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24 Nov 2004 : Column 222


GP Surgery (Romford)

7.1 pm

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I rise to present a petition of no fewer than 665 of my constituents who are deeply concerned by the proposal to close a GP surgery in the town centre. The South Street surgery serves the community between Rush Green to the south, Gidea Park to the north and the roads that lead off between Victoria road and Brentwood road. Earlier this year, the local doctor, Dr. Roy, who has served our community so well for more than 30 years, decided that he would retire. That has led the local PCT to decide that the surgery would close, which has prompted a campaign by local residents, led by Jan McGinley, and the signatures have been collected in the last few months. We believe that there has not been adequate consultation and that the PCT should consider local residents' views before closing the surgery.

The petition reads:

To lie upon the Table.
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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Joan Ryan.]

7.2 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): I am particularly grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the chance to raise on the Adjournment the issue of relations with Iran the day before an important meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency that relates to an initiative in which Iran has taken a very positive part. At a time when events in the middle east are not going very well—in particular, the activities in Iraq—it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to raise the issue of relations with Iran.

I feel that Iran is a country with a great tradition that could assist western powers immensely in seeking to solve the many issues that exist in the middle east, and I should like in particular to congratulate the Foreign Office on the positive role that it has taken on relations with Iran. However, there are a few issues on which it is important that the Government should make positive and clear statements, and I will look forward to the Minister's comments.

The first issue that is obviously urgent and important is that of Iran's activities in the field of nuclear energy. I understand that, at the meeting of the IAEA tomorrow, there will be discussions of the initiative taken by Britain and other countries on the co-operation of Iran, and it would be beneficial if a clear statement could be made. A clear statement is all the more important because of the wild and irresponsible statements made by the National Council of Resistance of Iran—the political wing of the People's Mujaheddin, otherwise known as the MKO, which is a terrorist organisation banned both in Europe and in the United States. Its activities are regularly publicised in The Daily Telegraph, and on 20 November a summary of briefing was given in the United States about Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions.

Although the advice that I have had from Iran is that it does not intend to produce nuclear weapons, there is no doubt that the information provided by the so-called NCRI has placed a great deal of attention on the alleged production of enriched uranium at two sites—one in Natanz, which is 150 miles south of Tehran, and the other in the Lavizan district of north-east Tehran. My understanding is that, to avoid any apparent problems, the Government of Iran have made it abundantly clear that any such production of enriched uranium will cease immediately and, of course, will be the subject of inspection and control by the IAEA.

I would like the Government to make it abundantly clear that they are satisfied with the latest assurances from the Iranian Government and that they will confirm that, following the worthwhile discussions between Britain, other European countries and Iran, any problem of alleged nuclear proliferation has been dealt with in a satisfactory manner. I have a feeling that, because of the astonishing and substantial propaganda being put out, there will clearly be a continuing problem. To that extent, it would be immensely helpful if the Government made it clear that the Iranians have co-operated in the discussions designed to remove fears of nuclear weapon production and that the allegations
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made about the two sites in Iran have been resolved. It would also be helpful if the Government could make it clear that there is every indication that the Iranians are co-operating fully with the IAEA.

My feeling is that the best way of resolving the problem would be a conference of all countries in the middle east that could prepare for the establishment of a non-nuclear area. We certainly know that one country in the middle east has nuclear weapons and it would help to restore confidence and co-operation if the general issue could be overcome. However, in the meantime, it would be particularly helpful if, in advance of the conference, the Government made it clear that real progress has been made in the discussions with Iran and that the fears advanced have been resolved.

It would also be helpful if the Government could make it abundantly clear that the so-called NCRI, which is very active outside Iran and particularly in public relations—it had a meeting in the House of Commons today—does not have any realistic support in Iran itself. Certainly the organisation appeared to have some backing, but during the Iran-Iraq war when the Iraqis invaded Iran, it appeared to give its full support to the Iraqis. The impression that I gained from a recent visit was that it has no real support among the people of Iran. However, it would be helpful if the Government could clarify that.

Will the Minister make it clear that, when promoting better relations with Iran and the co-operation that has now been secured, he has the support of all Ministers in the Government? There were some unfortunate press cuttings on Monday—I am sure that the Minister has seen one—in which the Secretary of State for Defence was quoted rightly or wrongly as saying rather nasty and aggressive things. However, he today spoke in a much more helpful way and a statement was made to say that he was dealing with the issue "hypothetically". I hope, however, that the Government will make it clear that all Ministers support their policy and that Ministers should speak only if they are in the Foreign Office and not in any other Department.

The second issue that I wish to raise is important. I hope that the Government will also say something about a subject that is causing huge concern in Iran itself. I refer to the protection that is being given to the MKO's terrorist training camps in Iraq. I understand that, following strong representations, tanks and other large weapons were removed from the site, but the fact is that there are a substantial number of people in the camp in Iraq—at one time, there were no fewer than 3,800 terrorists whose basic task was to train for terrorism. I have spoken to persons who were formerly involved in appalling terrorist activities and who now regret all that they did, and it seems that it was a highly organised and effective terrorist operation.

The camp is called Camp Ashraf and I have seen many details of the quite appalling events that the MKO has been involved in Iran itself. Irresponsibility is typical of terrorist organisations throughout the world, and it is abundantly clear that the MKO has no aim whatsoever apart from that of creating chaos and horror within Iran.
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The basic problem is what on earth we can do with the trainees in Camp Ashraf. I would have thought that the most obvious and clear answer would be to arrange for people from independent organisations, such as the United Nations, to interview every one of the activists on their own and to ask them whether they wished to carry on with their activities or to return to Iran on the basis of a clear policy of forgiveness that the Iranian Government have announced. Once this has been completed, I think the most obvious step for the western powers to take is to remove all weaponry from the terrorists concerned. Of course, I appreciate that terrorists can always obtain more weapons, but we must do something if we have regard for those who have lost relatives, and particularly children, as a result of the MKO's terrorist activities and who hear that the terrorists still have weapons under the United States' supervision.

At one time, the organisation had camps that were equipped with tanks, guns and helicopter gunships. Although some of the weapons have been removed, it is important for us to face up to the basic issue of interviewing each terrorist or trainee and at least removing their weaponry. It would make a difference to the relationships of Britain and the US with Iran if we could make it abundantly clear that we are facing up to the matter and taking it as seriously as we should.

Thirdly, I hope that the Government will make a clear statement on their assessment of the situation in Iran itself. Owing to misleading propaganda, people have gained the wrong impression about the country, so some things should be said clearly and unambiguously. I got the impression that education was of a high standard and that a remarkable number of youngsters went to university. Many of the university institutions are free and I am immensely impressed that more than half the students are young women. I gained the clear impression that many other countries in the middle east could learn a great deal about education from Iran, so I wonder whether the Government share my assessment.

I also want to mention religious freedom. I was surprised and, obviously, encouraged to see a substantial number of Christian churches in Iran in addition to several Jewish synagogues. I certainly gained the clear impression that Jews and Christians were entitled to freedom of worship. When I asked officials about that and expressed my surprise, they indicated that it was their general position to allow freedoms for religions established before Mohammed, although there was some doubt about those established thereafter. That creates huge problems for people of more modern religions, such as the Baha'is, and I hope that more understanding will be given to all free, sound and sensible religions in time.

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