress. I will try to offer as much clarity as I can and set out what the Government are doing to assist the detainees and their families. I will also explain the limitations on what we can do.

Like everyone else, I wish to see all those mentioned today returned to their families and to the UK. My responsibility and our responsibility is to work in the most effective way we can, in all the circumstances, to achieve that, and to explain what we do and why. I know everyone here would welcome me doing more. I am not sure how much people would welcome me doing something that made life more difficult. That is the dilemma in which we find ourselves.

Let me say what I am trying to do. This issue has been a priority for me since my appointment last month. I spoke to the deputy Foreign Minister of Iran about our prisoners on 21 June and raised the subject again when I met the Iranian ambassador on 6 July. Two days before that, I met relatives of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and earlier this afternoon I met the family of Mr Foroughi. At both those meetings I assured the families that I would do everything I could for their loved ones. The families also have round-the-clock access to support and assistance from our dedicated Foreign Office officials. I know how much the officials put into this, and I think the families involved know that as well. There is no intention to keep anyone in the dark about anything. There is a limit to how much information we have, but everything that we can communicate is communicated directly to the families. They have 24-hour access to consular officials, and they and all colleagues here have constant access to me.