§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about Mr. Bazoft.
The Iraqis executed Mr. Farzad Bazoft this morning. Her Majesty's consul-general visited him early this morning.
I can recall no recent case in which such a strong and unanimous view was expressed across the world in favour of clemency. That view has been ignored. The House will wish to express its total revulsion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] At a time when the international scene shows many signs of hope and humanity, we have been reminded that there are still regimes capable of a pitiless disregard for human rights.
I have instructed our ambassador to return home. We are suspending all planned ministerial visits.
We are stopping the training of Iraqis on Ministry of Defence courses. Students on these courses will return to Iraq without completing their courses.
We shall seek support from the Twelve and from our friends and allies in condemning Iraq's action.
I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I extend to Mr. Bazoft's family our deep sympathies on this tragic outcome. We shall continue to work for the release of Mrs. Parish and Mr. Ian Richter from their harsh sentences in Iraq.
We made a strenuous and prolonged effort by many means to save Mr. Bazoft's life. The comments that we have made have throughout been measured and reasonable. By their action, the Iraqi authorities have blackened the name of Iraq across the world.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
We on this side of the House join the Foreign Secretary in the sense of shock and anger that he has expressed about the execution of Mr. Farzad Bazoft and we join in his condolences to Mr. Bazoft's family.
The whole House of Commons stands united in condemning this act of unspeakable brutality, an act which displayed a ruthless contempt for justice, for humanity and for united world opinion. This is not only a crime against one man who this morning was so callously put to death, but represents a real threat to every other person who may go to Iraq.
It is also right at this time to remember the indefensible gaol sentences passed on Mrs. Daphne Parish and Mr. Ian Richter, and we must continue all efforts to have them freed.
We offer the Government our full support in the action that they are taking, and we welcome the intention of involving our European partners in seeking further ways of putting pressure on Iraq.
Does the Foreign Secretary think that here in Britain he should now ask the Iraqi ambassador immediately to go home, as a clear indication of the disgust of the British people at what has happened? Should not we carefully reconsider the extensive trade credits that we offer Iraq, and cancel all trade missions from this country to Iraq? Today's execution was an act of calculated violence by a bloodstained dictatorship which will delay any chance of the Iraqis' return to the civilised world community.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has handled the matter. We have considered the three specific extra points that he made. He suggested that we should send home the Iraqi ambassador. I do not want to take steps that might lead to the permanent exclusion of our embassy staff from Baghdad. We have more than 2,000 British subjects there and, like the Opposition, we are thinking in particular of Mr. Richter and Mrs. Parish, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred.
We have already considered the matter of credit. We must take into account that economic measures in which we would not be joined by others will not alter the stance of the Iraqi Government, and might do more harm than good. The hon. Member also mentioned trade missions. Such a mission was due to leave today from the Birmingham chamber of commerce. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has withdrawn support and subsidy from the mission. I understand that the Birmingham chamber of commerce has also withdrawn its support.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
Will my right hon. Friend accept that his measured response to this outrage and the actions of this monstrous regime is exactly right in the circumstances? Will he also accept that, while others may urge that sanctions through trade or a complete break of diplomatic relations might express their justifiable feelings of outrage, such measures would be less effective and might end up doing no harm to Iraq and damaging this country more? Will he work hard with our Community partners to ensure that the combined effort and power of the European community is directed to bringing to bear on the Baghdad regime the lesson that it has offended the civilised rules of humanity and international order?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to those Foreign Ministers and others, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations and many others, who have intervened to urge clemency in the past few days. I agree with my right hon. Friend's comments. I shall have an opportunity the day after tomorrow at the meeting of EC and Gulf Ministers in Muscat to drive home the point that he made.
§ Sir David Steel: (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
We on this Bench fully endorse the Foreign Secretary's sentiments. Would not it be wise to remind ourselves that Mr. Bazoft was a journalist who was in the process of investigating the apparent deaths of hundreds of Iraqi people in an explosion? This secretive and revolting regime has an appalling human rights record towards its own people. In consultation with European partners, will the Foreign Secretary go beyond seeking their condemnation and ask them collectively to consider whether Iraq is suitable as a normal trading partner to which we give credit facilities?
§ Mr. Hurd
I will certainly discuss the matter with them. In honesty, I do not think that that line of thought is likely to make much progress. The right hon. Gentleman has made an important point. Mr. Bazoft was a journalist. He said in court that he was acting as a journalist and nothing more on the occasion when he was arrested. In the last hours of his life, he repeated that account to the consul-general.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
Will my right hon. Friend accept that it is a duty on each and every hon. Member of the House to express his revulsion at this atrocity? Will he further accept my confident assertion that those from this Parliament attending the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in two weeks' time will wish to express their sentiments in that regard directly to Iraqi parliamentarians?
§ Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)
May I join in the expressions of revulsion? Having heard the Iraqi ambassador on the radio earlier today, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to put it clearly on record that any confession extracted by Saddam Hussein's regime will carry no validity anywhere in the world?
Let me also take the right hon. Gentleman up on the question of continued extended credits. Are not they an expression of normal relations between states? Is not it the case that we cannot continue to have normal relations with Iraq under the present circumstances? Should not we withdraw the credits as an expression of this state's particular revulsion?
§ Mr. Hurd
I have expressed our revulsion, in which every hon. Member shares. But in going on to consider economic measures such as the hon. Gentleman proposes—it is perfectly natural that he should make such a proposal this afternoon—it is also right that the whole House should think through their consequences. Would such economic measures remove the regime? Obviously not. Would they in any way affect its policies? I have to tell the House that in my judgment they would not. Would they do more harm than good to Britain? I think it possible that they would. Those are the considerations that the House must carry in its mind before it judges these matters.
§ Sir Dennis Walters (Westbury)
Does my right hon. Friend accept the widespread support for the statement that he has made? Will he note that some of us who spend a great deal of time trying to work for better relations between this country and Arab countries share his sense of shock and disappointment? I believe that it is right not to break diplomatic relations, because that would not help British interests or Mrs. Parish, who is in gaol in Iraq. At the same time, we should recognise that Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt, and the PLO, did their best to prevent this horrid act from taking place.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
The Foreign Secretary said, did he not, that soldiers from Iraq—members of the armed forces training here—would be sent home. I understand that it is also normal for policemen to be training at the various academies of the police forces in this country. Will the Foreign Secretary ask the Home Office to see whether policemen are here as 670 well and ensure that they, too, are sent home, because it is their job to carry out the law that we in the House so strongly oppose?
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
Is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary aware that six Conservative Members were in Iraq when Mr. Bazoft was arrested last September and we went to see the deputy Prime Minister of Iraq about the case of Mr. Ian Richter. When the deputy Prime Minister referred during those discussions to a political prisoner in our own gaols, we pointed out that the man in question was in prison for murder. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be no deals with Iraq to exchange prisoners, and that this country does not interfere in our criminal justice system?
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend is quite right. I have unfortunately had occasion to explain this to Iraq off and on for about eight years of my ministerial career. It is certainly true that the Iraqis hope, from time to time, to make such deals. We have had to explain—in various personal cases of great difficulty, in which the Government and the whole House felt for the people in prison in Iraq—that we are not going to trade our justice in that way.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have a very heavy day ahead of us. I will call two more hon. Members from each side; then we must move on to business questions.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this callous and brutal act tramples on the values of a free and international press and reminds us that Iraq has used gas not only against its own citizens but against Iran and that it continues to manufacture gas? Should not it now be on the conscience of the world to take action on that country's dismal record on the whole question of poisonous gas?
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)
Although the House will wish to accept the judgment of my right hon. Friend about the action he has taken, will he confirm that the return of our ambassador to this country could be prolonged? If we are not going to take action to remove any Iraqi staff from this country, no normal relations should take place with them until the people concerned are released from their country.
§ Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)
The Iraqi regime has besmirched the name of its people by the judicial murder this morning—as any state which commits judicial murder does. Will the Secretary of State accept that the House in general welcomes the cautious approach that he has taken in response——
§ Mr. Galloway
My hon. Friend says no, but the truth is that caution has been absent from much of the rhetoric since last week, and in my view that has been extremely damaging. People who know that part of the world have listened with a sense of increasing gloom to the gunboats being started up and the sabres dusted down in certain quarters. That is entirely counter-productive, and a man has paid for it with his life.
§ Mr. Hurd
I hope that the hon. Member will agree that what has been said, not just by Ministers but by hon. Members on both sides of the House, on the subject on several occasions during the past week, has been measured. Anything less would have fallen well below what was required of the subject we were discussing.
§ Mr. Hurd
Neither the Government nor the Opposition are responsible for what appears in parts of the media, and I am not in a position to comment on that. I think that our stance, and what hon. Members have said, was the least that could have been expected upon such occasions, and I do not think that we have anything to regret. I have tried to use measured words, which I think express the deep disgust that we all feel.
§ Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his measured and balanced statement this afternoon will be widely welcomed? While it is obviously essential that that barbaric act should be condemned in the strongest possible terms, we also have to think of the interests of Ian Richter, Daphne Parish and the 2,000 Britons who work in Baghdad. Can my right hon. Friend deny the rumours that are apparently being put about that Mr. Bazoft was a member of special branch?
§ Mr. Hurd
I agree with my hon. Friend's first point. I welcome the opportunity to comment on the rumours that are circulating. I understand from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that Mr. Bazoft telephoned the Metropolitan police on four occasions—once in 1987, twice in 1988 and once last year—as a member of the public offering information on subjects that were unconnected with Iraq. He had no contact with special branch, and the police did not consider the information he gave was worth pursuing but his calls were logged in accordance with routine procedure. There were no further contacts, and there were no further meetings. None of that seems relevant to this morning's tragedy.